Studying a conceptual framework for Islamic architecture is vital. That is so because erecting buildings is a very important enterprise in Islam. It accounts for establishing a physical locus of the daily individual, family and social activities of Muslims. It follows that the built environment, as both a concept and sensory reality, is indispensable for the fulfillment of the divine purpose on earth. However, just like any other interest of Muslims, erecting buildings likewise should be inspired by the heavenly message of Islam and its perpetual and dynamic spirit. The functions of Muslim buildings have got to mirror the interests and engagements of Muslims as God's trustees on earth. Indeed, there must always exist a high level of harmony between the two. Whenever a conflict or dichotomy between them occurs, that is, whenever the purpose and functions of Muslim buildings become incompatible with the values and standards of Islam which Muslims are required to exemplify in their deeds, words and thoughts, that scenario spells an imminent end to the phenomenon of genuine Islamic architecture.
Divine names and attributes for God as the Creator
One of the most compelling messages of the Qur'an concerning architecture is that God is the only Creator; the rest is His creation unable to match His power, competence and creativity. For a creation to be able to create the way God does, that would mean an alteration in the existential hierarchy of titles and grades, which is inconceivable. Just as the Creator cannot become creation, similarly a creation cannot become a creator.
Five major beautiful names and attributes of God the Creator are given to imply the sublimity, significance and scale of what they stand for. Those five names and attributes are al-Khaliq (the Creator), al-Bari' (the Maker), al-Musawwir (the Fashioner), al-Fatir (the Bringer into Existence), al-Badi' (the Originator). Five different expressions are given for the composite act as well as process of creation in order to expound to the potential aspirants to the rank, especially from among mankind, that that particular jurisdiction belongs to God alone, and that each and every act as well as aspect of creation, regardless of its size and significance, was dealt with directly by God and thus, via both its appearance and function, attests to the existence, authority and benevolence of its Creator.
The name al-Khaliq appears eight times in the Qur'an with its derivatives al-Khallaq and Ahsan al-Khaliqin (the Best of Creators) appearing twice each, al-Bari' three times, al-Musawwir once, al-Fatir six times, and al-Badi' twice. The root words of these divine beautiful names and attributes are also widely used in different verb forms with regard to God the Creator. Besides, there are several other terms in the Qur'an, both nouns and verb forms, which also denote the splendid divine act of creating and creation and are used in relation to God the Creator, such as the verb dhara'a (to create and multiply) used both in past and present sense six times, bada'a (to begin or originate the creation) used eleven times both in past and present sense as well, the noun sun' (the work or artistry) used once and the verb istana'a (to produce and prepare) also used once and which is a derivative of the former, and the verb atqana (to perfect) used once in its past tense.
The three names al-Khaliq (the Creator), al-Bari' (the Maker) and al-Musawwir (the Fashioner) are mentioned together, one after another, in Surah (Chapter) al-Hashr, verse 24: "He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise." (al-Hashr, 59:24). When these three names are mentioned together, each of them conveys a specific meaning. Together, they represent the complete act of creation from deciding and determining what and how to create, to a decided thing or an object to receive a particular form and, as such, to begin its preordained existence. The three names manifest themselves in created things sequentially, the last of which is fashioning the form. "The attribute of creation (al-Khaliq) refers specifically to God's determination of what He creates, so it comes first. The name al-Bari' (the Maker) refers to the creative act of bringing about what God wills to create. Finally, the name al-Musawwir (the Fashioner) refers to giving each created thing its particular form. So, God decrees what he creates, brings it into existence, and specifies its particular, unique form." (Salman al-Oadah, In the Company of God)
The name al-Fatir (the Bringer into Existence) implies the creation of the universe and everything in it, giving every living thing its particular character, objective and meaning. This connotes total harmony, equilibrium, balance and stability that pervade each and every aspect and component of the creation and their subtle relationships. It connotes, furthermore, the notion of unity in diversity, the unity of origins and spiritual purpose insofar as both the most insignificant and grandest features of the universe are concerned, and the diversity of their respective innate dispositions and existential missions and operations.
It was due to this that in a Qur'anic verse, while referring to the creation of man using the verb fatara from which God's holy name al-Fatir (the Bringer into Existence) is derived, God brings to light that Islamic monotheism and man's constant inclining to truth constitute the pattern on which God has made mankind. And exactly in line with that pattern the innate nature of man called fitrah, which, too, is a derivative of the verb fatara (to bring into existence), has been fashioned. The human fitrah or nature is the result solely of the Creator's divine will and choice meant for mankind. The Qur'an thus concludes that "... There is no altering (the laws of) Allah's creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not." (al-Rum, 30:30). Everything has its own inborn nature different from other natures and identities. There are no two things, animate or inanimate, that are exactly alike.
The name al-Badi' (the Originator) means originating the creation without model or material, from absolute nothingness and after no pre-existing similitude. God does not need previous knowledge to think, to investigate and to figure things out. He invents the original of everything in the creation. There was nothing before Him, so He is unlike anything, and everything after Him is made by Him - unique, matchless, unequalled by anything else, and in no way similar to Him. Everything God creates is a wonder, a marvel, since He originated it from nothingness and after no pre-existing precedent. Like the original creations, all the continuously created things are different from one another. (Tosun Bayrak, The Name and the Named) This is the most genuine and sublime form of creativity and artistry, hence in Arabic the word ibda' which means creativity and originality. In addition, this could be a reason why when God on two occasions in the Qur'an declared that He is the Creator and Originator of the heavens and the earth, using in both instances His holy name al-Badi', he in most categorical terms repudiated the idea of Him begetting a son. It is thus an Islamic tenet that there is nothing which is like Him (al-Shura, 42:11); nor is there anything that could be compared with Him (al-Ikhlas, 112:4). The quality of God's Being is beyond the range of human comprehension or imagination. Attributing to God, or likening Him to anything from the realm of His creation is a blasphemous act. It can never and under no circumstances amount to a creative or artistic act of inventiveness and inspiration, or to an audacious exploit of pursuing and affirming the truth.
Humans as creators
As seen above, creating ex nihilo (from absolute nothingness) is both the right and power of God alone. Such a style of creation cannot be ascribed to humankind. Humans were and will remain forever short of enjoying a power of bringing into being anything without making use of the available raw materials and elements created for them in nature. Indeed, everything that humans invent, conceive, concoct and create, is only possible thanks to the unbounded bounties and munificence from God, which humans only discover, manipulate, process, use, and reuse in different ways most convenient and efficient for them and their terrestrial goals. Consequently, humankind's civilized and cultural 'creations' are a relative thing. They are not really 'creations' but only the temporary possessions of humankind in their temporary custody. As such, humans neither create nor possess anything. The Qur'an declares this emphatic truth time and again, such as in the following verses: "To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it... " (al-Baqarah, 2:284).
"Do you not know that Allah's is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and that besides Allah you have no guardian or helper?" (al-Baqarah, 2:107).
"... His verily is all creation and commandment. Blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds!" (al-A'raf, 7:54)
Everything around humans has been loaned to them so that they can carry out their duty of vicegerency in a responsible and unhindered manner. Their duty is no more than that. Even humans' lives are not their own. Their lives belong to their Creator and Master, and, if needed, they must sacrifice their lives for their Master and His cause: "Indeed Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties (in exchange) for paradise... " (al-Tawbah, 9:111).
God explicitly reveals that he is the Creator and thus the Owner of everything including people, their selves and whatever they are able to make or create. People's creations and all possessions are in fact God's: "And Allah has created you and what you make." (al-Saffat, 37:96). The Prophet (pbuh) also said in a tradition: "Indeed, it is God Who creates every other creator and his creation." This tradition is recorded by al-Bukhari in his "Sahih", a compilation of authentic traditions of the Prophet (pbuh), in a section entitled "Allah's words: 'Allah has created you and what you make' and 'Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure.'"
No sooner do humans come to this world than they set out displaying their inherent readiness to take from this world: to breathe, to eat and drink, to wear apparel, albeit without possessing anything, save their own self, to give away in return. Humans therefore, are born as insolvent consumers, as it were. Not only do they own nothing, but also they remain forever short of enjoying the power of bringing into being anything without making use of what is already there created for them in nature. Creating things, conditions and environments from nothingness is the right and authority of God alone and signifies authentic splendor, dominion and power to which God alone is entitled. The upshots of humankind's myriad civilizational pursuits on earth therefore are never really their own possession and, as such, by no means could be solely utilized for returning the debt of creation and existence to God. Hence, people are given the title of servants or slaves and God alone is the Lord or Master. There can never be any alterations whatsoever in titles: the servant will remain forever the servant, and the Lord will remain forever the only Lord, irrespective of any human intervention that may transpire on any plane of existence. It goes without saying, therefore, that being prudent, modest and grateful when dealing with God's gifts, as well as when dealing with one's own accomplishments, are of the virtues most appreciated in humans. It likewise follows that the legitimacy of human 'creations' is based only on the strengthening of people's legitimate relationships with their Lord and with the rest of His creation.
Moreover, God created humans as the most beautiful creatures on earth, in the best of moulds, and gave them the power of reasoning and insight. (al-Tin, 95:4) He created humans as His vicegerents on earth, never to be forsaken by God's words of guidance, lest they lose their way, rebel against the will and plan of their Lord, and gradually become puffed up with egotism, self-exaltation and innumerable superstitions pertaining to their own existence and existence taken as a whole. (al-Baqarah, 30-39) When these exceptional qualities of humans are paired with their submission to the Creator, Lord and Cherisher of the worlds, they confidently set out proving their worth, elevating their status over that of the angels in the process. Conversely, no sooner do they start mishandling and abusing the same qualities and gifts, than they start drifting away from the plane of truth, debasing themselves to a status lower than that of animals.
On that note, in addition, the Prophet (pbuh) declared that God created Adam, the father of humankind, in His own image. (Sahih Muslim) In other words, God bestowed Adam with life, knowledge, and the power of hearing, seeing and understanding, but Adam's features are different from those of God. God has life, knowledge and power of understanding, which has been bestowed upon Adam as well, but there is no comparison between the Creator and the created thing. This truth by extension applies to the whole of mankind, the children of Adam.
Hence, God's names and attributes, including those pertaining to creation, manifest themselves in human beings. People make, build and shape many beautiful and useful objects and things, manifesting thereby certain divine attributes in themselves and in those creative and consequential actions of theirs. However, most people over and over again get carried away and misjudge. The artist says that he 'creates' beauty. The engineer 'invents' a flying machine. An architect 'designs' and 'creates' a building. They think that it is they themselves who do this. They even forget the other people who might claim that they 'created' the paint and the brush, building materials and the whole of building technology and engineering, and the sciences of geometry, physics and mathematics, without whose 'creation' their 'creation' could not have been possible. They forget about the sources that produced the materials for that 'creation'. They disregard their vulnerability and complete reliance on other human and physical factors. They sometimes even close the eyes to their humanness. Who created the mind, the eyes and the hands that put all that they deal with together? That which people make depends on many conditions, materials and assistants. Whereas God's creative act does not depend on any model, material, time, tool, aide or anything else. When He creates, He says Kun 'Be!' and a whole universe becomes. (Tosun Bayrak, The Name and the Named)
It is thus often asked if it is permissible to say that humans are 'creators' on account of them creating things, ideas and objects. The answer is that it is permissible if by creation it is meant working on something, crafting it, giving it shape, processing it, assembling it, using and reusing it, or some other meaning that is suitable for human beings to ascribe to themselves and their creative and meaningful functioning as God's vicegerents on earth, reflecting their actual existential state with all its strength as well as limitations. Ascribing the terms 'creation' and 'creators' to human beings should thus always be conditional and metaphorical, not authentic or unqualified. A hint at this restricted authorization is presented via God's description of His Holy Self as "the best of the creators" (ahsan al-khaliqin). This description appears twice in the Qur'an. Unquestionably, a creation should never claim, or aspire, to be a bona fide creator. Such is an aberrant view and goes against the pure and natural order of things.
Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia. He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and philosophy of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at spahicoyahoo.com; his blog is at www.medinanet.org
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