Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Rajab / Shaban 1423 H
October 2002
Volume 15-10 No:190

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Muslim Perspectives


Homes with Spiritual Space
Curse of the Infidel


Homes with Spiritual Space

The recent trend of customising their houses to suit their religious requirements is catching on fast with Muslims. A room for Namaz (prayer) is today part of the architect’s design, discovers M. Hanif Lakdawala

Rafique Mojawala redesigns his brand new bedroom. Unlike other flats, his apartment is the only one facing the west. In the entire 14- storey tower, all the bedrooms are face the east. Mojawala redesigned his bedroom because his wife Tabassum prefers offering prayers in their bedroom.

In Mumbai, more and more Muslims are getting their houses custom –made, suiting their cultural and religious needs. “It’s catching on really fast, especially among Mumbaikars,” says consultant architect Sharmishtha Mukerjee on the recent trend of customising homes. “But it’s usually during the construction stage that buyers opt for customisation of their homes”, she adds. The whole exercise of customising a home is to re-model their very existence to accommodate their cultural and religious requirement, she said. For instance, on Mira Road, and Yari Road, in the western suburbs of Mumbai, where construction is afoot, Muslims are opting for the unfinished flats where they can make changes according to their needs. More often than not, they do not mind compromising on 250 square feet and also Rs one lakh to make the requisite changes. Businesswoman-cum-homemaker, Shahida Khan recently added another room to her original 2BHK flat in Bhalla terrace at Yari Road. “We had a terrace with a glass door that was taking up space for no particular reason. So, I got the door removed and converted it into a separate room. This I have reserved for prayers for my family said Khan.

The re-modeling included exhaustive renovation, electrical works and a painting job. “The expenses came up to Rs 35,000 approximately,” confirms Khan. “But, the new space accommodates a brand new book self which I purchased to keep Islamic literature and also translations of the Quran.” She added. A little bit of ingenuity and customisation comes in a lot in use. Now Shahida intends to throw open her personal Islamic literature library to ladies of her society and also the adjacent housing societies. There are many families like that of Shaida Khan who prefer to decide the specifications of their house themselves. Psychiatrist Dr A A Mulla exercised just about every customising option while designing his bungalow at Andheri (W). After hiring an architect to design a bungalow, a clinic and a kitchen were constructed on the ground floor, two bedrooms on the first floor and a terrace with a backyard thrown in for effect. “Though it took me two years to complete the bungalow’s construction, if one has enough liquidity on hand, it can be done within six to seven months,” says Dr Mulla.

Dr Mulla’s bungalow is unlike any other ordinary bungalow. It is a perfect example of a fusion of modern amenities and the religious and cultural requirement of a Muslim family. Dr Mulla’s bungalow has an exclusive hall and bedrooms for his three daughters. “I have also made provision for the separate bathroom for my daughters. They can have complete privacy for themselves”, said Dr Mulla. The bungalow also has a large prayer room where even outsiders are allowed to pray. Moreover the entire décor is done keeping in mind the spiritual requirement. Given the existent cultural constraints on women, the decision of Dr Mulla to have exclusive bathrooms and halls for his daughters is appreciable. Women require complete privacy and good sanitation facilities is an essential element of a house.

The latest Human Development Report estimates that only 31 per cent of the population in India has adequate sanitation facilities, as against 73 per cent in Vietnam, and 68 per cent in Zimbabwe, for instance. Dr Mumtaz Ali, a medical practitioner working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mumbai, estimates that gyneacological and urinary tract problems run higher (almost one-third) among women who lack access to exclusive sanitation facilities. The absence of facilities is not merely because of poverty, but also because of the cultural inhibitions and constraints regarding women’s bodily functions.

Moosa Baig a Captain with a mercantile shipping company has booked a flat at Lokhandwala complex. He had three pre-booking conditions with the builder. First he wanted his bath room to be a little bigger, with toilet at a little higher platform. Second he wanted provision for the western type of toilet. Third, Moosa explains to the builder that his bathroom must have a provision for making Wadu (Abulution).”I myself had given the builder the design of my bathroom with all the facilities I required. I gave the first installment only when I got the written commitment about my specific requirements” he said.

Ayaz Khan has a beautiful bungalow at Bandra. Three years back, he had signed a deal with a builder, to demolish his bungalow and construct a 10- storey tower. Khan’s parents who are the original owners of the property live with him. While signing the deal, he had made specific requirements for his first three floors. “In Islam we are asked to look after the parents and also fulfill all their needs. I told the builder that I want all the facilities he can manage for my parents. First I asked him to construct the support needed for the old person to climb the stairs. I insisted that the first floor must have a huge open space where my parents can sit and enjoy the nature. It was agreed that builder will develop a small garden on that open space and will make provision to maintain that”, said Khan.

The Agboatwala family purchased a four bedroom flat at Carter Road, Bandra. They asked the builder to convert a common passage into a hall which can be used for prayers, and also as an Iftar room during the month of Ramadhan. “ The passage would be of no use to us. Now it helps us in fulfilling our religious duties,”said Sami Agboatwala.

As more and more Muslims opt for custom- made houses, even builders have begun to advertise these exclusive features in their promotions. By using little ingenuity, many Muslims are preserving their tradition and also practising their religion the way it needs to be practised.

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Curse of the Infidel

A century ago, Muslim intellectuals admired the West.
Why did we lose their goodwill?

By Karen Armstrong

On July 15 1099, the crusaders from western Europe conquered Jerusalem, falling upon its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants like the avenging angels from the Apocalypse. In a massacre that makes September 11 look puny in comparison, some 40,000 people were slaughtered in two days. A thriving, populous city had been transformed into a stinking charnel house. Yet in Europe, scholar monks hailed this crime against humanity as the greatest event in world history since the crucifixion of Christ.

The crusades de-stabilised the Near East, but made little impression on the Islamic world as a whole. In the west, however, they were crucial and formative. This was the period when western Christendom was beginning to recover from the long period of barbarism known as the Dark Ages, and the crusades were the first cooperative act of the new Europe as she struggled back on to the international scene. We continue to talk about “crusades” for justice and peace, and praise a “crusading journalist” who is bravely uncovering some salutary truth, showing that at some unexamined level, crusading is still acceptable to the western soul. One of its most enduring legacies is a profound hatred of Islam.

Before the crusades, Europeans knew very little about Muslims. But after the conquest of Jerusalem, scholars began to cultivate a highly distorted portrait of Islam, and this Islamophobia, entwined with a chronic anti-semitism, would become one of the perceived ideas of Europe. Christians must have been aware that their crusades violated the spirit of the gospels: Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. This may be the reason why Christian scholars projected their anxiety on to the very people they had damaged. At a time when feudal Europe was riddled with hierarchy, Islam was presented as an anarchic religion that gave too much respect and freedom to menials, such as slaves and women. In fact, the reality was very different. Islam, for example, is not the intolerant or violent religion of western fantasy. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) was forced to fight against the city of Mecca, which had vowed to exterminate the new Muslim community, but the Qur’an, the inspired scripture that he brought to the Arabs, condemns aggressive warfare and permits only a war of self-defence. After the Prophet’s death, the Muslims established a vast empire that stretched from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas, but these wars of conquest were secular, and were only given a religious interpretation after the event.

In the Islamic empire, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians enjoyed religious freedom. This reflected the teaching of the Qur’an, which is a pluralistic scripture, affirmative of other traditions. Muslims are commanded by God to respect the “people of the book”, and reminded that they share the same beliefs and the same God. Muhammed had not intended to found a new religion; he was simply bringing the old religion of the Jews and the Christians to the Arabs, who had never had a Prophet before. Constantly the Qur’an explains that Muhammed has not come to cancel out the revelations brought by Adam, Abraham, Moses or Jesus. But so entrenched are the old medieval ideas that western people find it difficult to believe this. We continue to view Islam through the filter of our own needs and confusions. The question of women is a case in point. None of the major world faiths has been good to women but, like Christianity, Islam began with a fairly positive message, and it was only later that the religion was hijacked by old patriarchal attitudes.

Colonialists such as Lord Cromer, the consul general of Egypt from 1883 to 1907, like the Christian missionaries who came in their wake, professed a horror of veiling. Until Muslims abandoned this barbarous practice. We can no longer afford this unbalanced view of Islam, which is damaging to ourselves as well as to Muslims. We should recall that during the 12th century, Muslim scholars and scientists of Spain restored to the west the classical learning it had lost during the Dark Ages. At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly every single Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, admired its modern society, and campaigned for democracy and constitutional government in their own countries. Instead of seeing the west as their enemy, they recognised it as compatible with their own traditions. We should ask ourselves why we have lost this goodwill.

Karen Armstrong is the author of Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Weidenfeld); The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (HarperCollins), and Islam : A Short History (Weidenfeld).(Courtesy: Guardian)

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