Eternal and International Concepts of Islamic Cities (Revealing Urban Islamic Views far beyond the Body and Time)


Assistant Prof., Dep. of Urban Planning and Design, Islamic Azad University,Tehran Central Branch


Extended Abstract
As the main question, this research looks for the abilities and the ways to apply Islamic urban
values for recent urban problems. Although the Islamic cities are studied by many researches,
scholars, and thinkers, the meanings and concepts of the studies are mainly focused either on
physical or on historical issues and the researches have had non-dynamic approaches and the
current applicable features of the subject have not been covered well.
Resembling Islamic cities to a language and (con) text, there has been more attention paid to
the alphabets and elements of the language rather than to its main message. Words, syntax and
grammar of this language have been elaborated, but the meanings and concepts are neglected.
Hence, one of the main goals of this article, as the title shows, is going beyond the words and
vocabularies of that text and getting the main ideas. In other words, the article intends to find
new approaches beyond the historic and physical aspects.
Furthermore, the article compares contemporary urban theories with traditional Islamic cities to
use the lessons for today’s developments.
The qualitative research approach employed here has primarily used document analysis and
observation. In this manner the theory of Islamic city has been reviewed in literature. The
article, firstly, will categorize some studies of Islamic Cities and demonstrate that they do
mostly focus on physical and historic aspects. A new dimension, then, will be emerged which
covers the contemporary urban planning theories.
After categorizing related studies, modes of physical combination of these cities, however,
will be classified into Justice Location, Unified in Diversity, Oxymoron as the Secret of
Completeness, and Multi-value Logic.
Eventually, new approaches in contemporary urban planning theories since 1960 including
rational, incremental, transactive, advocacy and radical approaches as well as structure and
strategic methods of urban planning have been compared to the Islamic Cities Developments.
Results and Discussion
The concept of the ‘Islamic City’ has been discussed since the turn of the last century.The
famous sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) set up a framework for categorizing Islamic cities,
and was largely followed by orientalists for the next half century. Weber concluded that the
emergence of capitalism was contingent upon the existence of independent urban communities
or free cities; cities of the Christian world (Gabbi, 2006) Marcias, basing his article on the
famous Arab geographer and lawyer, Ibn Khaldun (1406), cites the physical aspects of an
Islamic city as incorporating the congregational Friday mosque, with adjacent chief bazaar,
together with the public bath for preparing Muslims for the Friday prayer (Abu-Lughod,
In 1955 Gustave Von Grunebaum collects all the findings of previous Western scholars
about the Islamic city and synthesizes them into a single model (Goddard, 1999, p. 43). In 1956,
E. Ashtor-Strauss explains that through a combination of weakened government and a dormant
tradition of municipal autonomy, the populations were able to assert significant control over
their own lives and rulers. Claude Cahen in 1958 continued the work of Ashtor-Strauss. He
argues that the captured cities by Arabs haven’t changed under the Arab rules, rather they
developed along the same path as most of the neighboring European cities. So he started his
research based on social and historical approaches of the Islamic cities mostly Syria, Iraq and
Iran and compared them with their neighboring Western cities, mostly southern Italy.
In 1965 Albert Hourani and Samuel Stern referried to both Weber’s category and the
standard Islamic city model. Stern concludes that the Islamic city’s essential characteristic is the
general absence of corporate institutions or its looseness of structure.
1n 1967 Ira Lapidus presented a comprehensive new model of the Islamic city with pointing
the critiques, revisions, and ideas of Ashtor-Strauss, Cahen, and Stern. His ultimate goal is to
examine the social structure of certain medieval Muslim cities to understand the Islamic society.
Kennedy in 1985 provides a methodical and comprehensive account of the typical attributed
features to the Islamic city and its development. His work represents a new post-orientalist trend
of looking at the Middle Eastern urbanism in and of itself. He tried to define the urban
development as a unique phenomenon tied to its region and society and not according to its
similarities or differences to the evolution of European cities.
Baber Johansen (1981) and Besim Hakim (1986) examined the inter-dependency of Islamic
law and the development of a city. Johansen sought to find out how Islamic law defined a city,
while Hakim was concerned with how the law determined urban development and shape or
Most Middle Eastern and North African cities have been studied with different scholars and
theorist to extract a prototype to explain the theory of Islamic city. All of these studies and
theorems have, in some way, and to a greater or lesser degree, influenced the development of
the Islamic city in the modern world.
Amongst all of these discussions, the main achievement of this research is that Muslim Cities
during Islamic Period, along with Islamic guidelines, have physical and non-physical lessons to
be learned which are able to be matched with liable contemporary urban developments.
Physical lessons are divided into the same categories of previous scholar studies:
• Placement of Justice and Efficiency,
• Unified in Diversity,
• Oxymoron as the secret of completeness,
• Robustness based on multi-value logics,
At the same time non physical lessons are emerging as the following indicators:
• Strategies, Pattern Language and Incremental Development,
• Sustainability and Normative Issues,
• Rationalism and Smart Growth.
Values, concepts and the views of Islamic cities are beyond body, place, and time. They are
eternal and international concepts that can be applied for urban development globally. The
article classified these concepts into four values: Sustainability with Justice, Unification with
Diversity, Richness with Oxymoron and Rational Felexibility. Ideas of contemporary Urban
Planer theorists are covered with these concepts.
Islamic Cities, in their true meanings, have had the best solutions, methods and models of
urban developments. Nowadays Muslim people are able to explore the Islamic urban factors to
apply them in their recent urban issues. It will be happened, if the accurate nature and concept
of Islamic cities is defined and just studied beyond the mere physical assumptions.


Volume 45, Issue 3 - Serial Number 3
October 2013
Pages 169-190
  • Receive Date: 18 July 2012
  • Revise Date: 21 September 2013
  • Accept Date: 17 October 2012
  • First Publish Date: 23 September 2013