ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE; A concise Definition for Architects and Students in Approaching New Designs



Islamic architecture undoubtedly requires three (3) ingredients that combine; (1) Muslim Architect/designer   (2) Muslim client   (3) Islamic function ; The function, of course, being ANY purpose that is useful for Muslims and which does not contradict the shari’ah.


As in the religion of Islam; everything is Permissible (halal) unless prohibited. Thus architecturally, all buildings are possible to building except;


  1. Tomb/shrine/ mausoleum (stately or impressive building housing a tomb or group of tombs)


  1. Buildings that associate forbidden (haram) industries such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs/narcotics/intoxicants, non-halal meat/pork, cafes where tobacco /argelih and the like are smoked, places of riba (ursury/interest) such as banks and financial centres (non Islamic financial centres), places of zina (adultery) such as brothels, discos, nightclubs, hotels or any buildings that aid the enemy army (military buildings for non-Muslim armies,) and so on.


  1. The spending & decoration must not be overtly ostentatious; Ie; large budgets must not be directed to such buildings. Walls should be austere and not lavishly decorated-internally & externally. Islam forbids waste of money & resources.


The practitioner of Islamic architecture  should thus be firstly Muslim. The client should be Muslim. The purpose should be for helping Muslims and the the building intended with function that does not contradict the shari’ah .


The last messenger of ALLAH- Prophet Muhammad-SalAllahu alayhi wassalam was a prophet & a man with little or no architectural ambition. When he died he had no more than a bowl and a spear, yet he was the best of creation and the greatest of all men. His legacy was not buildings of splendor or decoration or ostentation; Nor was his care of form or proportion or beauty. He did not have any architect with him. Buildings were vernacular creations made add-hoc. His care was for function and for building that served its purpose. This is confirmed in the hadeeth



Narrated Anas ibn Malik:


The Apostle of Allah (SalAllahu alayhi wassalam) said: “…Every building is a misfortune for its owner, except what cannot, except what cannot…” meaning except that which is essential.


Book 41, Number 5218: Sunan Abu Dawood


His buildings were (a) Austere (no decoration, vernacular material & technique) and (2) Utilitarian ( functional, based purely on program and used by the mass of people).


Thus this is our entry point into Islamic Architecture. You are free, as a Muslim, to interpret this broadly or narrowly; You can make buildings of beauty or buildings of austerity; However you do have guidelines to work within as above. As the architect, you can decide on planning but should seriously look at separation of male & female as a major planning principle.


In general, we are commanded by the last messenger of Allah-Prophet Muhammad (SalAllahu alayhi wassalam) to build our buildings as cost-efficient as possible, to not be extravagant in decoration & spending, to include strict separation of male & female in planning, to provide balance and ‘pleasurable proportions’, to give our building an ‘Islamic identity’ yet do it simply .


Again I repeat; Key words must be’ austerity’ and ‘Utilitarianism’.


The ideas of Serenity, Privacy, Islamic Identity, Separation, Geometry, Simplicity, Austerity, Functionalism, Sustainability, Beauty, Cost-efficiency etc form the basis of our design principles and the inspiration for this was the Qu’ran and the life of Prophet Muhammad (SalAllahu alayhi wassalam).


Building elements such as courtyards give privacy & light & calmness. Mosque elements such as minarets and domes are not necessary; they were developed later and have no real connection to the early true Islamic architecture. Although the sahaba (companion) and third caliph of Islam, Umar did erect a dome on Masjid Al Aqsa, we must not consider these elements to describe our Islamic architecture.


Our architecture-Islamic architecture-is that of the planning & function; not of the form. We are those whom with their logic, developed marvelous systems such as the solar chimney, and were able to, in the hot dry arid deserts, bring cool air flow into our buildings when there is no air. We further developed the courtyard and still ponds for privacy, light, air, cooling and calmness.


The approach of the Muslim architect takes is that of understanding the program & functional as well as separation/privacy and environmental requirements then looking at the land and the budget and inventing a solution that matches these.


The very first starting point is the niyyah (intention); The intention must be for the sake of Allah; ie we are designing the building for the sake of Allah, to gain his pleasure. This is, of course, the major qasd (objectives) of the shari’ah and that is to have all aspects of life done for the sake of Allah; Our architecture-Islamic architecture- fits in this.


In Islam, the first condition is that the act of worship should be devoted to Allah Alone.


Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):


“And they were commanded not, but that they should worship Allah, and worship none but Him Alone (abstaining from ascribing partners to Him).”


[Quran; Surah   al-Bayyinah 98:5]


The meaning of worshipping Allah alone is that the person should intend in all his words and deeds, both inward and outward, to seek the Face of Allah (i.e., His pleasure).


Architecture can be termed as the ‘art of building’ so we need to look carefully at this to understand what are Islamic Architecture principles and the crisis this presents in light of the above information. Namely; if Muhammad had no architectural ambition-then how can we truly practice Islamic Architecture? And this question will bug any true, sincere Muslim architect for the rest of his/her career and life.


What you, we will all learn in this field, is that in the end, architecture doesnt really matter, but the architect is he/she whom can guide humanity towards buildings that promote Islamic principles and actions that help the Muslims stay in the pleasure of Allah, rather than in the anger of Allah. Thus the Muslim Architect has a great burden & responsibility for His/her ummah and that is of a ‘guide’.


In summary, I would say the following points that our Islamic architecture should be;


  • Firstly start with correct intention (niyyah) to be for the sake of Allah.
  • To not build any of the prohibited (haram) or disliked (makrouh) building uses.
  • To focus on the program & functional aspects and how to fulfill these in a simple, space efficient, resource-efficient way
  • Based on planning ideas of separation male/female
  • Based on simplicity & cost-efficient planning
  • Secure and providing shelter form the elements and the outside world (such as attacks from non Muslims)
  • To be an architecture of the interior; ie focus on making beautiful internal spaces full of air, light (naturally ventilated and naturally-lit)
  • To always build without decoration or ostentation
  • To make a building that develops an ‘Islamic identity’-but one built on TRUE Islamic principles; not built on form or ostentation.
  • TO not focus on elements such as domes, minarets, etc but to focus on the functional






Ibrahim Conlon. Registered Architect, Sydney Australia


Islamic Architecture-Contemporary & Traditional-Buildings Designed by Muslims; For Muslims



Buildings designed on principles of Qu’ran & Sunnah