Low-cost housing for Muslims
If one studies the specific difference between low-income traditional houses in Islam and in the rest of the world, there is one thing coming immediately to the mind: While mostly low-income houses are often small, one room buildings or enclosures lacking, often, even the most basic facilities, in Islam the plan and function of these houses are exactly the same as the big ones of the higher income segment of a population, except they are much smaller.
This is because traditionally even in low-income housing, Muslims needed a differentiation between private (Harem) and guest (Salamlik) portions of the house, and due to the inherent fact of the women and children to be confined to the house, the need to have in this house a perfect microcosm. The city plan of the old city of Fez for example, reads in this way as an organism of cells, all alike but of various sizes, while the infrastructure of the city – roads, waterways are connecting all the cells in a way that shows, that Islam knows no classes or castes.
The Western experience
Due to the very bad situation of low-cost housing in most parts of the third world, the western way to tackle the problem has been adopted by many societies, mostly in a very inadequate way that leads to misery and human depreciation. This mainly because one introduces a kind of closed system with no outlet in order to confine the low income segment of a society with a minimum of “human rights” and a maximum of security for the others. The result is alienation and despair.
Also in the West, many low-cost experiments went terribly wrong, i.e. the attempt to settle people in high rise buildings in England in the late 60ies, buildings that are currently demolished that have given raise to many of the social problems: crime, drugs, and depressions.
Other societies have incorporated more successful models like Venezuela, that introduced a law that would make squatter after some time to the owners of their land, which brought a possibility of transition from the have-nots to be land lords and even developing their abodes into multy storey housing complexes that they can turn into income by renting it to others.
The Muslim Technology
Saudi Arabia however has a different and unique situation. Due to an enormous population growth and a very homogeneous social culture, deeply rooted in Islam and the fact that the state is financially rather well off, Saudi Arabia could tackle this problem in another way. Neither copying from the West nor letting people take things in their own hands like in Latin America.
Important thoughts are to be shared for this purpose,
One of the foundations of these thoughts is the fact that in a time that is called, by the Europeans, the “dark” middle ages, the Muslims had a high standard of science and technology, much higher than anybody else at that time. The fact is that most of the European sciences have their roots in the Islamic civilisations. Of course it is regrettable that all this was lost during the development of the past 200 – 300 years.
If we analyse the explosion of modern “western” technological know-how during the recent past, we must also see, that it went parallel with a decay in the religion, basically giving up the hope for a future paradise in another world and therefore trying to built it right now and here. Together with the firepower of engines and arms, that rolled over the entire earth like a mudslide with nothing surviving that put itself into its way.
Of course all converts to Islam – or most of them – regret the fall of the Islamic civilisations and more so regret the uniform western technological civilisation that has spread to nearly everywhere. One of the regrets is of course that the appearance of this civilisation is dull and ugly and merely connected with commercial considerations and entirely void of any spiritual dimension.
However if one looks deeper into this question one can find certain admirable qualities in areas of high performance objects like airplanes or even some arms. These qualities come from the fact that in very high technical performance there is no space for all this commercial nonsense that makes the western world so ugly. The quality in the high performance objects of course is the same quality we find in nature – because they follow natural laws – or in objects of use in native cultures, which again are part of nature, like the Kajaks of the Eskimos or the Boomerangs of the Australian aboriginees.
If we go another step forward we can discover, that in the said Western technological culture we can find big undertakings that shape the development of technology for a substantial time, like the Apollo program of the NASA that was at the root of countless inventions from the frying pan to microcircuits for communication. If not for the leap in technological development this undertaking would have been a big waste of funds since no other advantages at all have come so far from flying to the moon.
In a similar way even wars have this “serendipity” effect, like the development of air transportation that was mainly fuel by defence and attack intentions of various nations.
So if we collect all these samples and try to put a view to it we find that technology is being developed – if properly funded – along the needs of a task. If the tasks are of a certain kind – like flying to the moon – many new items come into existence and a secondary sector takes these into commercial use. The entire Western technological civilisation has evolved around such programs.
If we would imagine, that the Muslims also would take care of their dreams in a way as to specially develop an entire new science and a technology to tackle their own problems a new and certainly surprising multitude of things would spring fourth that could be a core of a new Islamic scientific civilisation.
Lets give an example:
The Hajj. The Hajj is an event that in all the past had created its own technology i.e. of the moving city as the caravans brought hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to the holy cities. Nowadays the know-how of these cities has disappeared. Today there are thousands of people who try to apply to this unique event, already existing western methods and tools and the result is known: an indescribable chaos that is prevalent in the Hajj since I know it, and although billions and billions were spent, they have not solved the problems. Many things have been improved no doubt but in general one can say that the Hajj has faced the same major problems that we face since about 1970 till today. These are all problems of transportation of the pilgrims from port of entry till the port of departure, problems of organisation, sanitation, to name only a few.
If we study Western technology we find no answers to many of these questions because of the unique nature of the Hajj. We only can find some piecemeal mostly from a context unfitting to the problems. I.E. there are research programs about pedestrian crowd movements, but only in context of transportation systems like underground trains etc. Or there are organisation systems handling crowds in Sports complexes etc. but they end at 100 000 people.
If we would institute a research program spelling out the goals, i.e. a proper Hajj with 3 Million pilgrims free of problems with comfortable accommodation and smooth movements by the year 1435 (ca.10 years) we could develop a new, appropriate technology on many fields: pedestrian crowd management and engineering, tracking systems for large numbers of participants in an event, circulation management, demoscopy and demography, new health survey and control systems, statistical medicine, information systems, non-lingual information systems research, to name only a few of the multitude of scientific areas that would get a boost from such a task – apart from the main goal: cleaning up the Hajj.
Take only the effect that a proper treatment of the water cycle of the Hajj would have including all the side effects of at example marketable small, inexpensive and thus decentralised water treatment plants based i.e. on solar desalination using nano filtration.
To say it short:
By defining specific tasks in the context of our Islamic culture and civilisation we could, if properly funded reclaim the best of the existing technology world wide and bring it to use for this tasks, adjusting, modifying and developing it until we become again leaders in at least some of the most pressing technological developments.
Outline of the Solution
Saudi Arabia has a unique situation and hence a unique responsibility. It has to cater for an enormous population growth for a new and modern Muslim society that does not yet exist in this form in any other country. The livelihood of this population is still unclear but it is foreseeable, that there must be great and deep changes in the paradigms in order to avoid growing a crisis that cannot be managed anymore. Take only the problem of the high unemployment yet there are still millions of low wage labourers in the country. The government has its attention on this and it is already undergoing change but will that be enough?
The housing that needs to be developed has to be different from anything in the rest of the world, since we have a society that is different, we have to built low cost houses that avoid alienation and that further the development of mature members of a conscious Muslim society with enough space to develop and grow.
First of all I want to state that, building ones own home, is a fundamental right of the human race. (A right that is denied in the West to all members of urban and semi urban developments). This fundamental right is by nature used in most of the low-cost housing in the world, since nobody else would build for these people.
Unfortunately these buildings are usually not connected with an adequate infrastructure and therefore there are in the end slums that are ugly and unhealthy.
On the other hand we find government sponsored low-cost housing projects all over the world that alienate its inhabitants and cause damage to the humans, at least on the level of the psyche and the society.
Both could be avoided by scientifically studying the real needs and let the government only providing a good, healthy infrastructure. In addition to that, institutions must be founded based on Islamic law, through which the inhabitants themselves participate in the decision-making processes like all processes of “city planning”.
Further to that we must try to scientifically develop a new specific low-cost housing technology, based on the availability of local materials and catering intelligently for the special needs of the climate and the society.
With this new technology the inhabitants should be consulted while they built their own houses which most certainly will result in more successful societies than by providing complete environments where the people have to live in a manner as the planners conceived it if they like it or not.
Quite good samples of this attempt have been made in Egypt (Hassan Fathy) or also from Morocco, trying to build on the virtues of the Islamic tradition, but we have to develop building methods and ways to built a very flexible infrastructure to allow this.
The architecture of this has not yet been conceived, but it will InshaAllah come out of the work with the inhabitants and the devoted builders, that help the people to built their own micro cosmos.