Modernity Impact on Islamic Geometry and Architecture


The issue of traditional Islamic motifs and designs and the impact of modernity in these elements are not extensively studied by researchers. Researchers examined other areas and criticism by influential traditionalists that original concepts and tenets of Islam would be disrupted by modernity, acted as a barrier for a detailed research (Felix 78). This dissertation examines the impact of modernity and in contemporary Islamic structures. Impact refers to the use of modern concepts and technology in design and construction, use of modern techniques and materials, and the availability of modern technology inside the traditional Islamic spaces (Conway 39). Islamic architecture is distinctive and unique just like Christian architecture. It is characterized by domes, minarets, ornate carvings and motifs inside and outside the buildings, Islamic motifs, extensive use of marble and the centralized theme of the almighty (Alexander 117). Many well known Islamic structures were constructed centuries back. Records of Islamic buildings and illustrations that remain are of mosques, masjids, and palaces (Fletcher 29). Contemporary Islamic structures include mosques and also Islamic themed hotels, shopping malls, private residences, government offices, etc. These latter types of buildings were not present during the earlier centuries (John 29). Therefore, the research will focus mainly on places of worship, gardens, and palaces since these are seen in traditional and contemporary designs.

Islamic architecture is a physical point, a locus, in realizing the holy Prophets message about god. While the holy book and various rituals, prayers and religious practices are an integral part of Muslims, Islamic architecture embodies the spirit of God in the spatial structures (Toorabally et. al 2). In other words, Islamic architecture, and this includes palaces, mosques, residences, gardens, offices, places for recreation, etc., constantly remind the devotees about the presence of God and that they are in his benevolence, and reinforces the Islamic character of the building (Jayyusi 59). Islamic architecture of the earlier centuries was grand, used extensive decorations and motifs with marble, inlay work, and architects tried to create the feeling that god is omnipotent (Rosie 147). The grand structures were built at great expense, took many decades to build, and rulers commissioned the structures (Abdullahi and Embi 245).

The objective of this paper is to assess the impact of Islamic architecture and styles, the intended message in the buildings constructed many centuries back, on contemporary and modern Islamic structures.

Motivation Statement and Problem Identification

There are reservations and criticisms among traditional Islamic scholars and followers that modernity has a negative impact on Islam. They consider modernity as a threat to Islamic culture and thinking, and do not want traditional concepts to dilute (Sidawi 27). Some amount of reconciliation is essential between the modern architects and the traditional thinkers and if Islamic architecture would change with infusion of new technology. It is possible that there would be conflicts between Muslims and people from other cultures when new Islamic structures are built in foreign lands (Roth 63). This research will examine the possibility of traditional Islamic architecture to adapt to changes and accept modernity. The problem lies in the diversity of opinions. Apart from tolerant and hostile views towards modernity, there are counterviews that architectural and geometric traditions of Islamic societies need to be both traditional and modern.

In the present age, materials, techniques, processes, craftsmen, and dedication of ancient builders is missing. Architects may use reinforced concrete and plaster of Paris casts with a marble sheet covering, while ancient architects used lime mortar, bricks, and marble slabs. Besides, contemporary builders have limited funds and work on a tight budget (Vukoszávlyev 42). This does not mean that the core message of the omnipotent god is ignored. Modern architects use available materials and methods in new ways to create structures that are distinctly Islamic. Islamic principles are adapted with modern rapid building techniques, while maintaining the core tenets of traditional Islamic architecture (Gharipour 16). This issue forms the main motivation and the research will use a literature review to examine case studies of modern mosques and evaluate if they still follow the design concepts that symbolize the holy prophet in spirit and form.

The problem statement developed is “the extent to which modern technologies, processes and methods have forced deviations in the built spaces, in comparison to old structures.”

Research Objectives and Aims

As indicated earlier, scholars differ in their interpretation of modernity and its acceptable place in Islamic architecture. These differences can force Islamic architecture backward and stump future growth of new forms and adoption of technology. The Unitarian view and the unbending nature of Islam indicate that the feeling of modernity is anathema and not allowed (Rahman 127). The strong assumption is that all modernity and attempts to modernize old methods is considered as a betrayal of traditions, and that such an approach would debase the unique characteristics of Islamic architecture. Religion has a very defining role in the life of Muslims (Saleh 575). Therefore, the analysis and interpretation of modernity, the impact of Islamic motifs and geometrical shapes, expressions of the unique Islamic identity, should be examined along with theological, religious, and philosophical roots (Frampton et al. 139).

Keeping in mind these issues, the research proposes three objectives. These objectives define the scope of the research and will help to develop the research questions. A framework to assess the impact of modernity on traditional Islamic structures will be designed. This framework will help to evaluate the positive and negative impacts. For the second objective, the research will identify and define the extent to which traditional Islamic architecture is compatible with modern technologies and building processes. To carry out this objective, the meaning and role of Islamic geometry will be examined and comparisons made to see the actual deviation in modern structures from traditional concepts. For the third objective, the deviations and extent to which traditional Islamic forms, symbols, and motifs are integrated will be examined. This objective will help to gather fragmented views, opinions and emotions of architects and Islamic scholars. The three objectives are listed as follows.

  • To develop an extensive framework to assess the impact of the modernizing process on traditional Islamic geometry.
  • To evaluate the extent of compatibility of traditional Islamic designs and geometry with modern design and construction process.
  • To collate and integrate divergent views on the influence of modernity on the important elements of Islamic spatial arrangements.

Research Questions

Research questions are framed to meet the research objectives and to evaluate the impact of modernity on Islamic geometry. The research will first examine the manner in which Islamic scholars perceive the influence of modernity on traditional Islamic architecture decisions. The findings will help to establish the position of scholars and the common perspectives on cultural changes that may emerge from modernity (Groat and Wang 49). The issues of compatibility of Islamic geometry and modernization will be examined. Secondary research and publications from modern researchers will help to identify key differences between traditional architecture and the changing attitudes and designs in contemporary structures (Fodor 39). The research will help to understand the extent of similarities and divergence between these systems and the relation between them. Challenges are expected in interpretation of opinions and views of scholars and to identify the relation between their relations. The following research questions are proposed.

  • What are the perspectives of Islamic scholars on the influence of modernity on Islamic geometry and architecture?
  • Are Islamic building design and geometry compatible with modernization?
  • Does the influence result in a net loss or a net benefit for the Islamic culture?

Research Methodology

Considering the complex nature of the subject, a highly structured framework is suggested. The core issues of traditional Islamic philosophy will be the focus. Ontological and epistemological positions need to be examined to ensure that the positivist approach does to force the results to one side. As indicated in the previous sections, traditional views require an adherence to Islamic views of social, forms, and cultural beliefs. Other scholars argue that Islam needs to be contemporary and integrate traditional and modern perspective, without distorting the core tenets. There is a choice between using qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative methods are selected since data generated is in the form of views, comments, perceptions, and positions. These cannot be interpreted as mathematical and statistical models as required by quantitative methods. Certain criteria are needed to create an inclusive list of scope, topics, and issues. Clarity, consistency, pertinence to the studies will be examined. Peer reviewed publications will form the main sources for research (Walliman 56).

Research Type

Considering the extensive breadth and depth of research involved and the need to examine concepts and views, a qualitative methodology will be used. The researcher will need to make value judgment and use and emancipatory approach. Inconsistencies, contradictions will have to be eliminated while divergent and contradictory views will be gathered. The focus is on obtaining views from sources that support and critic the subject of modernity (Johnson 121). The beliefs and concepts used in qualitative methods are different from those adopted by positivist approaches. Emancipatory approaches researchers are open and do not subscribe to a unitary interpretation of reality that is evident in experimental research. They posit that environmental and individual bias tends to distort and skew perceptions of reality (O’leary 127). An important aspect is that the study will focus on physical structures. Even if these spaces are modern, their identity cannot be detached from the dimensions of Islamic culture, aesthetics, and social values (Hillenbrand 57). Therefore, the study will cover a wide range of theoretical and tautological values and value judgments.

Sample and target audience

Research sample in this case will include peer reviewed journals, books, and websites of reliable sources. Islamic architecture is followed by Muslims and non-Muslims. Therefore, the sample will include research by academics and research fellows, irrespective of the religious beliefs. The works will need to have sections that examine the subject from multiple approaches.

Anticipated Tools

Secondary research will be conducted by reviewing databases such as Questia, ProQuest, JSTOR, ISAM, Google, etc. Since modernity and modern methods include the use of CAD tools, CAD viewers from AutoCad and other design tools will be used. These tools will help to study CAD designs and geometric forms of Islamic architecture. Tools for meta-analysis such as MIX 2.0, Meta-Stat, will be sued along with MS Office suite.

Data Analysis

Data type, gathering, and analysis are very important since a structured approach imparts reliability and validity to the research. Therefore, data design and gathering methods are important. The recommendation is to split the topic into sub topics and this structure will allow for easier analysis of the subject. Keywords and theme are important and a search run in scholarly databases to find articles based on modernity, Islamic geometry and forms, Islamic architecture, and religious significance of various motifs and symbols, will help in finding appropriate publications (Cooper 136). Efforts will be taken to clearly formulate questions using systematic and explicit methods to identify, select and review relevant publications. The articles will be studied as per a framework to develop data. An important question is about the date of publications. Over the decades, authors have written on various aspects of Islamic architecture. While current research, published since five years are needed, it is important to consider publications from renowned scholars who published their works a few decades back.

Contextual and keyword analysis will be used to evaluate data since these methods allow the context of keywords and content to be analyzed. Attitudes, beliefs and postures towards modernity and diversity in perspectives will be considered in the literature review. It is possible that the articles on Islamic literature may take postures such as neutral, exploratory, integrative, reconciliatory, and hostile. A theory driven approach will be taken to maintain an emancipatory approach, since the literature would be dichotomous and results would be interpreted with contextual analysis. A preliminary study and review of literature will be undertaken to understand and understand important elements, themes, concepts and technical terms (Campos 127).

As an example, it is important to understand the term horseshoe arch and how it is different from the Christian Gothic arch. Ancient Islamic architecture has adapted various elements from Greek, Byzantine, Christian, Italian, and other architectural art forms. A study will be done to examine Islamic motif such as 3,6.8,12 pointed stars, geometrical figures such as triangles, squares, rectangles, octagons, parabolic curves, floral motifs, and other elements. These practices are evident in the old structures seen in Moorish Spain of the 10th century, when Berber Muslims ruled large areas of Spain. These transplanted elements represent a departure from traditional Islamic architecture. Therefore, influence and readiness to adopt new forms of structural forms is important (Alexander 59). Table 1 gives an example of Islamic motifs and symbols that will be examined.

Table 1. Matrix of Islamic motif and symbols (Critchlow 45; Hakim 45; Azarshahr 72; Gharipour 38; Damadi 6).

Islamic Motif/ Symbol Description Present in traditional form Present in contemporary form Impact on modernity
Centrality The central courtyard may be missing in modern architecture. In older spaces, the whole building with all rooms was arranged around a central courtyard, an open or covered meeting and prayer place.
Contrast Islamic structures used green, blue and red colors, different sized arches and columns, windows, to create a contrast. Modern structures are limited in this space due to building constraints, and they use decoration to create contrasts
Similarity Older Islamic structures had similar forms or arches and columns, small and big, designed to create a specific perspective.
Harmony All components such as columns, beams, arches, minarets, water pool, and floor patterns are harmonic. In modern structures some of these elements maybe missing.
Symmetry Components and motifs are repeated through the external facade and the interiors.
Repetition Components and motifs are repeated through the external facade and the interiors.
Walls The wall enclosing the inner rooms is usually large, made of stone masonry, giving a perception of solidness. Main wooden doors are provided that open to the inner spaces. Some of these doors and decorations have ornate Arabic motifs and designs, calligraphy geometric shapes intersecting, and some doors may have color combinations that reflect the sunlight
Minarets These are important element and usually placed at four corners of the plot. Some minarets are decorative while others have steps inside and served as watch towers. Islamic structures see a predominance of horseshoe and pointed arches, and these were derived from western arches and domes. Engineers use advanced CAD systems to design towers and project 3D images so that project owners know how the structure appears.

Methodology Diagram

The methodology diagram given in Figure 1, illustrates the methodology for the research.

Methodology framework for the research.
Fig 1. Methodology framework for the research.

As illustrated in Figure 1, the methodology is focused on answering the three research question, presented in the top frame. Five steps are planned for the research. These include context, selection of Meta analytic tool, analysis, and conclusions.

Context presents the areas where the research is conducted. It includes defining elements from traditional and contemporary Islamic structures, systematic comparison, assessing the extent of impact on form and functionality, and drawing conclusions. This step provides the boundary for the research. Where feasible, case studies of traditional and contemporary structures from articles will be examined. This approach will help to illustrate the elements. In this step, the inclusive and exclusive criteria will be developed that will be used to search database for articles. Diverse articles, which agree and disagree on modernity, will be accessed.

In the second step of selecting Meta analytic tools, the elements for comparison, obtained from inclusive and exclusive criteria will be developed. A systematic comparison will be done for these elements. The articles will help to understand the extent of impact on form and functionality of modern Islamic structures. In the third step, the systematic comparison with selected elements will be applied to the journal articles. After this stage, we will have a list of elements and symbols that scholars agree and disagree. The impact of these elements on Islamic architecture will be ascertained by reviewing the number, size, and reputation of such structures. The last step is conclusions, where data and observations from previous steps will be presented as a set of observations. A conclusion will be drawn from the research, the research questions will be answered and the impact of modernity in Islamic structures will be presented.

Thesis Outline

The thesis will be arranged in different chapter, with each chapter representing the research flow. The outline is given as follows along with indicative content for each chapter.

  1. Introduction: This chapter will introduce the research topic, present the research objectives and aims, the problem statement, and the importance and relevance of the research.
  2. Research findings and analysis: This chapter will have several sub headings, and will present the main content of the research:
    1. The Research Problem: Significance and importance of the research problem will be explained. The need to bring modernity into Islamic structures, barriers such as social, cultural, and technical will be examined along with views of scholars who are critical of introducing modernity into Islamic architecture will be examined.
    2. The Current State of Knowledge: This section will present a details literature review on the subject of Islamic architecture, meanings and symbols of important elements, their relevance and symbolism with Islam will be examined. The section will assess if various symbols seen in traditional architecture have relevance to Islam.
    3. Description of Research Methods and Tools: This section will detail research methods and tools and list the articles that will form the basis of the research. Five articles that support modernity and five that oppose modernity will be reviewed. Specific instances where forms and symbol of built spaces will be examined to identify of the subject elements still retain their traditional meaning or if they are modified in modern structures.
    4. Results of the Analysis: Results of the analysis will be presented in a table for easy evaluation. Data from the previous section will be categorized and arranged in tables.
    5. Discussion of the Results: This section discusses findings from the analysis to understand the extent to which modernity is seen in contemporary Islamic architecture. Focus of the section will be on establishing credibility, examine possible limitations, and to identify the practical implications.
  3. Conclusions: This chapter presents the conclusions from the research. Answers to research questions are given along with a discussion to answer the thesis statement of impact of modernity on Islamic Architecture.

Thesis Timeline

Table 2 presents the Gantt chart of the thesis timelines. The project is estimated to take three months to complete.

Gantt chart of thesis timeline.
Table 2. Gantt chart of thesis timeline.

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