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Reading the Islamic City

Reading the Islamic City
Akel Ismail Kahera *97. Reading the Islamic City: Discursive Practices and Legal Judgment. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011. 180 pp.; $60.00. ISBN: 978-0-7391-1001-0

 
Reading the Islamic City offers insights into the implications the practices of the Maliki school of Islamic law have for the inhabitants of the Islamic city, the madinah. The problematic term madinah fundamentally indicates a phenomenon of building, dwelling, and urban settlement patterns that evolved after the 7th century CE in the Maghrib (North Africa) and al-Andalusia (Spain). Madinah involves multiple contexts that have socio-religious functions and symbolic connotations related to the faith and practice of Islam, and can be viewed in terms of a number of critiques such as everyday lives, boundaries, utopias, and dystopias. The book considers Foucault’s power/knowledge matrix as it applies to an erudite cadre of scholars and legal judgments in the realm of architecture and urbanism. It acknowledges the specificity of power/knowledge insofar as it provides a dominant framework to tackle property rights, custom, noise, privacy, and a host of other subjects. Scholars of urban studies, religion, history, and geography will greatly benefit from this vivid analysis of the relevance of the juridico-discursive practice of Maliki Law in a set of productive or formative discourses in the Islamic city.
 
Reviews:
Reading the Islamic City: Discursive Practices and Legal Judgment contributes to an ongoing dialog in urban studies in significant ways. It illuminates a rich history of Islamic urban form and civic development, while providing our emergent 21st century world-view with ways to bridge Islamic urban practices with Western ideologies, and to merge various disparities between (mis)understandings as presented in varying forms of discourse or media. Filtering its analysis through Foucault's notion of  'discursive practices', it reiterates that understandings, social relations, and spatial action are at once negotiated and given legitimization in particular milieus, but also in-turn supplying the formative base upon which new epistemes are assembled spatially. It assembles an otherwise disparate, multifaceted subject into a 'continuity of discourse' and presents critical issues underlying collective action and subsequent urban form. It highlights that Islamic urban fabrics, as with many places, are composed within intertextual palimpsests of meaning and necessary relations between discursive points of view. Urban development is viewed as formed epistemically and axiologically, bearing on the coincidence of knowledges, ideals, power, laws, order, practices, social customs, cultural bearings, and religious views.
 
From a historic perspective, the book situates the relations between juridical practices, law, and policies that have long directed building practices and planning, and thus urban inhabitation. At the same time, it acknowledges that local knowledges, self-practices, and communities of knowledge gain affordances toward co-substantiating urban form, through modes that co-inform each other. The book provides an advocate voice for an often under-represented subject in current Western didactics of urban form, so that it can be understood or given meaning in current times. Beyond the construction of cities from functional standpoints, religious or idealistic views also underlie structural form and foster rich notions of tranquility, beauty, equity, and responsibility that go alongside civic urban life. As such it provides a cross-referential vantage point that can guide future city design practices along these lines. General readers of urban studies will benefit from the book's multidisciplinary dialog toward urban development, be it analytical, pedagogical, or application oriented, while researchers interested in the more particular subject matter will greatly benefit from its rigor of scholarly reference and detail.
(Craig Anz, Southern Illinois University)
 
With compelling insights into the ethos and power structures of Islam, Reading the Islamic City deftly weaves vivid images taken from poetry, prayers, and paintings through Foucault’s analytical discussion of governmental rule of law to convey a deeply humanistic dimension contained within the rigid dogma of Maliki law that informed the development of the Islamic urban form. Kahera’s interdisciplinary approach to understanding the Islamic city provides not only a very precise and methodical deconstruction of the historic development of the Islamic city, but peels back its complex layering in a very accessible read that reveals Islam to be not simply a religion, but ‘a way of being in the world’ that informs every aspect of one’s life—including the development of one’s personal dwelling and broader surroundings. This analysis also prompts discussions about the nature and development of one’s own cities and dwelling places and would be of interest not only to religious scholars, but also to architects, urban planners, demographers, economists, and anyone interested in the human race.
(Sheryl Tucker de Vazquez, Prairie View A&M University)
 
About the author: Akel Ismail Kahera is professor of architecture and community planning at Prairie View A&M University and Director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture.