Urbanity in the Middle Eastern studies and the paradigm of Max Weber’s Islamic City

Searching for an explanation for the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the occident as a birthplace of capitalism, Max Weber proposed a theory of urban life and development taking the medieval European city as an ideal type. He suggested that there were five distinguishing marks of the city in the full sense: fortifications, markets, a court administering an autonomous law, distinctively urban forms of association, and at least partial autonomy.1 In this sense, Weber maintained, the city had fully existed in Europe, never in Asia, only in part and for short periods in the Near East. The first publication of The City coincided with the advent of the French orientalist school of urban studies,2 which contributed to the importance of Weber’s concept for the development of the discourse on the Islamic city. Establishing his concept of the city, Weber clearly distinguished between two different perspectives – the economic and the political one. Economically defined, the city was “a settlement the inhabitants of which live primarily off trade and commerce rather than agriculture.”3 According to Weber, central to this definition was the city market that often converted the settlement into a city. Within the economic concept, a further differentiation could be made – that between consumer and producer city. The

Max Weber, The City (Munich, 1921), translated and edited by Don Martindale and Gertrud Neuwirth, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1958, p. 81. This and all further references are to the 1958 edition. 2 For the French Orientalist school of urban studies see André Raymond, “Islamic City, Arab City: Orientalist Myths and Recent Views,” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 21:1, 1994, pp. 3-18 and R. Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. 3 Max Weber, The City, p. 66.


consumer city was characterized by the presence in it and the decisive economic importance of large consumers while the thriving of the producer city was based on the location in it of factories, manufactures, or homework industries supplying outside territories. However, Weber admitted that actual cities represent mixed types and should be classified by their prevailing economic component.4 From the political perspective, if a locale performed political or administrative functions, it could be held to be a city even if it did not qualify as a city economically. Urban economic policy, moreover, could be determined by a sovereign to whom political dominion of the city with its inhabitants belonged.5 The political definition, however, also had its deficiencies – villages, like cities, could both be strong economically and even possess their own authorities. The ideal city type that emerged in the occident during the Middle Ages, as established by Weber, conformed to both the economic and political concepts. According to Weber, “[t]he city of the Medieval Occident was economically a seat of trade and commerce, politically and economically a fortress and garrison, administratively a court district and socially an oath-bound confederation.”6 In Weber’ concept, the city’s role as a fortress was very significant although, like the economic and political functions, it was far form universal. While some cities, like those of Sparta, either never had walls or remained open for long periods, in certain frontier regions not only cities but even villages fortified themselves.7 Fortresses, however, were important for the development of civic identity, with guard and garrison duty representing the oldest specifically “civic” obligations. The first burghers were bound as citizens to the performance of military duties which also predetermined
4 5

Ibid., pp. 69-70. Ibid., p. 74. 6 Ibid., p. 104. 7 Ibid., p. 75.


pp.9 This leads us to the main theme in Weber’s analysis of the development of the city. The emergence of an urban community.. The new political equality allowed for the existence of municipal councils that served as counter balance to the ruler. Participation in these councils was based on free elections. in Northern Europe vassal independence was bound up with enormous castle construction. 10 Ibid.10 According to Weber. In contrast to antiquity. The newly emerged commune was characterized by the burghers’ 8 9 Ibid. 3 . Disposal of a castle. not only signified military dominion over the country but also opened the way for the development of a politically independent gentry. in the new urban communities of the Middle Ages burghers joined the citizenry as single persons. on the other hand. p. Weber argued that this shattered the monopoly of the ruler who was considered only to be primus inter pares in the ruling establishment or even simply as equal. p. when the individual could be a citizen only as a member of his clan.. namely the development of an autonomous urban community. Ibid. was a phenomenon observed only in the Occident. In the accomplishment of this fundamental change Weber discerned the crucial role of Christianity and its contribution to the dissolution of clan associations. 76-78.membership in their estates. As Weber pointed out. 94. according to Weber. 79.8 The assumption of military functions on the part of urban families together with their participation in the civic economy played a crucial role for the development of the city towards the ideal medieval type.. by the close of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times nearly all cities in the occident were dominated by an urban council or a corporation of burghers. The revolutionary innovation of medieval occidental cities in contrast to all others was the usurpation by the urbanites of the right to violate lordly law.

was the popolo – an association of economically varied elements ranging from 11 12 Ibid. however. however.” In the process. 4 . led to their total transformation from an economical institution into a “purely electoral association of gentlemen with access to communal offices.. p. 154. 111. as far as internal administration is concerned. p. 13 Ibid. forcing the mass of the burghers to join the sworn communal brotherhood.12 The real participation of the burgher class in civic administration.14 Another crucial factor in the development of the occidental city. The purely personal oath-bound confederations became permanent political associations and their members were treated as urban citizens who were subjects to a special and autonomous law. p. as presented by Weber. Ibid. was closely related to the rise of the guilds which. membership in the guilds came to be acquired through inheritance and purchase rather than through apprenticeship and initiation. according to Weber. Weber stressed the importance of this period for the regulation of the legal status of the urban commune.11 The oath-bound fraternity of burghers in the medieval occidental city was strengthened over the course of the wars between the communes. p. could not be identified simply as “guilds of artisans” but rather as political units which competed for power with the patriciate. 139. The period of insecurity accelerated the internal structuring of the communes. 14 Ibid. 95. Membership in a guild provided citizenship and... it could secure a place in the municipal council.abidance to a common law which made it a guild of “legal associates” who formed an autonomous status group. The success of the guilds led to the achievement of full political independence and strong external power for the city..13 This extraordinary importance of the guilds in the occidental city.

in the thirteenth century. 157-159. p. Ibid. was defined as a series of “absences” thus establishing it as a foil to the ideal occidental model. the essence of the oriental city. but without meaning for the administrative purpose of the state.15 With the development of the patrimonial bureaucratic state. finances. 5 . on the other hand. and military organization thereby functioning as a state within a state. Once its legal institutions assumed shape. pp. It was gradually overwhelmed by the state and lost its characteristic autonomy. As a political sub-community it had its own official. the occidental city. is the juridical autonomy of this urban institution. It conformed to the contemporary level of knowledge and the dominating paradigms in the perception of the world. as described by Weber. For Weber the medieval commune and the ancient polis were similar in essence as associations of citizens subject to a special law. was elaborated through constant comparisons and contrasts with the urban situation of other regions of the world. the popolo became so important that often obtained universal importance for the populace.. 185. Edward Said has pointed out that Weber’s and other early twentieth-century sociologists’ use of “types” as 15 16 Ibid. independent only with respect to the circle of its corporate interests.. The popolo not only had its own legislation but even at times managed to obtain priority of its statutes over those of the commune. in which the medieval occidental city emerged as an ideal type. however. led the fight against the noble families.artisans to entrepreneurs that displaced the unruly burgher fraternities – which. began to lose its distinguishing features. What is most important for Weber’s argument. The administrative structure of the city was transformed into “a representative corporation with status privileges.”16 Weber’s concept.

or caste loyalty held precedence over the participation in an urban community.19 This prevalence of clan. Orientalism.20 In these circumstances. it lacked the defining characteristic of the occidental city. New York: Vintage.. an autonomous city law in the occidental sense could never develop. Despite these similarities. “[t]he triumph of ritualistic caste estrangements shattered the guild associations and royal bureaucracies in alliance with the Brahmans swept away. 84. 259. both in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. 20 Ibid. 81. even the concept of a joint association representing a community of burghers per se was missing. p. p. belonged to his family and native village. however. 119. the oriental. as emphasized by Weber. To put it in Weber’s words.”18 The Chinese urban dweller. 6 .17 According to Weber. or caste affiliation. Weber. p. according to Weber. shared some of the features of the occidental city being often a fortress and a center of trade. Indicative of this significant difference between the occident and the orient was the case of India where. rather than to the city he lived in. except for vestiges. the hereditary caste system excluded the emergence of a citizenry and urban community. 17 18 Edward Said. such trends toward a citizenry and urban community in Northwestern India. The City. eliminated the possibility of civic confederations thereby preventing the development of an urban community that was dependent on the emergence of the city fraternizations. 19 Ibid. namely its function as an autonomous urban community. tribal. or Asiatic city. 1979.analytical categories has both neatly associated them with Orientalism and enabled them to influence the field considerably.. The oriental urbanites themselves did not really feel a strong attachment to the city – bonds such as clan. p. tribal. on the other hand.

81-82.” According to Weber. pp. was the urban military composition of the orient..22 Another major difference between the occidental and oriental city. as Weber maintained. Islam never overcame the rural ties of Arabic tribal and clan associations remaining the religion of a conquering society structured in 21 22 Ibid. so was the idea of the city as a corporate unit. While in the occident the individual conscript enjoyed military independence and the lord of the army was dependent on the good will of its members. the urban residents could not unite and effectively oppose the city lords in a military manner. The soldiers.neither could the concept of the law as a rational creation. In contrast to Christianity and its role for the dissolving of clan associations. The participation of its inhabitants in local administration was also “out of question. In contrast to the situation in Europe. 82. that explained why civic development had not started in Asia but in Europe.. drafted and equipped by the monarch. The lack of an autonomous city law was not the only characteristic “absence” in the oriental city. in the orient. in the orient the army was incorporated by the monarch into his own bureaucratic management. 7 . the strongest dichotomy was that between Christian Europe and the Islamic world. 119-120. despite the financial power of the gilds and individuals. 21 In Asia. this was due to the oriental city’s being the seat of a high official or ruler and thus under his direct supervision. Weber argued that no political community of citizens could arise on such a foundation. were therefore separated from ownership of the means of warfare which led to their military helplessness as subjects.. 23 Ibid. p. the very idea of a legal status of “citizenship” was unknown. pp. Weber maintained. Ibid.23 In Weber’s juxtaposition of occident and orient.

the dominant military and political position of the Qurayshi family prevented the rise of a government by guilds.25 In a recent article discussing the historical sociology of the city and its relationship with orientalism. p. has been very little practiced in the past century. During Muhammad’s time the Islamic state largely destroyed the existing urban autonomy. However. Ibid. In Weber’s argument Mecca appeared as a standard reference for non-civic development. Işın. this Arabic condition – of course omitting specific Islamic traits or replacing them by Christian counterparts – may be taken to typify the period before the emergence of the urban community association. However. 88. he argued that until modern times civic life in Mecca had been characterized by the constant competition of various authorities without fixed competences.26 The analytical frameworks. Henry Pirenne. London: Sage. 8 .”24 Weber admitted that he made reference to Mecca in order to describe the typical civic conditions before the emergence of the ideal medieval occidental commune. 26 Engin F. when all is said and done. “Historical Sociology of the City.. Thus Weber contributed to the creation of a frozen image of the Islamic city that never managed to overcome its precommunal condition. This furnished its characteristic difference from the ancient polis and the early medieval Italian commune. 88. eds. 2003..” in Gerard Delanty and Engin F. p. within which urbanists have 24 25 Ibid. Weber’s description of urban realities in Mecca and the contrast with his ideal medieval city model deserves quotation at large: “The idea of an association which could unite the city into a corporate unit was missing in Mecca. p. historical sociology has been neglected. 312. Işın. Engin Işın has pointed out that historical sociology in the way Max Weber. in contrast to the growth of urban history.. Handbook of Historical Sociology. Despite the importance of some rich guilds. and Lewis Mumford have written.terms of tribes and clans.

been working. was heavily based on Snouck Hurgronje’s works which represented orientalism’s contemporary level of development. 209. “Islamic City. Early History of Institutions. Theodor Mommsen. 1854-56.”30 The approach of the French school 27 See. 256. he made use of the publications of eminent nineteenth-century scholars. 9 . have been profoundly influenced by the historical sociology of the city and its typologies. 1875. see Edward Said. 28 For a discussion of Hurgronje’s contribution to the development of orientalism. Römische Geschichte. 30 Raymond. pp. Elaborating his concept of the city based on a cultural East-West dichotomy. Henry Sumner Maine. according to which any phenomenon arising in the civilization of a Muslim country is totally conditioned by Islam.27 Weber’s idea of the Islamic city.28 The first publications in this new branch of orientalism were the product of the work of French scholars on the cities of the Levant and North Africa between the 1920s and 1950s. however. 3. “[t]he doctrine of the Orientalists concerning the Muslim city and Muslim town planning fits naturally into the fundamental concept of Orientalism. naturally expressed the orientalist concept of the stagnancy of the world of Islam and its role as a contrasting image of the West.” p. Leipzig: Reimer & Hirsel. for instance. such as Theodor Mommsen and Henry Sumner Maine. As for the secondary literature he was drawing on. Weber borrowed from the orientalists the notion of the stagnancy of Islamic society and contributed to the emerging field of oriental urban studies with a typological framework of analysis. 29 See note 2.29 As André Raymond has pointed out. especially his argument for Mecca as an epitome of non-civic development. Arab City. Weber rarely referred to any primary sources. The essence of the occidental civitas described by Weber and the orientalist discourse were interdependent. Hurgronje’s refined studies of Islamic society. conforming to the dominant colonial vision of the essence of the power-relationship between Orient and Occident. London: John Murray. Orientalism.

This city was characterized by what it was not in comparison with the cities of Antiquity and the European Middle Ages rather than by an analysis of its geographical.of Islamic urban studies was based on the need for a detailed description that had to facilitate political control. was understood as a victory of civilization and progress over the anarchy that had characterized Islamic urbanism. the French urbanists created a frozen image of an Islamic city that wasn’t changing over time. Influenced by Weber and the traditions of historical sociology. witnessed some positive developments. Arab City. 10 . triumphing over the irregularity of Arab streets. Conforming to Weber’s approach and employing well-developed orientalist schemes. The first researchers working in the field of the urban studies of the Middle East were fascinated with antique urban planning and especially the ancient cities’ gridpatterned layout.” it followed the model of ancient town planning: the return to an orthogonal layout. though still dominated by an orientalist attitude to the Middle East. Thus they conformed to Weber’s idea of the detrimental role of Islam on the urbanism of classical antiquity. p. Since French colonization represented itself as re-establishing Roman “imperium. Of particular importance for the move toward a more balanced view of the Middle East and its urban history was the work of Turkish scholars led by Ömer Lütfi Barkan.31 The second quarter of the twentieth century. They lamented that the Islamic city with its irregular streets and cul-desacs had lost the regularity and grandeur of its predecessor from classical antiquity. Much like Weber. they read the salient features of the cities they were describing in terms of a dichotomy between a progressive European and a stagnant Muslim world. the French orientalists formulated a model that was then applied to all Islamic territories. 4. Islamic City. political and social context. They 31 Raymond.

. new consideration was given to institutions such as the trade guilds. H. Berkeley: University of California Press.. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda bir İskân ve Kolonizasyon Metodu Olarak Vakıflar ve Temlikler. Studies on the tax system and demography. Ömer Lütfi Barkan. including those organized by Ira Lapidus in 196933 and Albert Hourani and Samuel Stern in 1970. 289-311. des XVIe et XVIIe siècles. 11 .pointed at the existence and outstanding value of documents kept in the Ottoman archives. pp. Lapidus. The examination of the qadi registers shed light on law and administration and posed serious challenges to Weber’s concept of the Islamic city as a non-administered one.” in Vakıflar Dergisi. II. The Islamic City: A Colloquim. the bulk of the research on the city in the world of Islam remained focused on the Levant and North Africa in an attempt at delineating an urban model that would be valid for all cities in the Muslim world. The first sustained challenges to the Orientalist concept of the Islamic city were not undertaken until the 1970s. “Tarihi Demografi Araştırmaları ve Osmanlı Tarihi. 1970. 33 Ira M. 1969. Stern. Albert Hourani clearly expressed the doubts of recent 32 See. Apart from emphasizing the considerable role played by the qadis in the management of the city. as well as those of religious and ethnic character. Despite some innovative attempts and the achievements of the Ottomanists. tax documents. 10. Middle Eastern Cities: A Symposium on Ancient. eds. pp. Most of the contributions to the debate were published in the proceedings of conferences. pp. 1-26. for instance.32 The use of this vast amount of sources – qadi registers. Islamic and Contemporary Middle Eastern Urbanism. 34 A. “Quelques Observations sur l’organization économique et sociale des villes ottomanes.” in Recueil Société Jean Bodin. ed. Hourani and S. M. 1942. including the ideas proposed by Weber. II.34 The articles included in the latter volume addressed many aspects of the Islamic city paradigm. vol. the communities of the neighborhoods. 279-386. extensively based on Ottoman archival sources. among many others – radically transformed the notion researchers had of the cities in the world of Islam. waqf deeds. 1955. however.” in Türkiyat Mecmuası. The new generation of scholars had evidently overcome the old attempts at creating an ideal model of the city. began to appear in the 1930s. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer.

as because of “varying soils and climates. on the other hand. not so much because of any supposed differences of national or religious character. or between the cities of Mesopotamia.scholarship about the validity of the Islamic city model: “Over this wide area of the world and these many centuries. those in the area of Iranian culture. different inheritances. This. p. 11. can we really speak of something called the “Islamic city”? Did cities in the Muslim world have any important features in common. Stern. and Transoxania. representing Greek. or must we look for other types of explanation?”35 The question regarding Islam’s role as a defining factor in the urbanism of the Middle East was to be asked frequently in the next several decades. eds. like those between the cities of North Africa. Hourani agreed that Islam did not recognize corporate personality except in a limited sense. for instance. 36 Ibid. Hourani. and if so can they be explained in terms of Islam. and involvement in various commercial systems. H. was prevented by the fact that the power of the state was rooted in the city. 37 Ibid.37 The development of autonomous municipal institutions. 11. Roman and Byzantine heritage. Hourani’s argument was that urban life could not be expected to have taken the same form in all regions. The Islamic City.”36 He suggested that scholars should distinguish between the cities of the different parts of the Islamic world – those of the western half. Addressing more explicitly Weber’s concept.” in A.. M. the Persian plateau. and the Levant. 14. Hourani and S. p.. H. Within each area one should also be able to make further sub-divisions. p. the Nile valley. The local bourgeoisie and the 35 A.. however. “The Islamic City in the Light of Recent Research. was explained with the spirit of Islamic social thought that went against the formation of limited groups within which there might grow up an exclusive natural solidarity hostile to the allinclusive solidarity of an umma based on common obedience to God’s commands. 12 . and those of the Indian subcontinent.

p. 38 39 Ibid. Hourani argued. industrial society of modern Europe. “The Constitution of the Islamic City. i. was characterized by its looseness.39 Stern was determined not to deal with the frequently discussed material and topographical aspects of the Islamic city but with its inner structure which. Stern.38 In another important contribution to the 1970s volume on the Islamic city.. for food supply and protection of the trade routes. S. The “constitution” of the city was defined by Stern in the sense of the city’s character and structure. urban life never existed. that because municipal privileges in the world of Islam never existed. Hourani and S. according to him.. Samuel Stern set out to examine the character of civic life in Islam and the constitution of the Islamic city and how these two distinguished it from the cities of other societies. M. M. Stern.” in A.‘ulama could not serve as the basis for the formation of local autonomous institutions because they needed the government for maintenance of peace and security and. H. moreover. 13 . the absence of corporate municipal institutions. He began his exposition with an analysis of the antique heritage and its influence on the development of the cities in the world of Islam. Hourani rightly pointed out that Weber’s main problem was always to explain the emergence of the rational. It would not however be true to say. eds. The Islamic City.e. Again addressing Weber. p. Weber’s emphasis on Europe’s uniqueness made it easy to draw the inference that this unique society was the norm and all others were arrested or diverted in their natural development towards it. 15. bureaucratic. Hourani argued that the autonomous cities of the classical world and of medieval Europe were not the norm to which all cities at all times had tended to approach but rather an exception which itself needs explanation. Stern made the argument that Islamic civilization did not inherit the municipal institutions of Antiquity because. 25.

with the administrative reorganization and centralization of Byzantium in the seventh century. after a period of a gradual and complicated decline. the emerging Islamic civilization could not inherit and develop them.”41 Discussing the “constitution” of the Islamic city. 13-14. municipal city government was altogether destroyed. Despite some groping towards 40 41 Ibid. Thus Stern criticized Weber who had attributed the absence of municipal institutions in Islam to the tribal traditions of the Arabs. “From Polis to Madina. Therefore. 106. 1985. but it did not even develop any of its own. Samuel Stern’s convincing argument was only one of the many contributions. According to him..” in Past and Present. no theatre. there was by the time of the Muslim conquest of the eastern parts of the classical world nothing left to inherit. This argument was also expressed in 1985 by Hugh Kennedy in his authoritative article “From Polis to Madina. Samuel Stern admitted that Islamic civilization not only did not have the chance to inherit the municipal institutions of Antiquity.40 The problem of the relationship between Antiquity and Islam had become a major theme in the discussions of Islamic society and the Middle Eastern city since the 1950s.owing to their gradual decline. there was no agora. It gradually appeared that many of the negative aspects that the Orientalists thought characteristic of the Islamic city were apparent in the antique city and had resulted from an urban evolution that spread over a few centuries. 26-30. since the municipal institutions had ceased to exist by the time the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire were conquered by the Muslims. pp. pp.” Kennedy maintained that in the urban communities of the fifth and sixth centuries in Syria “there was no classical town plan to affect later growth… The ‘streets’ were narrow and winding paths. no colonnades. 14 . Hugh Kennedy.

44 42 43 Stern. this lack of corporations could be explained in terms of Islam. the city as association. “The Islamic City in the Light of Recent Research. could not be formed in a society whose basic units. Thus a civitas. Albert Hourani pointed out that Islam did not recognize the corporation but only the individual and the community of believers. p. to prevent one individual infringing the freedom of others. the families. “The Constitution of the Islamic City.” p. 44 Hourani. The separation between public and private life could also be explained in terms of the concept of the freedom of the individual. the craft organizations in Islam too never assumed a proper corporative form. The emphasis was on the freedom of the individual to seek the goods of this world and the next in his own way and to dispose freely of them. In the interests of the community.” p. 31.urban autonomy. since this was a common feature of most civilizations. civic institutions. nothing comparable to the situation in Western Europe could develop. 24.42 Similarly to the unsuccessful attempts for the creation of civic institutions. juridical. touched only externally. Though. 49.43 The peculiarities of the status of the individual in the cities of the Muslim world found a new explanation in the 1970s based not on a contrast with an ideal European type but rather on a profound examination of Islamic society. it could not be considered a specific characteristic of Islamic civilization. Stern points out that this was a period of comparatively stable central government that was not particularly propitious for the rise of municipal autonomy. the ruler had a duty to intervene in order to regulate the relations of individuals. according to Stern. The first Islamic centuries saw a splendid development of urban civilization but the intense civic life did not produce formal. Idem. what Weber and other sociologists were mainly interested in. 15 .

87.. reflecting a growing sophistication of methodologies and approaches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.45 In volume 2 of The Venture of Islam Hodgson discussed Islamic society in the Earlier Middle Period of Islamic history. S. 47 Ibid. Hodgson in his brilliant study of Islamic civilization.The status of the individual was also examined in the 1970s by Marshall G.. Under these circumstances. with local rights and responsibilities determined by his local citizenship.47 Studies focused on the city and its inhabitants in the Middle East over the last three decades have continued to provide new and meaningful insights. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. it was impossible for cities to build up enduring bourgeois autonomy in the sense of the European commune. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam. the only explicit unity was that of the Dar alIslam itself. with responsibilities determined by his presence before God alone. S. Despite the various local traditions. the perception of the impossibility of using generalizations to describe a unified model determined a change of 45 Marshall G. p. 1974. As a free Muslim he was a “citizen” of the world of Islam.46 According to Hodgson. Since there has been a growing awareness that every urban entity has its own unique identity. p. 945 – 1258. 124. v. 3 vol. which is different from others in terms of geographical and historical circumstances.. 16 . In Muslim lands such corporate entities as the communes could not thrive – a person was not a citizen of a particular town. He argued that the period was characterized by its cosmopolitanism which became apparent in the notion that the individual was a “citizen” of the whole Dar alIslam. the reason for this cosmopolitanism of the Islamic world in the Earlier Middle Period was the central position of the Muslim regions in the geographical configuration of the expanding AfroEurasian Oikoumene. 46 Hodgson. and the effects over time of that expansion. which predetermined the maintenance of the universality of the whole society. 2.

political. a very tentative set of placespecific comments and descriptions appears. 155-176. Janet Abu-Lughod’s The Islamic City – Historic Myth. The three particular cities. 17 . pp. In another highly critical essay. focusing on the fourteenth-century situation. while there were almost no publications on other types of cities defined by religion. Oct. 1. “The Islamic City – Historic Myth.48 Abu-Lughod maintained that the model of the Islamic city so far defined was the result of an orientalist perspective based on the observation of a few case studies in a limited area. 1989. 49 Ibid. The Proceedings of the International Conference on Urbanism in Islam (ICUIT). v. 193-217. witnessed the publication of the most critical and cogent analysis of the Islamic city.” “because it refers to cities built by 48 Janet Abu-Lughod. did not take into account the evolution of the three cities over time. She drew attention to the paradox of the existence of a large body of literature about an intellectual reality called the Islamic city. 160. 50 Janet Abu-Lughod. however. These enter the literature and take on the quality of abstractions.. Abu-Lughod herself expressed preference for the term “Muslim city. Islamic Essence. Islamic Essence.50 Janet Abu-Lughod directly posed the question what made a city Islamic. and Contemporary Relevance. pp.”49 Abu-Lughod further pointed out that the model of the Islamic city. p. The 1980s. She warned of the dangers of generalizing specific morphological and geographical data that had led the orientalists to assimilate cities from widely differing areas.approach and a new attitude dominated the field of urban studies of the Islamic world. were Fez in Morocco and Aleppo and Damascus in Syria. “What is Islamic about a City? Some Comparative Reflections. the studies of which stood as the basis for the development of the standard image of the Islamic city. 19. “In each case. and religious systems but also on specific cultural factors. and Contemporary Relevance.” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. and instead advanced an idea of the formation of the Islamic city through a morphological process based not only on legal. 1987. 22-28.” in Urbanism in Islam.

Kennedy and others. 214. typically explained as Islamic influence. Yale: Yale University Press. was gender segregation. 211. the new harness allowed for the use of camels to carry heavy loads thus making the straight and wide streets superfluous. she contradicted the revisionist approach of Stern. rather than to cities built by a reified abstraction called “Islam. especially in classical Greece.. 1993. see Leila Ahmed. believers in Islam. Persia..”51 She argued that Islam must not be used as an explanatory element. p. and within Jewish society.Muslims.e. but emphasized the similar extent of gender segregation in the pre-Islamic world. 18 . Abu-Lughod argued that 51 52 Ibid. 203-204. 204. namely the lack of municipal institutions in the cities in the world of Islam.. She admitted that this feature of the medieval Muslim city was one of the main differences distinguishing it from its medieval European counterpart. notorious for its irregularity. developing her argument. i. It is interesting that. For a detailed discussion of the origins and development of gender segregation. closely elaborated by Max Weber. While in Roman and Byzantine times straight and wide streets were needed for the wheeled carts pulled by oxen. regarding the influence of the ancient city on Islamic urbanism. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. what solidified this system of crooked narrow streets was the changing economics of transport.52 Another feature of the Muslim city. rather. despite the influence of the Islamic property rights. 53 Ibid. p.53 In this critical article. Abu-Lughod addressed one of the key aspects of the debate on the Islamic city. AbuLughod addressed some key features of the Islamic city that had been perceived as typically Islamic and argued that they were rather based on geographical and cultural specifics. that Abu-Lughod analyzed. One of them was the street pattern of Muslim cities. Ibid. According to Abu-Lughod.. p. one should demonstrate how specifically Islam characterized certain aspects of the city.

cities could not be expected to have had their own municipal institutions. 12. 201-202. rather. They actually were the institutions through which the economic. Raymond. the seventh-century cities of the Middle East represented a high culture that was surpassed only by the magnificence of China. political. That was a major contrast with the developments in Europe – the Middle Eastern cities did not have the chance to grow in the cracks of secular and religious power. According to her. Thus. “What is Islamic about a City?.” p. the eminent historian of the Arab cities André Raymond aptly posed the question: “How can one speak of an Islamic city by only considering Mediterranean Arab cities (and sometimes cities of the Maghreb) and ignoring the remaining five-sixths of the Islamic world?”55 Raymond rejected the orientalist vision of the backward Middle Eastern city. In his 1994 article. religious.the urban heritage of the part of the classical world that Islam conquered in the early Middle Ages was found intact by its new masters. they were the centers of power. therefore.” p. The differences between “Christian” and “Islamic” cities. 19 . Arab City. the political system of Islam diffused from an urban base from the very beginning. there still have been major critiques of the Islamic city in scholarly literature. He challenged the orientalist assessments of French urban historians contrasting the Ottoman 54 55 Abu-Lughod. as a defining factor for the character of urban centers was that religious beliefs and institutions were only one of the many defining factors. or religion in general. and social systems worked.54 Abu-Lughod’s conclusion to the problem of Islam. “Islamic City. Although the discussion of the existence of an Islamic city per se has not been as central in the last couple of decades as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. were based as much on geographical and historical conditions as on the religion of their inhabitants. Therefore.

this orientalist concept has proved durable in the works of architects and urban planners.. 58 Abu-Lughod. 1986.58 56 57 Ibid. according to her. be it Islamic or other. in this sense. on the other hand. 173. 20 . argued that the general principles for the construction of the Islamic city had been defined by Islamic law. and his model for the Islamic built environment suggests the orientalists’ frozen picture. This approach has been criticized by Janet AbuLughod. Besim Hakim.” p. London: KPI. Raymond argued that Ottoman rule represented a period of expansion. by the Orientalist literature and its alleged depiction of the essence of the Islamic city. pattern. p. Cities. are living processes rather than products with strictly defined characteristics. Hakim discounts the possibility of evolutionary change over the centuries. Besim Selim Hakim. both theoreticians and practitioners. urban practitioners with a new-found respect for the great achievements of the past have been searching for ways to reproduce in today’s cities some of the patterns of city building that have been defined as Islamic. In the last several decades.56 The sustained efforts at debunking the vision of a unified Islamic city type notwithstanding. who has argued that none of the conditions which would allow for the reconstruction of Islamic cities by design still exist. for the cities of the Middle East. whether wittingly or not. for instance. Arabic-Islamic Cities: Building and Planning Principles. 12. by juxtaposing fourteenth-century Maliki law with the contemporary madina.period with an alleged age of order and progress announced by French domination. “The Islamic City. they can only be encouraged to grow in the desired direction and not reproduced on the basis of a strict. rather than decline. based on the urban form of Tunis. In this quest.57 In his research. they have been influenced.

Attilio Pettruccioli. attempting not only to provide snapshots of urban fabric but also to deal with the transformation of this fabric over time. Jayyusi. 21 . as well as the contributors to.” the four prominent editors aim at putting an end to the no longer productive discourse on the “Islamic city” that had its origins in the typological approach elaborated by Max Weber in the early twentieth century. this two-volume set acknowledge the kaleidoscopic nature of the Islamic world and provide a close look at the regional and chronological differentiation of the city.”59As any living organism. Entitling the volume “The City in the Islamic World. they argue in the introduction. André Raymond.. integral part of which has been Weber’s concept of the city. the city should be seen in continuous transformation and not in frozen images. The City in the Islamic World. 59 Salma K. 2008. Renata Holod. Thus they reject the orientalist approach. xiii. p. Contrary to the orientalist notion of a uniform Islamic city type. representing cities ranging from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.The editors of a most recent publication dealing with urbanism in the Islamic world have formulated their leading concept as “to consider the city as a living organism. Leiden: Brill. eds. the editors of.

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