An Architectural Reading of Islamic Virtue


O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to cover your private parts and as an adornment, but the clothing of taqwa, that is the best. (Quran,7:26) Islamic theology privileges the disposition of taqwa as a pivotal component of ethics (Quran,49:13). Taqwa is normally translated by `piety', which makes the term a difficult one to interpret for its potential architectural implications. However the translation is wholly inadequate. Taqwa implies multiple semantic layers and resonances for architecture. The term comes from the Arabic root t-q-y. Its literal meaning is “to protect/preserve oneself", suggesting important analogies and affinities with clothing, concepts of covering and adornment - all key conditions of architecture. The semantic and etymological study of taqwa can reveal aspects of Islamic theology that have significant implications for the ethical dimension of architecture and urban form. This paper proposes an analysis of the Islamic term taqwa that will foreground its multiple semantic resonances, the difficulties of its neat translation, and its implications for an ethical consideration of architecture. Using Walter Benjamin's contention that "the interlinear version of the scriptures is the prototype or ideal of all translation”, the paper will investigate the widespread, sometime contradictory but inevitably consilient meanings that attach to the term taqwa. In doing so, the paper will highlight the stakes and the opportunities presented by the task of travelling between theological, semantic, ethical and architectural ideas.

Author Information
Seyed Mahdi Khatami, University of Sydney, Australia
Michael Tawa, University of Sydney, Australia
Glen Hill, University of Sydney, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: NACAH2014
Stream: Humanities - Religion

This paper is part of the NACAH2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon