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Dwelling Spaces



Typical Houses . Like other aspects of Muslim daily life, housing varied enormously across the many geographic regions to which Islam spread. Within regions, dwellings varied according to ethnicity, religion, class, way of life (rural or urban, agricultural or pastoral), and historical periods. Archaeologists and social historians have dealt with diversity in domestic spaces by identifying common features and creating an idealized schema for the Muslim home. The scheme is based on attributes of Islamic family life: gender separation, private and public life, and the sanctity of the haram, or sacred, protected space. The prototype for this sort of house is the one built by the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah. It is a courtyard house of a basic type found in western Arabia during the seventh century, but it was consciously constructed to fulfill the requirements of the Prophet’s extended family and public responsibilities. It was both a dwelling and a meeting place with a rectangular, walled courtyard. On one or more sides of the courtyard it had rooms for sleeping and storage, and each wife and her children had their own chamber. Words for house in Arabic include bayt or manzil and a compound was called dar usually designated with a family name, such as Dar al-Khatib. The typical layout of the Muslim courtyard house was rectangular with a street entrance opening into a room for receiving male guests that let onto a main, semiprivate courtyard, with entrances to the kitchen and men’s quarters. Entrances to private quarters also opened onto the main courtyard and then onto a second, private courtyard around which the women’s and children’s quarters were arranged. In rural areas there might be an enclosure for domestic animals. Commentators on Muslim societies have often erred in describing public and private spaces, maintaining often that the men enjoyed the public space, while women were confined to private spaces. In fact, Muslim women entertained female visitors and received tradeswomen and messengers, just as men entertained male visitors, so it is more appropriate to speak of male communal areas and female communal areas rather than public and private space as gender-exclusive realms. Nor is it true that women did not share at all in the public life of the city. Literary and pictorial evidence shows that they were present in public. The basic plan of a Muslim house has often been described as inward-turning, with a relatively unadorned exterior of adobe or stucco with high, narrow windows and a door that opens on an entryway angled to discourage looking into the house. (On the other hand, medieval books also include illustrations of houses with ornamented exteriors, both in rural and urban areas.) The typically bland exterior has been contrasted with the richly ornamented interior decor, replete with mosaics, carpets, textile hangings, cushions, and furnishings, and a courtyard garden with flowers and fountains. Some aspects of this house type predate Islam and bear a relationship to previous cultures and religious groups that, like Muslims, valued privacy. For example, the desire for family privacy was also common in pre-Islamic Byzantine society, where women were not prominent in public. The features of the archetypical Muslim house are also related to the hot, arid climate in much of the Muslim world, and the need to keep dust out of the house and to shade the interior from direct sunlight as much as possible. Although the courtyard house was typical for many North African and Southwest Asian regions during the period, there were many variations on the theme of divided private and communal spaces for family members: one-floor houses, multistory dwellings, domestic compounds consisting of a walled or fenced space with multiple buildings, and elaborate palaces and palatial complexes.

Urban Context . The urban setting in which houses were placed was as important a part of daily life as the houses themselves. Much has been written over the twentieth century about the structural patterns of the stereotypical “Islamic” city, and much has been reconsidered by recent scholars. New evidence has called into question the supposedly typical patterns identified by earlier scholars, who have been criticized because the concepts they used to discuss cities in Muslim regions were derived from European urban models to which Muslim cities were often unfavorably compared. For example, these early scholars often expressed the notion that the grid pattern of classical cities deteriorated under Muslim rule, so that cities took on a random “rabbit warren” or “labyrinth” pattern. Orientalist scholars used to attribute this change to a tendency toward fragmentation and disorder inherent in Islam. Recent scholarship shows that Muslim cities arose from a variety of historical contexts and developed along many planning patterns. Garrison cities, for example, were often organized on a grid modeled on a military encampment, with separate sections to house the tribal groups who made up the Arab armies. The grid was later modified by non-military migration to the towns and the expansion of commercial and cultural institutions and activities in and around the older core. In contrast, capital cities such as Fustat (Cairo) and Baghdad started out as expressions of a single ruler or group but expanded beyond the complex of palaces, dwellings for officials, places of worship, and administrative offices, often spreading beyond city walls and forming suburbs as the population grew. Just as modern cities have ethnic neighborhoods, migrants to centers of Islam settled in close-knit, relatively homogenous neighborhoods. Over the centuries, neighborhoods became quarters with district governments and leadership structures such as guilds, and they were designated, but not necessarily segregated, according to religion and ethnicity. Ultimately, both capital and garrison cities became much larger than the original complexes, and the cities became important for reasons that overshadowed their original function. Older cities such as Damascus, Jerusalem, and Cordoba grew along functional lines, under the influence of prestige-enhancing construction projects such as monuments, palaces, and religious institutions. Present-day historical study focuses less on the identification of archetypes and more on the layout and development of actual cities—both those newly developed by Muslims and those that overlaid existing cities—and the social forces that brought about change in urban patterns.

The Masjid . The concept of a uniform Muslim urban layout may be highly questionable, but the existence of many common features in cities, as in individual dwellings, sheds light on the daily life of the people who lived there. Among the most important common features, the masjid is the most universal. Large cities had a jami’ (main, or Friday) masjid at a central, open site, often near the residence of the governor or ruler, with dwelling quarters in blocks around it. Surrounding quarters often had internal squares and smaller neighborhood masjids, or in the case of non-Muslim quarters, other houses of worship. The rationale for the central jami’ masjid was that jun’ah prayer on Friday was a time for people of different groups to mingle, learn to know and care about each other, and reinforce the unity of the ummah (community of the Prophet) as a whole. The khutbah, or sermon, was a powerful tool for mobilizing public opinion, and it was carefully watched by the rulers.

Markets . Places of worship were often associated with weekly or permanent markets. They might be as simple as a mat laid out in an open space or wide street, or a series of tent-shaded market stalls set up near the masjid or along a major thoroughfare. A public project in major cities was the construction of the bazaar (from Persian) or covered market arcades, the original shopping malls. As early as the eighth century in Damascus, each category of goods had a permanent market (suq), and these markets collectively evolved into a network of covered bazaars or urban commercial areas. In some cities, markets were furnished with amenities such as arcades that drew in the cooling breezes. One form of natural air conditioning in bazaars was a series of small domes over the arcades, with openings to the sky. Warm air rose up and out through the openings in the domes, which also provided a source of light for the covered area of the shops. Earthen, paved, or tiled floors protected the goods from dust and mud. Animal traffic and loading took place in side streets parallel to the pedestrian walkways. Other shops, stalls, and occasional markets were set up in quarters to meet the needs of neighborhoods, and fresh produce markets were placed near the gardens and hinterlands that provided for the city. Major markets for craft production, exports, and imports were set up in special areas close to transportation routes such as ports, waterways, and entry points for overland routes, often close to the city gates. The craft markets were planned and regulated by the institution of the muhtasib (market inspector). The various crafts were regulated for integrity of production and honesty in commerce, and their workplaces were situated in such a way as to meet their requirements for water, fuel, or access to roads, to reduce hazards from noxious odors, runoff, and danger of fire. Tanneries, for example, had to be downwind and on the outskirts of the cities, while businesses such as perfumers, booksellers, and fabric markets could be placed anywhere, especially near a masjid. Such zoning regulations determined where people lived and worked and where and at what times they moved about the city, while limiting the bustle, noise, and smells of urban commerce and manufacture in most parts of the city.

Baths . Another important feature of everyday city life was the public bath, called hammam. Literary accounts mention thousands of public baths in some cities. These either public or commercial establishments were regulated by market or health inspectors. Except for the inhabitants of palaces and extravagant residences, which had their own baths, everyone used public baths, which varied in the degree of luxury according to location. Many public baths served both men and women, designating different sections or different days for each sex; some baths were exclusively male or female. Modeled on the baths of Rome, the ham-mams in Muslim cities and towns were made from stone or brick, with the floors and lower walls paved with mosaics or marble. In Iraq earthen brick was plastered with bitumen to make it waterproof and shiny like polished marble. Designs were formed in the bitumen for decoration. This inexpensive but effective construction was also used for latrines in middle-class homes.

Rooms in the Bath . Bathers visited a series of rooms in sequence. In the first room, which had a counter from which attendants handed out bath supplies, bathers undressed and hung their outer clothing on pegs. This room was cool and along its walls it had stone or wooden benches covered with carpets and cushions where clients could rest and chat. To enter the second room, which was warmed and humidified, bathers put on the mizar, or waist wrap, and remained there until they were accustomed to the heat. The third room was the tepidarium, which was warmed by a heat source in its thick walls or under the floor. The domed ceiling of the tepidarium had round, thick glass inserts to let in light, but there were no openings to allow the escape of steam. Next to this steam room was a furnace room where water was boiled, then piped into the tepidarium. Used water flowed into runnels outside the building and was not allowed to flow directly into rivers or canals. Water was often carried to the baths via aqueducts or a diverted stream, or draft animals or waterwheels supplied fresh water. The tepidarium was tiled, faced with marble, or plastered with bitumen; it was fitted with stone basins, benches, and alcoves with earthenware pipes bringing hot and cold water. Drinking hot water and sitting in the warm room, the bathers sweated and then entered cubicles where they or an attendant scrubbed and lathered the skin, removed body hair, and gave a massage. The last step was taking a dip in a large swimming pool at the center of the tepidarium. After the bath, the bather went to a relaxation room—which often had a pool, fountains, and wooden benches with cushions and carpets—where refreshments were served. Needless to say, the baths were as much a gathering place as a means of staying healthy and meeting religious requirements for cleanliness. Market inspectors established strict instructions for keeping baths sanitary, including regular fumigation, daily laundering of towels and wraps, preventing wastewater from polluting fresh, and cleaning the basins and tanks.


When Ibn Battuta visited Mogadishu in East Africa around 1330 local officials gave him gifts of clothing from various parts of the Muslim empire:

On the fourth day, which was a Friday, the qadi and … one of the Shaikh’s viziers came to me, bringing a set of robes; these robes consist of a silk wrapper which one ties around his waist in place of sarwal (for they have no acquaintance with these), a tunic of Egyptian linen with an embroidered border, a furred mantle of Jerusalem stuff, and an Egyptian turban with an embroidered edge. … They also brought robes for my companions suitable to their position.…

Source: Ross E. Dunn, Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Construction and Materials . Geography determined building materials. In the arid, sparsely treed belt that stretched across much of the Muslim world from West Africa to Central Asia, unbaked mud bricks were used for ordinary homes, and baked bricks were employed in more-expensive public structures. The majority of rural housing in the Muslim world was unbaked brick, or adobe, usually one story in height but widely varying in size. The word adobe came to English through Spanish from the Arabic word for an earthen brick, al-tuba. The climatic forces that limited tree growth made such houses practical and durable, with annual upkeep limited to replastering in regions where there were appreciable seasonal rains. Wood was used only for roof beams, doors, and basic furnishings in these areas. In West Africa, where Islam had begun to dominate by 1500, public buildings such as masjids were typically constructed with porcupine-like wooden beams protruding from towers and high elevations and serving as built-in scaffolding for plastering after the rains. West African houses included rectangular mud-brick styles with wood and stucco decorative elements, round mud-brick houses with thatch roofs, and round dwellings constructed entirely of matting. In the marshy area of southern Iraq and lake areas of Chad and Western Africa, houses were built of reeds and grasses. Among the best-known unbaked-brick structures are the multistory mud-tower houses of the Yemen, some of which have stood for more than a thousand years. On the seacoasts and in Egypt, houses were built with wind towers: large, rectangular shafts with wooden vents on the sides or an opening at the top to catch the prevailing winds and channel them into the rooms of the house. Regions such as the eastern Mediterranean coast, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghrib, and parts of Spain and East Africa had plentiful supplies of stone, which was used for foundations in combination with wood or adobe. Dwellings for the wealthier classes might be built

entirely of finely dressed stone, as were public buildings and fortifications for towns, which formed a backdrop and security zone for individual dwellings in their quarters. The use of Jerusalem stone in Palestine was typical of such construction. In Asia Minor, which by 1500 had experienced the major migration of Turkish tribes that began in the eleventh century, houses in rural areas were constructed of stone and wood, which were much more plentiful there than in many other Muslim regions and could be more readily imported for urban construction.

Urban Construction . Palaces were built on large estates surrounded by gardens and fortifications, but the homes in most urban quarters were spaced close together on narrow alleyways. The city was divided into sections linked by wider roads, but streets in the quarters usually were only wide enough to allow riding animals to pass one another. The narrow streets were shaded by walls, keeping the city cooler, and some streets were covered or bridged so that upper stories or rooftops could form another layer of movement in the city, allowing women to move from house to house without going outdoors. Narrow streets were the focus of regulations forbidding protrusions, such as bay windows, from blocking the streets. Residents were responsible for sweeping and watering the alley in front of their houses to keep the dust down.

Mobile Homes . Among pastoral peoples of the Arabian and Saharan deserts, the rectilinear, divided, or undivided tent made of goat or camel’s hair had already been developed centuries before Islam and has persisted to the present day. Many Turkic peoples of Central Asia used less-rectilinear and more pavilion-like tents, which were sometimes mounted on wagons, such as the one Ibn Battuta described when he was crossing the Asian steppe. The elaborate framework of tent poles and rigging was most like that of circus tents used in western Europe and North America, with a high, peaked dome from which the sides were suspended. Such a tent could be made rectangular, square, or round on the same model. An interesting form of such “mobile homes” was the yurt, which became familiar in the Muslim world after the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century and the subsequent conversion of many Mongol tribes to Islam within about a century. Originating many centuries before Islam, the yurt was a round, igloo-shaped home large enough for a single family to sleep, cook, and live in during severe weather. It was constructed of thick wool felt laid over a collapsible wooden latticework frame. The felt provided a warm and waterproof covering to keep out strong winds and snow. Inside, a yurt was comfortable and roomy without wasting space; pile carpets, hangings, and woven and embroidered cushions were arranged around the sides for sleeping and sitting. Intricate, boldly colored designs were worked into the felt of the interior. Like a typical Turkic peaked tent, the design of the yurt also influenced regional architecture in permanent materials, especially mausoleums in tent-like forms. Both the pavilion and the yurt could be elaborately decorated and enormous in size when used to house a prominent ruler or military commander. Fine materials such as silk, embroidered and appliqued panels, linings, and furnishings made royal tents like mobile palaces.

Decoration . Among the most common decorative materials were surface embellishment or perforations of the building material around the roof, walls, windows, or balconies. Raised designs made of plasterwork and stucco could be plain, carved, or inlaid with tiles as simply or elaborately as the budget allowed. One could gauge the wealth of a home by the elaborately carved panels and friezes in the rooms. Facing the building in full or in part with stone, tile, or textured brickwork was common. In regions where it was too scarce to use as a construction material, wood might be used as a decorative element. Among the best were tropical woods from East Africa and imported Indian teak, which was weatherproof, well suited to carving, and durable. In most places windows were shuttered rather than glazed, and in hot, arid lands, latticework on windows and upper door panels let in breezes and allowed people to look out without being seen. Curtains or wooden louvers preserved privacy when inner rooms were lighted at night. Among the best-known elements of multistory buildings in southwest Asian cities was the mashrabiyyah, a multifunctional set of decorative window lattices made from small pieces of turned wood. Its combination of shutters, grilles, and frames gave maximum cooling, shade, and privacy during the day and evening. The name mashrabiyyah comes from the root word sharaba (to drink) and the related word mashraba means “a place or niche where earthenware water jugs were kept to cool the water by evaporation.” The mashrabiyyah originated in Cairo but was influenced by Indian perforated windows done in marble and earlier in iron or bronze. Carved wood moldings on rooms and the use of inlays in painted and unpainted doors were common. In Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, colored glass and thin, translucent slices of stone were shaped into designs and embedded in stuccoed frames, creating an effect similar to a leaded stained-glass window. Muslims also worked in stained glass, and their designs, along with their recipes and the minerals they used to make colored glass, probably influenced European glasscraft, which employed geometric designs reminiscent of Islamic art.

Interior Spaces . Many city and village residents lived in humble one-room huts or houses, with perhaps a walled enclosure for animals attached. In rural areas, animals were kept in the house, and fowl such as chickens, pigeons, and ducks were often kept on the rooftop, where the family also slept in summer. Rural and poor families used their dwelling spaces in flexible ways dictated by local traditions and economic activities such as weaving and crafts. Men socialized in communal public spaces rather than at home, and women visited each other’s homes but also socialized at communal work areas such as wells, riverbanks, and fields.

Multiroom Houses . The reception room in Muslim regions—such as the parlor, salon, or living room in many cultures—displayed the owners’ wealth in its furnishings. The reception room was typically decorated with tiled or paneled dados and niches to hold decorative items on the walls, as well as moldings on the ceilings. It was furnished with mats or carpets, curtains, cushions, tables, or trays for presentation of refreshments and was ventilated by openings onto the main courtyard. Braziers were brought in to warm it in winter, while sprinkled sand and earthen water jugs cooled it in summer. To the sides of the reception rooms, adjoining the main courtyard, were men’s private quarters and a kitchen, with private quarters and a private courtyard for the family beyond. Archaeologists have excavated single-story houses of fifty rooms and more, and two-to-eight-story buildings were found in cities such as Fustat, with the upper apartments used variously for guest reception or private apartments. Near the back of the house, and often detached from it, were privies that emptied into a pit that might be closed off when filled or was emptied by paid workmen. The refuse was dried for fuel or fertilizer. Only the houses of the wealthy had private baths, and most people used water from pitchers and large vessels for washing themselves and their clothing at home. Water came from wells, rivers, and canals or was bought from water carriers. Digging private wells in cities was not usually practical because of the congestion and danger of contamination, but the wealthy piped in water through cement, earthen, and wooden piping systems. Public water systems were the pride of public works, featuring norias (water wheels with buckets attached to their rims), cisterns, and aqueducts, some of which pre-dated Islam. In some places the groundwater level was low and the water brackish. Runoffs for used household water led into the streets and, in places where urban order was well administered, the disposal of wastewater was regulated so that it did not create a health problem. Palaces had elaborate, self-contained facilities for water supply and drainage. Among the rooms that were sometimes added to the basic public and private spaces in a house were additional reception rooms, apartments, and guest quarters. Under the influence of the positive attitude toward learning, the wealthy acquired books and built personal libraries to house them. In Baghdad and parts of Persia and Central Asia, underground or sunken rooms were dug for cooling, with running water channeled through them. Another social space was the raised porch, or dukkan, at the doorway of a house, a raised platform where the owner could sit and watch the street or receive guests informally. Students sometimes took lessons from masters on the dukkan. Such platforms might be small front stoops in narrow alleyways of the city, but in areas where homes were less densely clustered, the dukkan approached the dimensions of a veranda and might be canopied or roofed over with wood, while its floor was covered with carpets or mats for sitting. The informal evening round of visitations in villages and towns still makes use of this architectural element for much of its social vitality. A passerby can offer a greeting without stopping, stop for a few moments, or sit for an extended period with refreshments.

Gardens . Surrounding the homes of the wealthy and the palaces of the ruling classes were elaborately laid-out gardens for relaxation and entertainment and for growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs for the kitchen. Courtyards in humble urban homes might have a few plants and trees, and even a simple fountain or water basin. Hydraulic technologies developed in Muslim regions combined ideas from China, Persia, India and Central Asia, and Rome. Waterwheels and windmills, pumps, gears, and siphons made fountains spout water. Engineering books from the medieval period depict elaborate waterworks built to entertain princes and their courts. Palaces such as the Alhambra in Granada show the imaginative use of light, shade, water, and vegetation in decorating the interior and exterior spaces of a living complex. The art of gardening was well developed in India and Persia, where many of the common garden flowers and fruits known around the world were first domesticated. Orange, lemon, and fig trees, palms, shrubs, and scented flowers such as the rose and jasmine spread across the Eastern Hemisphere with the growing urbanization of Muslim regions. Quite a few domesticated fruits, medicinal plants, flowers, and herbs were first brought to the palace gardens and were then grown in other areas of a city. Musical and literary gatherings were held in the gardens of humble homes and royal palaces alike.

Furnishings . Furnishings in Muslim homes were on a horizontal plane. During the medieval period, none but the wealthiest people used framed, raised furniture such as diwans (raised sofas), chairs, and benches, and even those

seats were quite low. Most people sat on mats, carpets, cushions, mattresses, or low platforms. The custom of low seating was encouraged by the precedent of Prophet Muhammad, who sat on the floor, slept on a coarse mat, and had no throne despite the high esteem in which he was held. In addition, the horizontal aspect of Islamic prayer reinforced this custom, as did the value placed on gathering knowledge while sitting at the feet of a learned person in the halaqa, or circle, in the masjid or madrasah (school). These forms of furniture created a demand for domestic textiles, which were produced in increasing variety and traded among Muslim cities and regions. Just as clothing was an important form of wealth in households great and small, domestic textiles—such as mats, cushions, and curtains—were traded, displayed, and inherited. Eating also took place at floor level, with the food spread out on skins, mats, cloths, trays, or low tables. Storage chests were the most prominent vertical furniture in homes. Chests were fitted with metal hinges, plates, and locks, and elaborate chests were carved, inscribed, or inlaid with designs in ivory, metal, mosaics, and exotic woods. Embossed leather boxes and basketry were alternatives to wooden chests. Articles could also be stored in niches in the thick earthen and stucco walls, with doors or curtains to conceal the contents. Open niches displayed trinkets and held lamps. Lamps were made of metal, stone, glass, or ceramic and burned olive oil, scented oils, and other flammable, slow-burning substances. Engineers such as al-Jazari and the Banu Musa produced designs for perpetual lamps and self-trimming wicks, curiosities for the wealthy or public spaces. Knotted and woven carpets, whose Asian and African origins date to prehistoric times, became a highly refined Muslim textile product that was widely traded and exported. Muslim carpets came to be prized in European homes and palaces, where the custom of walking on interior floors with boots and shoes differed from the practice further south and east. The stunning array of colors and designs used in Muslim carpets represent local tastes and traditions, and carpets were the most valuable, durable, and useful domestic items of everyday use.

Everyday Implements . Domestic articles from Muslim society are well represented in museums, and their shapes and decoration may be traced to cultural influences across the Eastern Hemisphere. Literary accounts and miniature illustrations show the high standard of living attained by some Muslims, who had a dazzling variety of objects for everyday use. At one end of the economic spectrum were carpets woven of silk and wool; velvet cushions and mattresses stuffed with feathers; chests inlaid with ivory and gold; vessels of brass, glass, gold, pewter, silver, or jade; trinkets encrusted with jewels; and other objects of fine workmanship from the most renowned centers of production. Less affluent households possessed less opulent objects that might nonetheless be beautifully made. The most basic household items were woven mats for sleeping and sitting, clay vessels for cooking and holding water, some wooden or metal cooking utensils, and a few personal items such as combs, leather bags, and coarse fabrics for various purposes. Made of rushes, reeds, palm fiber, and grasses, mats lasted for years even with hard use. In Egypt smooth mats were made from papyrus reeds woven on a base of hemp or palm-fiber twine. Inexpensive cushions and mattresses were also made from these durable natural fibers, as were sandals, baskets, and other household items, including cradles. Among the basic items in common households was a tall pitcher called a ewer. It was used to pour water for washing hands before and after meals and for ritual washing before prayer. Drinking vessels included earthenware jars that were left unglazed to cool the water by evaporation. Some water jars had a pouring spigot near the bottom. Earthenware also served as storage for foodstuffs in the kitchen, but some substances—such as oils, perfumes, and spices—required glazed containers. Cooking pots, trays, and other vessels of spun, beaten, or cast metal were commonly used for cooking and serving. Some metals, such as copper, were known to have toxic properties, so, for example, acidic foods were not cooked in copper pots unless they were lined with tin. Engraving, chasing (pressing raised designs into the metal), and inlaying decorations in metal were renowned crafts among Muslims. Museums possess excellent examples of brass buckets, ewers, pen boxes, mirrors, bowls, plates, and candlesticks inlaid with silver and gilt designs depicting scenes, arabesques, inscriptions, and vegetal patterns. Ceramic and glass household objects—and sometimes porcelain imported from China— included candlesticks, cups, and jars, and their decorations show a range of design influences and glazing techniques. Muslim advances in ceramics included attempts to duplicate porcelain by developing white glazes for dark clays on which designs could be overglazed. They also devised a recipe for stoneware that used pulverized quartz and high-temperature firing to make an extremely white and durable ceramic that is thicker than porcelain and still used today. Household items used to entertain guests or beautify the house included incense burners of wood, brass, silver, ceramic, and stone, shaped according to local tradition. A particularly well-known style is the perforated incense ball that contained a gimbel, or small pan, that rocked on two pins to keep the burning coals upright when the burner moved or hung from the ceiling. This innovation was later adapted for use as a cradle to keep magnetic compasses level onboard ships.

Personal Objects . For personal use, a comb and a mirror and a case to hold kohl eyeliner made from antimony were essentials and might be finely crafted from precious materials. As literacy spread, writing implements and writing tables became common, especially in homes of scholars or literary figures. Paper arrived in Muslim society early in its development and greatly aided the spread of literacy and the proliferation of books, libraries, literary gatherings, and institutions, affecting the layout of cities and homes and the mobility of people devoted to learning. Paper did not remain a luxury item, becoming available in many different forms and qualities. The first use for Arabic-language

printing (circa 800-1400) was the mass production of amulets containing Qur’anic verses and recommended supplications to God. Printed or handwritten inscriptions were worn in lockets, placed in beds and homes, and worn by children. Among pastoral and rural families, saddles, trappings, saddlebags, and the implements for transporting family goods were important everyday items.


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Nezar al-Sayyad, Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism (New York & London: Greenwood Press, 1991).

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Dwelling Spaces

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