Law and Vision

A Reading of Islamic Culture and the Socio-Spatial Structure of Traditional Settlements

  • Majdi Faleh University of Western Australia
Keywords: Ahksm an-Nazar, Ahkan al-Bunyan, Islamic law, Vision, Planning, Medina of Tunis


During the 13th and 14th centuries, much was written on aḥkām an-naẓar (the rules of viewing in Islam) and aḥkām al-bunyān (the rules of building in Islamic cities). Both legal texts derived their rules from the Sharia and more specifically, its primary sources, the Qur’ān and ḥadīth. The implications of these legal texts can be noticed in some aspects of Islamic culture and behaviour as well as in the streets and organic structure of traditional Arab-Islamic cities. This research argues the rules of vision (naẓar) and building (bunyān) in both manuscripts base their theories on the Qur’ān and ḥadīth. Both legal texts also influenced people and the socio-spatial organisation of domestic architecture and the city in medieval Islam. A correlation, which exists between aḥkām an-naẓar and aḥkām al-bunyān, managed visual contacts and shaped socio-spatial arrangements in the urban design of North African Islamic cities. This research relies on analysing two medieval Islamic manuscripts: Ibn al-Qaṭṭān al-Fāsī’s book Iḥkām an-naẓar fī aḥkām an-naẓar bi-hāssat al-baṣar (Scrutinising the Rulings Concerning Seeing with the Sense of Vision) and Ibn al-Rāmi’s Kitab al-I’lan Bi-Aḥkām al-Bunyān (The Book of Pronouncing Judgments in [Matters of] Building). This research first sets the historical context in which these texts were written and discusses their influences on vision, being an inherent concept in Islam, and building, as the physical context around which life takes place. Additionally, it examines the connections between both legal texts to determine how the Qur’ān and ḥadīth shaped visual contacts in Muslim societies as well as socio-spatial structures in Islamic cities. Lastly, this research evaluates the findings based on the implications of both legal texts on the socio-spatial organisation of a specific settlement: Medina of Tunis.


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