Sie sind auf Seite 1von 4

Journal of Islamic Studies Advance Access published December 14, 2012

Journal of Islamic Studies (2013) pp. 1 of 4

BOOK REVIEWS
Space and Muslim Urban Life: At the Limits of the Labyrinth of Fez
By Simon OMeara (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 172
pp. Price HB 65.00. EAN: 9780415386128

The Author (2012). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic
Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

Downloaded from http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/ at Heriot-Watt University on October 26, 2014

Space and Muslim Urban Life is an analytical study of how the walls of
premodern (14001800) Fez define its space and how that space interacts and
resonates within the social context of Muslim urban life. It intends (and achieves)
a comprehensive, up-to-date contextualization of the early history of the
premodern Islamic medina and the role of walls in building the behavioural
norms that traditionally characterize Islamic society. It draws upon, and goes
much further than, the earlier scholarship of Ali Djrebi, Abdelwahab Bouhdiba,
Moncef M8halla, Roger Le Tourneau, Heghnar Watenpaugh, John Gulick, and
Henri Lefebvre. OMearas study of the walls of Fez throws light on other
historical Arab-Muslim medinas defined by their walls and the monuments and
institutions that engender and express the ideals and values that, largely, still
survive. He deals also with the Islamic legal discourse (the Book of Walls),
relating to the regulation and building of walls in urban spaces. The work is
timely in that it coincides with the celebrations commemorating the founding
of Fez 1200 years ago.
The book comprises five chapters, each representing a stage in the investigative
framework leading up to the final analysis and interpretation of premodern Fez
and the manner in which it apprehended its living space, externally and
internally.
Chapter 1, Premodern Fez (pp. 618) recounts the history of the founding of
Fez in 789 and its subsequent divisions into the medina (F:s al-B:l;) and Fez
Jed;d (F:s al-Jad;d) at the beginning of the citys golden age under the Marinids
and the Wa33asids (12761554). The account is drawn from multiple original
works on the citys history and describes the architectural composition of
premodern Fez and shows how the city was not only structurally defined by
walls, but historically determined by them, too (p. 4).
Chapter 2, Social and Religious Dimensions of Walls, begins by presenting
walls as a mechanism by which medieval and premodern Islamic law established
boundaries between the permitted (Aal:l) and the forbidden (Aar:m), the outside
and the inside, and the secular and the sacred. Here the focus is on the social and
religious dimensions of walls as thresholds (p. 20) and as cover (p. 26).
Whether premodern or modern, the wall is seen as empirically a limit, a frontier
and a liminal space between (Zwishchenraum) (p. 19), integrally related to
marking the transition from a profane to a sacred space like, for example, the
enclosure of the mosque; and from public space to the private or sacred precinct
of domestic space. After the wall as threshold, the door becomes the crossing

2 of 4

book review

Downloaded from http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/ at Heriot-Watt University on October 26, 2014

point between the domains. Here OMeara poignantly reminds us of the


symbolism of the mihr:b as a niche denoting an absent presence, that of
the Prophet or Imam (p. 21), or, as Clevonot proposed, a door inviting the
believer to transverse the wall and pass beyond immediate reality (p. 21).
As cover the wall is protectivescreening, barring, secluding (p. 26)and upon
this function, OMeara suggests, the traditional enclaustration of women in
medieval and premodern urban Arab-Muslim culture came to depend (p. 26).
Following a multi-faceted interpretation of the veil (Aij:b) and its social
implications he connects the Qur8:nic injunction to maintain Gods limits
(Aud<d All:h) with the liminal and screening role of the wall: Observing limits
was a religious requirement; establishing them above all about women, along the
gender divide, appears to have been a cultural preoccupation (p. 28).
Chapter 3, Legal Dimensions of Walls: The Book of Walls, explains that this
expression refers to a general discourse, not to any one or more particular books
(p. 35). It is composed of opinions (aqw:l), and the court records (naw:zil)
pertaining to disputes concerning the Arab-Muslim medinas architectural
environment, with external and party walls a major theme (p. 29). The Book
of Walls was also known as fiqh al-buny:n (building law) and, aside from the
strictly legal accent, affords us access to normative cultural thought regarding
walls (p. 29). The author presents a rich array of textual sources that underlie
this discourse, dating from the ninth century to modern times from across
the Muslim world. This chapter (along with appendix, pp. 729), provides
a wealth of case studies and judgements that bring the legal discourse to life.
Examples cited include, On the wall between two neighbors and neither one has
roofing, and one of them permits the other to place a roof over the wall. Then he
appears to him and says, Remove your roof! or a neighbor opens a window
over his neighbors house. Drawing on the juridical textual sources of
premodern Fez, OMeara also discusses the aesthetic of space as a proscriptive
legal aesthetic for helping in the upkeep and replication of the Arab-Muslim
medinas architectural environment (p. 34), while also emphasizing privacy, the
issue central to the social environment of the medina.
Chapter 4, The Juridic Basis of The Book of Walls, in the authors own
judgement the most technical of the book, and also the most important
methodologically speaking (p. 4), builds on the chapter before it. At the heart of
the legal discourse is the premise that to define the wall legally is also to identify
it culturally, albeit normatively (p. 4). Among key terms of the discourse
explained here are 6amal (practical application) and its integral relationship with
6urf (custom), with particular reference to the familiar maxim L: @arar wa-l:
@ir:r (No harm or return of harm) (pp. 458), whose Prophetic provenance
affirmed the legal basis and clarified the role that 6urf would eventually play as
the discourses juridic basis and governing principle (p. 48).
Chapter 5, Shame and the Significance of Walls, is a reflection on walls in
relation to the concept of Aay:8, consistently rendered by OMeara as shame. As
he points out: In order for the wall to become more telling, something that
draws 6urfs focus is required: a defining factor, one marking 6urfs limit (p. 49).
He picks up the concept from Sartre and Agnes Heller where shame plays a role

book review

3 of 4

Downloaded from http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/ at Heriot-Watt University on October 26, 2014

in the socialization of the individual. He then asks whether shame resonates


within Muslim culture in the same manner. He reflects on the place of Aay:8 in
the Qur8:n and Aad;th and in Arab-Muslim societies. He bases his reflections on
this term and a number of terms from dialectal Arabicsuch as 6eb (6ayb)
Aasham 6Aashm / Aashuma / Aishmaso as to establish a semantic field that
permits him to investigate the spatial dimension of shame on the one hand, and
shame as the defining factor of 6urf, on the other (p. 51). The chapter ends with
an example from rith: al-mudun, elegies on vanquished or abandoned medinas,
in particular those in which the figure of a broken woman serves as a metaphor
for ruined city (pp. 546). OMeara then carries the discussion into the next, and
last, chapter on the fundamental nature of space in premodern Fez.
Chapter 6, Zef/Fez, develops the semantics of shame from a historiographical perspective that situates Fez within the shared topoi of the foundation
legends of a number of the great cities of the Arab-Muslim world; particularly
the city of Madina, the home of the Prophet and the earliest Islamic community.
The chapter addresses the manner in which premodern Fez visualized the sacred
nature of its own space as related to this legend, at whose heart lies the wall and
the space defined by it as an expression of the alleged miracle of Islam and its
perceived capacity to generate salvific urban space (p. 58). The central themes in
the foundation legends are: the elevated status of the founder; the figure of the
monk and his scripturally based prophecy; the demarcation of what OMeara
calls a political matrix; and the reversal of a prior state of affairs (p. 60).
OMearas research and the detail with which he develops his argument make
this work a ground-breaking investigation into the multi-faceted aspects of urban
space in the Muslim world and a worthy companion to works such as Paul
Wheatleys The Places Where Men Pray Together: Cities in Islamic Lands,
Seventh through the Tenth Centuries (2001).
OMearas conclusion recapitulates his earlier arguments with an eloquence
typical of the book as a whole: The conclusions reached were that shame defined
the wall; separation and reversal, the special effects of shame, defined the space;
and the Book of Walls, the force of the law, helped assure the longevity of both
(p. 69). Overall, OMeara has painted for the reader a vivid picture of premodern
Fez, ranging from physical description of external and party walls to the social
and religious facets of Islamic life, to the semantics of shame and how it
resonated within the urban environment, as a city physically, sociologically,
historically, and ideologically defined and determined by its walls (p. 70). Finally
OMeara treats the reader to an imagined experience of walking in the
labyrinthine streets and alleys of Fez as witnessed by the complete outsider,
the more familiar visitor, and the resident. His comments here will ring true to
anyone who has walked those streetsthey certainly took me back to my own
years in Fez.
Space and Muslim Urban Life is a meticulously researched, illustrated, and
annotated investigation of urban space in the Muslim world. It is eloquently
written and its arguments are well developed and concisely stated. The appendix
(pp. 729) of detailed case titles and case studies from the seminal works of
Islamic building law illustrates the Book of Walls discourse and, with practical

4 of 4

book review

Kenneth Honerkamp
University of Georgia
E-mail: hnrkmp@uga.edu
doi:10.1093/jis/ets095

Downloaded from http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/ at Heriot-Watt University on October 26, 2014

examples, complements the theoretical discussion in chs. 35. The up-to-date


bibliography (pp. 12345) will prove an invaluable aid to any student of the
historical development of the Islamic city as urban space or of the theory and
practice of Islamic architecture. OMearas ability to select and situate the rich
array of primary source material that one encounters throughout the text
distinguishes him as an eminent researcher on the premodern Arab-Muslim city
and its religious and cultural roots. As for Fez itself, he is, par excellence, one
who has acquired an intimate insight into the multi-faceted meanings and
perspectives that the maze of the city and its walls afford to one who has come to
know them intimately.
If I might permit myself to mention any reservations about the work, I would
have to say the persistent equation in ch. 5 of Aay:8 in almost every context with
shame needs to be revisited. Its semantic range should include the more positive
connotations like modesty, humble comportment and effacementconnotations
quite foreign to the manner in which shame is understood in Sartre and Heller.
In the translation of verse Q.24. 301 (p. 53) as preserving the genitals [from
view], the interpolation leaves the impression that the verse is less nuanced than
in fact it is among the various exegetes of the Qur8:n. For example in his recent
translation Abdel Haleem has translated this phrase as, guard their private parts.
The verse has traditionally been understood by most exegetes as referring to
chaste conduct. Another point: the photos from the eye-level of the
passer-through significantly enhance the work, but I would have liked to see
some people inhabiting the photographed space defined by the walls. Finally, a
mechanical difficulty is the slight disconnect with the headings on the pages of
the notes (82122), which do not correspond accurately to the page numbers
of the text. These very minor reservations aside, the book is a superb and most
welcome addition to the field and will for years to come enlighten those who
walk the spaces of the medinas of the Arab-Muslim world.