Part 1

Monuments and Infrastructure

January 31, 2022

1. Dynasties are prior to towns and cities

Towns and cities are secondary products of royal authority because building and city planning are features of sedentary culture arising from luxury and tranquility.

The towns and cities, with their vast constructions, are set up for the masses and not for the few. Thus, a united effort and much co-operation are needed for them.

They are not among the things that are necessary matters of general concern to human beings, in the sense that all human beings desire them or feel compelled to have them. As a matter of fact, (human beings) must be forced and driven to (build cities).

The stick of royal authority is what compels them, or they may be stimulated by promise of reward and compensation. Such reward amounts to so large a sum that only royal authority and a dynasty can pay for it.

Thus, dynasties and royal authority are absolutely necessary for the building of cities and the planning of towns. Then, when the town has been built and is all finished, as the builder saw fit and as the climatic and geographical conditions required, the life of the dynasty is the life of the town. If the dynasty is of short duration, life in the town will stop at the end of the dynasty.

Its civilization will recede, and the town will fall into ruins.

On the other hand, if the dynasty is of long duration and lasts a long time, new constructions will always go up in the town, the number of large mansions will increase, and the walls 4 of the town will extend farther and farther. Eventually, the layout of the town will cover a wide area, and the town will extend so far and so wide as to be (almost) beyond measurement. This happened in Baghdad and similar (cities).

The Khatib mentioned in his History that in the time of al-Ma’min, the number of public baths in Baghdad reached 65,000. 5 (Baghdad) included over 40 of the adjacent neighboring towns and cities. It was not just one town surrounded by one wall.

Its population was much too large for that. The same was the case with al-Qayrawan, Cordoba, and al-Mahdiyah in Islamic times. It is the case with Egypt and Cairo at this time.

The dynasty that has built a certain town may be destroyed.

Now, the mountainous and flat areas surrounding the city are a desert 5a that constantly provides for (an influx of) civilization (population). This (fact), then, will preserve the existence of (the town), and (the town) will continue to live after the dynasty isdead. (This situation) can be observed in Fez and Bougie in the West, and in the non-Arab ‘Iraq in the East, which get their civilization (population) from the mountains.

When the conditions of the inhabitants of the desert reach the utmost ease and (become most) profitable, (the situation thus created causes the inhabitants of the desert to) look for the tranquility and quiet that human beings (desire) by nature.

Therefore, they settle in towns and cities and form an (urban) population.

Or, it may happen that a town founded (by a dynasty now destroyed) has no opportunity to replenish its civilization (population) by a constant influx of settlers from a desert near the town.

In this case, the destruction of the dynasty will leave it unprotected. It cannot be maintained. Its civilization will gradually decay, until its population is dispersed and gone. This happened in Baghdad, Egypt, 6 and al-Kufah in the East, and in al-Qayrawan, al-Mahdiyah, and Qal’at Bani Hammad 7 in the West, as well as in other cities.

Frequently it happens that after the destruction of the original builders of (a town, that town) is used by another realm and dynasty as its capital and residence.

This then makes it unnecessary for (the new dynasty) to build (another) town for itself as a settlement. In this case, the (new) dynasty will protect the town. Its buildings and constructions will increase in proportion to the improved circumstances and the luxury of the new dynasty.

The life (of the new dynasty) gives (the town) another life. This has happened in contemporary Fez and Cairo. This should be considered, and God’s secret (plans) for His creation should be understood.

2. Royal authority calls for urban settlement.

This is because, when royal authority is obtained by tribes and groups, (the tribes and groups) are forced to take possession of cities for two reasons. One of them is that royal authority causes (the people) to seek tranquility, restfulness, and relaxation, and to try to provide the aspects of civilization that were lacking in the desert.

The second (reason) is that rivals and enemies can be expected to attack the realm, and one must defend oneself against them.

A city situated in a district where (rivals of the dynasty) are found, may often become a place of refuge for a person who wants to attack (the tribes and groups in authority) and revolt against them and deprive them of the royal authority to which they have aspired. 8

He fortifies himself in the city and fights them (from there). Now, it is very difficult and troublesome to overpower a city.9 A city is worth a great number of soldiers, in that it offers protection from behind the walls and makes attacks difficult, and no great numbers or much power are needed.

Power and group support are needed in war only for the sake of the steadfastness provided by the mutual affection (tribesmen) show each other in battle. The steadfastness of (people in a city) is assured by the walls of the city. Therefore, they do not need much group support or great numbers (for defense).

The existence of a city and of rivals who fortify themselves in it thus eats into the strength of a nation desiring to gain control and breaks the impetus of its efforts in this respect. Therefore, if there are cities in the tribal territory of (a dynasty, the dynasty) will bring them under its control, in order to be safe from any weakening (of its power, should the cities fall under control of its rivals). If there are no cities, the dynasty will have to build a new (city), firstly, in order to complete the civilization of its realm and to be able to lessen its efforts, and, secondly, in order to use (the city) as a threat against those parties and groups within the dynasty that might desire power and might wish to resist.

It is thus clear that royal authority calls for urban settlement and control of the cities.

3. Only a strong royal authority is able to construct

large cities and high monuments. We have mentioned this before in connection with buildings and other dynastic (monuments). 11

The size of monuments is proportionate to the importance of the various dynasties). The construction of cities can be achieved only by united effort, great numbers, and the co-operation of workers. When the dynasty is large and far-flung, workers are brought together from all regions, and their labor is employed in a common effort.

Often, the work involves the help of machines, which multiply the power and strength needed to carry the loads required in building. (Unaided) human strength would be insufficient. Among such machines are pulleys 12 and others.

Many people who view the great monuments and constructions of the ancients, such as the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisra), the pyramids of Egypt, the arches of the Malga (at Carthage) and those of Cherchel in the Maghrib, think that the ancients erected them by their own (unaided) powers, whether (they worked) as individuals or in groups.

They imagine that the ancients had bodies proportionate to (those monuments) and that their bodies, consequently, were much taller, wider, and heavier than (our bodies), so that there was the right proportion between (their bodies) and the physical strength from which such buildings resulted.

They forget the importance of machines and pulleys and engineering skill implied in this connection. Many a traveled person can confirm what we have stated from his own observation of building (activities) and of the use of mechanics to transport building materials among the non-Arab dynasties concerned with such things.

The common people call most of the monuments of the ancients found at this time, ‘Adite monuments, with reference to the people of ‘Ad. The common people think that the buildings and constructions of ‘Ad are so big because the bodies of (the ‘Adites) were so big and their strength many times greater (than our strength). This is not so.

We have many monuments of nations whose body measurements are well known to us. These monuments are as big or bigger than such famed monuments such as the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisrd) and the buildings of the Shi’ah ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) in Ifriqiyah, or those of the Sinhajah, whose monument, still visible to this day, is the minaret of Qal’at Banu Hammad.

The same applies to the building (activity) of the Aghlabids in the Mosque of al-Qayrawan, and of the Almohads in Rabat (Ribat al-Fath), and to the 40 years building (activity) of Sultan Abul-Hasan in al-Mansurah, opposite Tlemcen.13

It also applies to the arches supporting the aqueduct by means of which the inhabitants of Carthage brought water to their city, and which are still standing at this time. There are also other buildings and monuments (hayakil), the history of whose builders, whether ancient or recent, is known to us, and we can be certain that the measurements of their bodies were not excessive.

This belief is founded solely upon (the tales of) storytellers who eagerly tell stories about the people of ‘Ad and Thamud and the Amalekites. In fact, we find the houses of the Thamud still existing at this time in Petra, where they are cut into the rock. It is established by (the sound tradition of) the Sahih that those houses actually were theirs.14 The Hijazi (pilgrim) caravan has passed by them for very many years, and it has been observed that thosehouses are not larger than usual inside, nor in size and height (generally)

In their belief that (the ancients had excessively large bodies, the storytellers) exaggerate so much that they believe that Og, the son of Anak, one of the Amalekites (or Canaanites), 15 used to take fish fresh out of the water and cook them in the sun.

They have that idea because they think that the heat of the sun is greater close to it. They do not know that the heat of the sun here among us is its light, because of the reflection of the rays when they hit the surface of the earth and the air.

The sun itself is neither hot nor cold.

  • It is a star of an uncomposed (substance) that gives light as mentioned in Chapter 2. The size of the monuments of dynasties is proportionate to their original power.

4. Very large monuments are not built by one dynasty alone.

The reason for this is the afore-mentioned need for cooperation and multiplication of human strength in any building activity. Sometimes buildings are so large that they are too much for (human) strength, whether it is on its own or multiplied by machines, as we have (just) stated. Therefore, the repeated application of similar strength is required over successive periods, until (the building) materializes. One (ruler) starts the construction. He is followed by another and (the second by) a third. Each of them does all he can to bring workers together in a common effort. Finally, (the building) materializes, as it was planned, and then stands before our eyes. Those who live at a later period and see the building think that it was built by (but) a single dynasty.

In this connection one should compare what the historians report about the construction of the Dam of Ma’rib. Its construction was (started by) Saba’ b. Yashjub. 18 He caused seventy rivers to flow into it. Death prevented him from completing it, and it was then completed by the Himyarite rulers who succeeded him. Something similar has been reported with regard to the construction of Carthage, its aqueduct, and the ‘Adite arches 19 supporting it. And the same is the case with most great buildings. This is confirmed by the great buildings of our own time. We find one ruler starting by laying out their foundations. Then, if the rulers who succeed him do not follow in his steps and complete (the building), it remains as it is, and is not completed as planned.

Another confirmation of our theory is the fact that we find that (later) dynasties are unable to tear down and destroy many great architectural monuments, even though destruction is much easier than construction, because destruction is return to the origin, which is non-existence, while construction is the opposite of that. 20 Thus, when we find a building that our human strength is too weak to tear down, even though it is easy to tear something down, we realize that the strength used in starting such a monument must have been immense and that the building could not be the monument of a single dynasty.

This is what happened to the Arabs with regard to the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisra). Ar-Rashid had the intention of tearing it down. He sent to Yahya b. Khalid, who was in prison, and asked him for advice. Yahya said= “O Commander of the Faithful, do not do it! Leave it standing! It shows the extent of the royal authority of your fore-fathers, who were able to take away the royal authority from the people who built such a monument.” Ar-Rashid, however, mistrusted Yahyi’s advice. He said that Yahya was motivated by his affection for the non-Arabs and that he (ar-Rashid) would indeed bring it down. He started to tear it down and made a concerted effort to this effect. He had pickaxes applied to it, and he had it heated by setting fire to it, and he had vinegar poured upon it. Still, after all these (efforts), he was unable (to tear it down). Fearful of the disgrace (involved in his inability to demolish the monument), he sent again to Yahya and asked him for advice, whether he should give up his efforts to tear it down. Yahya replied= “Do not do that! Get on with it, so that it may not be said that the Commander of the Faithful and ruler of the Arabs was not able to tear down something that non-Arabs had built.” Thus, ar-Rashid recognized (his disgrace) and was unable to tear it down. 21The same happened to al-Ma’mun in (his attempt) to tear down the pyramids in Egypt.

He assembled workers to tear them down, but he did not have much success. The workers began by boring a hole into the pyramids, and they came to an interior chamber between the outer wall and walls farther inside. That was as far as they got in their attempt to tear (the pyramid) down. Their efforts are said to show to this day in the form of a visible hole. Some think that al-Ma’mun found a buried treasure between the walls. 22 And God knows better. The same applies to the arches of the Malga (at Carthage, which are still standing) at this time. The people of Tunis need stones for their buildings, and the craftsmen like the quality of the stones of the arches (of the aqueduct). For a long time, they have attempted to tear them down. However, even the smallest (part) of the walls comes down only after the greatest efforts. Parties assemble for the purpose. (They are) a well-known (custom), and I have seen many of them in the days of my youth. “God has power over everything.” 23