The Islamic Urbanist Tradition Is in Danger of Going Extinct

by SARAH GOODYEAR

Imran Aukhil describes himself as “a Muslim and a committed urbanist.” Those things, he says, should be complementary rather than contradictory. And yet Aukhil, who tweets as @UrbanMuslim, says that when it comes to the way urban communities are being built in the 21st century, he is often dismayed by what he sees happening in Muslim cities around the world – and in in the United States as well.

A native of North Carolina whose parents immigrated from India and Pakistan, Aukhil has studied architecture and urban design. Now he has gone on to get his MBA so that he can put his urbanist ideals into practice in the real world, as an entrepreneur. He plans to start up an Urban Muslim blog soon; we met on Twitter and continued the conversation by phone. Aukhil says the intersection between his faith and urban design is a passion.

In his design studies, he says, he was captivated by the rich urbanist tradition of the great Islamic cities of history, such as Damascus, Córdoba, and Baghdad. “The Muslim community of the past was an urban people,” he says. The way that people mix together in the city – rich with poor, all backgrounds coming together in the souk and the mosque – mirrors the Islamic ideal that all people are equal before God, he says. That history inspired him to make a life that would unite all the different influences in his heritage and education.

But in recent years, Aukhil has been shocked to see what is happening to the architectural and urban forms of the Islamic tradition.

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