Audio Community Economics

The Taj Mahal and the Islamic Principles of Wealth

Like the Alhambra, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of Muslim sophistication, achievement, and wealth.  And like the Alhambra, the dynasty that produced the Taj Mahal vanished not long after producing it.  We often wonder why the Ummah (global community) finds itself in its present condition–but one thing is for sure: It’s not for lack of money.  Blame instead an incredible inability to use our wealth productively, respectfully, or compassionately.

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  • What a staggering assertion. Architecture is one of the only things that can undoubtedly show the positive contribution of a civilisation to the world. The societies that you mentioned produced these works during times of plenty and the leaders that commissioned them were very just rulers. Allah has not forbidden the good things, he has told us to seek his bounty and spend it in all good ways. It is far better to build architecture which is universally admired rather than write refutations of other islamic sects (even though making sects is forbidden in islam) and calling each other deviants/kafirs. History judges you by what you build, not by what you destroy.

    • I think you may have missed the point of the talk. There is no mention of sects or any refutation here.

      Rather it is about how we spend our wealth and the balance between showing off wealth and spiritually elevating ourselves and the balance between the two.

      I don’t mean any offense, but I think you read your own ideas and prejudices into what was a fairly simple talk.


      • No offence taken but I disagree with your assessment- and before I continue, I’d like any readers to know that this talk contains many glaring historical errors and character assassinations which i don’t have time to correct.

        I know there is no mention of sects or refutations in this talk- and it is really the lack of its mention that has caused me to include it in a comment. The speaker is trying to explain the causes of decline of the Muslims with spending on architecture as the principal cause. My opinion is that the principal cause of destruction of the Muslims is the virulent sectarian conflict among Muslims which is perpetuated by our scholars (who create sects and write refutations of other sects) and a general lack of belief in Islam by those who claim to follow Islam (so in short disunity among the ummah and sin). I included the subject of sects because:
        a) it is relevant to what the speaker is trying to explain
        b) no one seems to criticise this practice of sectarianism which surrounds Islam today but instead it is accepted as some form of piety.

        The speaker asserts that Muslims are in the problems that we’re in today principally because we have not used our wealth correctly (by building apparently functionless architecture-although he does contradict himself by criticising the Madinah al Zahra which clearly did have a function as a city). I reject this because I believe original architecture is universally good (so long as it is produced in times of plenty) as it shows the positive contribution of Muslims to the world which will only cause people to respect Islam. I also reject the speaker’s inference that an original work of architecture like the Taj Mahal or Alhambra cam be built just by money. It took centuries of science and maths as well as architects with major creative output to produce these works. This shows that these societies did spend money on important things like education which allowed buildings like the Taj and Alhambra to be constructed. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve preferred it if a university or masjid was constructed instead of the Taj Mahal but that doesn’t deter from the fact that the Taj Mahal and Alhambra are masterpieces of architecture that have secured lasting prestige for Islam.

  • Dear Concerned,

    You have disagree quite strongly with my statements. More than that, you have suggested that I have made gross mischaracterizations of history and misjudgments of personality. I have sourced the sermon through years of reading the history of South Asia, so I would appreciate your pointing out what specifically my historical and factual errors were. You may disagree with my interpretation of the facts, but an interpretation is simply an attempt to make sense of a set of facts–it is not a fact in and of itself.

    Moreover, I don’t understand how the Taj Mahal and the Alhambra have secured lasting prestige for Islam. In the periods after their construction, the Muslims of both regions experienced tremendous hardship, suffering, etc.; in the case of India, huge famines, and in the case of Spain, outright ethnic cleansing.

    The Alhambra was abandoned for centuries, and mostly forgotten until the 19th century. While certainly it has contributed to some positive images of what Islamic civilization has produced, I think for the people who actually lived there, and who suffered the consequences of arrogant and monopolistic dynasties hoarding their wealth, fighting amongst themselves, and so on and so forth, and lavishing their gains on useless projects, they would’ve far more appreciated a government that looked out for them. We must have the courage to admire the beautiful and the good, but call out the wrong, the wasteful, and the misguided.

    Perhaps centuries from now, people will look at the marvelous palaces of some current Muslim dictators, and make the argument that they are architecturally significant. Perhaps they are. But that doesn’t mean the people there, right now or previously, benefited from them, or cared about their ability to hire architects and get things built. (Though of course we can’t compare that kind of construction to Taj Mahal or Alhambra.)

    For the vast majority of Muslims, the doings of dynasties were completely irrelevant and unimaginably distant. They live their own lives as best as they could. For all the knowledge and sophistication that went to building palaces and tombs, a similar amount of knowledge and sophistication could have been dedicated to building infrastructure, education, or any number of things–but instead money was wasted, time and again, on dynastic rivalries, monuments to the ego, and similar such things.

    What is the point of something that brings prestige to Islam if it does nothing for Muslims? How does the existence of the Alhambra change the fact that for 5 centuries, Muslims were completely anathema in Spain?

    I don’t disagree with you that these things of beauty, and that they are moving spectacles, and they give the lie to anyone who claims that Islam is a simplistic or barbaric civilization. Far from it. But we should keep in mind, the things we appreciate now, almost as tourists, did not exist as such in the past.


    • That’s a very disappointing response brother Haroon. Your scathing assessment of great Islamic dynasties is the product of orientalist and hindu revisionist ideas (probably from your non Muslim professor mentioned in your talk from 17.48-17.53 with whom you have studied south Asian history for years). This is why I fundamentally disagree with many of the ‘facts’ that you presented. Here is a list (which isn’t exhaustive):
      1. You mentioned that Aurangzeb started selling Qurans and making Tawba because he felt bad about his actions during his rise to the Mughal throne. This could not be further from the truth, Aurangzeb was a very pious man who memorised the Quran by the age of seven. He knitted prayer caps and made copies of the Quran to sell for his living as he refused to take any money from the treasury for his personal use. Yes, he did fight in the war of succession and he killed many of his family members- but from the way he lived his life and the policies of his rule, it can be seen that his intentions were for the good of the state and the people (Muslims and Non-Muslims). Your ambivalent assessment of him is really quite outrageous considering the Muslim world would do well with a leader with of such scrupulous honesty with public finances.
      2. You mentioned-“Madinat al Zahra was destroyed in a series of wars that destroyed the Umayyads and marked the end of the Muslims in Spain-sure the wars lasted for a few hundred years but Muslims in Spain were never again secure in their surroundings”-this statement is wrong because even after the destruction of Madinat al Zahra, the Muslims still were an equal power to the Christians until about 1236. Madinat al Zahra was destroyed in 1010 but the Muslims were not in a permanent state of decline at that time-for example, Valencia was lost in 1094 but regained in 1099 until it was finally lost in 1238. So from the destruction of Madinat al Zahra in 1010 to the final loss of Valencia in 1238, it was a time of prosperity for the Muslims in Spain where science and culture flourished. The famous polymath Ibn Rushud (Averroes) lived during this period (1126-1198)-this shows that this period was hardly a period of uncertainty and insecurity for the Muslims as you proposed.
      3. You mention that the societies that built the Taj Mahal and Alhambra were destroyed within a century of the construction of the projects. Even a fleeting glance at history will show you that many palaces and castles (for the sole use of the elite) were built by European monarchs whose civilisations were not destroyed. So your hypothesis that the decline of the civilisations mentioned in your talk was due to extravagant spending of wealth is wrong quite frankly because of empirical historical evidence that proves otherwise.
      4. You criticise Shah Jahan and the Mughals for their wars and spending while completely ignoring the good that they did. The Mughals built mosques (like the Jama mosque which was built by Shah Jahan (the very same)) and the Badshahi mosque as well as observatories. They were also patrons of science (especially Metallurgy). In your talk you chose to focus on the negative aspects of the Mughals (some negative aspects which were justified and some which were just expressions of your own prejudices) because ‘you wanted people to know the story behind all the dynasties that people show as great examples of Muslim heritage’ (13.40-13.55 in your talk). Well, perhaps if you even took half a look at some of the positive contributions of the civilisations that you are demeaning-you will understand why people see them as great examples of Muslim heritage.

      Now, I have 3 things to say about your comment:
      1. The Taj Mahal has secured lasting prestige for Muslims and Islam because it is universally accepted as the greatest building ever built. It is a shining example of our creativity and it is a great inspiration for all Muslims to become creative and innovative again so that we may lead the world and bring people to Islam by our example. However I can understand why you would have difficulty in grasping this concept. In your talk, (from 10:25-10:35) you mention having a Muslim Lord of the Rings and that you had the idea first. I find that very sad because you are just copying JRR Tolkien’s idea rather than coming up with your own idea- so you are clearly content with being a follower rather than a leader and your criticism of great innovative Islamic architecture shows that you also want Islam to be a follow rather than lead. However, I and most other readers, want Islam to lead the world in all things-in morals, literature, art, science, civilisation and every other good thing.
      2. You claimed that-“For the vast majority of Muslims, the doings of dynasties were completely irrelevant and unimaginably distant. They live their own lives as best as they could”. This is wrong because there are many examples of the Mughals and the Spanish Muslim kings really interacting with the public and trying to improve everyone’s condition. For example, every Mughal leader from 1526-1707 held a Diwan-I-Am (public meeting) every week where citizens could raise any grievance with the ruler at the time.
      3. I never praised the infrastructure projects of current Muslim dictators. I praised the infrastructure projects of the civilizations that you mentioned in your talk because these projects were produced in times of plenty (i.e. when the Mughal empire held 30% of the world’s wealth).

      • I could also give an equally long list of reasons why the US Government is pious and benefits the world, how George Bush is a pious man of faith, etc… But where did I get this information? Obviously from those in power just as you take information written by those in power. Propaganda is not a modern phenomenon. For example, after the battle of Karbala when the remaining family of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was brought to Damascus the common people there believed that they were all corrupt individuals and that their leaders were the exemplars of Islam; where did they get this bogus information? Obviously it was again from those who were in power and their propaganda efforts.

      • Salam.

        This is good. Your discussions encourage readers to critically analyze everything they read even on these kinds of sites.

        Sad thing though, everybody in the Non-Muslim world forgot how nice Taj Mahal was when a couple of planes hit two buildings back in ’01.

        Maybe Allah willed the Ummah to lead the world in art, architecture and science for that age.
        Then, when the time comes, when everybody is out partying or getting laid, that’s the era when the Muslims are supposed to lead the world with morals. Oh look, there’s a party outside!

        I can’t take your side because I can always ask somebody about Brother Haroon and his qualifications. All I know of you my brother is that you’re concerned. Imagine if there was a hadith -Sahih “some concerned guy”.

        Wassalam. :D>

  • I have a similar feeling for that monstrous clock that has been built next to Al Ka’aba. I feel it is an abomination and an outlandish display of wealth when there are people starving in the world or are dying because they don’t have any water, not to mind clean water.
    Judge for yourself:

    • Dear irish Sister,
      i completely agree.I went for Umrah this month, and discovered that they have not only spent a fortune building that clock, but have also used the tower as a mall, in which you will find branded shops selling cosmetics, clothes and whatnot, How can they create such a place splat dab next to masjid Al-Haram, a place meant only for the rich, a place where you could hang out and splurge on your wealth buying materialistic goods during umrah and Hajj? I fear another “fall after pride” is definitely on its way.

  • Salam,

    I’m not sure if the Aurangzeb and Dara-Shikoh saga can be characterised as a worldly pursuit for the throne only. Aurgangzeb, like many of the Sunni ‘Ulama, considered Dara Shiko an apostate with an interest in reviving his grandfather Akbar’s religion. Shah Jehan’s partiality towards Dara Shikoh was a given. It cannot be totally dismissed that Aurangzeb had the interest of Islam at heart too.

    You can refer to Moulana Faysal Bhatkali Nadwi’s essay on this issue.

    Also, re the poverty stats, that depends on how we define poverty.

  • Dear Brothers,

    Assalamualaikum Warrahma Wa Barakah!

    I am not a scholar of Islam, leave alone any other religion. But I know one thing for sure that construction of monuments like the Taj Mahal has neither brought forth any kind of development for the Muslim Ummah nor an uplifting in its image in the eyes of this world. If contributing grand architecture is really the intention, then those rulers who had access to the ‘plenty’ could have built MOSQUES instead of Mausoleums or Memorials. I would have respected the Taj Mahal, had it been a mosque (like the SultanAhmet of Istanbul, Jama Masjid or Delhi or the Sheikh Zayed Mosque of Abu Dhabi). By not being so, the Taj Mahal has only brought upon itself mystery, myth and controversy.

    To conclude, I am not for or against any brother involved in a duel of words. I am just with the RIGHT, and Islam frowns upon extravagance by any one, at least when the people depending on them are facing hardships. While it is good to critique constructively, it is equally saddening to have get into hurtful arguments.

    Peace & Prayers.

    Aamir Rahman

  • Assalamou aleikoum wa RhamatouLAH was Barakatouhou.

    Excellent lecture brother Haroon. I love great architecture and what human can achieve, but I love my Deen even more and my Deen frowns extravaganza in absolutely any form and shapre. I do have the most love and respect for Masjid Anabawi in Madinat anNabi, may the peace of Allah be upon on our beloved Prophet. But I always had a problem with the way they over decorated the Prophet Masjid and other Masajid. For I would like to quote one of my favorite author, Dr. Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, and I totally agree with him.

    “The building of extravagant Masjids has an especially deleterious effect upon the poor, who outside of the Masjid are constantly reminded of other people’s riches. In a simply adorned Masjid, a poor person find comfort and solace. He has left the outside word and its reminders of his poverty and harsh circumstances. and he has entered the world of the Hereafter and its bliss. But when a Masjid is extravagantly decorated, a poor person doesn’t even have a recourse to seek comfort in the Masjid; even inside of the Masjid he sees gold engravings and is reminded of his difficult circumstances. It is certainly an indication of weak faith and of being away from Allah’s religion when people forget about the true reality and teaching of Islam, and instead concentrate on the outward beauty of Masjids, whose first rows – never mind later rows – are not filled for the congregational prayers. Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him is our return.”

    The Noble Life of The Prophet (Peace be upon him)
    Volume 2 (page 750).

    Now if this great author states this about places of worship that definitely serve the greatest purpose here on earth, what about a tomb made up of the most precious materials.

    May Allah bless you and preserve you brother Haroon.

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