Prepared by Dalia al-Hussaini with Majd Musa and Mohammad al-Asad, 2005
Transcription of Arabic lecture provided by Diala Anabtawi
The fina' (pl. afniya), an open space around or along a building, and the zuqaq, or cul-de-sac (figure 4), have been treated by jurists and city inhabitants as semi-private, collectively-owned spaces. Al-Hathloul presented through his study of Medina's land subdivision plan examples of additions to buildings that encroached on the street. Most of these additions took place in cul-de-sacs where the neighbors usually were all related or closely connected in some other way, and therefore usually did not object when one of them decided to make an addition to his house that encroached on the adjacent lane. In some cases, if a house already had encroached on the street, and then was demolished and rebuilt, it would be rebuilt in a similar manner that still encroached on the street. In this context, Al-Hathloul remarked that in his survey of a thoroughfare emanating from the Women's Gate in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina towards al-Baqi' cemetery, he noticed the existence of a café that had extended into the street, even though this street was a main road (figure 5). Al-Hathloul went on to explain that Islamic jurists saw no harm in people utilizing the afniya, whether in front of or behind their houses, as long as the road is not narrowed and circulation is not hindered (figure 6). The concept of the fina' as elaborated by jurists can be explained as follows: In a main thoroughfare, the fina' is the part near the house door, and does not extend more than half of the width of the street. In lanes and cul-de-sacs, the fina' covers the whole area abutting the house, and usually extends to include the whole lane's width. The fina', therefore, can be seen as a space belonging to whoever has a door opening onto the street.
Al-Hathloul also noted that Maliki scholars did not allow the opening of an entry door for one house opposite an entry door for another house (figure 7), the reasons for this being both to preserve privacy and to allow the house owner the personal use of the space in front of his door. He added that in his survey of over two hundred houses in al-Aghawat neighborhood in Medina (figure 8), he found only two examples of doors placed opposite each other. Upon closer examination, al-Hathloul found that one of the doors in each of the two examples was a recent addition belonging to the last fifty years.
Al-Hathloul mentioned that the idea of the fina' is a recurrent one in Muslim cities. Also, lanes and cul-de-sacs seem to have had uses identical to the fina'. However, owners along lanes and cul-de-sacs enjoyed more freedom than those located along a fina' that opens onto a thoroughfare. As long as owners along lanes and cul-de-sacs were in agreement concerning their use and no complaints were made, jurists usually avoided interfering against incursions along them. On the other hand, Ibn al-Rami had written of a group of people who had built a gate for their lane, where the gate's door opened against the wall of another person's house. This person took the matter to court on the grounds that the opening and closing of the gate caused him damage and discomfort. The judge investigated the complaint and ordered that the gate be demolished. Al-Hathloul noted that although this gate was removed, remarkably there was no question regarding the right of those people to have a gate for their lane. Ibn al-Rami emphasized that it has been the custom to have gates in streets in Tunis, and no one usually objected except when certain harm (darar) occurred.
Al-Hathloul surmised that the non-interference of jurists, and presumably muhtasibs, in the affairs of lanes and cul-de-sacs, except when petitioned by residents of those lanes, provided sound reasoning for the development of the large number of gates to be found within neighborhoods in Arab-Muslim cities (figure 9). The gate system, according to al-Hathloul, has been explained by orientalists as a security measure to be used when cities suffered either internal troubles or external invasion. Although al-Hathloul does not dispute this reasoning, he noted that the existence of a large number of gates within each neighborhood in the city also clearly indicates that the placement of gates along lanes and cul-de-sacs shows that they were treated as semi-private, collectively-owned spaces.
Related to the concept of the fina' are projections and chambers constructed over the street (figure 10). Sources show that these were prominent features of Arab-Muslim cities. Islamic jurists saw no objection to such practices, as long as no harm was caused to neighbors, and circulation was not hindered. The jurist Ibn Sha'ban was of the opinion that when a house door opens onto the street and the owner wants to build a janah (projection) over the street, he should not be prevented from doing so, even if he takes the whole street width, since he preceded others in this construction. However, should the issue be disputed between two neighbors, Ibn Sha'ban would divide the air rights over the street between them in half. Jurists were very specific regarding the clearance between the projection or the chamber and the street's ground level. Ibn al-Rami mentioned that the height should accommodate a rider on the "greatest" camel saddle (mahmal).