Is the New Istana Negara Islamic?

A comparison of Prophet Muhammad’s House, the new Istana Negara and Buckingham Palace.

If you go to, you will find a description of Prophet Muhammad’s House. It is worthwhile reproducing the relevant passages below:

His house was but a hut with walls of unbaked clay and a thatched roof of palm leaves covered by camel skin. He had separate apartments for his wives, a small room for each made of similar materials. His own apartment contained a rope cot, a pillow stuffed with palm leaves , the skin of some animal spread on the floor and a water-bag of leather and some weapons. These were all his earthly belongings, besides a camel, a horse, and some land which he had aquired in the later part of his life. (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud).

Once some of his disciples, noticing the imprint of his mattress on his body, wished to give him a softer bed, but he politely declined the offer saying, “What have I to do with worldly things. My connection with the world is like that of a traveler resting for a while underneath the shade of a tree and then moving on.” Amr Ibn Al-Harith, a brother-in-law of the Prophet , says that when the Prophet died, he did not leave a cent, a slave man or woman, or any property except his white mule, his weapons and a piece of land which he had dedicated for the good of the community. (Sahih Bukhari).

He advised the people to live simple lives and himself practised great austerities. Even when he had become the virtual king of Arabia, he lived an austere life bordering on privation. His wife Ayesha (radiyallaahu `anha) says that there was hardly a day in his life when he had two square meals. (Sahih Muslim).

When he died there was nothing in his house except a few seeds of barley left from a mound of the grain obtained from a Jew by pawning his armour. (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari, Chapter “Aljihad”).

He had declared unlawful for himself and his family anything given by the people by way of zakat or sadaqa (types of charity). He was so particular about this that he would not appoint any member of his family as a zakat collector. (Sahah-Kitab Sadaqat).

The names in the brackets are the sources of information. They are from the Hadith collected by the respective scholars – Muslim, Bukhari, Abu Dawud. A hadith is a reported act, saying or tacit approval of the Prophet Muhammad. Now if you look for Prophet Muhammad’s house on the internet, it is likely that you find the following pictures depicting it:

Khatijah's House (Where Prophet Muhammad Stayed)

The Entrance of the Prophet's Home

What is thought to be the guest room.

Where Fatimah Zahra was supposed to be born.

Place for Prayer

Aerial View of the Site

If you search further, you will no doubt find some dispute about whether the pictures above truly shows Prophet Muhammad’s house. But what is inescapable from both the pictures and the hadith descriptions was the humble dwellings the Prophet lived in. That was how the original leader of Islam lived. Muslims are encouraged and taught to follow the ethic of the Prophet from his sayings, doings and approvals. The hadith is a widely accepted as being only second in authority after the Quran, provided they are valid and accepted by the Muslim community as those of Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud are.

In Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the Head of Islam for the Federation (Article 34(1) of the Federal Constitution). The Sultans are the Head of Islam for their respective States. One would think that as the Head of Islam, their royal Highnesses would scrupulously follow the noble ways of Prophet Muhammad. Their very titles imply that. After all, how can they be the Head of Islam if they turn away from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad? It is this very question that is provoked when one observes and hears about the building of the new Istana Negara in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur.

First let us start with what we have heard. The Star reports the Istana Negara to cost RM 800 million and cover an area of 100,000 square meters. The space would house the palace building, mini army camp, parking area, security office and housing for the palace staff and police. The elevated access flyover from Jalan Duta cost a princely sum of RM 106 million with another royale RM 32.5 million used to upgrade Jalan Changkat Semantan which would serve as the second access road to the palace.

Sometime in October 2010, TMI reports that the Istana Negara would now cost RM 935 million. The original tender was RM 650 million. Earlier however in 2006, Samy Vellu said it would cost a mere RM 400 million and was supposed to be completed in 2009. So this Istana Negara project is supposed to cost almost RM 1 billion and is 2 years late. There are no reported remarks by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any of the Sultans about the scale and cost of the new Istana Negara.

But enough hearing, let’s look at some pictures.

The Project Royale

The Istana Negara Under Construction

The New Istana Negara seen from Jalan Duta | Source: The Star

With Malaysian raring to be the global Halal Hub, ensuring that all food and consumer products are halal i.e. in accordance with Islamic injunctions, this should surely extend to the way of life of the Heads of Islam and the buildings they live in i.e. it must be circumspect and necessary only for what they require. If Prophet Muhammad did not require a massive, expensive palace to live in when he united the tribes of Saudi Arabia and became their leader, it is unclear why the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or any Sultans, for that matter should live in such splendour far removed from the humble hearth of Prophet Muhammad. It is disappointing that the National Fatwa Council has not issued a fatwa (opinion) on the amount of money spent on the Istana Negara and to clarify whether such a building is consistent with the tenets and spirit of Islam.

The sheer size and cost of the Istana Negara suggests that it cannot be a monument of humility. But Surah 25:63 says:

The (true) servants of (God) the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace.”

In stark contrast, the Buckingham Palace was first the home of the Duke of Buckingham in 1705. It was converted into the official royal palace in 1837 on the accession of Queen Victoria. It went several major changes before settling into its present form. According to reports, in May 2009, the Royal Family were told to open the palace to public for more than 60 days and even when the Royal Family were in residence to increase revenue when they asked for an extra £4 million in annual funds to maintain the palace. The British Government currently provides £15 million yearly for the palace’s upkeep.

Fahri Azzat still cannot find an appropriate reason to build the new Istana Negara and is forced to consider suspicious suppositions for it.

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 25 August 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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