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Privacy, modesty, hospitality and the design of Muslim homes in Australia

A PhD research, looking for participants (Australian Muslims in Brisbane, Australia) to take part in the interview for my data collection.

Zulkeplee Othman

on 20 March 2015

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Transcript of Privacy, modesty, hospitality and the design of Muslim homes in Australia

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Privacy, modesty, hospitality and the design of Muslim homes in Australia
A home is an embodiment of human privacy, apart from providing shelter, security and several other functions. Achieving the desired level of privacy at home is very important in Muslim societies. Privacy is intended to protect the female members of the family from strangers, especially while entertaining guests at home. One way of controlling levels of exposure of the domestic domains to strangers is by controlling privacy levels.

This research will investigate perceptions of privacy among Australian Muslims when entertaining guests at their homes. This research will also investigate the extent that modesty (achieved through both appearance and design) acts as the balancing factor in achieving a family’s desired levels of privacy while also affording them the capacity to be hospitable to guests.

This research will use a qualitative approach to investigate Australian Muslim homes around Queensland, predominantly in the Brisbane area. A total number of 20 to 60 participants (10 to 30 males, 10 to 30 females) ranging from 25 to 55 years old will be interviewed. Ideally, participants will be those who have children or extended families (parents or siblings) living in the house.

The data will be coded and analysed for the purpose of generating new knowledge for architects and designers when designing Muslim homes. It will also extend the current body of knowledge related to privacy mechanisms in housing designs, thereby benefitting architects and designers in the future.
PhD topic:
Zulkeplee Othman
School of Design
Faculty of Creative Industries
Whether it is a one-bedroom house or a million-dollar mansion, a home is our etymon and museum that is full of memories and provides us with similar functions (Heathcote, 2012). Hayward suggests that a home functions as a place for shelter, refuge, social affiliation, activity, personalisation and self-identity, continuity and privacy.1 Rybczynski claims that home provides fundamental human comfort needs such as nostalgia, intimacy, domesticity, commodity and delight, ease, light and air, efficiency, style and substance, austerity, comfort and well-being.2 Altman and Chemers use the term ‘diversity’ when describing homes around the world and through history.3 Altman and Chemers also suggest that a home is a ‘reflection of culture/environment relations’ and provides a ‘window to see how different cultures relate to their physical environments.’4

Data from the most recent 2011 Census shows that 26% of the total Australian population (22,661,648) was born overseas and 20% had at least one parent who was born overseas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). The increase in Muslims in Australia is estimated to be 69% over this same ten-year period (476,300 Muslims in 2011, compared to 354,400 in 2006) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012) and is growing rapidly every year.

Although Australia is now a culturally-diverse country, there is lack of understanding of the way of life of different cultural groups. In the case of Muslims, little is known of their perceptions about their home environments based on their privacy traditions. Achieving levels of privacy at home and being modest while entertaining guests are very important within Muslim society. Muslim privacy customs emphasise the protection of female family members from any strangers in their home environments, not their segregation from society. The current extroverted designs or ‘verandah living’ in Australia may conflict with Muslim’s perception of privacy in particular. Their needs with respect to their home environments have implications for architecture and interior design across Australia, if architects and designers are to understand the home design needs of this growing population.
introduction / research problem
A home, or sakan in Arabic or rumah in Malay, is the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household (Oxford Dictionaries, 2012). Its design, content and decoration reflect one’s lifestyle, personal creativity and ambitions; as well as an individual’s personal journey through life (Heathcote, 2012; Miller, 2011). Home and personal possessions are often considered as the ‘third skin’ that defines who we are (Belk and Sobh, 2009; Belk 1988). The strongest sense of home usually coincides with its geographical location, but can also be affected by other factors such as religion and culture (Theano 1995). It may also be affected by an owner’s satisfaction with the place’s capacity to fulfil physical and psychological goals and activities, which in turn lead to place attachment or identity (Bow and Buys, 2003).
Traditional Muslim homes concentrate on adhering to Islamic religious teachings that are different from Western culture (Belk and Sobh, 2011). The architecture of traditional Muslim homes reflects three fundamental requirements of an Islamic home:
a) the need for privacy (visual and acoustic);
b) the need for modesty;
c) the need to have space for hospitality or receiving guests (men’s majlis).
traditional muslim home requirements across the world
The term ‘privacy’ is conceived differently by different people. Warren and Brandeis argued that privacy is simply ‘the right to be let alone.’5 Westin construes privacy as being ‘the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.’6 Westin also suggests that privacy can be categorised into four types: a) isolation, b) affinity, c) anonymity, and d) reserve.7 Marshall subsequently added e) seclusion as the fifth constituent to Westin’s typology.8 Privacy is generally considered to be the essence of a home, and a two-way modus operandi that determines and controls accessibility between a person and others (Hashim and Rahim, 2008).

In the Western world, privacy is associated with one’s right to non-invasion (Belk and Sobh, 2011), control of personal space (Hall, 1969), temporary or voluntary withdrawal from society through psychological or physical approaches (Westin, 1970) or freedom to choose when, what or to whom a person wishes to communicate (Rivlin et al., 1976). Privacy in Muslim homes is largely determined by obvious Islamic teachings (Daneshpour, 2011), based on two main sources: Al-Quran and sunna (the utterances and actions of Prophet Muhammad) (Bahammam, 1987). Mortada explains that privacy in an Islamic traditional built environment entails the keeping of privacy for women and can be achieved through visual and acoustical privacy.9 Sobh and Belk claim that ‘good smell’ also plays an important role in controlling the contamination of spaces where guests are entertained by smells produced within the home.10

Various approaches are used to achieve visual privacy, such as using lattice screens in mashrabiya houses, and small windows and openings above eye level in courtyard houses and mountain tower houses (Daneshpour, 2011; Bahammam, 1987). Courtyards also play an important role in maintaining visual privacy and protecting female family members from outsiders (Daneshpour, 2011; Al-Kodmany, 1999; Bahammam, 1987). Thick walls are also used to ensure acoustical privacy is achieved. Rooms are carefully designed to ensure privacy is achieved while maintaining hospitality to guests (Shraim, 2000). Apart from meeting privacy requirements, these design approaches are also energy-efficient that create a more comfortable home environment despite the extreme Arab-Gulf climate situations (St. Clair, 2007).

Gender segregation is one of the important criteria when planning Muslim homes and forms a significant aspect of achieving privacy (Belk and Sobh, 2011). Although seen as a legitimate norm, there is no obvious statement in Al-Quran about the obligation of gendered space practice, except for restrictions on sociability between non-muhrim (not blood-related) men and women (Belk, 2011). In Arab-Gulf countries, such as Qatar, women’s mobility and presence are restricted in public spaces. However, men’s presence and mobility are restricted in the domestic realm, which is considered to be female space (Wynn, 2007).
Modesty (haya in Arabic) can be described as a demeanour or an attitude of shyness, humility or moderation (Oxford Dictionaries, 2012). The act of modesty can be classified into four main categories:

a) physical modesty (body) such as dress code or fashion;
b) an act of behaviour or internal perception such as self-improvement or self-motivation;
c) communication or social interaction such as shyness, not boasting and speaking with lower voice (Boulanouar, 2006), and
d) built environment such as humility in the design and appearance of the house/spaces and avoiding any excessive spending and showing off one’s wealth to the neighbours (Mortada, 2003).

However, being modest can first be seen within Islam in the form of praying to Allah (God). The body movements and act of making oneself humbly prostate on the ground symbolises Muslims’ recognition of Allah in seeking constant guidance and support.

Modesty is seen as the main connection between privacy and hospitality in society in general, and especially within Muslim society. Demonstrating modesty in dress, action, communication and the structure of the built environment signifies that a person is moderate and humble in his/her life and does not over-expose all of the four aspects of himself/herself to society, while at the same time ensuring that he/she does not isolate himself/herself from the society.

This is why the study of modesty is important in this research. However, it will not try to investigate the level of observance to Islamic teachings held by each participant, but will investigate each participant’s perception of the importance of being modest at home, with respect to achieving privacy while also being hospitable and sociable to society.
Hospitality can be defined as a constitutional acceptance or receptiveness to the other (Kuokkanen, 2003) and has played an important role in traditional Islamic society (Lockerbie, 2012). It is conceived to be closely associated with the compassionate treatment of strangers and the significance of sharing with others in the Arab-Gulf culture (Sobh and Belk, 2011). Men would play an important role in entertaining guests in the public domain of the house, called majlis. This is the only part of the house that is accessible directly from the main entrance. The majlis represents the masculinity and honour of a Muslim home (Sobh and Belk, 2011). Another important purpose of the majlis in Qatari homes is as a place to introduce young male members to guests, with their fathers observing their sons’ willingness to participate with the debates and discussions among adult men on these occasions (Lockerbie, 2012).

Traditional Malay houses in Malaysia are also influenced by subtle yet penetrative Islamic influences (Lim, 1987), combined with aesthetic, spiritual and ethical values (Hashim and Nasir, 2011; Nasir and Wan Teh, 2004). In contrast to traditional housing behavioural cognitions in the Middle East, traditional Malay communities embrace community intimacy over family privacy (Vlatseas, 1990; Lim, 1987). It is common to see a traditional Malay house with a spacious guest reception area (men’s area or serambi) at the front of the house (Hashim and Nasir, 2011; Hashim et al., 2006; Lim, 1987). Various activities, apart from entertaining guests, take place in serambi, such as meetings and discussions, praying, chatting and watching passers-by (Lim, 1987).

No research has investigated design approaches for the purpose of extending hospitality in contemporary Muslim homes within Australia. Even though a few studies have examined similarities in the functions of verandahs in traditional Malay houses and old Queenslander houses (Md. Darus et al., 2006; Cobcroft, 1985), these have only focused on factors such as climate.
Altman’s and Chemers’ ‘Culture /Environment Conceptual Framework’ will be used in this research to explore the relationship between culture and environment. This framework involves what Altman and Chemers refer to as five distinct ‘factors’, each encompassing a number of ‘features’.11 As shown in Figure 1, the five main factors and their respective variables are as follows in Altman’s and Chemer’s conceptual model : Natural Environment (e.g. topography, climate, flora, fauna), Environmental Orientations and World Views (e.g. cosmology, religion, values, norms), Environmental Behaviours and Processes (e.g. privacy, personal space, territoriality, crowding), Environmental Outcomes (e.g. built environment, homes, cities) and Environmental Cognitions (e.g. perceptions, judgements, coding, memory).12

Cause and effect relationships are represented by the linear connections shown in the model. Altman and Chemers state that ‘every factor can theoretically serve as either a cause or an effect.’13 Any interventions or changes in any of the factors are conceptualised as having a potential impact throughout the whole system. For example, a change in worldviews, such as religion, would have an effect on people’s perceptions, therefore leading to changes in environmental behaviours and outcomes and thus on aspects of the natural environment as well. As social psychologists, Altman and Chemers concentrated on behaviours and processes, and hence Environmental Behaviours and Processes was their main focus and placed at the centre of the framework.14

For the purpose of this research, the main focus is what informs the design of contemporary Australian Muslim homes. Therefore, the original conceptual model devised by Altman and Chemers has been slightly modified with Environmental Outcomes being placed at the centre as this is the main focus of the study, with Environmental Behaviours and Processes being substituted in its original position. The area of interest in this research with respect to the Environmental Outcomes domain is ‘homes’ (Figure 2).
Figure 1 Conceptual Framework of Culture/Environment Relations (Altman & Chemers, 1980)
Figure 2 Modified version of Altman’s and Chemer’s (1980) Conceptual Framework of Culture/Environment Relations
conceptual framework
The proposed research adopts a qualitative phenomenological approach to data collection and analyses, aiming to describe the ‘lived experience’ from the perspective of the individual. This study has been designed as a two-step process. These steps are:
a) To explore the connections among the environmental factors described in the Modified version of Altman’s and Chemer’s Conceptual Framework of Culture/Environment Relations that will be used as one of the conceptual framework, and;
b) To explore patterns of privacy in Muslim homes in Queensland.

The research will look into the three environmental factors (Environmental Orientations and World Views, Environmental Behaviours and Processes, and Environmental Cognitions) and how they affect Environmental Outcomes; in this case - Australian Muslin homes. The Natural Environment - the fifth component of Altman’s and Chemer’s conceptual model - will not be considered as a variable in this research. All of the study participants are being drawn from the same geographical area (Queensland, predominantly Brisbane) and thus climatic conditions will be a shared characteristic of the sample.

Brisbane has a growing Muslim community (34,048 or 0.8% of the Queensland population) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011), and many live in the areas where mosques, Islamic community centres, Islamic schools and halal shops are within a short distance from their homes. Suburbs such as Kuraby, Holland Park, Woodridge, Eight Mile Plains, Logan, Greenslopes, and Inala have recently become popular areas for Muslims to live.
This study will also examine current building codes and requirements with regards to building setbacks and private open spaces for residential buildings in Queensland, including the Building Codes of Australia, Brisbane City Plan 2000 Residential Code, Queensland Residential Design Guidelines and housing styles in Queensland, to identify the current privacy requirements and designs in Queensland homes. The comfort level and satisfaction that participants achieve in their homes will be examined in light of existing building codes and requirements, and design guidelines.
Semi-structured interviews and observations of participants will be conducted in order to determine the ways in which Australian Muslims perceive privacy within their domestic domains. Visual representations including photographs and diagrams will also be gathered to enable investigation into the role contemporary design plays in Muslim homes in Australia. All of the data collected by these different means will allow an investigation into whether or not the needs and preferences of Muslim families are being met.

The research will investigate Muslim homes including detached homes, town houses, and apartments. Invitation letters and/or emails will be sent to Islamic communities in Queensland, predominantly around Brisbane to make initial contact. Most organisational names and addresses will be obtained via the internet from websites such as the Brisbane City Council and Queensland and Brisbane Islamic communities’ websites.
The research involves in-depth qualitative interviews with approximately 20-60 participants in total (10 - 30 males and 10 - 30 females) using a non-probability purposive sampling technique. Purposive sampling or judgemental sampling is a useful method when the desired population for the study is rare or very difficult to locate and recruit (Neuman, 2011; Bryman, 2001). The inclusion criteria for participation in this research are as follows:
a) living in a ‘family situation’ (have children or extended family at home);
b) being aged between 25 to 55 years old (this age range is chosen to ensure participants are from first generation of Australian Muslims or more);
c) is currently connected with Islamic organisations.
d) participants will not have any existing relationship with researcher.
The sampling process in this research will continue until no further new themes emerge from the data or data saturation is reached. Muslims who are not connected to these organisations may not be included in the study.
Based on the literature reviewed above, it is quite obvious that there is a significant difference in perceptions about privacy, modesty and hospitality among Muslims living in the Middle East and in South-East Asia. Traditional homes in Middle East emphasise on the need to separate male and female domains, while Muslims living in traditional Malays homes encourage the spirit of community within the domestic sphere in relation to hospitality. The transformation of homes through modernization and time has resulted in contemporary extroverted designs which meet minimal privacy requirements and combined living spaces rather than gendered spaces. In his recent book ‘Culture, architecture and design’, Rapoport (2005) highlights the importance of understanding that there are problems with environmental designs and that solutions to these problems ‘should be identified and discovered, not defined by designers.’15

But how do Australian Muslims stand on issues of privacy, modesty and hospitality? Do they conceive in the same way as Muslims in the Middle East or do they hold similar conceptions of privacy as Muslims in living in countries within South-East Asia such as Malaysia? Currently, no research attention has been given to the existence of gendered space in contemporary Muslim homes in Australia - nor is it known if there are any traditional Muslim homes within Australia. The increasing number of Muslims in Australia highlight the importance of considering the designs of contemporary Muslim homes and how Muslim have adapted to their current modern lifestyle with respect to both their cultural and religious expression within the context of their homes.

Most homes built in Australia do not follow traditional Islamic teachings of gendered spaces. This research will investigate the ways in which Australian Muslims are living in a non-Islamic environment, and will furnish new knowledge with respect to the degree that Australian Muslims reject, adapt to, or integrate the modern Western lifestyle within the context of the domestic built environment through time. This research will investigate if any alterations or modifications of privacy spaces, patterns and devices are made in order to follow the Islamic teachings. These spaces, patterns and devices may not have been considered or used in Western society.

In broader terms, the new knowledge produced through this research will expand understanding of the influence of culture and religion on the functioning of homes and home design. This has the potential to lead to innovations in home design in the future, as some of the privacy mechanisms used in Muslim homes within Australia may hold appeal for non-Muslim Australians and thus have universal applications. There are increasingly more people from other parts of the world who call Australia home (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011) and this research will hold potential for application to other contexts where cultural sensitivity is required and as part of universal home designs in the future
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2 Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1987:1-256
3 Altman, Irwin, and Martin M. Chemers. Culture and Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980: 156.
4 Ibid., 155.
5 Warren, S. D. , and L. D. Brandeis. "The Right to Privacy." Harvard Law Review 4, no. 5 (1890): 193-220.
6 Westin, A. F. Privacy and Freedom. First Edition (1967) ed.: Atheneum; , 1970.
7 Ibid..
8 Marshall, Nancy J. "Privacy and Environment." Human Ecology 1, no. 2 (1972): 93-110.
9 Mortada, Hisham. Traditional Islamic Principles of Built Environment. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005: 95-107.
10 Sobh, Rana, and Russell Belk. "Domains of Privacy and Hospitality in Arab Gulf Homes." Journal of Islamic Marketing 2, no. 2 (2011): 132-33.
1 Ibid., 9-11.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
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