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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|lslam's Oases of Serenity|
|08/06/04 at 19:03:21|
Islam's Oases of Serenity The gardens of the Muslim world, with their symmetrical shapes, water features, heady scents and pools of shade, are an inspiration to all who visit them
Islam's Oases of Serenity
The gardens of the Muslim world, with their symmetrical shapes, water features, heady scents and pools of shade, are an inspiration to all who visit them
THE Islamic garden is modelled on the frequent descriptions of paradise to be found in the Koran. Although paradise has “not been seen by the human eye, heard by the human ear, nor even occurred to the human heart”, the images of lush greenery — and particularly of running water — in the Koran evoked a sense of inspirational beauty to the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula.
As early Islamic civilisation spread and Muslim cultures diversified, the concept of the Islamic garden evolved. It came to incorporate particular details in Persia, India, North Africa, South-East Asia, Turkey and Spain — yet it remained in all its guises a place of solace and meditation, a space in which to remember God and to contemplate life, death and the cosmos.
Following the Islamic tradition of imbuing everyday objects and events with symbolism, the garden has acquired features enriched with meaning. The emphasis is on geometry, symmetry, carefully selected planting, shade and, of course, water.
The geometry employed in mosaics all over the Muslim world is intended to reflect the laws of nature. The mathematics behind the shapes echo the apparent order and planning inherent in the natural world, while the repeated patterns are a reminder of the never-ending nature of the transcendent.
The symmetry can also be understood to have a wider symbolic meaning: balance and equilibrium are qualities to be sought by every individual, just as the whole cosmos relies on balance and the coexistence of opposites. Often the garden is divided by pathways into four, representing the four corners of the world, with water in the centre as a unifying force.
Carefully thought-out planting is meant to evoke specific ideas: plants are chosen not only for their scent and colour but for their “meaning”. The rose, with its beauty, unfolding shape and powerful scent, was a favourite in Persia, where it originated. Depending on local availability, blooms in the red, purple, pink and blue ranges were preferred, as were deep-scented flowers such as jasmine.
Shade was obviously a vital component in hot climes, but it served also as a reminder of the Last Day, described in the Koran as “a day without shade bar that provided by God”. Gazebos may give shade, but normally it is provided by such trees as the cedar — seen on the flag of Lebanon — the date palm or various citrus trees. Another reason for planting fruit trees is that they provide food for people, birds and animals.
But water is the feature of an Islamic garden. In a desert country, water is the primary sustainer of life itself. Where wells existed, human habitation, cultivation and trade developed. Water in the daily life of a Muslim is also necessary for prayer — washing away the outer dirt, purifying the inner soul.
So the Islamic garden came to reflect the search for an integrated spiritual existence. So long as it reminded its owner and all visitors of paradise, and was a place of peace in which to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world, soothe the troubled soul and bring to mind the Creator, then it succeeded.
While small walled gardens created according to these principles have their charms, it is the grand palatial gardens of the Islamic world that appeal most to tourists and connoisseurs. The gardens of Granada in Spain and Isfahan in Iran, for example, provide us with stunning examples of the Islamic garden on a grand scale.
Robert Byron wrote in The Road to Oxiana: “The beauty of Isfahan steals on the mind unawares . . .” It is the home of the 17thcentury Safavid architectural extravaganza of the Ali Qapu gateway on to the palace complex of the city, which includes within it the Imam and Lutfallah mosques. The three pavilions and the gardens of Ali Qapu, Chehel Sutun and Hasht Behesht are generally considered some of the Islamic world’s finest monuments and the gardens all have large-scale water features.
In Granada, southern Spain, are the gardens of Alhambra (from the Arabic for red) and the neighbouring Generalife (from the Arabic for “garden of the architect”). Although elements of the complex were built in the 9th century, it was during the 13th and 14th centuries that these palatial monuments came into their own.
The Patio of the Lions has a magnificent central water feature with 12 lions pouring water into adjoining channels. Shade is provided by the surrounding arched courtyard, with its 124 columns in the shape of date palms. The use of lions is unusual and may reflect local influence, as the depiction of living creatures is not normally a feature of Islamic gardens.
The Generalife is the best historical example of an Islamic garden in Europe. It was a place of contemplation and enjoyment for the sultans of the Moorish empire at their summer palace and its shaded avenues and terraced water gardens were built to capture any breeze that might help to give relief from the summer heat.
There are small cascades, pools and fountains at every turn, and the sound of running water is almost everywhere. I have memories of falling asleep there, surrounded by gently burbling noises and the scent of blooms.
These historical adaptations of the Islamic garden influenced the 2001 “Carpet Garden” created for the Prince of Wales, which won a silver medal at Chelsea and is now maturing in Highgrove. The original inspiration camne from a Turkish carpet in the Prince’s rooms at Highgrove.
The garden was designed by Michael Miller, Dr Khaled Azzam and Emma Clark, plus alumni of the Visual Islamic Traditional Arts (VITA) section of the Prince of Wales’ School of Traditional Arts. Their brief was to incorporate as many elements of Islamic design as possible, and with its central octagonal water feature surrounded by mosaic tiling, the result is an effective echo of the gardens of old.
These examples may leave the average gardener daunted by the prospect of trying to emulate Islamic themes. Yet a lot of joy can be derived from trying to incorporate the spirit of these gardens without trying to match their scale or create a mini-historical replica.
So, if you, too, want to escape from the harsh realities of the urban desert and create an oasis of tranquillity, here are a few ideas:
- Don’t copy. Rather, get a sense of what you are trying to achieve: a place of calm and tranquillity where reflection is possible.
- Include a water feature. You are not going to reconstruct the Generalife, but aim for something as substantial as money and space will allow. Avoid concrete lumps and lions on walls.
- Mosaic is a theme: incorporate it in pots, tables and areas of pathway. Use your imagination and experiment with colours and textures.
- If you have the money, why not commission a central piece? Students from courses such as VITA can provide modern interpretations of traditional designs according to your taste.
- Create a corner as a garden retreat. A gazebo would be perfect, or, if there is not enough room, a small seat and arbor. Plant scented plants nearby.
- Think carefully about your planting. Choose plants that have meaning to you, ie, that evoke memories or deeper feelings. Look for plants that remind you of your own life — the flowers that were in your wedding bouquet, or a shrub that reminds you of a favourite trip abroad.
- You want your garden to have an effect on all five senses. It is not just a look, it should make you feel more “alive” in many different ways.
Sarah Joseph is the editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine emel. www.emelmagazine.com
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