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Gardens of Islam are traditional structures that convey an important spiritual message. Their elements are mostly defined by particularities of the belief system. Nevertheless, some elements, such as water and shade, have stronger implications, since their values are reinforced with their tangible physical characteristics.
Water and Shade
Water is a central feature of the garden. The respect for water is understandable from the purely rational standpoint: people who live in the desert easily recognize its importance as a source of life. In such a setting, the presence of water is immediately and directly associated with God’s mercy. Thus, it is inevitably present in the center of a garden, where it can be seen. Most often, the water takes the form of a fountain or a running stream. In some cases, the four paths – another traditional element of the garden – are intended for the water to flow.
For the environment where water is scarce, such display is naturally associated with plenty and the benevolence of God and invokes awe and respect. Finally, the purpose of gardens needs to be considered. Unlike European ones, which are intended for walking, the gardens in Islam are strongly associated with tranquility and peace (Gharipour & Caffey, 2012). They are meant to be places of spiritual reflection and refreshment. The sound and visage of running water are soothing in many cultures, even more so in those which hold it in high regard. Thus, water contributes to the image of a garden as a sacred place both directly, by appealing to the needs of desert dwellers, and symbolically, by aligning with the belief system of the population.
The shade has a similar, albeit slightly less prominent effect. The hot and dry environment makes shade a necessary component for a person to be able to rest. A garden is traditionally meant for rest, so shading is required. Besides, it is present in both Islamic and pre-Islamic literature as a necessary component of a recreational place (McKenzie, 2016). Finally, shade is most likely produced by a tree – another sign of God’s mercy, strengthening the spiritual experience and, in most cases, providing visitors with fruit.
Significance to the Era
The historical period of 622 AD is associated primarily with Hijrah, a journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. This was the era when Islam was experiencing a transition from its early period, when its followers were prosecuted, to the time when it was recognized on a large scale and became a major power (Syed, 2012). Thus, the Gardens of Islam can be seen as significant to this era for two reasons. The first one is more tangible: a garden is an extension of an idea of the oasis, a place of rest and restoration for a traveler. Naturally, any journey, including Hijrah, depends on such places. Combined with the perception of water as God’s gift, the garden becomes a manifestation of His power. The second reason is derived from the first one: in the era when the religion becomes visible on a large scale, the tangible manifestation of its power is highly desirable. Water and shade are recognizable spiritual elements and at the same time have real direct value for the desert inhabitants.
The traditional elements of Gardens of Islam are deeply rooted in religious tradition. Water and shade, however, stand out in terms of their significance, especially in the era of Hijrah. While featured prominently in the literature and culture as God’s mercy, they also provide necessary physical relief, which doubles their influence.
Gharipour, M., & Caffey, S. (2012). Islamic and Renaissance gardens: A case for mutual influence? Web.
McKenzie, E. (2016). Elements of traditional islamic gardens. Web.
Syed, I. (2012). The significance of the Hijrah (622 CE). Web.