Islamic Gardens ... one foot in the garden, the other in Paradise

Think of Islamic gardens as heavenly teasers!  The garden is a  tiny, luscious sample of what Paradise has on offer after our stint on earth is complete.  

Green space has always been considered sacred in Islam, and it was even to pre-Islamic Arabs.  In a sizzling hot environment with scarce water resources, it's easy to understand why a garden is a celebrated sanctuary.  Inside the walls there's escape from the harsh environment outside, a place to withdraw and replenish body and soul.

Islamic Gardens
... Near and far

United States

Shangri-La, Honolulu, Hawaii

An introspective photographer absolutely has to seize the opportunity to visit an Islamic garden. Before taking out your camera, reflect on the surroundings and decide what story you want your pictures to tell. Shut your mind off to everything, immerse yourself in the energy of the beautiful garden and daydream about Paradise. Then you can pull out your camera.

Islamic traditional gardens are, by environment, a totally different experience than, for instance, a European garden. They make fascinating reading.  Search out some books on Amazon and learn more about these gardens.

The Element of Water

Jannat tajri min tahtiha al-anhar - “Gardens underneath which rivers flow” conjures up a picture of water bubbling and gurgling through the garden and under paths... but it also has a symbolic meaning. The water serves two purposes. Not only to replenish the flowers, it nourishes and renews the soul. 

Water is a primary piece of the Islamic garden. Symmetry is another element...  many traditional gardens are subdivided into four equal parts. (The number 4 is universally symbolic of the four directions as well as the 4 elements of fire, earth, air and water. )

Water channels are very often the dividers between the 4 gardens, but sometimes paths are the partitions.  It’s common to have a water feature in the centre, so it's an easy job photographing symmetry, reflections, water features... all within a quiet, harmonious space.  An ideal garden for practicing photographic composition rules!

“Surely the God-fearing shall be among gardens and fountains.”

(Sura 51:15)

Marc Bryant, a researcher from the UK, claims the Qur’an makes 166 references to gardens.  What initially pops into mind is the desert oases with towering palm trees and the obligatory Bedouin camels on their knees slurping and sucking up cool water. Ahhh, such a refreshing, peaceful scene... Eden in the middle of the scorching desert sand. 

I lived in the middle east for 8 years and I can vouch for the love Muslims hold in their hearts for gardens.  Not just for the garden itself, garden images appear in the magnificent hand-crafted carpets which are an absolute must to acquire if you travel through the Middle East. I have a few… collecting gets to be an addiction! Look carefully at the intricate designs and you’ll find your garden.

Gardens are also a significant theme in Islamic poetry and literature. Also ceramics. Turkey has the most beautiful ceramic tiles that are often decorated with plants  … tourists love to pick up a few for decoration or as trivets on the dining table.

I’m not an authority on Islamic traditional gardens,  but I’ve spent many peaceful, pleasant hours within courtyards, some were modest but others were ostentatiously grand.  I don’t care if the garden is traditional or only mimics some of the traditional concepts.  It’s the connection to water and other earthy elements that I love to experience and appreciate. And then translating this experience to others through my camera lens.

Wrapping It Up

The more you know about what you’re photographing, the easier it is to get the feel of the space and tell the garden’s story in pictures.

In the 8 years I spent in the Middle East, some of my dearest memories are times I spent kicking back in courtyards with my new friends and neighbors.  For a year I had 3 of my Siberian Huskies with me and they were a big hit with the local families. We had far more invitations than we were able to accept.

Outside, it was challenging for women in Saudi Arabia but the minute I entered the courtyard and the big, solid gate swung shut, my stress dissolved. It was kick-back, relax and socialize. .. and lots of spicy Saudi tea. Here's the recipe. Simple and oh, so invigorating. 

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.”

~ Alfred Austin

Put on the tea and I'll see you in one of my Islamic gardens.  Start with Hawaii's Shangri-La.

Islamic Gardens

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