What Islam Has to Say About Gardening – Free Ebook

The idea of a garden has always been central
to Islam for reasons that are at once hopeful,

because nature is so beautiful, and deeply
melancholy because life itself can never be

made perfect.

For Islam, the world we inhabit will always
be mired in khaṭīʾa or sin. No human enterprise

or institution can ever be without significant
degrees of dhanb or wrong-doing: jealousy,

stubbornness, rage and lack of forgiveness
predominate. Only in the next life can we

hope to escape the irritation and the agony;
only in jannah or paradise, will we be assured

of true contentment. In paradise, to listen
to the Quran, there be flowing rivers, flowers,

incorruptible waters and unchangeable milk,
golden goblets, ‘virgin companions of equal

age’ and rows of cushions set out in the
balmy shade of fruit trees.

Yet because this might all be a long way off,
Islam recommends an unusual technique to prevent

us from losing our poise and despairing: we
should become bustani or gardeners. The enlightened

should redirect their frustrations with the
state of humanity towards the construction

of a hadiqa or garden which can, within its
limited circumference, with due modesty, be

endowed with many of the qualities of the
eventual garden of paradise.

Our garden should have flowing water, some
reflecting pools, symmetrical flower beds,

fruit trees and places to sit. Everywhere
where Muslim civilisation spread, gardens

developed along with it and in the drier regions,
where nothing would grow, flowers and trees

were represented on carpets, which functioned
as miniature mobile gardens that could be

carried on the back of a camel. When the Muslims
reached Southern Spain, the climate allowed

them to create pieces of horticulture which
astonish and seduce us to this day.

A telling observation about gardening is that
almost everyone over the age of sixty-five

is concerned with it, and almost no one in
their late teens has ever evinced the slightest

interest in it. The difference isn’t coincidental.
A person’s enthusiasm for gardening is inversely

correlated to their degrees of hope for life
in general. The more one believes that the

whole of existence can be rendered perfect,
that love and marriage can be idyllic, that

our careers can reward us materially and honour
us creatively, the less time we will have

for beds of laurel or thyme, lavender or rosemary.
Why would we let such minor interventions

detain us when far greater perfection is within

But a few decades on, most of our dreams are
liable to have taken a substantial hit, much

of what we put our faith in professionally
and romantically will have failed, at which

point we might be ready to look with different,
and significantly more sympathetic eyes, at

the consolations offered by cyprus trees and
myrtle hedges, geraniums and lilies of the

valley. No longer will gardening be a petty
distraction from a mighty destiny, rather

a shelter from gusts and squalls of despair.

Islam is appropriately wise in its ambitions.
It doesn’t tell its followers to plough

themselves a farm, nor does it advise them
to focus on a window box. The scale is carefully

calibrated: neither too big to mire us in
unmanageable expense and bureaucracy nor too

small to humiliate and sadden us. The garden
becomes a perfect home for our remaining pleasures

in a troubled world; it’s where we can repair
to contemplate islands of beauty once we have

come to know and sorrowfully navigated oceans
of pain.

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