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  • 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 reach?

  • 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.

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

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B2 islam gardening garden paradise flowing perfect

What Islam Has to Say About Gardening

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    Summer posted on 2021/09/22
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