“Books are the gardens of scholars.” ~ Ali ibn Talib (as)
It is Autumn, 2017. This past summer I exhibited some art work in a garden in Berlin as part of an art festival and studied the culture and history of the Islamic garden. The Berlin garden was pretty yet somewhat chaotic (so Berlin!) and I longed for the calm composition, clarity and artistic refinement of the real thing. An invaluable companion in my studies of the Islamic gardening tradition was Emma Clark’s book “The Art of the Islamic Garden” (Crowood Press, Sevenoaks/Kent, 2004). It is one of those books, one treasures and keeps for continued reading and study over time.
“The Art of the Islamic Garden” is very well written, illustrated and organised. With a marvelous eye for detail and the mind of an initiate, Clark looks at culture and historical context of Islamic garden design, architecture, famous examples, symbolism, spiritual meaning as well as botany, flowers and plants and concludes with a detailed study of the Royal Carpet Garden in Highgrove, UK.
What particularly inspired me is Emma Clark’s ability to connect Islamic garden design with mental health, mysticsm and science. She subtly illustrates the deep connection of the design and care of gardens in Islam with social, spiritual and psychological health, and the manyfold ways Islam promotes creativity, mental order and structural thinking. I discover in Islam over and over again invaluable models of what I call “mental hygiene” while also promoting sensitivity and creativity.
“The Art of the Islamic Garden” by Emma Clark is one of the best reads I had this year and a great inspiration on many levels. I am happy such beautiful authors and their work exist.
I want to conclude this post with this (unconfirmed but beautiful) saying by Ali Ibn Talib (as):
“Rise up from here and go to the Garden of Faith. Enter and take some roots from the tree of sorrow, a few leaves from the tree of contemplation, with the seeds of humility, and the fruits of understanding. Take a small measure of the branches of certainty, and the kernels of sincerity, with the bark of strenuous effort, with some of the stems turning away from wrong action, with the strong medicine of modesty. Blend it with the senses, with a heart full of concentration and understanding, filed by the fingers of confirmation and the palms of success. Pour it into the basin of inquiry and wash it with the water of tears. Then take it all and put it into the kettle of hope, bring it to the boil with the fire of your longing, to the point that the superficial superfluous elements and the dregs and sediment might be separated. Then you obtain the juice and cream of wisdom. Put it on the plate of contentment and submission, blow on it with the gentle breeze of your supplication for His forgiveness, and cool it so that it will not be spoiled, so that this elixir might be made wholesome. Then drink it in a place where no man can be found and where only Allah can see you.” ~ Ali ibn Talib (as)