The Art of Islamic Gardens:
Symbolism, Design, and Spiritual Significance

Gardens, being landscapes of lushness and aesthetic pleasure, are an integral multi-faceted part of the sensory beauty that is characteristic of Islamic art, along with architectural and calligraphic feats, having its roots in the rich and vast history of the Islamic civilization and culture. They are often displays of lush oases of green, water and fragrances painstakingly designed in a geometric pattern, concealing in their depths, the reminder for Paradise for believers while being a cool respite for rest in the worldly life.

Gardens have a recurring presence in the rich culture, history and heritage of Islam. For indeed, the pages of Islamic history are testament to the fact that that beauty and aesthetic pleasure are no hindrance to one’s spirituality and faith but rather strengthen a believer’s awe of Allah SWT.

Allah SWT loves it when His slaves manifest the effects of the blessings which He has granted them. In a part of a hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood RA, Prophet ﷺ says in what is an oft-repeated statement:

Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, ‘Allah is Beautiful, He loves beauty’ (Muslim) (Riyad as-Salihin 611)

For the Muslims, nature is a bounteous blessing from their Creator. It is not for Man to possess or destroy but it is for him to utilize and enjoy in a manner that is not detrimental to the nature at large or the ecosystem. Al-Faruqi explains the spiritual connection between a believer and the nature and elaborates how it is grounded on the fundamental concept of Nature and gardens being a Nay’mah (blessing from Allah SWT).

Since nature is God’s work, his ayah or sign, and the instrument of His purpose which is the absolute good, nature enjoys in the Muslim’s eye a tremendous dignity. The Muslim treats nature with respect and deep gratitude to its beneficial Creator and Bestower.’

The diversity of names for different types of gardens in the Arabic language testify to the richness and intricacy of the Islamic Garden design, like Hadiqah, riyadh, jannah, raudah, bustan, ruzafa and buhaira. All these terms reflect the fine nuances differentiating the classical gardens from the more agricultural ones at the periphery of town areas. In Dictionary of Middle Ages, M W Dols reflects upon how gardens were such a distinctive component of the Islamic culture and society, from the expansive botanical gardens of the affluent to the small gardens and terraces of the poor, when he writes:

‘Long indeed would be the list of early Islamic cities which could boast huge expanses of gardens.’

History of the Islamic Garden Design

While it is impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of the Islamic gardens, there has been considerable debate over the relative importance of Roman influences and pre-Islamic oriental cultures like the Persian and Nabatean. To some, the lush gardens of Muslim Spain point towards the similarities with the Roman gardens with their linear axis and peristyle courtyard.

Those supporting the influence of ancient Persia substantiate their argument with what is known as the ‘charbagh’ or four gardens design, where the walled palace garden was a rectangle divided into quadrants by intersecting irrigation channel. Other ancient civilizations like the Mesopotamians and Egyptians were also known for developing elaborate gardens.

However, it was around after 8th century AD primarily in Spain and later in the Indian subcontinent under the Mughal rulers, that Islamic horticulture attained new heights and gradually evolved into what we know as the Islamic garden design. The ‘Golden Age’ of the Muslims in Spain saw a profusion of botanical gardens and herbariums, inviting scholars and botanists to study plant properties and cultivation methods.

The works of earlier Greek, Roman and Persian writers on botany and agriculture were extensively studied, translated and expanded. The garden design itself evolved into something more than merely a place of beauty in Islamic culture. It became a theological symbol, reflecting the harmony and order of the universe while being an expansive space for architecture, nature and art to merge beautifully, as often evidenced in geometric designs, clear reflecting water and an array of plants and trees, providing both aesthetic pleasure and practical benefits.

It is important to understand that despite the similarities and debates over foreign or pre-Islamic influences, the essential core of the Islamic Garden design is distinctly and uniquely of Islamic origin and thus reflecting a complete concept.

Famous Islamic Gardens:

The Alhambra Palace

The name of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain is renowned for the stateliness and the architectural beauty it represents. The serene landscapes have been painstakingly designed to instill awe and tranquility, providing seclusion for contemplation with the intricate designs, reflective water and vibrant flora becoming a longstanding testimony to the finesse of a bygone era.
The Generalife gardens in the Alhambra complex are a delight to even modern day visitors, granting them a glimpse into the ingenuity of that the time through the observation of the complex irrigation systems and the terraced gardens that were another characteristic of the Islamic Garden design.

The Gardens of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India was a product of the Mughal period, its ‘char-bagh’ design adding to the splendour of the Islamic gardens. These Persian-style gardens are divided into perfectly symmetrical four sections by water channels and adorned with fragrant flowers and serene water reflections, embodying a sense of peace and harmony.

Aesthetics and Elements of the Islamic Garden Design

Islamic civilization is markedly noteworthy for its contribution to aesthetics, developing it into a form that is all-encompassing, with a seamless amalgamation of the inner and the outer as well as the concrete and the natural. Interestingly, the fact that the depiction and reproduction of human form is forbidden in Islam did not hinder creativity but rather lead to elaborate exploration and experimenting with various forms of arts in a variety of media. Interlacing line and geometric designs were among the hallmarks of Islamic aesthetics, whether employed in calligraphy, architecture or gardens.

Though the Islamic garden design in the gardens of Middle East does vary, there are some design elements common to all like enclosing walls, water features, trees and flowers, and extensive use of the arabesque, the Islamic geometric decoration. The planning of the gardens was extensive, ensuring perfected axial rectangular patterns of simplicity, clarity, discipline, and intricacy that was previously unseen. Certain shared design elements have been highlighted.

Enclosing Walls/Buildings

Often the traditional gardens were designed with surrounding walls or cluster of buildings. Scholars and architects interpret this seclusion style differently. Some believe it to be a symbol of separation from the chaos of the world; others are more inclined towards considering it a protection from the harsher elements of nature like dust storms. Another common reasoning is that of emphasizing the privacy of the family and the female members, while presenting a humble exterior to the passers-by.


The inclusion of ‘water’ in the elaborate gardens of the Golden period of Islam is the second design element. For the nomads accustomed to the dryness and aridity of the Arabian desert, the application of water as a design component was an innovative concept, the format later emulated and enriched by European architects and botanists.

Their lives and experiences in the desert had given them a greater value and harsh understanding of how indispensable water was, which led to increased efforts towards its utilization and finding efficient methods of irrigation.

Interestingly, water was not merely part of the aesthetics but had multiple roles to perform which included irrigating plants, cooling the hot and dry microclimate, producing soothing sounds, masking external noise, not to mention providing a source for ablutions before prayers.

Plants and Vegetation

Plants and trees became instrumental in the designing of the Islamic gardens following the Muslim conquests of regions beyond Arabia which had led to a lush and diverse variety of trees, vegetation, shrubs, and flowers from the civilizations that preceded them. The arrangement of trees was not merely at random when designed, rather it was done with a systematic approach with their properties considered. Tall narrow-leafed-cypresses for example, aided in filtering the dust and reducing windspeed. These were planted across the entire east and west sides so that their shadows would fall across the whole garden throughout the day.

Other more practical uses included fruit trees in general, which provided food while also acting as a canopy for shelter and shade. Citrus trees were treasured for their fruit and perfumed flowers.

The Concept of Multiple Use

The study of the Islamic garden design inevitably comes full-circle when it comes to its multi-dimensionality. It does not have a single purpose but rather serves as a magnificent example of a life-sustaining oasis, benefiting humans, birds, and animals. It is an orchard/garden, growing fruits and often aromatic herbs for human consumption.

Usefulness and Practicality are equally as significant as Beauty and Aesthetics are to the Islamic garden design. Many scholars and scientists today have been moved to admit that to a Muslim of the Golden Age, the simpler post-Renaissance garden concept would be baffling indeed. Because the medieval yet ironically advanced idea of producing food while displaying beauty and accommodating leisure activities is a multiple-use concept that has been declining through the centuries.

The complex organization of ideas for this particular design brings together not just the uses highlighted above but a greater clarity of a Muslim’s spiritual bond with his Creator.

Symbolism and Spiritual Significance

What perhaps constitutes the remarkable singularity of the Islamic garden design is that it is a space that is introverted, being a mental and spiritual retreat instead of a mere display of beauty. The spiritual connection resulting from the union of nature and faith has far reaching depths.

J. Brookes (1987) comments:

‘But beneath the superficial delights of the Middle Eastern garden lies a far deeper significance: in Islam no pleasure is taken at random; each is part of greater unity, every individual aspect of Truth links laterally with other aspects and can be analyzed individually to discover its relevance within the whole.’

These meticulously designed gardens therefore, in their careful detailing, often symbolize spiritual concepts; from the geometry of the walls reflecting harmony and balance of the universe, the flowing water from channels and fountains signify purity, life and renewal and the lush vegetation is but a small symbol reflecting the abundant blessings of nature.

The idea of the garden design being a place of respite is not merely a human concept, but something reiterated in the Quran several times as a mark of extreme blessedness from Allah SWT exclusively for the faithful believers, so much so, that the imagery of Jannah (Paradise) often refers to ‘gardens’ of Paradise.

“Surely the God fearing shall be among gardens and fountains.” (51:15).

“And those on the right hand; what of those on the right hand? Among thornless lote trees And clustered plantains, And spreading shade, and water gushing, and fruit in plenty. Neither out of reach nor yet forbidden, And raised couches.” (56:27-34)

The gardens of the worldly life, however, are not attempted imitations of ‘Jannah’, but rather a form of botanical art that strives to encourage growth of spirituality in a natural environment that soothes the mind and the heart while providing a healthy respite from the drudgery of human life.

This form of Islamic art has however almost died down, leaving only a few historical landmarks scattered across the world like the Generalife of Alhambra and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore Pakistan.

While the garden design might have faded, gardens do appear frequently in Islamic artwork, including paintings, book covers and other arts because of prohibition of the imitation of the human form.

The DEENIN products for kids are particularly designed to be eye-catching for the young minds with rich greenery dominating the packaging as seen in DEENIN Al-Aqsa Puzzle and Poster set as well as the DEENIN Kids Hajj Adventure Jigsaw Puzzle to enhance the learning experience for your children.



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