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The Qur’an refers to Paradise in several suras (chapters). The picture that is painted is of a luxuriant, sheltered garden full of sensual delights, all of which are essentially beyond human imagination – ‘Gardens of Eden that the All-merciful promised His servants in the Unseen’ (Qur’an 19:61). In this exalted place the righteous experience the pleasures of the intellect as well as those of the senses. Not surprisingly, the promise of Paradise became a prominent theme in Islamic preaching.|
It is also a major influence in Islamic art. In Islam the gratification of the senses and the search for perfection are not incompatible with spirituality. On the contrary, earthly beauty is seen as a pale reflection of the transcendent beauty of the Unseen. In this view it naturally follows that magnificent architecture and exquisite objects can put the believer in mind of the heavenly paradise to come.
There are many direct references to Paradise in Islamic art and architecture, in mihrabs and prayer mats for instance, the image of the Garden is frequently symbolised, and carpets designs are often reminiscent of an idealised garden. Similarly, the use of floral and vegetal decorative motifs in an Islamic context are bound to refer to al-Djanna, however faintly. Beyond these more direct references however, the transcendent qualities of the delights of Paradise have exerted a broader influence across many modes of Islamic artistic expression.
The high quality of Muslim workmanship in so many fields - in carpets, ceramics, woodwork, the arts of the book and in all the crafts associated with architecture – are well-known, as are its refined standards of taste. The aim seems always to be towards perfection, of style and execution. At their best, the arts of Islam manage to combine the sensual with the spiritual. In this culture, Beauty, represented by colours and forms, and Perfection, as expressed in the production of artefacts, always seem ultimately to refer to the numinousness of the divine.