Islamic Studies Environments and Landscapes in Islam
Rachel Hirsch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0294


The terms “environments” and “landscapes” are used in similar but distinct ways to describe human engagements with their surroundings in the Islamic world. Although “environment” is largely understood in Islamic studies to refer to a milieu created by God in which humans are participants and stewards, “landscape” eludes a similar consensus of meaning and usage. The very applicability of the term to the Middle East has recently been challenged, and the lack of a close Arabic, Persian, or Turkish equivalent for the term has caused scholars to reassess the ways in which Western understandings of landscape have been projected onto the Islamic world. Nevertheless, the term landscape continues to be used to refer varyingly to place, background, atmosphere, and physical land, as well as to cultural climate, scenery, and pictorial depictions of land. Islamic landscapes range in scale from gardens to vast territorial expanses. Understanding the land and climate of the Islamic world on their own terms has become especially important in mitigating the effects of today’s escalating environmental crises. In areas that face increasing desertification, for example, landscape design that integrates historical irrigation techniques alongside modern technologies has proven crucial. The following bibliography highlights studies that address how environments and landscapes have been conceptualized in the Islamic world and how contemporary politics, ethics, and design affect the ways they are used and perceived today. The list of sources begins with general overviews, conceptual frameworks, and comparative studies that serve as an introduction to the topic before addressing the related themes of history and conservation, law, ethics, and architecture and urbanism. Additional sections survey studies of gardens, waterscapes, the pictorial dimensions of landscape, and cyber environmentalism.

General Overviews and Conceptual Frameworks

Several studies describe Islamic environments and landscapes and outline relevant topics of inquiry. Chittick 1986 and Izzi Dien 2000 define the environment as a sign of God based on their readings of the Qurʾan, and note the relationship between the environment and its human custodians. The writers published in Albert, et al. 1998 observe that this relationship has changed over time and will likely continue to change in the future. Their essays present a range of historical and contemporary case studies of human interactions with the environment in the Middle East that touch on themes such as agriculture and pastoralism, water, nature and culture, marine environments, and environmental monitoring. Other works take Islamic landscapes as their point of reference. In Grabar 1973, landscape refers to a cultural climate from which the material and visual dimensions of Islam emerged. In Ruggles 2003, attention is drawn to the importance of seeing the land in Spain and northern India, particularly as mediated by architectural elements such as jali screens. In Ruggles 2008, landscape is used more broadly as a conceptual tool to generate a holistic understanding of the relationship between built and natural forms. Latiri 2001, Makhzoumi 2002, and Wescoat 2016 question the use of the term “landscape” in the Middle East and suggest that it represents an emergent concept with limited historical linguistic equivalents. Many of these scholars agree on the need for broader, experiential approaches to Islamic landscapes, where movement through time and space and a total engagement of the senses is prioritized over a single-point view. Further reading on Islamic environments and landscapes is available in MANZAR, a Persian- and English-language quarterly periodical, and Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre. An extensive list of sources on Islam and ecology can also be found in Foltz 2017.

  • Albert, Jeff, Magnus Bernhardsson, and Roger Kenna. Transformations of Middle Eastern Natural Environments: Legacies and Lessons. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1998.

    These essays address how we define the Middle East and its natural environments, how human relationships with the Middle East’s natural environments have changed over time, and how our understanding of the region and its core environmental issues can help guide future environmental policy.

  • Chittick, William C. “‘God Surrounds All Things’: An Islamic Perspective on the Environment.” The World & I 1.6 (1986): 671–678.

    Chittick looks to the Qurʾan for an Islamic understanding of the English term “environment” and concludes that any perspective on the environment stems from an understanding of God as the ultimate environment.

  • Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre.

    This journal, edited by Attilio Petruccioli, is dedicated to studies of Islamic architecture, urban design, and rural planning. Many of its issues have an environmental focus and all issues can be accessed for free on the journal’s website.

  • Foltz, Richard. “Islam and Ecology Bibliography.” New Haven, CT: Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, 2017.

    This is a bibliography of sources related to Islamic understandings of ecology.

  • Grabar, Oleg. “The Land of Early Islam.” In The Formation of Islamic Art. By Oleg Grabar, 19–42. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973.

    Grabar argues that the development of Islamic art was informed by the early Islamic order’s desire to relate to the cultures of their conquered territories. Islamic art was created through the symbolic appropriation of preexisting visual forms and ideas in those lands.

  • Izzi Dien, Mawil. The Environmental Dimensions of Islam. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 2000.

    Izzi Dien explores Islamic understandings of the environment and how they manifest in theology, law, and conservation practices.

  • Latiri, Lamia. “The Meaning of Landscape in Classical Arabo-Muslim Culture.” Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography 196 (16 October 2001).

    Latiri explores the concept of “landscape” in the Arabic world, noting that Arabic words for landscape, unlike the French word paysage, do not necessarily refer to or derive from pictorial representations of the land.

  • Makhzoumi, Jala M. “Landscape in the Middle East: An Inquiry.” Landscape Research 27.3 (2002): 213–228.

    DOI: 10.1080/01426390220149494

    Makhzoumi notes the absence of an Arabic equivalent for the English word “landscape” and argues for a more contextualized understanding of the term in Middle Eastern design practices. She suggests implementing an understanding of the surrounding land that highlights multiple experiential aspects instead of exclusively prioritizing its visual elements.

  • MANZAR: The Iranian Scientific Open Access Journal of Landscape—Indexed in Web of Science. 2009–.

    MANZAR is a quarterly periodical that publishes articles on landscape in English and Persian.

  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812207286

    This is a thematically organized approach to the gardens of the Islamic world. Ruggles combines the perspective of an architectural historian with viewpoints from environmental science to understand gardens and landscapes as systems with material properties that unfold over time. Her book includes a description of gardens and related sites throughout the Islamic world.

  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild. “The Framed Landscape in Islamic Spain and Mughal India.” In The Garden: Myth, Meaning and Metaphor. Edited by Brian John Day, 1–33. Windsor, ON: Humanities Research Group, University of Windsor, 2003.

    In this essay, Ruggles makes a distinction between “body/architecture and gardens/landscape.” She explores the way that the body in 14th-century Islamic Spain and 16th- and 17th-century South Asia experienced the landscape, particularly as a visual entity. Architectural elements such as the jali screen were used to draw attention to the act of viewing and to the dichotomy between subject (body) and object (landscape).

  • Wescoat, James L., Jr. “Between Garden and Geography: Landscape as an Emergent Concept in the Wider Middle East.” In Contemporary Urban Landscapes of the Middle East. Edited by Mohammad Gharipour, 22–44. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    Wescoat suggests that “landscape” in the Islamic world is a new idea with little grounding in the region’s historic linguistic traditions. He analyzes how the term has been used in studies of the Middle East and suggests it can be employed as a conceptual category for various geographic scales.

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