From the first, the Qur'anic botanic gardens project aimed to enhance linkages between cultural and biological diversity, by linking traditional Islamic respect for natural habitats, the cultures inspired by the Holy Books of Islam, with the protection of environment and biological diversity. They also provided an opportunity for education and environmental awareness, as exemplified by the recent excursion* that brought together sixteen inspired students and young professionals from Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates to visit protected areas in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah and Sharjah, including the Islamic Botanic Garden in Sharjah, in April 2016.
The proposal to establish a series of Quranic Botanic Gardens emerged in 2006, as part of UNESCO’s efforts to enhance linkages between cultural and biological diversity. It defined a vision of new gardens influenced by scientific and cultural concepts from the Islamic civilizations and from oral and written masterpieces of the Islamic cultures, particularly from the Holy Qur'an, that would be the physical embodiment of garden traditions and preserve the botanic diversity of the environment in the region.
The Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah, His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed al Qassimi was the first to embrace this idea, followed by the State of Qatar under the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. International Advisory Committees were established, and UNESCO led the production of specific guidelines and master plans. After years of efforts, workshops and conferences to produce plant-species checklists and books, and comprehensive collections of plant-propagation materials of the indigenous flora of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the first Quranic Botanic Garden was opened in 2014 within Sharjah’s Desert Park, next to the Natural History Museum.
As the gardens slowly took shape in Sharjah and Qatar, an even more comprehensive idea arose in Ethiopia: to establish an Abrahamic Botanic Garden in Addis Ababa, functioning for biodiversity conservation and environmental best practices while contributing to the Rapprochement of Cultures. This garden aims to embrace the linkages between traditional Judaic, Christian, and Islamic respect for natural habitats, the cultures inspired by the Holy Books, for the protection of the environment and biological diversity.
This unique garden would undertake four core functions: education, recreation, research and conservation. Ethiopia is a melting pot for the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, together with other faiths and cultures. The garden would echo the principle symbolized by yellow colour of the Ethiopian national flag: mutual respect of different faiths including religious freedom.
The establishment of Faith Gardens is not new. Biblical Gardens can be found in Europe and the United States of America; there is a Biblical Botanic Garden in within the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, USA and a Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, as well as a number of Islamic Gardens. The establishment of such gardens requires a thorough investigation of the Holy Books, to identify the main biodiversity resources cited in the Holy Books, while also studying and conserving the Afro-montane flora. Since many of the plants used in the past are still used today; this is another way of reconnecting with our cultures and traditions. Ethiopia’s botanical resources are particularly well documented. Once identified, the relevant resources could easily be brought together in the garden. UNESCO supports this idea and is exploring opportunities for further collaboration.
Contributors: Prof. Sebsebe Demissew (Keeper, National Herbarium, Professor of Plant Systematics and Biodiversity, Addis Ababa University); Benno Böer, Bernard Combes and L. Anathea Brooks (UNESCO)
Sources: Quranic Botanic Gardens Project (UNESCO, 2006); Qur’anic botanic Garden in Sharjah, UAE (UNESCO, 2007)
* UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Excursion Ethiopia and United Arab Emirates for environmental education, a binational programme in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ethiopia. The first took place in Ethiopia, where the same group learned about environmental management issues in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves of Kafa and Lake Tana in November 2015.
Emperor Babur (1483–1530) superintending the laying-out of a Garden in Kabul. By Bishndas and Nanha, ca. 1590.
Entrance of the Islamic Botanic Garden in Sharjah, UAE. © UNESCO/ Benno Böer
Student from Ethiopia and UAE visit the Islamnic Botanic Garden in Sharjah, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Excursion. © UNESCO/ Benno Böer