How Peshawar’s Qur’an Garden is saving the environment, one tree at a time

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A view of the seminary from the Quran Garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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A fountain in the midst of the Quran Garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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The Chinese Yin-Yang symbol representing peace used to decorate the garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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The walk leading up to the Quran Garden on the outskirts of Peshawar. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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Seminary students plucking grapes and other fruits from the various trees in the garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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A plant in the Quran Garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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A basket full of figs picked from the garden itself. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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An olive tree planted in the Quran Garden. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
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Pomegranates growing in the Quran Garden. Picture Courtesy: Zahoor Islam. (Photo courtesy: Zahoor Islam)
Updated 18 July 2018
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How Peshawar’s Qur’an Garden is saving the environment, one tree at a time

  • Students at a religious seminary in Peshawar have been volunteering to plant fig and pomegranate trees in a plot on site, taking a break from their studies by working outdoors
  • “This is an excellent example of community participation for which no grant has been allocated. It’s the effort of ordinary people that makes it such a unique garden”

PESHAWAR: A decade ago, Mufti Ghulam al Rehman tried to do a rare thing— produce a project that was fulfilling and awe-inspiring all at once. This desire, in 2009, finally led to him establishing what is today referred to as the ‘Qur’an Garden’ or the ‘Hadeeqatul Qur’an.’

Conceptually unique, no one in Pakistan had ever before heard of anything like it. “It was a huge challenge for us,” said Hussain Ahmad, “especially with no precedent, of that nature, available in our country.”

Explaining the concept, Ahmad said: “Every year the government introduces plantation drives and campaigns in our country; we just extended that idea with a different approach.

“In 2009, the first meeting of our body was conducted where we decided to set up a garden in which all the plants and trees named in the Holy Qur’an were to be planted,” he told Arab News.

Rehman has always enjoyed a good challenge. In the Nineties he established a huge religious complex, the Jamia Uthmania, in the center of Peshawar.

“The seminary is built upon four kanals and has 60 teaching staff,” added Ahmad. When it began, the institute was just a couple of rooms and three teachers. Now, after 26 years, the seminary hosts around 2,000 people and has 60 members of teaching staff delivering religious education.

By August 21, 2009 Rehman’s vision, to make religious education easily accessible for people in the more suburban and rural areas of Peshawar and to bring to Pakistan its first ever Qur’an Garden, translated itself into a 64-kanal mansion dubbed the Gulshan-e-Omer.

The seminary entails a research department, where groundwork done by students is printed in ‘Al-Asar’, a magazine published by the institute. “We also set up four kanals of land for the Qur’anic garden here,” he said.

“The names of 21 plants and trees have been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. The number of trees planted in the garden is according to the tally mentioned in the Qur’an,” said Ahmad. Aiming to spread the message of the Holy Qur’an, trees planted in the garden include pomegranates, figs, dates, grapes and bananas.

While some claim that the Dubai Holy Qur’an garden has 51 of the 54 varieties of plants and trees mentioned in the Qur’an, Ahmad disagrees with that data. “They might have planted some additional plants and trees mentioned in hadith. But we went for those only mentioned in the Qur’an,” added Ahmed. “We have planted high-quality plants and brought them over from across the world.”

While dates are brought in from Dera Ismail Khan, grapes are acquired from Afghanistan. “We are trying to bring in ‘Kafoor’ but it isn’t available in Pakistan due to unfavorable weather conditions.” He added that the team was negotiating with environmentalists over this as it would be a great addition to the garden.

The seminary has been looking after the Qur’an garden itself, said coordinator of the seminary, Muhammad Sirajul Hasan while speaking to Arab News.

“We aren’t receiving any additional funds from the government or the private sector.” The staff and students, added Hasan, offer their services voluntarily.

“At the moment we have allocated four kanals of land to this garden. Our aim here was to bring awareness among the people and we are happy that it is yielding results.” He added that the garden also offered students a short reprieve from studying the whole day. “The greenery of the garden has a very soothing effect on the students and gives them peace of mind,” he said.

Beaming with pride, Hasan explained to Arab News that the garden attracts people from far-flung areas and the lush greenery has added beauty to the seminary and the area around it. But there are no plans for follow-up to this initiative. “We took the first step. Now, it is the responsibility of others to invest in such projects within their areas,” said Hasan.

Visitor Farhan Khan described the garden to Arab News as “utterly unique”. “It is a valuable lesson and experience to see all the plants and trees, mentioned in our religious book, in one place.” Khan admitted he had read about fig and seen dried figs in the market, but had never hanging on a tree.

The students have been looking after the garden — planting, watering, preparing soil for the plants.

Fazal Khaliq, who has been studying at the seminary for the past two years, told Arab News he is learning Arabic and English here, but also plantation. “Basically I am studying religion, however, we are also learning contemporary education at the seminary,” he said. “What I feel most proud about is caring for the plants, and studying their growth.”

Maintaining the Qur’anic garden has been no easy feat, especially with global warming and other environmental challenges to its survival. Doctor Abdur Rashid, a retired professor and chairman of Hadeeqa tul Qur’an garden, told Arab News that the Peshawar Agriculture University extended its support, and has given an award to the seminary in recognition for its efforts in making the environment green and healthy.

“This is an excellent example of community service for which no grant has been allocated. It is due to the struggle of common people that such a unique garden was possible,” said Rashid. “We make visits to the garden. We observe the atmosphere, land and issue necessary instructions and also suggest medicines for the plants if they are required.”

Different universities have different botanical gardens for their students, explained Rashid. Peshawar University has its own botanical garden and similarly Islamia College and University also has its own. “This garden is a living laboratory for students to explore,” said Rashid.

Rashid added that small gardens such as this one are important as they could prevent big floods like those that took place 2010 and damaged agriculture and infrastructure across the country.

“Our message is to make our country green, plant more trees, stop people from cutting trees and to work to improve the environment. This is the need of the day,” said the chairman of the garden.


Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

Twenty-five years later, director Jon Favreau has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. (Supplied)
Updated 18 July 2019
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Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

  • Jon Favreau, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner discuss Disney’s latest blockbuster remake.
  • ‘We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being,’ says Favreau.

DUBAI: There are few movies as resonant as Disney’s 1994 classic “The Lion King.” From its beautiful animation and memorable songs by Hans Zimmer and Elton John to its devastating emotional punch, the film has become a touchstone for an entire generation, one of the few films that unite nearly every person who has seen it across the world.

Now, 25 years later, director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “The Jungle Book”) has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. Sitting in London, the first thing Favreau asks Arab News is whether we were part of the “Lion King” generation, and we were, mentioning to Favreau just how expansive the film still feels to us.

 Chiwetel Ejiofor, Director and Producer Jon Favreau and Donald Glover attend the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood. (AFP)

“That’s part of the challenge here! We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being. We would watch it next to one another and there’s certain sequences that hold up incredibly well that we tried to follow shot-for-shot like (the opening sequence) ‘Circle of Life,’ but there’s other areas where we had the opportunity to update it and make it feel a bit more grounded in reality,” Favreau tells Arab News.

Remaking it for a new generation seems obvious, but — to borrow from another Disney classic — it was a Herculean task for Favreau and the huge animation team that supported him. This version remains fully animated, but uses cutting-edge technology to make the entire film photo-realistic. The characters, story, and songs remain, but the film looks more like a David Attenborough nature documentary than an animated movie.

It wasn’t just the technology that proved challenging, either. Making sure that audiences still connect with these beloved characters without the expressiveness of classic Disney animation was something that gave Favreau pause.

(Supplied)

“I worked on ‘Jungle Book,’ so I had some experience in this area,” he says. “Pretty early on, we got to try some different things and when you go to human, you think it would make you feel more but it really feels kind of bizarre, at least to me. I was limited if we were to go photo-real. If you go stylized like Pixar it’s great, you can do whatever you want. If we go ‘Madagascar’ you can make them stick their tongues out. The minute you start hitting photorealism, you hit the uncanny valley when you push the performances beyond what the real animal could do. Part of what makes it look so real is we limited what we allowed the animators to do.”

To be sure that audiences would connect with the characters, Favreau relied a lot on the voices that supported them, bringing in an all-star cast including Beyoncé as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.

“If you look at a character like Pumbaa, to me he’s the most fun example, because when people saw pictures of Pumbaa they were like, ‘Oh my god! That’s horrifying! That thing looks like a monster!’ But when you watch the movie and you hear Seth Rogen’s voice coming out of it and the way the animators animated his body and what the character represents and feels, you have a tremendous connection to it. It’s a testament to the power of using techniques that we borrowed from documentaries or other films, where we limit ourselves to not anthropomorphize the characters,” says Favreau.

(Supplied) 

Eichner and Rogen both tried to remain true to the characters, but also stay true to themselves. “My idea from the beginning was that Jon cast us for a reason,” says Eichner. “He could have cast pretty much any actors. Anyone would have killed to do these roles and be in this movie. It wasn’t the right time to try a new persona. It would have been very strange had I all of a sudden had a deep resonant baritone. I figured he wants Seth to sound like Seth and me to sound like me — or at least what our public comic personas sound-like — and hopefully they’ll complement each other, which they did. Our goal was not to try a new character but to be as funny as possible together.”

As funny as Rogen and Eichner are in the film, it is still aimed firmly at kids — something Rogen hadn’t really considered prior.

Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen at the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood . (AFP)

“It wasn’t something that even occurred to me until we were making the movie and I was performing the bully scene,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is for kids!’ I have never done anything that was ever trying to instill any wisdom into kids in any way shape or form.”

The film’s wisdom, like the original, is far-reaching, exploring truths not only of family and loss, but of the corrupting nature of ambition and power, which Ejiofor explored in his role as Scar.

“Often, when people are obsessed with power and status, they aren’t really worried about what they do with it, they’re just concerned about getting it. It’s not something that’s connected to any kind of nurturing aspect for a community or anybody else. It becomes about the nature of obsession — obsession with power and status, and maybe status more than power, even though they are related,” says Ejiofor. “That’s one of the things that’s engaging and fun about the film and its themes.”