I have always been drawn to trees.
I used to assume that this was due to spending so much of my early life amongst them. Years of playing, dog walking and exploring the woodlands that surrounded my home. Even my early artwork was obsessively focussed on trees.
A few days ago I had the privilege of visiting the Cambridge Central Mosque in the UK. I’d seen images of the mosque but nothing quite prepared me for the experience.
I first entered the mosque through the Islamic gardens which are intended to recall the four rivers of paradise. These gardens contain the first trees, the yews that are so characteristic of English churchyards and other holy sights, reminding us of both where this mosque is built and how they welcome all regardless of their religious identity.
Next I entered the shade of the portico which provides a transition from the trees of the garden to the symbolic forest of the mosques interior. The following atrium has the feeling of entering a small forrest.
From there the ‘branches’ led me into the vast main prayer hall, with a capacity of 1000. Here the trees are dramatically higher – their branches forming geometric patterns that so clearly link the Islamic with English religious Gothic design.
Daylight filters through the center of these branches to remind us that God’s blessings come through nature and grace whilst the oak grills filter the air that we breath.
This mosque in Cambridge is very recent yet its connections to the very first mosques are clear. We are told that the first mosque constructed by Muhammad in al-Medinah had tree trunks that supported the roof whilst the Prophet stood on a tree trunk to preach.
I suspect my intuitive love of trees has always had a deeper spiritual link than I could ever have realised and I now understand more clearly why that love has been so enduring.