With it He grows for you crops, olives, date-palms, grapes, and every kind of fruit: surely there is a great sign in this for those who think.
Since taking on the Azahara estate in 2018, our priority has been to refurbish existing structures to create study and prayer spaces and install a solar electricity system. This has included: transforming a ruined barn into a beautiful open-air mosque; opening out a large room in the main building to use as a Zawiya (space for dhikr, or remembrance of God), which can comfortably seat 40 people or more; refurbishing a large shared kitchen, which has provided food for over 80 people at a time; and building a classroom with a maximum capacity of 20 and views to the Mediterranean Sea through a large double-glazed window. All of the buildings now have electricity from a large solar system and back-up generator.
After more than a decade of neglect, there were dozens of olive trees – some centuries old, and some we never knew existed – as well as many more fruiting trees, such as oranges, lemons, figs and quinces, that had been overrun with blackberry brambles. We have uncovered and pruned all of these trees, and fertilised them with green manures and our home-made biodynamic compost.
Rather than using a mechanical plough, whose weight can compact the soil beneath it, we have adopted a donkey, called Zamzam, who instantly became the Azahara mascot! Using a traditional wooden and iron plough, Zamzam tills the soil in preparation for sowing and fertilising, carries harvests from one part of the land to another, and of course gives rides!
In medieval times, an ‘Arab Green Revolution’ brought about a new agricultural model fusing Roman, Greek, Persian and other elements, which became prevalent in much of the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin. Al-Andalus played a pivotal role in this process, producing texts by trailblazers like the agronomist Ibn Baṣṣāl of Toledo, and Ibn al-Bayṭār of Malaga, a pharmacist and botanist who developed an empirical system of describing plants. These texts would become canons of agriculture in the Arab world for hundreds of years, and profoundly influence Western sciences.
As essential pollinators for a huge number of plant species, one of the linchpins of sustainable agriculture is beekeeping. Our resident beekeeper Abdul-Haqq keeps 30 beehives at Azahara over the winter and has conducted practical beekeeping workshops here to over 50 people since 2019.
While the hives are currently taken further up the mountains in the summer to provide them with wild flowers in cooler climes, we plan to develop this apiary project during the winter, with further workshops that include arts like geometry, crafts using beeswax such as candle-making, and studying the verses that mention bees in the Qur’an.
Planting trees is a highly commendable Islamic virtue; the Prophet Muhammad is narrated as saying that “Whenever Muslims plant a tree, they will earn the reward of charity because of the food that comes from it; and likewise what is stolen from it, what the wild beasts eat out of it, what the birds eat out of it, and what people take from it is charity for them” (Muslim). In order to combat climate change, erosion and desertification, we need to plant a trillion trees worldwide!
Our vision at Azahara has always been to incorporate art, poetry and creativity into our holistic approach to land husbandry. Growing food is of course creative, but to really appreciate the landscape, we’ve been clearing pathways through the olive grove where we plan to create beautiful, restful places to sit and admire the sights, sounds, smells and sensations, to read and write poems, or just to ponder.
Along the way, we envision verses of Andalusi poetry and hadiths relating to nature, hand-carved in wood and painted onto decorative ceramic plaques, leading us forward and deeper into our awareness. These will be available to sponsor as sadaqa for Azahara, and will also provide an income for local artisans.
Halal Animal Products
There is a growing demand for halal, organic meat among Muslims our area, as people become more and more aware of the unethical treatment of animals in industrial farms, and the need for Muslims to eat not only food that is technically halal, but also ‘tayyib’ (good). We have 30 chickens at the moment that supply free-range, organic eggs to the local community, and are about to buy an incubator to start producing our own chickens for meat.