With hajj under threat, it's time Muslims joined the climate movement


By: Remona Aly

With hajj under threat, it's time Muslims joined the climate movement

According to research published last week by US scientists, hajj is set to become a danger zone. As soon as next year, they say, summer days in Mecca could exceed the “extreme danger” heat-stress threshold. The news comes just weeks after over 2 million people completed their journey of a lifetime. The environmental threat to the holy pilgrimage is a panic button for British Muslims like me, signaling that the climate crisis is endangering an age-old sacred rite.

Hajj is a pillar of Islam that I’ve yet to undertake, and the physical endurance required will only become more gruelling in coming decades – scientists predict that heat and humidity levels during hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Environmental stewardship may well be advocated by my faith – the Quran states that humans are appointed as “caretakers of the Earth” and the prophet Muhammad organised the planting of trees and created conservation areas called hima – but it hasn’t mobilised Muslims on a mass scale for what the world needs now: a global eco-jihad.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and author of Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis, has been on a green mission for over 35 years, but his biggest challenge has been to motivate Muslims. “Islam is inherently environmental, but modernity has induced all of us to distance ourselves from nature. The reason I don’t give up is my grandchildren – what kind of planet will they inherit? How can they perform hajj under those conditions?”

Khalid previously gathered a team of scholars and academics who drafted the Islamic declaration on climate change adopted at the International Islamic climate change symposium in Istanbul in 2015 (an event co-sponsored by Islamic Relief, a global charity that is again calling on Muslims to take action now if they want to safeguard the pilgrimage for future generations). Maria Zafar of Islamic Relief UK said: “Hajj has physically demanding outdoor rituals which can become hazardous to humans. It isn’t only Mecca, other sacred sites will be at risk too, like the religious sites in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple in India – it will affect what we hold dear to our hearts. We think that climate change is distant from us, but there is no area of life that it won’t touch.”

If we are truly to tackle a catastrophe as huge as the climate crisis, we have to make it personal. Without a personal stake, it remains an abstract and we unite in perpetuating it. So if money is the only form of emotional investment for some, and if economics wields more power than the will to save our planet, we must use it. Next year Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit, so let’s pressure the country to consider the financial threat due to a loss of religious tourism. Hajj is lucrative: economic experts have said revenues from hajj and umrah (a lesser pilgrimage undertaken any time of year) are set to exceed $150bn by 2022.

“For the Saudis, hajj is more precious than oil,” says Dr Husna Ahmad, CEO of Global One, who’s been campaigning for a greener hajj for years. Ahmad created a green guide to hajj in 2011, and is now working on a green hajj app, which she plans to launch next year if funding is secured.


With approximately 100m plastic bottles left behind each year after the pilgrimage ends, it’s clear that action is desperately needed. Slowly, Saudi authorities are beginning to implement a more environmentally friendly hajj by installing recycling points around the holy sites, and they aim to cut waste volumes by two-thirds by 2030. Pushing for change has been a struggle in the kingdom, but apathy is a wider problem. It’s bound up in socio-economic deprivation, and too often “saving the planet” is seen as something for the rich, a kind of green elitism.

“Right now in the UK it feels like middle-class white women – and Sadiq Khan – are the only ones taking up the baton,” says Ahmad. “We know that climate change started with the European industrial revolution and poverty is inextricably linked to that.

“People are trying to survive, you can’t blame them if climate change is not their priority. This is why achieving the UN sustainable development goals are high on my agenda.”

The climate crisis does not exist in and cannot be tackled in isolation. While the big dogs must green-up their institutions and businesses, grassroots activists need better relations with governing bodies, more Muslims need to get involved with the broader debate and we all need to rethink our lifestyles – cut down on meat consumption, use less packaging and step back from throwaway consumerism.

We all have a part to play – institutionally, socially, morally, economically and religiously. Whether it’s through the lens of our conscience, faith or finance, it’s imperative to find our own catalyst for action. If the threat to hajj can motivate Muslims, then that’s all for the good.

This piece was originally published in The Guardian on August 30 2019.

Environmentalism and Islamic Ecotheology


As climate change threatens much of the Middle East, Muslim academics from Bahrain to Turkey have begun to advocate for a unique solution: looking to Islam itself. Muslim proponents of ecotheology argue that, because the Quran emphasizes the importance of environmental protection, Muslims have an obligation to defend the natural environment. This little-known but fast-expanding school of thought can bring the Environmental Revolution to the Middle East and fight global warming.

While many academics, analysts, and pundits like to frame Islamism as a political movement, the ideology lies at the heart of another, apolitical trend in the Greater Middle East. An ever-growing number of Middle Eastern academics argue that Islam can inspire the environmental movement, citing a range of verses from the Quran suggesting that Muslims have a religious obligation to defend the natural environment. As climate change envelops every corner of the Muslim world, the potential importance of this developing school of thought is growing.

“In Islam, the environment is sacred and has an intrinsic value.”

Proponents of ecotheology, the study of a religion’s calls for environmental protection, transcend the Middle East’s geographic and theological boundaries. In Iran, Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, founding director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies, has observed, “In Islam, the environment is sacred and has an intrinsic value.” 

In Palestine, meanwhile, Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway at Quds University has said, “Theologically, there are signifiers in the universe and in the environment, and by taking care of these signifiers we are really doing the right thing in terms of our relationship with God.” 

However esoteric these thoughts may seem, few philosophies have appealed to Iranian Shias and Palestinian Sunnis alike. Given that global warming threatens the entirety of the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world, ecotheology offers a unique, all too rare opportunity to unite Muslims across the political spectrum against climate change.

One verse of the Quran indicates how Islam might jump-start the Environmental Revolution in the Middle East.

One verse of the Quran, emblazoned on the website of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science, indicates how Islam might jump-start the Environmental Revolution in the Middle East: “Corruption has appeared on land and sea caused by the hands of people so that they may taste the consequences of their actions and turn back.” 


Advocates of ecotheology point to this verse in particular as evidence that Muslims, the guardians of what the Quran describes as God’s creation, have a duty to the natural environment lest they want to confront the ever more apparent perils of environmental degradation. While the social movement behind ecotheology remains small, its supporters are working to spread their message far and wide.

The most prominent ambassadors of ecotheology include Dr. İbrahim Özdemir, one of Turkey’s best-regarded environmentalists and the founding president of Hasan Kalyoncu University, and Dr. Odeh Rashid al-Jayyousi, a Palestinian-born, Manama-based environmentalist who chairs the Innovation and Technology Management Department at Arabian Gulf University. 

Özdemir, who contributed to drafting the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change in Istanbul in 2015, has emphasized the “need to empower Muslim scholars and imams to understand contemporary science on the natural environment and facilitate dialogue.” 

“civil society activism in the Muslim world should support and nurture a green way of life in line with the Islamic worldview,” which he has called “one form of jihad to ensure balance and harmony between humans and nature.”

Al-Jayyousi leveraged a job on the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel at the United Nations to urge the international community to create an Islamic financial endowment geared toward sustainable development in the Muslim world. According to al-Jayyousi, “civil society activism in the Muslim world should support and nurture a green way of life in line with the Islamic worldview,” which he has called “one form of jihad to ensure balance and harmony between humans and nature.”

Several spots in the Muslim world have proved receptive to al-Jayyousi and Özdemir’s ideas. In Morocco, mosques are training imams to find inspiration for the environmental movement in the Quran. As far from the Middle East as Indonesia—the most successful example of ecotheology in practice—officials are collaborating with religious organizations to fight plastic pollution, and a number of gurus have founded schools dedicated to ecotheology. Indonesian clerics even got a few headlines by announcing a fatwa forbidding wildlife trafficking, the first of its kind. Other countries, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have indicated that they are joining this trend by hosting conferences and starting research institutes focused on ecotheology.

In a startling development, even militants best known for their hostility to progressive ideals are preaching ecotheology. In 2017, Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada asked Afghans to “plant one or several fruit or non-fruit trees for the beautification of Earth and the benefit of almighty God’s creations,” a bizarre request from insurgents who have otherwise done more to harm the natural environment than beautify it. 

In 2018, clerics affiliated with al-Shabaab banned plastic bags in a move that provoked widespread derision on social media. Though the Taliban and al-Shabaab’s odd pronouncements will likely do more to hurt ecotheology than advance it in the long run, the militants’ receptiveness to the philosophy’s tenets furthers the argument that its ideals can bridge even the widest ideological divides in the Greater Middle East.

Amid climate change and environmental degradation’s stranglehold on the Global South and the deserts of the Muslim world in particular, the region needs unity now more than ever. Of the ten countries considered most at risk from water scarcity by the World Resources Institute, nine fall within North Africa or Western Asia. Many countries in the Greater Middle East, from Pakistan to Yemen, may exhaust their water supply within the next decade, and global warming has only exacerbated these environmental issues. To face this challenge, the Muslim world, like the rest of the world, will have to reexamine its role in climate change and retool environmental policies at every level. Ecotheology can accelerate and inform this urgent introspection.

As ecotheology has established footholds in Bahrain, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE, this social movement would likely have little difficulty gaining traction in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim world’s other centers of gravity if supported by local leaders. In fact, Pakistani and Saudi officials have already expressed interest in devising an Islamic approach to environmentalism. The works of scholars such as Abu Sway, al-Jayyousi, Özdemir, and Shomali are providing the Muslim world’s leaders a chance to realize their eco-friendly goals.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, a landmark document based on the ideas of Muslims from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America and the high-water mark of ecotheology in the Muslim world, urges “all Muslims, wherever they may be, to tackle the root causes of climate change.”

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, a landmark document based on the ideas of Muslims from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America and the high-water mark of ecotheology in the Muslim world, urges “all Muslims, wherever they may be, to tackle the root causes of climate change, environmental degradation, and the loss of biodiversity, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who was, in the words of the Quran, ‘a mercy to all beings.’ ” 

Today, followers of ecotheology are echoing these words in an ever-expanding list of countries because, as global warming overwhelms the Muslim world, they might have a solution.

Austin Bodetti studies the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in the Greater Middle East. He has conducted fieldwork in Bosnia, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Thailand, and his writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired. Austin graduated summa cum laude from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies in 2018. 

This piece was originally published on Inside Arabia on September 7, 2019.

FORESTS AND FATWAS: Islam, Terrorism, and Environmental Jihad


The Islamic world is currently engaged in a debate over climate change: not about whether it’s happening, but about whether militants or reformists are best equipped to stop it.

As climate change threatens countries from Malaysia to Mauritania, environmentalists across the Muslim world are wrestling with how to respond. A growing number are looking to Islam itself for an answer to what is now being called a “climate crisis.” Some of the region’s activists and intellectuals have argued that Muslims, the stewards of what the Quran defines as God’s creation, have a responsibility to care for the Earth and promote environmental protection. And given that Indonesians and Iranians alike have embraced this idea, the concept of a religious obligation to the natural environment appears to transcend Islam’s geographic and theological divides. 

Even Muslim militants are talking about environmentalism.

In Somalia and Afghanistan, longtime allies of al-Qaeda have begun to portray environmental conservation as an Islamic duty. Militants in Iraq and Yemen are taking steps toward copying this model, a sign that—at least in the Greater Middle East—environmentalism is far from the exclusive domain of progressives. Whether out of sincere theological conviction or just for the sake of their propaganda, several American-designated terrorist groups are trying to co-opt the environmental movement by aping the message of their traditional adversaries in the Muslim world: Western-friendly Muslim philosophers and scholars.

If Muslim proponents of eco-theology, the fast-spreading belief that religious texts can inform an approach to environmental protection, want to stop militants from polluting a philosophy that has potential to become a social movement, eco-theologians must refrain from making the mistake of ignoring them. Though al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) have failed to influence even the margins of political theory in the Muslim world, both umbrella organizations have proved adept at exploiting social issues that divide religious communities and encourage sectarian strife. Only the handful of Muslim intellectuals pioneering an eco-friendly interpretation of Islam can reverse what some militants are trying to turn into an extra-regional trend.

Like Muslim eco-theologians, the Taliban and al-Shabaab assert that Islam tasks humans with protecting the natural environment from all manner of threats, including humans themselves. The Quran has become the most reliable resource for Muslim environmentalists across the political spectrum, who cite a variety of Quranic verses about the importance of environmental protection. “Corruption has appeared on land and sea caused by the hands of people so that they may taste the consequences of their actions and turn back,” recites the website of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science (IFEES), a British non-profit that has held workshops in Indonesia, Nigeria, and Zanzibar and published a pamphlet highlighting “the ethical foundations of Islamic environmentalism.” Muslim environmentalists interpret that Quranic quotation as an ancient but timeless warning against soil contamination and water pollution.

While IFEES operates out of London, one of Europe’s many secularist bastions, the ideas behind eco-theology have proved popular in even the most conservative corners of the Muslim world. Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, founding director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qom, began his 2008 article “Aspects of Environmental Ethics: An Islamic Perspective” with a quotation from the Muslim prophet Mohammad: “If Resurrection is starting and one of you has a sapling in his hand that he can plant before he stands up, he must do so.” In the article, Shomali noted how “in Islam, the environment is sacred and has an intrinsic value,” adding that “as the vicegerent of God, [Muslims] have to channel the mercy of God to everything within [their] reach.” An idea championed by Muslims in the liberal democracy of Britain has a following in the Shi‘a theocracy of Iran. Across the Persian Gulf in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which adhere to a traditional interpretation of Sunni Islam often hostile to Shi‘a practices, officials have hosted conferences and research institutes dedicated to studying the intersection of ecology and Islam. Eco-theology has managed to appeal to Islamic schools of thought across the world.

Eco-theology’s distinguished Muslim voices include Dr. Odeh Rashid al-Jayyousi, chairman of the Innovation and Technology Management Department at Arabian Gulf University and author of Islam and Sustainable Development, and Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor emeritus of religious studies at the George Washington University. An outspoken member of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel at the United Nations, al-Jayyousi has pressed Muslims to reframe jihad as a struggle against climate change and urged the international community to establish an Islamic financial endowment dedicated to sustainable development. Nasr, who started writing about Islam and environmentalism in the 1960s, has lamented Muslim clerics’ failure to take a greater role in the environmental movement. Dr. Akhtar Mahmood at Panjab University in India, Dr. Md Saidul Islam at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway at Quds University in Palestine echo these sentiments in their writings.

Muslim eco-theologians found their most conspicuous platform in 2015, when supporters of an Islamic commitment to the natural environment traveled from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America to Istanbul to release the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. The landmark document sought to reinforce the message that, because “Islamic environmentalism is embedded in the matrix of Islamic teachings,” Muslims must fight on the front lines of the war against climate change. Dr. İbrahim Özdemir, founding president of Hasan Kalyoncu University and a contributor to the document, has stressed Islam’s potential place in environmental policy: “Muslim countries must use the Islamic perspective in environmental protection and sustainable development, taking into consideration religious texts and the practices of Islamic heritage.”

No country embodies Özdemir’s ideal better than Indonesia, where activists, clerics, and officials have led grassroots and top-down efforts to incorporate Islam into the environmental movement. Indonesian environmentalists have launched several madrasas that focus on environmentalism as one of Islam’s foremost principles, and the Indonesian government has partnered with two of the country’s most influential religious organizations to campaign against plastic pollution. For its part, the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s top faith-based organization and a government agency, issued the world’s first fatwa against wildlife trafficking in 2014.

Thousands of miles away from Indonesia, the Taliban and al-Shabaab have announced their own bids to combat environmental issues. Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s latest leader, called on Afghans to “plant one or several fruit or non-fruit trees for the beautification of Earth and the benefit of almighty God’s creations” in 2017. Just a year later, clerics tied to al-Shabaab outlawed plastic bags as “a threat to the health of humans and livestock.” Though experts on the Taliban and al-Shabaab debate the sincerity of these edicts, the pronouncements imply that some insurgents have adopted the methods of eco-theologians. The Taliban’s and al-Shabaab’s rhetoric also fits the wider pattern of militants taking advantage of environmental issues.

In the most obvious example of a Western-labeled terrorist group benefiting from environmental degradation, ISIS recruited Iraqis in rural areas by blaming the beleaguered central government of Iraq for water scarcity. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), often considered the most dangerous franchise of the umbrella organization that Osama bin Laden founded, attempted to improve its poor reputation in Yemen’s hinterland by refurbishing some of the drought-plagued country’s water mains and wells. Even bin Laden himself demonstrated a bizarre fascination with environmental issues, at one point recommending that Americans undertake “a great revolution for freedom” to bolster Barack Obama’s campaign against environmental degradation and global warming. Unlike the Taliban and al-Shabaab, ISIS, AQAP, and bin Laden never seemed to link these actions to the tenets of eco-theology or any other overarching religious themes. How long that divergence between al-Qaeda’s allies and offshoots will persist remains another story.

Anti-Western militants expressing support for the environmental movement and trying to rebrand themselves with an eco-friendly image may seem entertaining. Even so, this phenomenon could create further challenges for Muslim eco-theologians already struggling to spread their message beyond academia. If the concept of an Islamic approach to environmentalism becomes associated with the reactionary ideologues of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, not the liberal activists and scholars who have dedicated their careers to devising an Islamic interpretation of environmentalism, the Muslim and Western worlds will prove that much more reluctant to embrace eco-theology.

Nothing suggests that the Taliban and al-Shabaab got inspiration for their nascent environmental policies from mainstream eco-theologians, nor have leading Muslim advocates of eco-theology responded to extremists’ attempts to frame banning plastic bags and planting trees as an Islamic obligation. In fact, neither side of the extraordinary political spectrum that spans eco-theology in the Muslim world—from Somali guerrillas to eco-friendly philosophers—seems to have acknowledged the other’s existence. This appears all the more striking in light of the widespread, well-publicized ridicule that has greeted the Taliban’s call for reforestation and al-Shabaab’s ban on plastic pollution over the past two years. While a staffer at the Daily Caller took a moment to lampoon the Somali militants’ strange announcement as “giving them at least one thing in common with U.S. states California and Hawaii,” eco-theologians missed a chance to denounce al-Shabaab’s half-baked attempt at environmentalism and distinguish the innovative field of eco-theology from the insurgents’ ultraconservative interpretation of Islam.

Eco-theology has the potential to revolutionize how the Muslim world confronts global warming. Given that summer temperatures are predicted to rise twice as fast in North Africa and Western Asia as in the rest of the world—and that, according to scientists, “prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable”—the need for a sociopolitical philosophy that can unite Muslim-majority countries behind the environmental movement has become more urgent than ever. Still, the longevity of any Islamic approach to environmentalism will depend not only on the ability of eco-theologians to mobilize peoples and governments but also on whether they can prevent extremists from co-opting and corrupting eco-theology.

Muslim eco-theologians have yet to ignite the kind of viral, country-spanning social movement sparked by the world-famous teenage Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg. This problem likely stems from the intellectualization of their field: With the promising exception of Indonesia and a handful of limited initiatives sponsored by Arab governments, eco-theology has remained the domain of academics and philosophers. The public-facing work of scholars such as Özdemir and al-Jayyousi has failed to translate into the type of attention from the international community and the news media that the Taliban and al-Shabaab’s strange edicts received.

To build a political movement and keep extremists from dominating the already-scant coverage of eco-theology in the Muslim world, advocates of an Islamic approach to environmentalism will have to employ a multi-pronged strategy. First, eco-theologians must highlight al-Shabaab and the Taliban’s hypocrisy: Just as the Council on American-Islamic Relations has condemned actions that ISIS has undertaken in the name of Islam as “anti-Islamic,” supporters of eco-theology can draw attention to the Taliban and al-Shabaab’s involvement in illegal logging, which contravenes the militants’ eco-friendly propaganda. Emphasizing the disparity between militants’ halfhearted environmental policies and eco-theology will not only preempt any cynical attempts to conflate eco-theology with extremism but also undermine militants’ hopes of hijacking the environmental movement. Eco-theologians can no longer ignore extremists’ forays into environmentalism.

In addition to combating the rhetorical threat of extremists’ propaganda, Muslim eco-theologians will have to overcome the much larger challenge of rallying a coalition of their faith’s disparate ideologies and religious denominations behind an Islamic approach to environmentalism. Even if eco-theology appears confined to seminaries and universities for the time being, the geographic and theological breadth of its supporters—ranging from a Shi‘a scholar in the United States to a Sunni academic in Singapore—indicate that the up-and-coming philosophy can bridge this gap. Despite eco-theology’s promising future, its proponents have a lot of work ahead of them.

As Islam has evolved into a rallying cry for militants, reformists, and revolutionaries alike, few analysts have doubted its potency as a tool for exciting social movements and structural changes. If Muslim eco-theologians hope to capitalize on this centuries-old trend, they will have to stop extremists from exploiting their ideas, transform their philosophy from an arcane academic field into a call to battle for Muslim environmentalists, and win the race against the dangerous effects of global warming. As climate change devastates the Global South and the Greater Middle East in particular, the importance of the eco-theologians’ mission becomes all the more apparent. In fact, the fate of the environmental movement in the Muslim world may rest on their success.

Austin Bodetti studies the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia. His research has appeared in the Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired. This piece was originally published on American Interest on August 16, 2019.

Part 2: Being and becoming Métis and Muslim

This is the second in a two-part series (you can find part one here) on the experiences of Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) on his journey towards finding himself, his roots and becoming both Métis and Muslim. The Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada; the use of the term Métis is complex and contentious and has different historical and contemporary meanings.

By: Dr John Andrew Morrow

One of the most moving moments in my life and one that drove me with greater determination to document my native ancestry was the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that I attended in 2009. As the dancers entered the ring, as part of the Grand Entry, and the chanting, drumming, and circling commenced, I entered a trance, the most profound of spiritual states. Overwhelmed, in ecstasy, with tears uncontrolled flowing down my cheeks, I became at one with my people, and at one with the One, the Creator, the Provider, and the Great Spirit. I may have embraced Islam at the age of 16, finding spiritual similarity between Sufism (Tasawwuf/’Irfan), and the Right Path of Life found in Native American spiritual teachings; however, for me, the Grand Entry at the Gathering of Nations was comparable to making the pilgrimage to Mecca and circling the Holy Kaaba.

Although I have visited my spiritual forefathers, Idris I and Idris II, in Zerhoun and Fez, in Morocco, along with other saintly figures in South Africa, and have derived great benefit from performing pilgrimages to their holy sanctuaries, and while I would eagerly visit other sacred personalities in North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond, the Earth itself is a masjid, a mosque, a place of prayer, and a site of prostration.

“Some Muslims may travel to Arabia, Iraq, and Iran in search of spiritual satisfaction: I find mine here, on my land, the land of my ancestors.”

Although I have been offered employment in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Iran, I refuse to leave Turtle Island. I would rather perform tawaf or circumambulation with the Miami Nation, the Chippewa Nation, and the Métis Nation than performing it in Wahhabi-occupied Arabia where Islam merely exists in name. 

Although the essence of Islam remains pure, some of its teachings have been corrupted by Muslims. And while some North American Indians may have become corrupted, their teachings remain pure. There is more Islam in the Seven Grandfather Teachings than there is in the entire body of Salafi-Wahhabi-Takfiri literature. The Eastern Woodland Indians believe that that there is One God, the Great Spirit. They believe that the Great Spirit created the world in harmony and that we, human beings, are but a part of the whole. The Eastern Woodland Indians believe that the Great Spirit is Omnipresent in Creation. Consequently, all of creation must be respected. This is the religion of Muhammad. This is the religion of Jesus. This is the religion of Moses. This is the religion of Abraham. This is the religion of Adam. And this is the real religion of Allah, Islam, peace and submission. It is true tawhid or Divine Unity: The Creator is One and Creation is One. All at one with the One.

It was the will of God that I was brought from North Dakota, traditional Métis territory, to Indiana, traditional Métis territory. I spent two years conducting research at the Genealogy Center, at the Allen County Public Library, in Fort Wayne, the second largest institution of its kind in the United States. As an experienced academic and university professor, with decades of research experience, I painstakingly prepared the ancestral tree of my family, in all directions, going back over 500 years and, in some cases, even further back in history, with each link supported by birth, death, and marriage certificates, and supplemented by other historical documents, photographs, and paintings. Although many modern-day Métis and Indians trace their ancestry back to a single indigenous ancestor, I confirmed my descent from hundreds of aboriginal forefathers and foremothers.   

I vividly remember the moment in which I discovered a document confirming my descent from Roch Manitouabeouich, a scout and interpreter for the French, and his wife, Oueou Outchibahabanoukoueau. If these identifiably indigenous names were not enough, historical documents described them as “savages,” the French term that was used to contrast them from the “civilized” Europeans. Roch appears to have been Huron whereas Oueou appears to have been Abenaki. Their daughter, Marie Olivier Sylvestre Manitouabeouich is listed as being an Algonquin who lived with her father who was the Chief of the Hurons.

Not only was I a direct descendant of Manitouabeouich and Outchibahabanoukoueau through various family lines, I also confirmed that I was a direct descendant of Chief Membertou, the leader of the Mi’kmaq Nation, as well as Gisis “Jeanne” Bahmahmaadjimiwin, the wife of Jean-Nicolet de Belleborne, who belonged to the Nipissing Nation. These are only a few of the most prominent of my indigenous ancestors. There were hundreds more in an unbroken chain from the past to the present. Some of my French ancestors married Native women. Some of my French ancestors adopted Amerindian girls. Their mixed-blood descendants virtually always married other mixed-bloods. The fact that Métis typically married other Métis for centuries indicates that they shared a common Aboriginal culture. Although there are Métis with roots in a single region, my indigenous ancestry is varied and comes from Acadia, Québec, Ontario, and beyond. They were Huron-Wyandot, Mi’kmak, Abenaki, Penobscot, Algonquin, Innu, Abekani, and Nipissing. The ethnogenesis of the Métis or and Michif Otipemisiwak, did not take place in the prairies in the 19th century. It dates to the 17th century and took place throughout New France.

Like many Métis, my parents and grandparents did not speak openly about our indigenous ancestry. We were proud Francophone Canadians. We would canoe and kayak. We would harvest, trap, fish, and hunt. We passed down knowledge of medicinal herbs. We transmitted the songs and music of our ancestors. We were intimately connected with our environment. Our language was Métis. Our food was Métis. Our traditions were Métis. And our culture was Métis. We did not, however, openly identify as Métis. When I told my lifelong Jamaican-Canadian friend that I was indigenous, he could not comprehend why my family failed to tell me: “Your commitment to social justice and your solidarity with the oppressed has always been remarkable.”

Dr. John Andrew Morrow runs an educational YouTube channel on Islam. You can find a link at the end of the article.

Since the Métis have no specific phenotype and range from blue-eyed people with blond hair to tanned people with black hair, they can be racially ambiguous. Although some Métis moved onto reservations with their First Nation cousins, others continued to live with their French-Canadian cousins. Since it was bad enough being Francophone under English domination in Canada, professing to be Aboriginal was an added burden. Louis Riel, the revolutionary leader and martyr, who holds the same position to the Métis as Imam Husayn holds to Shiite Muslims, warned his people against being placed in reservations. Louis Riel wanted the Métis to maintain citizenship and the right to vote. As reservation Indians, the Métis would become wards of the State: their way of life would also suffer.

If my parents and grandparents did not openly speak about their Indigeneity, it was because the State literally came after our children. Inuit, First Nation, and Métis children were rounded up by the Canadian government and placed in residential schools to supposedly civilize, Anglicize and Christianize them. They were humiliated, degraded, physically abused, and sexually assaulted. The Aboriginal people of Canada still suffer from the scars that were inflicted upon them in residential schools. Our parents and grandparents did not assimilate to seek privilege. They were already second-hand citizens, subject to racism and discrimination as Francophones. They did what any sensible parent would do: they stressed their French-Canadian side as opposed to their Native Canadian side for the sake of survival. Call it strategic dissimulation. They lived as Métis people. They just did not use that dangerous word.

Since the documentary confirmation of my indigenous ancestry was an overwhelming experience, I was concerned as to how my father would react when I revealed to him the result of two years of genealogical research. My mother reassured me that I had nothing to be concerned about. After I presented the fact to my father, he smiled and said: “Son, you are right.”

The secret was just below the surface. All I had to do was scratch.

He had suspected it all along and, as my mother suggested, my paternal grandfather of Irish ancestry, was certainly aware of it. My grandmother, after all, was a Beaulieu, a family of noble French ancestry. In New France, the men from the Beaulieu line married indigenous women. Many of them lived in Québec but travelled throughout New France. Some had spouses in Eastern Canada and spouses in the Mid-West and prairies. Some settled in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and North Dakota, among other places. Others reached the West coast of North America. 

When I presented my 5000-member circular genealogical chart to my mother, with all the Métis and First Nation ancestors highlighted in yellow, she was amazed at my work and accepting of my findings. Although they never described themselves as Métis, due to the dangers of racism and discrimination, she recognized that the Drouin and Bisson families were of mixed ancestry. When I presented my findings to my aunt, who looks stereotypically Indian, she acknowledged that we were indeed aboriginal people. Like a well that had been held back, and that suddenly burst, she started sharing information about her kokum or great grandmother, who was a big Indian woman and the head of her family clan. I reached out to another branch of the Drouin family in the Beauce and found that they openly identified as Métis. In fact, a relative of mine, François Beaulieu recently assumed the leadership of the Métis Nation of Québec. One cannot fake being Métis. All Métis descend from a small number of common ancestors. They are all interrelated and interconnected. Métis families are famous for keeping meticulously detailed genealogical trees. We have all found each other and in so doing we have all found ourselves. My family, which lives in Québec, Ontario, and Indiana, all fly the Métis flag with pride. In fact, my father, who is nearly eighty, insists upon it: “Son,” he said, repeating words he told me when I was but a boy, “Be proud of who you are.” I say the same to my sons who are being raised openly and proudly as indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island. We are proud to be Métis and we are proud to be Muslim.

Dr John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) is an Amerindian with Canadian and American citizenship. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto in the year 2000. He worked as an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor of Foreign Languages for over a decade and a half at Park University, Northern State University, Eastern New Mexico University, the University of Virginia, and Ivy Tech Community College. He is the author of over thirty academic books in the fields of Hispanic, Islamic, and Indigenous Studies, including the critically-acclaimed Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. A public figure and activist, he lectures all around the globe and acts as an advisor to world leaders. In recognition of his accomplishments, Dr Morrow received an ISNA Interfaith Achievement Award in 2016.

This piece was originally published on TMV on August 9, 2017.

Winds of Mercy

Winds of Mercy

Today marks Global Wind Day, an annual event for discovering wind energy, its power and the possibilities it holds to reshape our energy systems, decarbonise our economies and boost jobs and growth. To mark the event, we feature a reflection piece by Ridwhan Khan on the simple pleasures and blessings of wind.

And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water (25:48)

Is He [not best] who guides you through the darknesses of the land and sea and who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy? Is there a deity with Allah? High is Allah above whatever they associate with Him. (27:63)

Sitting idlily on the finely cut field grass, I find myself struggling. My racing thoughts linger carrying with it worries and anxieties from the day. My breath is short; the rush of panic raging inside my body has me nervous. To fight it off, I clench my fists hoping to contain myself and force calm. It doesn’t work; stress builds percolating to the point of pressuring my muscles. 

Externally, amidst my struggle, the summer breeze gently sweeps through the trees. In the moments where the air is still and the temperature cool, the fresh air attempts to provide comfort. The air softly seeps through my skin, layers on top of my closed eyes, and passes through my inhaling nostrils.

Regardless, I still struggle. My internal strife grows louder weakening my resolve for a second of ease.

And then suddenly, strong winds blow passing right through me.

 The leaves whirl around. The grass, even at its low cut, sweeps forward. And the noises from the passing cars somehow become distant.

The strong push from the winds envelops me. Its’ whistle holds my attention. Its’ force summons me to its blowing commands. Even when the winds dissolve, I’m left encaged by its might. My attention is awaiting its return. As unsettling as the winds are, there is something gripping about them.  

Winds blow again.

This time its lighter. As the winds blow past me, they pump in an unexplainable, calming energy. The peaceful sound is rhythmic, the tender touch of air is soothing, and every inhalation forces air to push throughout my body challenging it to unwind.  

The inner noise that previously polluted me dissipates. It doesn’t occur to me that my thoughts have stopped, my fears and anxieties displaced, and my breath even. A moment of tranquility sets in without warning.

As my inner struggle weakens, my outer surroundings take over their place. The chirping sound from birds becomes louder as if they’re speaking to me. The greenness of the grass and trees radiates as if there is no other colour around me. And the gentle breeze tickles my skin as if playing with me.

My body feels a certain symmetry with nature. The state of my body is dictated by her providence. Her serenity and constancy produce serenity and constancy in me.

I stand up, loose and strangely content, and feeling refreshed by the winds of mercy.

Ridhwan is a recent M.A. graduate in Political Economy from Carleton University. His interests are in politics, social issues, and philosophy. In his leisure time, he enjoys long walks outdoors. 

Part 1: Being and becoming Métis and Muslim

This is the first in a two-part series on the experiences of Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) on his journey towards finding himself, his roots and becoming both Métis and Muslim. The Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada; the use of the term Métis is complex and contentious and has different historical and contemporary meanings. 

By: Dr John Andrew Morrow

I was born John Andrew Morrow in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Although both of my parents were Francophone Quebeckers, and French was my maternal language, my English (or rather Irish) name was the cause of some confusion to both myself and others. My mother was Francophone from both sides and my father was Francophone from one side and Anglophone/Francophone from the other. I was clearly French Canadian as opposed to English Canadian. So while much was clear, much, however, remained veiled.

During the time of my grandparents, we were simply Canadians, a term used to distinguish us from the English invaders and colonizers. During the time of my parents, we moved from being Canadians to hyphenated French-Canadians. During my time, we moved from being French Canadians to being Québécois. Our identity was becoming increasingly narrow as we became increasingly minoritized and marginalized in the new multicultural Canadian mosaic.

Although my maternal family was clear that they were French, French Canadian, and Québécois, my paternal family was more ambiguous. My paternal grandfather was a Quebecker of Irish ancestry. His family had been in la Belle Province for generations. He spoke fluent French and became renowned as an expert woodsman and fisherman. My paternal grandmother spoke English as a second language – she only learned it after marrying my grandfather. I never heard her describe herself as French, French Canadian or Québécois. Her origins were obscure. She never spoke about her parents, her family, and her past. We assumed she was hiding some painful family secrets. As my father said when I asked him about our origins:

“Whatever we are, be proud of it.”

As much as my name was Irish, I knew that I was only Irish by direct paternal ancestry; not by language, culture, or identity. At the same time, I knew, deep-down, that we were not entirely French Canadian either.

My maternal grandfather, who spoke nothing but joual, a 16th-century French dialect, peppered his colorful language with indigenous words: “Grand Manitou”, something he would cry out when he was shocked, surprised, or excited. My maternal grandfather used to invoke the Great Spirit. When I asked my maternal grandmother about our ancestry, she mentioned that we descended from the coureurs des bois, the runners of the woods; they were the trappers, traders, and voyageurs who traveled North America from North to South and East to West and were mostly Métis. They were of mixed ancestry: part French and part First Nations. They typically spoke Métis French along with half a dozen indigenous languages. Among themselves, they spoke a language of their own, a mixed language, known as Michif.

“Do we have any Chinese in our family?” I once asked my mother when I was a child. “Not that I know of,” responded my mother. “Why do you ask?” “Well, we have many family members with Oriental eyes,” I pointed out referring to the epicanthic eye-folds that I noted on my cousins and maternal grandmother. I also noted that, with the exceptions of my paternal and maternal grandfathers, who were blue-eyed blonds, the rest of my relatives had thick, jet-black hair, and while their complexions varied, many of them had olive colored skin and high cheekbones. In fact, some of my uncles were so dark that some of my mulatto friends had lighter skin than my family members. Although we were proud of our Francophone culture, it was clear that we were not entirely European. If some of us appeared white, it was only on the outside.

After my family relocated from Québec to Ontario, my sense of Otherness intensified due to discrimination. My circle of friends consisted of people like me, who were different, and was made up mostly of immigrants, African Canadians, and Asian Canadians. As a French Canadian, and as a Quebecker, I was an outsider to Anglo Canadians. Consequently, I always insisted upon being Québécois. In short, I had roots dating back to the 16th century. As was eventually to be revealed, those roots traced back tens if not hundreds of thousands of years.


As a teenager in Toronto, I was fond of collecting, listening, and singing traditional French-Canadian folk-songs. Some of these songs were clearly from France, some dating back to medieval times. Others dated from the Encounter between the Old World and the New World. They were songs of voyageurs, loggers and raft-men. I literally learned the entire repertoire of traditional French-Canadian songs by heart. Apart from a few songs, which were clearly composed by Métis runners of the woods, my relatives in Québec were completely unfamiliar with the songs that I would sing. “But these are traditional French-Canadian songs that are accompanied by a guitar,” I asserted. “What kind of music did you hear at home?” I asked my mother. “There were dances every weekend,” she responded, “They played the fiddle; not the guitar. Your grandmother played the spoons. And they used to dance to jigs.” When I played French-Canadian songs to my mother, she could not identify them. However, when I played her Métis music from the prairies, it was like taking her back in time: that was the music they played in her childhood home.

From the time I was a small child, I sensed that we had indigenous roots. My grandmother had said so subtly herself: we descend from the runners of the woods. I was always at home in the forests of the eastern woodlands of North America. I would wander for days on end in the traditional territory of the Algonquins in the company of my cousin. As I child I danced in pow-wows in northern Ontario. As a teenager and a young man, I attended indigenous events in and around Toronto. As a university student, I was a regular at the Native Canadian Center in Toronto and at events organized by Mayan, Quechua-Aymara, and Mapuche Indians. I stood in solidarity with the First Nations of the Americas. Rather than lose my time and my soul dancing in discos of Western decadence, I would spend my time celebrating Inti Raymi with the Incas and other events of cultural and spiritual significance. I remember a friend of mine looking at an old family portrait of my father, his parents, and his sisters. He said: “They look Latino. Your grandmother looks Indian.” In the words of my Salvadorean friend, “If you told me this was a Mestizo family, I would believe you.”

My Latin American friend was only partly correct. The people in the photograph were indeed Mestizo, the Spanish word for Métis, people of mixed blood, particularly used to describe the miscegenation of Europeans and Native people. The Mestizo people of the Americas, however, are not indigenous people. Although they have Indian blood, they are not Indian by language, culture or identity. In short, they do not embrace the indigenous worldview. Having indigenous blood does not make one indigenous. To be an indigenous person, one must have indigenous genes, one must identify as an indigenous person, one must belong to an indigenous community, and one must be recognized as indigenous by an indigenous community. The Mestizos of Latin America may have some Indian blood; however, they are Hispanic by language, culture, history, and identity. They are Western European in their worldview. What is more, they are not considered indigenous by the indigenous people of Spanish America. In fact, the Mestizos of Mexico, Central, and South America have a long history of slaughtering, persecuting, and oppressing indigenous people. In fact, in Latin American Spanish, the term Indio or Indian signifies “idiot” or “imbecile,” a person who is hopelessly backwards.

A representation of a Mestizo, in a Pintura de Castas from New Spain during the late colonial period. The painting’s caption states “Spanish and Indian produce Mestizo”, 1780.

I was of indigenous ancestry. I embraced the indigenous worldview. I celebrated indigenous culture. I devoted myself to the indigenous studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I completed both an M.A. thesis and a doctoral dissertation on indigenous themes: The Indigenous Worldview in César Vallejo and The Indigenous Presence and Influence in Rubén Darío and Ernesto Cardenal. I would eventually publish the former in a peer-reviewed journal while the latter was published as two separate academic monographs, Amerindian Elements in the Poetry of Rubén DaríoThe Alter Ego as the Indigenous Other and Amerindian Elements in the Poetry of Ernesto Cardenal: Mythic Foundations of the Colloquial Narrative.

As much as I was indigenous by blood, by mind, and by soul, I was reluctant to assert my identity openly due to lack of documentation. (How silly is that? Did our ancestors have Indian or Métis status cards? Why do we continue to allow others to define who we are as a people?) Still, I was drawn to participate in wasipis with the Dakotas, Lakotas, and Nakotas in South Dakota, and to visit the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. My life journey brought me from Québec to Acadia, from Acadia to Québec, from Québec to Ontario, from Ontario to Missouri, from Missouri to South Dakota, from South Dakota to New Mexico, from New Mexico to North Dakota, from North Dakota to Indiana, and from Indiana to Michigan. I realize now that I was retracing the paths of my ancestors, my predecessors, the Métis traders of centuries past. As my research would find, I have indigenous relatives in all these regions.

Dr John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) is an Amerindian with Canadian and American citizenship. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto in the year 2000. He worked as an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor of Foreign Languages for over a decade and a half at Park University, Northern State University, Eastern New Mexico University, the University of Virginia, and Ivy Tech Community College. He is the author of over thirty academic books in the fields of Hispanic, Islamic, and Indigenous Studies, including the critically-acclaimed Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. A public figure and activist, he lectures all around the globe and acts as an advisor to world leaders. In recognition of his accomplishments, Dr Morrow received an ISNA Interfaith Achievement Award in 2016.

This piece was originally published on TMV on August 9, 2017.

The Ethical Treatment of Animals


Cori Mancuso reflects on the Islamic moral and theological approach towards the treatment of animals, the controversial practices of industrial animal farming, and provides practical advice and recommendations on ethical consumerism in the Muslim community.

What are the Rights of Animals in the Modern World?  

Animals are part of our everyday lives and environment; whether one owns a pet, keeps livestock, or eats meat. Yet few Muslims today are aware of Islam’s rulings regarding ethical animal treatment and consumption, or the centuries’ worth of scholarly literature on the topic. This literature reflects our scholars’ profound understanding of the rights and responsibilities that come with our relationship with animals. Modern agricultural and farming practices such as intensive animal farming, machine slaughtering, and animal experimentation, are among a few of the most controversial trends which directly oppose the Islamic moral and ethical treatment of animals.

As consumers and participants in the global world, it is essential that Muslims make every effort in aligning their actions and attitude towards a greater awareness of the proper treatment of animals in their everyday lives.

What Does the Qur’an Say About Our Relationship With Animals?

The Qur’an and Hadith outline the moral and theological significance of animals and their relationship with mankind. Allah Most High says in the Qu’ran “It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:29) Human beings were given permission to make use of animals in terms of transportation, clothing, shelter, warfare, hunting, food, and drink. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) The Qu’ran honors several types of animals, including livestock, camels, birds, cows, sheep, and fish. There are three chapters of the Qur’an named after specific animals, such as The Bee (Surah an Nahl 16), The Ant (Surah an Naml 27), The Spider (Surah al Ankabut 29) and The Elephant (Surah al Fil 105). We are encouraged to reflect upon animals and created beings as a means of gratefulness and appreciation towards The Creator. One’s treatment towards animals reflects one’s state of guidance; ethical treatment of animals is a sign of guidance and appreciation, while one’s mistreatment of animals is a sign of misguidance and ungratefulness towards the Creator and His creation. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) Our state of guidance is reflected in our behavior towards animals, making it of utmost priority to realign our behavior towards that which we were commanded and created to uphold.

Treatment of Animals in the Hadith Literature

As the Qur’an clearly outlines the proper moral and theological approach towards animals, the Hadith specifies how one should properly interact with and keep animals. The Hadith collections emphasize the overall necessity of mercy, avoidance of harm, and proper care towards animals. For those who mistreat animals, this is a major sin worthy of Allah’s punishment (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals). In a well-known hadith, reported from Ibn Umar, Allah be pleased with him, says “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘A woman was tormented because of a cat she had confined until it died and for this she entered Hellfire. She did not provide it with food or drink as it was confined, nor did she free it so that is might eat the vermin of the earth.’” (Muslim ibn al-hajjaj; al-Musnad al-sahih) For those who treat animals with mercy and compassion, there is a great reward with Allah Most High. The companions of the Prophet, Allah be pleased with them, asked the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for us even for serving these animals?” He said ‘Yes, there is a reward for rendering service to every living animal.’” (Bukhari; al-Sahih)

Injunction of Eating Halal and Tayyib

In the modern global economy, there is a veil between humans and animals in terms of meat and dairy production. Although there is a growing movement towards farm to table, organic, and humane certified products, the vast majority of people participate in the industrialized agricultural system of slaughter, production, and consumption. Animals living under these conditions have little to no movement, are raised in inappropriate housing without sunlight or air, and face regular trauma and injury (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming). All of these practices violate Islamic law and our religious principles. Animals cannot be raised under these conditions for the mere purpose of economic gain or efficiency. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, warned the believers that committing unlawful acts affects the acceptance of our deeds.

Allah has enjoined us to avoid the doubtful and unlawful matters. This alone should be enough to concern us regarding our direct and indirect involvement in industrial animal farming production and consumption. As individuals and as a community, we must strive to prevent, alleviate, and offer alternatives to industrial animal farming.

Practical Advice on Ethical Consumerism  

Muslims are commanded to eat of the halal and tayyib, “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:168) We are reminded to do all things in the most excellent manner and with ihsan. This includes making conscious decisions surrounding our purchases and consumption of animal products and goods. How does one go about acquiring halal and tayyib products?

For starters, Muslims should purchase halal-certified meat products, preferably from local farmers and butchers. When inquiring about the farming and production practices of a halal farmer or business, one should be asking the following questions “Is the animal raised in a wholesome and humane environment? Is the animal distressed or mishandled during transportation? Are the animals slaughtered in an ethical and merciful manner? Are the animals killed away from the view of other animals?” (Ezra Ereckson; Animals in Islam).

This is easier to recognize when one purchases locally or as a group from a local halal butcher. In cases where this is not applicable or accessible, there are other options such as inquiring into the specific halal certification on the label and purchasing meat and animal products online. There is no standard government sanctioned or internationally recognized halal certification, so we must be cautious about this labelling. Most halal certifications regulate the slaughter of the animal, not the conditions in which they are kept or how they are raised. In terms of halal and tayyib meat and dairy products, Beyond Halal.org offers an online directory of farmers and businesses around the world which are providing quality halal meats and dairy products.

Mufti Musa Furber, offers several recommendations for individuals, communities, and scholars to address the inhumane production and consumption of animals. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming) Although Vegetarianism and Veganism are on the rise, these are not viable options for most of the Muslim community given that Islam still requires animal sacrifice for specific religious rites. Also, they do not address or counteract the mainstream practice of industrial animal farming. It is among the sunnah of our Prophet, and all the Prophets, Allah bless and give peace on all of them, to eat meat in moderation. It would be beneficial to reduce the amount of meat in one’s diet, or to adopt more healthy alternatives to meat products.

As a Muslim community, we must create alternative farming initiatives which raise animals in a lawful manner and provide permissible and nourishing products to the community. As consumers, we must strive to find lawful sources of meat and dairy, even at the expense of paying higher prices. Lastly, many animal products can be substituted by alternative materials and consumable goods. Furber challenges the scholars and religious leaders of our time to address many of these controversial legal issues related to industrial animal farming and halal certification standards. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming)

As believers, we are called to be an example to humanity and stewards on this earth. This is a great honor and responsibility. We must be willing to start with ourselves and address our own individual lifestyles. Then we can begin to work as a community to adopt and promote the ethical treatment of animals according to our tradition. We have been commanded to be stewards of the earth, to eat of lawful and nourishing bounty, to perfect our character and actions, and to treat all animals with compassion and mercy.

Cori Mancuso is a graduate in Religious Studies at Lycoming College. While seeking sacred knowledge, she develops content for SeekersGuidance and Sabeel Community.

This article originally appeared on SeekersGuidance on April 2nd, 2019.

Islamic Principles in Dealing with the Environment

By Riad Galil

Born and raised in Cairo of the Mu’ez (Old quarters of Cairo), I found myself surrounded by remnants of a glorious past.

My extended family and I used to gather on the rooftop of our home to have our usual meals. Both the Qalawun complex (a school, hospital, mosque and mausoleum) and Barquq mosque command the landscape around us.

These structures were established by the Mamluks in the middle ages. The Mamluk architectures in old Cairo reflect many devices that tend to effectively blend the built environment with the natural surroundings using some natural phenomena to improve the built environment. Such improvements helped to reflect the Islamic heritage.

The key to understanding the Islamic influence on the environment is the full appreciation of the Islamic concepts of God, the role of man on earth, and the role of the natural environment.

On the other hand, it is man who impacts the environment more than any other creature of God. Seyyed Hossein Nasr who is considered as the ‘founding father of Islamic eco-theology’, argues that “in the old days man had to be saved from nature, today nature must be saved from man in both peace and war”.

Islamic teachings provide a blueprint for an ecological sustainability that is workable and ethical. When we look at the amount of deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution and toxic waste in the majority Muslim countries, we find that Muslim communities are sometimes worse than many advanced nations in the world.

They tend to import inappropriate technologies to resolve local environmental issues. They overlook traditionally appropriate practices that were prompted by their Islamic teachings, and hence unnecessarily create difficulties and hazards.

The Muslim Mamluks have employed some ecological measures that enabled them to introduce a number of environmentally friendly measures to improve their built environments. Their attitude was dictated by their belief in Islamic ethics.

The environment holds a huge potential that man may wisely use for his benefit and other inhabitants of our earth making certain that enough resources for future generations were secured.

Muslims need to be aware of their environmental heritage so that they would both reap the benefits in this life and be rewarded in the Hereafter as they would have fulfilled their obligations as vicegerents of God on earth.

The primary sources of Islam; the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, contain many injunctions aiming at guiding the Muslim’s activities in this life so that on the one hand he/she would fulfil their obligations towards their God and on the other hand they would enjoy a good and healthy life with a promise of even better rewards in the Hereafter.

Qur’anic verses describing nature and natural phenomena outnumber verses dealing with commandments and sacraments. Some 750 verses, or one-eighth of the Book, exhort believers to reflect on nature, to study the relationship between living organisms and their environment, to make the best use of reason and to maintain the balance and proportion God has built into His creation.

The Qur’an and Sunna stipulate some principles that affect man’s attitude towards the environment. Fitra (initial state of creation), tawhid (Unity of God), khilafa (vicegerency), mizan (balance), and hikma (wisdom) are some important concepts that seem to lay the pathway for Muslims as they deal with their environments.

Fitra (The Creation) Principle

God created man as part of the primordial nature (fitra) of His creation [Qur’an 30:29]. Fitra is the intrinsic goodness in everything created by God. Man’s role is defined by that patterning . . . and the conscious expression of this rests with humankind.

Tawhid (The Unity of God) Principle

Muslims believe in one undividable God who has no partner nor does anyone or anything may resemble. Tawhid implies the unity and the equality of all God’s creation who should strive to mutually benefit one another. God considers every type of creation, particularly in the animal world, as nations much like human nations.

The Qur’an also emphasises the concept of the unity of God in many surahs (Qur’anic verses) indicating the supremacy of Almighty God over all of creation and that most creation willingly prostrate themselves to the will of God

Khilafa (The Responsibility) Principle

The Qur’an and the Sunna combine to remind mankind of their responsibilities towards maintaining and caring for the environment. God has created man to be His khalifa (vicegerent) on earth.

Such prerogative carries with it a heavy responsibility. Humans are “responsible for maintaining the unity of all God’s creation, the integrity of the earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment. As representatives of God on earth, Muslims should effectively preserve and care for the environment in order to protect God’s creation.

Mizan (The Balance) Principle

As God has created all things in quantified amounts, balance is required to maintain equity between species and their environments. The concept of balance draws the attention that moderation is required to maintain the balance in nature.

Violating the balance in nature has serious consequences. The destruction of the environment causes a severe imbalance in nature.

Hikma (The wisdom) Principle

“He giveth wisdom unto whom He will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good” [Qur’an 2: 269].

Undoubtedly wisdom is necessary for the right judgements to be passed so that future impacts of today’s decisions would perhaps be minimised.

The five main principles for humans to deal with their environments named above, Fitra, tawhid, khilafa, mizan and hikma represent the Qur’anic plan for the relation between man and the environment.

Each creation should be guaranteed respect and the right to live in security and dignity.

“Our God, the Creator, they said, is He Who gave form, shape and features to every entity. He created and vested each entity with its qualities and attributes which guide each creature to its inherent role in life” [Qur’an 20:50],

The Qur’an asserts the universality of creation that would place every creation as an important contributor into the overall functioning of life on earth as we know it. God determined that

“Everything, spiritual, animates and inanimate We create according to plan indicating the relations of objects to one another” [Qur’an 54:49].

The books of sirah are full of teachings pertaining to the good use of the environmental resources and other measures to help in maintaining the balance of nature. The Prophet advised his followers to restrict their consumption of the earth’s resources to their immediate needs without causing any waste. In a hadith the Prophet of Islam reprimanded one of his close Companions for using excessive amounts of water for their ablution.

Muslims should be thrifty in the use of the earth’s resources even if resources were abundant. The Muslim should consume enough amounts to meet his/ her needs and then think of ways to recourse the surplus to those in the world who may need it.  The concern for a lot of other humans is so much ingrained into the Muslim’s psyche that the rewards for kind and charitable actions are highly rewarded by Almighty God in both this life and in the Hereafter.

In pursuit of conserving the environment, the Qur’an issues clear and unambiguous instructions dealing with the conservation of land animals. Almighty God has decreed in the Qur’an that “The calendar introduced by God . . . divides the year into twelve months, four of which are sacred” [Qur’an 9:36].

These four months were further elaborated in Suratul Ma’eda (The table).

“Nor are you permitted to engage in the chase (killing) of wild animals or game”, while you are on pilgrimage –major or minor- (in the sacred months). God ordains what He will” [Qur’an 5:1].

For four months every year (three of which are consecutive and one stands alone), Muslims are not permitted, by order of God, to hunt land game.

Such halt of killing the land game would allow the animals a chance to rejuvenate and multiply so that its numbers would not dwindle or even become instinct as the situation is today with so many species disappearing from the face of the earth after extensive harvesting by people.

Mr Riad Galil OAM is Senior Imam at West Heidelberg Mosque and Chaplain both at RMIT University, City Campus as well as Deakin University, Burwood campus. Married with four children and nine grandchildren, he is based in Melbourne.

This article originally appeared on AMUST on February 27th, 2019.

Preserving Nature, Carrying Out Obligations to God

By: Nur Arinta

Islam is one of the religions in the world which has a large number of followers, and Indonesia is known as a country with the highest number of Muslims in the world. As a religion that is the guideline of human life, Islam also regulates matters concerning human to nature relations. Preserving nature not only protects the animals, but also helps protect ecological processes so that natural systems can run uninterrupted. A modern environmentalist named Mawli Y. Izzi Deen said that preserving the environment as part of ecology is an obligation within Islam. An assistant professor of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia also said in his essay entitled “Islamic Environmental Ethics, Law and Society,” that conservation of the environment must be done because the environment and all creatures are created by Allah SWT which is entrusted to humans on earth.
Furthermore Islam also teaches people to do good things for the environment. Prophet Muhammad once said, anyone who treats nature well with a sincere heart will get a reward from Allah SWT in the form of pahala. Even during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam has introduced the concept of "hima", namely the establishment of certain zones for nature conservation and protecting plants and wildlife, wherein it is not permitted to make buildings, neither make fields, create land, nor hunt.
Quoted from republika.co.id, there are five types of hima that apply at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The first type of hima is an area where people should not use it to herd livestock, but they are still allowed to cut trees in this area as long as the trees cut are old and have already produced flowers and fruit. The second type is an area where people are allowed to herd cattle and cut trees that have flowered and produce fruit, to help the seeding process naturally in the following season.
The third type is an area permitted to be a grazing area throughout the year, but is limited to the type of livestock and a quota system is applied. In this region, people may also cut grass. The fourth type is an area used as a bee sanctuary, where people can only herd cattle after the flower season is over. The fifth type functions as a forest conservation area. In this area trees may be cut only during emergencies. The last type is a forest conservation area to prevent desertification.
As the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, the approach through religious wisdom could be one method used in making efforts to raise awareness concerning the environmental conservation and wildlife. This can be done through community leaders, such as religious leaders or village leaders who are respected at the grassroots level.
The Chairperson of the Foreign Relations and International Cooperation Division of the MUI, KH. Muhyiddin Junaidi MA, stated "The Indonesian Ulema Council has formed an Environmental Breeding Institute, which has line of duty to issue fatwas or religious opinions about the needs to preserve wildlife and ecosystems in order to protect Indonesia's environment."
Based on this, the Indonesian Ulema Council as a leading religious institution in Indonesia stipulates Fatwa Number 4 of 2014 concerning Conservation of Endangered Animals for the Balance of Ecosystems. This fatwa orders to protect and preserve endangered species, both protected and unprotected, living in the wild or in captivity, having a small population and declining population in nature, and requiring conservation efforts to prevent extinction. Fatwa No. 4 of 2014 is to prevent species extinction caused by various threats experienced by animals which could cause extinction, which will disrupt the balance of the ecosystem, whereas it is supposed to be maintained.
This fatwa is comprise of recommendations aimed at the government, legislative bodies, regional governments, business people, religious leaders, and the wider community. The recommendation advice us to take steps to protect and preserve endangered species against extinction, one of which is law enforcement efforts to stop the hunting and trading of wild animals, especially protected species.
The Indonesian Ulema Council also has an environmental Da’i, namely the Da'i which specifically mentions the importance of protecting and preserving the environment. "MUI forms environmental Da’i because the environment is an aspect that cannot be separated from human. lt is not only fardhu kifayah (obligatory for some people), but also it is fardhu 'ain (must be done) for all humanity to protect the environment and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
Religion is the approach that can be chosen as a method of socialization and education, to influence the community to preserve animals and to prevent species extinction. As the teachings in every religion says that humans not only should have good relations with God, but also to other humans living harmoniously alongside nature. Therefore, if all parties can carry out their respective functions and roles, it is not impossible for us to fulfill the dream of the preservation of animals and ecosystems.

This article originally appeared on WWF -Indonesia on January 3, 2019.

Miracles of the Quran: Water

“And We sent down water from the heaven in proper quantity, and we made Earth is dwelling, and We are Able to take it away.”

Water on Earth came from outer space, particularly from ice in comets and meteors. When those comets enter our atmosphere the heat generated on entry vaporizes this ice into the atmosphere.

The Christian Bible says that God created water directly on Earth, however, the Quran says that God sent down water from outer space and then made Earth its dwelling:

And We sent down water from the heaven in proper quantity, and we made Earth is dwelling, and We are Able to take it away.

[Quran 23.18]

If God made Earth its dwelling (فَأَسْكَنَّاهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ ) then this means that water formed in outer space. In another verse, the Quran explains how water came down from outer space. The clouds are enslaved between the Earth and the heavens but the water itself came from the heavens above the clouds:

In the water which Allah sent down from the Heavens and brought with it life to Earth after being dead and gave life in it to every kind of land animal; And in directing the winds; And in the clouds that are enslaved between the Heavens and the Earth; [All these] are Signs for a people who comprehend.

[Quran 2.164]

So the water itself came from the heavens above the clouds. Here God is not talking about rain (matar or wadk in Arabic) instead God is talking about water (مَاءٍ).

In another verse, the Quran says that water originally came from the heavens (above the clouds) in the form of ice. There are mountains in the heaven that have ice inside them; those mountains could fall on Earth making a very bright flash:

Can’t you see that Allah makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a pile? Then you see rain come out from within? And He sends down from heaven mountains with ice inside them; that strike whomever He wishes or miss whoever He wishes; Its flash almost blinds you.

[Quran 24.43]


God sent down from the heavens (above the clouds) mountains with ice inside them! The clouds are enslaved between the Heavens and the Earth but the water itself originally came from the Heavens (above the clouds) in the form of ice in mountains. They make a flash, this is the description of comets and meteors when they hit our atmosphere.

Rain hits everyone (no exceptions) however the Quran referred to mountains: “that strike whomever He wishes or miss whoever He wishes”. Of course, the meteor that killed the dinosaurs was the size of a mountain. If we get hit with a meteor the size of a mountain we too will die. It is Gods’ choice that we live or die.

How could an illiterate man who lived 1400 years ago have known that water originally came from ice in comets?

More than half your body weight is water. Animals and plants on Earth are mostly water. All life in our universe also needs water. When scientists search for life on exoplanets they only look for planets with water; no water means no life. However Muslims knew about this 1400 years before it was discovered.

Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the Earth were meshed together then We ripped them apart? And then We made of water everything living? Would they still not believe?

[Quran 21.30]

In the Quran, all life, on Earth and in the heaven, depends on water.

How could an illiterate man who lived 1400 years ago have known that all life in the universe also needs water?

Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface. This is also the same ratio as the word “Sea” and the word “Land” appear in the Quran. “Sea” appears 32 times and “Land” 13 times. The ratio of “Sea” to the total (Sea + Land) = 32/(32+13) = 71%.

This article originally appeared on TMV on January 11, 2019.

Bridging the gap between the three major faiths and nature


As uncertainty shrouds our planet’s future. A resurgence of religious thought and action is underway. As part of our Voices for Nature series, JAKE LLOYD explores how three faith-based organisations are reimagining or rediscovering ways for earth’s four billion Jewish, Christian and Muslim people to repair their relationship with nature

In the Biblical account of creation, God makes the universe and everything in it with the joy and abandon of a child with a paint set. He separates light from dark. He flings stars into space. He gives form to plants and animals. 

Finally, He makes humans. But unlike everything that comes before, humans are accorded the special - if ambiguous - status of being made in God’s image.  

The story unfolds from here, and as it does we see human defiance and destruction place a growing distance between us and nature.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for doing the one thing they’re told not to. Cain murders his brother Abel, and flees further from the garden.

God vows to start afresh with a cataclysmic flood. But then even this, Noah’s descendent Abraham comes to the very brink of plunging a knife through the chest of his only offspring. 

A human penchant for destruction continues.

Fast forward from this most anthropocentric of creation stories, to the dawn of the Anthropocene. Now, among the Jews, Christians and Muslims of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’, questions of man’s place in God’s creation gather a new urgency.

Perhaps it’s just as well then that these faiths specialise not only in stories of struggle and failure, but in ideas of hope and redemption too. 

Below are three such ideas, that three environmental groups have put at the centre of their work, as they go about the task of repairing man’s relationship with nature.

Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century AD, the harsh desert of the Arabian peninsula was home to nomadic tribes who frequently came into conflict. A Hima - meaning 'protected area' - became a place of respite for everyone.

Tikkun Olam - Judaism

Debate and argument are a central part of Jewish religious expression. They have even been called “a Jewish national sport”. And so the precise meaning of an expression as nebulous as Tikkun Olam – or ‘world repair’ – is up for grabs to whoever argues most convincingly.

In this spirit, throughout its history Tikkun Olam has been claimed as a guiding principle of social policy, an endorsement of volunteerism, a decree to oppose idolatry, and an invitation to participate in a mystical good-versus-evil battle.

More recently, however, the USA’s Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) argues that it is a divine instruction to respond to climate change.

Rabbi Daniel Swartz from COEJL said: “Olam can mean eternity as well as world, so this is a reminder that we have to find solutions that are sustainable across generations, not just ones that work for the present at the expense of the future”.

With this in mind, COEJL and its member organisations work from the bottom up – reacquainting Jews with nature through outdoor education programmes around the world – whilst also targeting Jewish public policy, with its energy programmes attracting the endorsement of figures like Al Gore.

Gospel – Christianity

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic friar Francis of Assisi gained a reputation for talking to animals. In one story, he preached to birds when men would not listen. In another, he pleaded with a wolf to stop terrorising a neighbourhood. He also conversed with a squirrel about the sacraments.

Assisi saw nature as polluted by the sin of humanity, and so also in need of redemption. As patron saint of animals and ecology, he’s been a popular figure in the church ever since.

Nevertheless, the gospel is ordinarily marketed as ‘good news’ for people and their souls, rather than the planet and its future. But this might be changing.

“The gospel is about relationships”, Andy Atkins, the chief executive of  A Rocha UK says. “With God, with others, with ourselves and with the environment that sustains us”. Former head of Friends of the Earth, Atkins describes A Rocha as “a home for Christians who make the connection between their faith and the environment, supporting them to influence others.”

Two years ago they launched an ‘Eco Church’ scheme to recognise churches that put the environment at the heart of their mission: from installing solar panels, to preaching on environmental stewardship, and involvement in local conservation.

There are now nearly 900 such churches in the UK, and A Rocha aims for 4,000 by 2025. Look carefully and you might spot one of their recycled wooden plaques adorning an Eco Church near you. They also have two nature reserves in the south of England.

Hima - Islam

Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century AD, the harsh desert of the Arabian peninsula was home to nomadic tribes who frequently came into conflict. A Hima - meaning 'protected area' - became a place of respite for everyone.

Conflict was forbidden in these areas, and scarce natural resources were carefully and collectively managed for the good of all. With the arrival of Islam – which accorded a particular respect to animals – a Hima became a place of refuge for wildlife too. Some Himas were even designated as retirement homes for elderly camels.

And though the concept of a Hima was forgotten during the course of the twentieth century, it is now on its way back, thanks to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL).

Assad Serhal founded SPNL in order to protect the many migrating birds that rest in his native Lebanon. But when he re-discovered Hima, he found a way to bring communities together from across the country’s ethnic and religious groups, to engage in responsible land management, and take pride in their region’s biodiversity.

He has since been invited to work with other countries to establish Himas across the Middle East and Mediterranean.

Jake Lloyd is a communications consultant, and communications coordinator at Arukah Network. He helped his local church to join the Eco Church scheme mentioned above, and participates in a community energy project.

This article originally appeared on the Ecologist on April 18th, 2018. 

Can religion help save the planet's wildlife and environment?

Religious values are often consistent with conservation efforts. So it’s not surprising that a variety of religious organisations and conservationists are working together to help mitigate the devastating effects of global climate change, writes Curtis Abraham.

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos.

Dekila Chungyalpa visited Bodh Gaya, a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in Bihar, northwestern India in 2007. It is here where Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment and where Chungyalpa experienced an epiphany of her own that would create an unbreakable bond between religion and nature conservation.

The Sikkim-born conservationist was here to attend a talk on compassion towards animals given by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual head of one of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Chungyalpa aspired to be a vegetarian but failed consistently at each attempt. Then when the 17th Karmapa asked his audience to consider not eating meat for one meal, or a day, or a week and more, it was a revelation. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, became a vegetarian. Not only was it a spiritual awakening but also an intellectual one.

Live in harmony

“I experienced first-hand how a religious leader could, with only a few words, influence thousands of people to change their behavior. It opened up a whole new way of approaching conservation, which had simply not occurred to me before”, says Chungyalpa, an associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Two years later, Chungyalpa founded and ran the pioneering faith-based conservation program, Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos. Trying to live in harmony with nature is one of its basic tenets. Every religion has scriptures that expound such a view.

For example, in Genesis in the Bible, God speaks to Noah and tells him that he now establishes a covenant between himself and every living creature on the ark.

Similarly, in the Koran, there is specific mention that all animals, including creatures that fly with wings, are precious to Allah. Hinduism also has a deep reverence for nature, for different wild animals who have symbolic power and subscribe to the Dharmic law of Ahimsa, non-violence, as a way of life.


Plans for conservation

The roots of nature conservation in the United States are deeply spiritual. In 1903, John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create the US Protected Area system, with the argument that this would protect the ‘creation of God’.

He saw nature and biodiversity as the best evidence of there being a benevolent God and that faith based argument helped established Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier National Parks. 

In recent years, the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) has pioneered the development of conservation projects based around the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions.

It was the brainchild of HRH Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, who invited the leaders of the five major world religions to discuss how could help save the natural world.

In 2012, the Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent conference was hosted by the ARC in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a celebration of the many faith groups across Africa who was launching their long term plans for conservation.

A spiritual faith

During the conference, fifty African religious leaders representing different faiths and nationalities announced a joint partnership to denounce the massacre of elephants and rhions and wildlife trafficking generally.

And, earlier this year, the Religion and Conservation Biology working group of the Society for Conservation Biology established the inaugural Assisi Award during their 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Cartagena, Columbia.

The award acknowledges organisations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth. 

Most people are religious. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of people in the world embrace a spiritual faith (there are some two billion Christians, 1.34 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and two hundred million Buddhists). 

In addition, many of the world’s most important nature conservation sites are also sacred. But these places also face overwhelming threats, including deforestation, pollution, unsustainable extraction, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such threats not only endanger the integrity of ecosystems but also leave the people who live there impoverished and vulnerable.

Wildlife declines

While religion can be a God-send in the battle to conserve nature, tens of thousands of wild animals have been poached (some to the brink of extinction) to satisfy our religious devotion.

African elephant ivory are carved into religious artifacts such as saints for Catholics in the Philippines and elsewhere. They are also crafted into Islamic prayer beads for Muslims and Coptic crosses for Christians in Egypt as well as amulets and carvings for Buddhists and Taoist in Thailand, and in China-the world's biggest ivory-consumer. 

Rhino horn also has its importance to Islam. In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982.

The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya,’ which are presented to 12-year old Yemeni (jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense). Yemeni men place great value on the dagger handles, which are commonly studded with jewels.

The elephant is revered in Buddhism (it is the symbol for Thailand). And, there is a pan Asian belief that ivory removes bad spirits. In China, religious themes are common in carved ivory pieces. Chinese Nouveau rich are frantically collecting ivory in the form of Buddhist and Taoist gods and goddesses.



Furthermore, Buddhist monks in China perform a ceremony called kaiguang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons, just as some Filipino priests will bless Catholic images made of illegal ivory for their followers. 

WWF’s Sacred Earth program successfully targeted conservation initiatives in different priority places such as the Mekong, East Africa and the Amazon. 

The Himalayas was also another conservation priority area for the Sacred Earth Program (Chungyalpa’s childhood was spent exploring the wilderness of western Sikkim, an ecological hotspot in the lower Himalayas).The Buddhist monasteries and nunneries are in some of Asia’s most fragile and ecologically important landscapes. 

The Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. They contain the world’s largest reserve of freshwater outside the north and south poles. This area gives rise to many of the great rivers in mainland Asia including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween and Yangtse.

The combined human population in these basins is over 1.5 billion, almost 20% of the world population. At the same time, the region is also immensely vulnerable to climate change with temperatures in Tibet rising by 0.4 degree centigrade per decade-double the global average!

Senior monks

The combination of these factors means that as glaciers melt and monsoon patterns change due to climate change, over a billion people are at risk of experiencing face crop failures, water shortages, power losses, floods, and droughts at much higher frequencies.

“The awareness of protecting life and living environment in Buddhism is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha,” says Khenpo Chokey, a senior monk at Pullahari Monestry in Nepal, which runs several conservation and environment-friendly initiatives including tree planting, vegetable gardening and waste management.

Buddha taught the concepts of interdependence cause and effect (karma) and doing the right thing (dharma).The ‘Thripitaka’ (Three Baskets of Buddha’s teachings) the Buddha expressed his views on environmental protection.

In the Vinaya (rules laid down by Buddha) all forms of plants are to be protected and trees must not be cut. Monks and nuns observe the Rain Retreat during which they stay within the monastery/nunnery compound to minimize stepping on insects and sprouting grass. 

As the then director of the WWF Sacred Earth programme, Chungyalpa was asked by Ogyen Trinley Dorje to collaborate with his senior monks to create a set of environmental guidelines for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and centers in the Himalayas.

All monasteries are vegetarian

“The guidelines were unique in that they presented the science and solutions for major environmental threats facing the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau within the philosophical framework of Buddhism”, says Chungyalpa.

These efforts has resulted in the establishment of KHORYUG, an association of over 50 influential Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas (www.khoryug.info) (stretching from Ladakh in northwest India all the way to Bhutan).

These monasteries/nunneries, under the auspices of the 17th Karmapa, eventually developed their own conservation projects that directly engage Buddhist monastics: these included organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, reforestation, river clean ups.

Their efforts are having an impact. For example, there is the annual plantation of over 25,000 indigenous tree saplings locally, as well as a shift to solar energy as the primary source of water heating and kitchen facilities in twenty-one of the monasteries.

In addition, all Khoryug institutions are plastic-free and segregate waste for recycling. All of them have community clean up days where they clean public areas once a month. All monasteries are vegetarian partly due to Buddhist principles and partly due to climate change. 

Climate disaster management

More importantly, the last three years of training has resulted in a group of monks and nuns who are qualified to become trainers themselves and who now lead training conferences for other monastics and local community members on the topics of climate change, disaster management, and community emergency response team training. 

For example, Rumtek monastery – the largest monastery in the state of Sikkim – carried out their own 5 day climate disaster management training conference last year, with representation from over 75 percent of monasteries of different lineages attending. 

In addition, KHORYUG has put out three publications during this period: “Environmental Guidelines:, “108 Things You Can Do” and, most recently, Disaster Management Guidelines”

Curtis Abraham is a freelance writer and researcher on African development, science, the environment, biomedical/health and African social/cultural history. He has lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa for over two decades but is originally from Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York.

This article originally appeared on the Ecologist on September 27, 2017.

Ever Wondered What Islam Has to Say About Waste and Environmental Sustainability?


“But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Quran 6:141)

When it comes to the topic of waste, there’s one thing for sure: Islam isn’t indifferent. The concept of waste (Israaf) comes up considerably in the Quran and there are no blurred lines. It’s crystal clear: it’s never excused. On a religious and spiritual level we are encouraged to use only what we need, not give into gluttony and to take care of our home.

Many environmentalists such as writer and activist Naomi Klein argue that our economic system is at odds with the well-being of the planet. Under our current capitalist and materialistic models, the Earth’s resources are used to no end.

On environmental sustainability and Islam, Salman Zafar says, “According to Islamic Law, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just human beings.” He goes on: the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah are a guiding light to promote sustainable development in Islamic countries as well as around the world. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) commands human beings to avoid doing mischief and wasting resources as these acts cause degradation of the environment. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given to the mankind on a guardianship basis, which implies the right to use another person’s property on the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed.”

This shows that our role and responsibility as Muslims and as citizens on this beautiful planet is very clear. But if you’re wondering as to how serious the issue of waste is, then keep reading.


One of our biggest environmental issues is how much we consume, and the more we consume, the more waste we produce. Let’s talk numbers: every year, 1.3 billion tons of waste are produced worldwide. That number is expected to skyrocket to 4 billion by 2100. The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash daily! Have you ever thought about where your trash ends up after it’s picked up? Just because we don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

“And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters” (Quran 28:77)

We have to remember that waste doesn’t always translate into that stinky trash bin. The way we consume through living, eating, dressing and traveling – all aspects of our lives – can contribute to a wasteful lifestyle. If we want to be mindful of our planet and our role as Muslims, then we need to get this conversation going. We need to think about the lifestyle choices we make and how they impact our planet.

This article originally appeared on MuslimGirl on November 23, 2017.

Can The Halal Industry Contribute to a Better Environment?


By Latifa Saber 

Many often link the halal industry to the food industry, but what a lot of people miss is that ‘halal’ goes way further than that. When we think about halal we mostly think about the slaughter process that is different for Muslims, but we seem to forget that it doesn’t stop there. Depending on what industry we’re talking about, the halal rules can differ. A main guideline when it comes to halal is that it should be good for humans, animals and the environment. What’s really interesting is that many of these ‘halal – rules’ are very respectable and could change many things that are quite harmful to our environment today.

Let’s take a look at the beauty industry for example and think about how halal is implemented when it comes to manufacturing cosmetics.  Halal beauty and personal care goes way further than banning pork derivatives from the products and having halal financial services. When we’re speaking of halal beauty we have to make sure that the products don’t own any pesticides. But that’s not all; besides the ingredient list the halal beauty sector also focuses on the manufacturing. This means that the environment and the people who work on the cosmetics are not to be forgotten. It is highly recommended to manufacture products locally, which reduces the effect on the environment. Also fair trade is a must! Exploitation of production workers is definitely a no-go. Last but not least: The creation of halal beauty products needs to be free from any type of animal cruelty.

So we’re talking about banning pesticides, stopping the exploiting of working forces, and fair-trade, all these standards are exactly what many environmental activists are pleading for these days. So what if these halal guidelines were a standard for all industries? Could this be an optimal solution for the many problems that live in the industry these days? Think of sweatshops exploiting workforces in third world countries, the use of pesticides or the abuse of animals to manufacture products.

The ideal answer would obviously be yes, but of course it isn’t that easy. Even though the standards are high when it comes to the halal guidelines, many of these industries lack a standardized approach, which makes it really hard to control it. And unfortunately there’s also this strange feeling towards halal products by some non-Muslims who still see it as some kind of Muslim hocus-pocus

But maybe being more open about it and having more transparency into the halal industry would get rid of these problems, which could lead to more industries applying these guidelines. Because if we look at the way our environment is often treated these days, it really screams for a new way of doing things. More specific it screams for a way in which we can enjoy products without exploiting people, abusing animals or disrespecting our planet.

This article originally appeared on mvslim on July 24th, 2017. 

Islamic Ecotheology: A Religious Call To Protect Ecosystem

By: Malik Gazi Bilal

The calls for ecological justice are intensifying faster and louder than ever. Environmental experts and climate scientists, after conducting vigorous researches, found that climate change is a functional reality which poses great threats to survival of humankind. Their research findings endorse, every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous and polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than their scientific projections. In such a vulnerable situation, together with governments, non-governmental organizations and different international environmental research committees, religious organizations and faith leaders, all across the world,  have also become conscious regarding their role and responsibility vis-à-vis establishing justice for earth, inter-generational justice, and justice for all creation.

Since, environmental crisis is basically the problem of “disequilibrium” of natural world through men’s exploitative behaviour. Therefore, alongside politico-scientific considerations, it also demands a systematic theological perspective that has potential to appeal spiritual and psychological dimensions of man’s “consciousness” towards the biological and physical composition of his (her) environment. The “awakening” of religious consciousness vis-à-vis ecological justice demands that faith-activists of all religions should recognize “ecological justice” as common responsibility and must work together to make this earth a beautiful abode.

Today, the world is witnessing the ever growing participation of faith leaders and appearance of “scripturally contextualized” ecological writings over burning environmental issues such as soaring greenhouse gas emissions, rising global temperatures, typhoons, floods, and killing droughts. Faith leaders, unhesitatingly, are accepting the fact that establishing a just society in principle and practice, would be impossible unless vigorous public discussions, through all channels of communication, are generated regarding how “ecological justice” is valued in religious scriptures and theological formulations. The “utopia” of “just society” would also not come true, if faith-based pro-environment movements for “global action on climate change” are not promoted at national and international level.

Since late 1960’s, Muslim scholars and environmental experts, have been adding their voice to a crescendo of religiously-inspired call for “global action on climate change”- a movement towards developing an Islamic ecotheology. Making “theological formulations” relevant to contemporary ecological issues, Muslim scholars have been engaged in different environmental projects thereby developing a sense of interconnectedness between man and his (her) surrounding ecosystem. Transforming their “less-heard” voice into a meaningful “movement”, on 17-18 August 2015, Muslim faith leaders, ecologists and politicians from more than 20 countries, gathered at a seminar in Istanbul and launched unanimously agreed-upon Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change– a document appealing world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to take immediate, well-mechanized and relevant action against ecological disequilibrium. This declaration followed a similar intervention by the Vatican group earlier this year when Pope Francis issued his 192 page long-awaited encyclical on climate change which warns of “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems and serious consequences” if the world fails to act on the mechanics of climate change.

The discussions generated around the issue of ecological injustice and Islamic response laid the basis of Islamic ecotheology.  Now, the point of concentration is what is this Islamic ecotheology and how does it work?

In my understanding, Islamic ecotheology is a concept that Islam has its own well-structured environmental framework. The philosophical underpinnings of Islamic ecotheology basically include all those concepts and precepts that have been frequently referred to in shari’ah (Islamic law) vis-à-vis God’s design for creation of natural world (ilm al-khalaq)and man’s responsibility for its utilization, maintenance and preservation. Interestingly, Muslim ecotheologists- scholars dealing environmental problems in light of theological formulations- have found that there are about 750 verses in the Qur’an that are, directly or indirectly, related to creation of natural world, the laws that govern it and its impact on quality of human life. For example, the Qur’an has mentioned word maa’ (water) at more than 60 places and introduced it as the origin of whole biological life (21:30). It has also provided every minute detail regarding its source, its forms, its cycling, and its impact on entire ecosystem.

Muslim ecotheologists also maintain that many chapters of the Qur’an are named after specific animals and natural incidents, such as: ‘the Cow’, ‘the Cattle’, ‘the Thunder’, ‘the Bee’, ‘the Ant’, ‘the Daybreak’, ‘the Sun’, ‘the Night’, ‘the Fig’ and ‘the Elephant’ which indicates that Islamic theology doesn’t recognize man a “living being” independent of his (her) environment and the laws that operate therein. Islam advocates that “physically” all ecological factors such air, water, earth, plants and animals support human life. Therefore, man’s attitude towards his/her environment should be based on the principles of justice (‘adl), wisdom(hikmah) and compassion (rahmah). They are also of the opinion that Islam has characterized all natural phenomena as divine signs of God (ayaat-ul-Allah); manifesting His knowledge, wisdom and power. Therefore, it would be right to claim that environment offers profound and constant opportunities to man to be aware of God’s presence and any maltreatment to environmental factors would tantamount man’s negligence towards giving due “respect” to God’s noticeable signs.

However, giving respect doesn’t entail that man cannot take advantage from the nature and its abundant resources positively. Rather, it means while benefiting from the nature, he (she) has to abide by certain principles which form basis of the Islamic ecotheology. These principles can be described as following:

Trusteeship (amanah):

To understand the concept of trusteeship, it is important to understand the nature of relation between the God, man and earth. From the Islamic point of view, whole of earth and all its abundant resources are seen as a divine gift from God and man as the vicegerent (khalifah) of God on the earth (2:30; 6:165; 35:39). The principle of man’s vicegerency tells us that absolute ownership of resources of the earth belong to God and man has been positioned as trustee having right to creatively use it, maintain it and deliver back to God in the best possible conditions. The following Qur’anic verse emphasizes the point, “Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend of that whereof He hath made you trustees… (57:7).” The meaning of this verse has been appropriately conveyed by Ali ibn Abi-Talib, who said, “partake of it gladly so long as you are the benefactor, not despoiler; a cultivator, not destroyer…man’s abuse of any resource is prohibited”. Hazrat Ali’s explanation suggests that man has been endowed with “special status” over the rest of creation, but, it doesn’t give him (her) liberty to exploit the earth and use its resources extravagantly.

In the contemporary times, modern techno-centric man, fully dependent on energy resources, has abandoned the principle of “trusteeship” in theory and practice. Consequently, he (she) started behaving like an “owner” instead of a “trustee”. This changed nature of relationship from “owner” to “trustee” has become the root cause of environmental disequilibrium. Therefore, rebuilding the concept of “trusteeship” rather than “absolute ownership” while applying the modern technology to earth and its resources can prove one of the effective ways to improve earth’s conditions and protect the ecology from man’s exploitative behavior.

Conservation and Moderation:

Wastefulness (israf) of resources is one of the major contributing factors to present vulnerable conditions of man’s “living” on the earth. Researchers, experts and policy makers have been tirelessly working to generate public consciousness regarding benefits of moderate and conservative approach while consuming natural resources. However, for the Muslims “conservation” of resources is not a reactionary method to avoid “resource dearth” in future; rather, it an “active process” which has been described as essential component of faith. Muslims as “revolutionary community” have been cautioned that “but waste not by excess: for Allah loves not the wasters (6:141)” and “Surely the squanders are friends of Satan (devil) and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord (7:31).”In the light of these verses, exceeding limits in “consumption” and living lavishly at cost of others- that include all biological and physical elements of earth- are considered as grave sins and also violation of “divine balance” in Islam.

The principle of conservation can be further understood in the light of Prophet’s golden saying that has been reported in many hadith books.  It is reported from Abdullah bin Amr that messenger of God passed by S’ad while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this extravagance?” S’ad said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river (Sunan Ibn Majah).” If the essential message of this Prophetic tradition, which is nothing but “conservation”, is applied in a broader context, its practical benefits would be bewildering.

Corruption and Vandalism:

According to Islamic doctrines vis-à-vis creationism, God (khaliq or creator) has created everything in its best form and that too with “balance” as is mentioned in the Qur’an, “Who made all things good which He created (32:7).”  After giving perfection of “form and purpose” to creation, God commanded man, the only one amongst whole creation who has been given power and control, to keep it that way, “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order (7:56).” In light of these commands, it is evident that Islam opposes mischief (fasad) and corruption (zulm) in all forms. However, some may argue here that these verses only talk about interpersonal relations, but, many scholars such as Tariq Ramadan, Sayyed Hossein Nasr, and Mohammad Aslam have broadened the scope of these verses to adopt wider issues of the environment wherein man lives.

It is worth to note here that there stands a well-established maxim, “La dhararwa la dhirarafi’l Islam” in the Islamic jurisprudence which states, “harm may neither be inflicted nor reciprocated in Islam”. This maxim is general in application and includes all kinds of harm whether it involves individual, society or environment. Thus, whatever causes harm to environment should be seen as forbidden (haram) and punishable act and all necessary measures should be taken to prevent this harm from happening.

Cleanliness and Hygiene:

Islam doesn’t consider cleanliness only a desirable attitude rather an indispensable part of faith. According to Qur’an, “God loves those that turn to Him in repentance and purify themselves (2:222).” Since, Islam places great impetus on cleanliness, in both physical and spiritual dimensions, that is why we see all great works on hadith(collection of Prophet’s narratives) and fiqh(Islamic jurisprudence)  start with discussions related to cleanliness (taharah) which was methodologically a novel practice in the history of world literature. In effect to cleanliness, there are numerous Prophetic sayings such as, “cleanliness covers half of faith (cited by Imam Muslim)” and “Surely God is clean and loves the clean, so clean your courtyard (Sunan Ibn Majah)”. The Prophet is also reported to have said, “Surely the clothes glorify, (but) when they are dirty and unclean they do not glorify (Mizan al-Hikmah).” What all could be understood from these Prophetic traditions is nothing but “completion” of faith is impossible without having proper sense of cleanliness.

Apart from cleanliness of one’s body, Islam demands cleanliness of the houses, roads, streets, public parks, health centers and educational institutions in order to enhance the living standards and value structures of society. For example, he is reported to have said, “you must clean your houses and do not follow in the footsteps of Jews (practicing ruhbaaniyat i.e. abandoning worldly responsibilities, reported in Al-Tirmidhi)” and “Removing harmful things (which include impurities and filth) from the roads is a charitable act (Bukhari and Muslim)”. The Prophet has also admonished against creating problems for other living beings and considered it one of the reasons to incite God’s curse. He has said, “Beware of three acts that cause others to curse you: relieving yourselves in a watering place, on foot paths or shaded places and public parks (Sunan Abu Dawud)”. In view of the significance of cleanliness in Islam, Muslims are ordained to take these instructions in conjunction with the protection of the environment and establishing ecological justice.

Ecological Responsibility and Acts of Kindness:

There are numerous sayings of the Prophet that promote care and compassion vis-à-vis establishment of “ecological justice” such as protecting animals, preserving the productiveness of the soil, using water sparingly, planting a new tree if cutting down another for a just reason, and not polluting streams with sewage. In a tradition reported by Anas bin Malik, the Prophet(PBUH) has encouraged Muslims to look after God’s creation also referred to as God’s family (ayaal al-Allah) including plants and animals. He is reported to have said, “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field, which later nourishes a human, a bird, or beast, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him (Bukhari).” While denouncing unnecessary cutting or destruction of plants, the Prophet said, “He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], God will send him to hellfire (Sunan Abu Dawud).” The environmental consciousness of the Prophet is brilliantly described in his own saying, “If the qiyamah (last hour) comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it (Musnad Ahmad).

As far as the concept of “animal care” is concerned, Tariq Ramadan in insightful book In the Footsteps of the Prophet has outlined some key sayings of the Prophet about judgment day. For example he has quoted Prophet’s saying that, “whoever kills a sparrow or a bigger animal without respecting its rights to exist will be accountable to God for it on the Day of Judgment (Sunan Nasa’i).” It has been also reported that once companions asked Prophet “Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied “There is reward for serving any living being (Bukhari).” And yet in another tradition, it is mentioned that “A woman entered fire because of a cat which she had tied, neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth (Bukhari).”

These Prophetic sayings, which came more than 1400 years ago, not only promote an ethical sense towards ecological responsibility, but, also reinforce the scientific concept of “chain of life” wherein all living species, including man, depend on each other for their survival. In this regard, God reminds us of His divine balance (here referred to as ‘measure’), “And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof (55:7-9).


To conclude, I propose Islamic ecotheology considers environment very sacred and equates serving environment with other forms of Ibadah (worship) such as prayer and fasting. This implies that even if there is no threat of “resource crisis”, Muslims must still take care of earth and its resources, protect animals and plants and, more importantly, improve conditions of“life” on earth by paying due consideration towards their environment with the sense of both duty as well as morality. For that, they need to develop a strong “eco-consciousness” and establish different environmental groups and institutions in order to promote global awareness of damage that is being done to environment. Since good environment promises good life, therefore, it becomes imperative for every single Muslim to maintain the “goodness” of life. Imam Jafar Sadiq has said, “There is no joy in life unless three things are available: clean and fresh air, abundant pure water and fertile soil”.

This article originally appeared on The Companion on April 4th, 2017. 

The Spiritual Significance of Jihād in Islamic Economics: The Need for a New Economic Paradigm

By: Waleed El-Ansary

I begin with three questions: What is the spiritual significance of jihād?  What does this have to do with Islamic economics? Why does a proper understanding of jihād show the need for a new economic paradigm for the modern world?[1]Regarding the first question, the meaning of jihād has unfortunately been obscured by the Western image of Islam as the “religion of the sword.”[2]Although jihād relates to the defense of the Islamic world from invasion by non-Islamic forces, and thus represents a form of just warfare (tragically inverted by violent extremists),[3] it also has a much broader meaning as a form of economic and spiritual activity. Upon returning from the battle of Badr, which threatened the existence of the Islamic community, the Prophet of Islam said, “You have returned from the lesser jihād to the greater jihād.” This greater battle, which describes the inner meaning of jihād, is the struggle to integrate the whole of life around a Sacred Center. In fact, jihād is derived from the root j-h-d, whose primary meaning is “to strive” or “to exert oneself,” and corresponds to similar doctrines in most of the world’s major religious traditions.[4] Within Christianity, this inner struggle is indicated by Christ’s statement, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.”[5]

“Applied to Islamic economics and in answer to the second question, the Qur’ān teaches that to struggle for a living is tantamount to defending the community in battle.”

Applied to Islamic economics and in answer to the second question, the Qur’ān teaches that to struggle for a living is tantamount to defending the community in battle.[6] Before the Battle of Badr, the Prophet saw a young man with a strong physique running to his shop through the area that the Prophet was marshalling his men for battle. Someone remarked that he wished the youth would use his strength to ‘run in the way of God’ by joining them to defend the Muslim community from its enemies. The Prophet responded, “If this young man runs with the intention of not depending on others and refraining from begging, he is in the way of God. If he strives for the livelihood of his weak parents or weak children, he is in the way of God. If he tries to show his health out of pride, he is in the way of the devil.”[7]

This saying of the Prophet demonstrates that exertion to support oneself and family is a form of jihād that has a spiritual significance and should be performed as “an act of worship as if [one] were praying.”[8] Far from merely serving to maintain one’s physical and material wellbeing, work for pious Muslims involves the edification of human nature in all its fullness, requiring that right actions in economic activity be combined with right intentions in order to actualize their spiritual dimension, following the “Straight Path” (al-sirāt al-mustaqīm). In fact, the Divine Law in Islam gives religious meaning to all acts that are necessary for human life.[9] Accordingly, work must somehow support us in attaining our highest aspirations as human beings, including our spiritual destiny, rather than prevent us from realizing them by engaging in completely tedious and degrading activity that prevents us from realizing our human dignity.

Division of Labor in Islam

The division of labor and coordination of economic activity required by Islamic (and many other religions’) economic systems must have a spiritual and not simply a corporeal significance. Some division of labor is required to provide any society with its necessary and useful goods and services, requiring that some members of the community perform various tasks, functions and professions. Other collective and civic duties (fard kifā’i), such as building orphanages and hospitals, are analogous. If no members of the community fulfilled these needs, each member of the community would be held spiritually accountable. Such division of labor, both in the personal and collective sense, is a duty under Islamic law, not simply a pragmatic possibility.

“The division of labor and coordination of economic activity required by Islamic (and many other religions’) economic systems must have a spiritual and not simply a corporeal significance.”

Moreover, all forms of labor and service must allow space for the expression of human creativity, and the realization of personal satisfaction in its intrinsic meaning and usefulness. Thus, each member of society can perfect his or her God-given talents, and become good stewards of the vitality and worthwhile heritage of the community, as well as Nature itself. However, an extremely high or overspecialized division of labor that employs too few of man’s faculties can have serious social costs by constraining the proper development of human talents and skills that benefit individual workers, their families, and society. Adam Smith stated:

“In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations… has no occasion to exert his [creative talent and improve his] understanding… He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become… but in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.”[10]

A division of labor that stultifies the minds of laborers leads to a lopsided and unjust form of development that fails to provide most people with psychological and spiritual fulfillment. A disequilibrium between meeting the corporeal, but not spiritual needs of mankind, can only persist in the short or medium-term. “Equilibrium on the socio-economic plane is impossible to realize without reaching that inner equilibrium which cannot be attained save through surrender to the One and living a life according to the dictum of Heaven.”[11]

The Role of Islamic Intellectual Sciences

“Islamic metaphysics and sciences of nature based on sacred scripture and its subsequent inspired commentaries applied to everything in the productive processes—from architecture and urban planning to the artistry of clothing, and the design of personal living and communal working space. The same principles of traditional sciences applied to everything, including social organization and the treatment of animals, plants, and the environment.”

While Islamic laws of religious and economic practices set the conditions for providing mankind’s needs for products and services, it is the Islamic intellectual sciences, with their vision of man’s integral place in the cosmos—grounded in physical, psychological and spiritual reality—that allow for modes of work that can meet the needs of man for both bread and the Spirit.[12] Islamic religious laws provide the necessary approach, but Islamic intellectual, productive, and artistic sciences are also necessary, because the norms and principles of art, which are also derived from the Quranic revelation, govern the making of things in a traditional Islamic economy.[13] The Qurʾān is not only the source of rituals, ethics, and social institutions, but is also the source of the knowledge of reality. From this point of view, what humankind makes, or humankind’s art, should also communicate a spiritual truth and presence analogous to Nature, which is God’s art. “The ethical aspect of work in this case embraces also the aesthetic.”[14] Production and service are conceived as spiritual disciplines in which work is not only a means of livelihood but also a product of devotion. As Coomaraswamy asserts, “Every man is a special kind of artist,” the artist is not “a special kind of man.”[15] 

A necessary condition for making things in traditional Islam is consciousness of one’s mortality and complete dependence on the Absolute, a kind of “spiritual poverty” (faqr) or humility.[16] Spiritual preparation involving prayers and spiritual contemplation were an integral part of the creative process for traditional Muslim craftsmen, whose products combined utility and beauty with spiritual truth and presence.[17]

Islamic metaphysics and sciences of nature based on sacred scripture and its subsequent inspired commentaries applied to everything in the productive processes—from architecture and urban planning to the artistry of clothing, and the design of personal living and communal working space. The same principles of traditional sciences applied to everything, including social organization and the treatment of animals, plants, and the environment. The link between work, spiritual education, and sacred ambiance forged by the Islamic intellectual sciences were crucial to meeting all of mankind’s needs by ineluctably integrating religion, economics, arts and crafts, and indeed all of civilization. This approach to work must conform to the nature of things, and bringing us into conscious alignment with reality, because “[A]ction by definition manifests God, and … the creature can therefore do nothing that does not in some way affirm God.”[18]

The traditional Islamic guilds of various trades and crafts transmitted the Islamic doctrines and practices on the division of labor, production, and market exchange that allowed man to live in harmony with himself, his community, and nature. This observation is not intended to suggest a restoration of the specific practices of the historic Islamic economic models, but they can serve as a source of inspiration for restoring ethics and the edifying dignity of work to our contemporary economic practices.

“The link between work, spiritual education, and sacred ambiance forged by the Islamic intellectual sciences were crucial to meeting all of mankind’s needs by ineluctably integrating religion, economics, arts and crafts, and indeed all of civilization.”

Honorable and noble intentions, in addition to making a living, were clearly important in the traditional Islamic economic system, tightly integrating ethics and economics. The guild approach to production, service, and social organization entailed a system of coordination between members. Traditional craftsmen accepted the duty to supply their goods at just and stable prices, since the appropriate division of labor and its fruits was a duty, not just the unintended result of an “efficient” market.[19] To avoid over-supply or under-supply of the market at a particular time, a master craftsman would postpone or accelerate taking on extra apprentices while other qualified craftsmen had insufficient or excess work, respectively. Maintaining this equilibrium of supply and demand in Islamic economies was critical, not only for meeting the craftsmen’s physical needs through reliable employment and steady income, but also for satisfying the guildsmen’s spiritual need for dignity and pride in the service and products they provided consumers.

Law and Jjihād for Ethical Economics

Traditional Islamic (and other religious) societies provide a model of the integration of ethics and economics through their organic union of market and non-market institutions. For example, Islamic law encourages charity in many forms, whether through permanent endowments (such as waqf) or specific charitable donations (such as zakāt), which spiritually purify one’s wealth—and gives rise to an Islamic “gift economy,” through which needs of the disadvantaged are met outside the “market economy.”

E.F. Schumacher, who corresponded extensively with Muslim philosophers and scientists on religion and economics,[20] identified three objectives of work related to the hierarchy of spiritual and other needs in any religious approach to economics:

First, to provide necessary and useful goods and services.

Second, to enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards.

Third, to do so in service to, and in cooperation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our egocentricity.”[21]

In Islam, all three of these objectives are forms of jihād applicable to what humanity does and what humankind makes, and are necessary for an ethical economics.[22] Islamic economic law is relevant to all three of Schumacher’s objectives. The first objective defines necessary and useful goods and services while excluding “noxious markets” such as pornography and gambling (or speculation). And Islamic economic law establishes the external conditions for fulfilling the second and third objectives. However, the intellectual and esoteric dimensions of Islam are necessary for realizing the latter objectives, perfecting our talents as stewards, and working cooperatively to liberate ourselves from our egocentricity.

Of course, all economists recognize Schumacher’s first objective of work, and Adam Smith acknowledged the second objective to some extent, noting the potentially degrading and dehumanizing effects of an extremely high division of labor. But other classical economists such as David Ricardo and James Mill strongly opposed this view, denying the existence of such harmful effects. They asserted that all types of work are homogeneous in terms of human development.[23] These thinkers also denied the possibility of work as a form of spiritual jihād that could liberate anyone from egocentricity and realize their spiritual destinies. They only acknowledged the first objective of work—production and service. These various positions have critical implications for the link between ethics and economics and the extent to which economic realities can be governed by their own logic, pointing toward an answer to the third question on the need for a new economic paradigm. As Robert Foley has pointed out, the modern economic approach bases itself on a view of

. . . modern society as made up of two spheres: an economic sphere of individual initiative and interaction, governed by impersonal laws that assure a beneficent outcome by pursuit of self-interest; and the rest of social life, including political, religious, and moral interactions that require the conscious balancing of self-interest with social considerations.[24]

This is sometimes called the “separate domain” argument, namely, that the motivations of the “actors,” whether ethical or not, have nothing to do with whether a market economy generates “beneficent” outcomes. In response to such propositions, Gandhi stated that, “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” is one of the greatest delusions of our time.[25]

“A prevailing preoccupation with the accumulation of wealth is self-defeating, often converting the joy and blessings of wealth into a sort of envious misery—because somebody else will always have more.”

From a religious point of view, we are not merely human beings “having” and “doing” things, we are humans aspiring to “be” all that we can be, which includes transcending the state we find ourselves in—to realize our highest potential as human beings, not just as intelligent animals that consume and reproduce and destroy our environment for our grandchildren. Ignoring questions of intrinsic meaning in work and spiritually productive cooperation leads to a destructive growth in production, consumption and pollution (corruption of the earth, or fasād fi’l ard to use the Quranic expression), and a diminution of the potential of workers, craftsmen, and artists (and all other providers of useful goods or services) to realize their dignity as human beings made in the image of God. A prevailing preoccupation with the accumulation of wealth is self-defeating, often converting the joy and blessings of wealth into a sort of envious misery—because somebody else will always have more.

Worldviews and Islamic Economics: Material vs Spiritual

From the perspective of Islamic economics, solutions to the mounting crises in our current environmental, economic and social/psychological domains (such as crime, suicide and the moral degradation of our culture) require changing our way of life, of the way we look at the world, and the way we look at ourselves—ultimately the way we understand reality.[26] Accordingly, the root cause of our environmental economic and socio-economic ailments is the prevailing mechanistic and materialistic worldview, with a scope of scientific inquiry absurdly limited to the grossly physical realm. This truncated worldview ignores the higher orders of reality that ultimately determine man’s destiny and current well-being. Instead, it generates scientific, technological, political, economic and other social structures that do violence to man and nature, by ignoring nearly everything necessary for a harmonious and just society. These structural injustices, in turn, generate patterns of economic instability and environmental degradation that manifest themselves in specific financial and economic crises, on the one hand, and ecological catastrophes on the other.

“From the perspective of Islamic economics, solutions to the mounting crises in our current environmental, economic and social/psychological domains (such as crime, suicide and the moral degradation of our culture) require changing our way of life, of the way we look at the world, and the way we look at ourselves—ultimately the way we understand reality.”

This abbreviated worldview and its corresponding structures also promote the erosion of non-market values, leading to “the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.”[27] When “everything is for sale,” markets may corrupt and degrade the very goods that are being marketed:

Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Auctioning seats in the freshman class to the highest bidders might raise revenue but also erode the integrity of the college and the value of its diploma. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens but corrupt the meaning of citizenship… [W]hen we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. [28]

Degradation in this context means treating something

…in accordance with a lower mode of valuation than is proper to it. We value things not just “more” or “less,” but in qualitatively higher and lower ways. To love or respect someone is to value him/her in a higher way than one would if one merely used [them like prostitutes].[29]

Central to this argument “is the idea that goods differ in kind; it’s therefore a mistake to value all goods in the same way, as instruments of profit or objects of use.”[30]

Islamic economics is therefore defined as “applied ethics,” understood broadly as applying both individually and structurally, which acknowledges the aesthetic aspect of work, and spells out the consequences of violating spiritual, ethical and aesthetic principles in our economic affairs. If such principles are necessary for socio-economic and environmental equilibrium, then ignoring or diverging from those principles makes no sense and subverts and destroys any hope of a just, harmonious, efficient, and environmentally sustainable economy.[31] The “separate domain” argument is not only false; it is pernicious. At stake is the starting point of economic theory, for an economic system that is unsustainable in the long-term and intrinsically unstable in the short-term is unintelligible in its own terms, just as disease is not intelligible except in terms of health, the loss of which leads to death.

“Islamic economics is not reducible to a combination of modern economic theories and Islamic economic law any more than traditional Islamic medicine can consist of a distorted combination of conventional allopathic medicine with elements of Muslim medical ethics.”

Islamic economics is not reducible to a combination of modern economic theories and Islamic economic law any more than traditional Islamic medicine can consist of a distorted combination of conventional allopathic medicine with elements of Muslim medical ethics. Moreover, a similar hybrid approach to economics (often espoused in popular studies and publications on Islamic economics) is inadequate for anything beyond the treatment of symptoms. Such an attempt at synthesizing Western and Islamic economics fails because they cannot be integrated, and cannot adequately address the structural issues between traditional Islamic science, technology and production processes and those of modern, Western, and scientistic secular materialism.

Another related problem is that current Islamic economics literature does not adequately refute the claim that mainstream, or “neoclassical,” economic theory can accommodate any “instrumentally rational,” that is, internally consistent set of values or tastes. If that claim were true, then the Islamic sciences would have nothing to say about how neoclassical theory reduces needs to wants and values to tastes.[32] But this reduction eliminates the distinction between “necessary and useful goods and services” in the first objective of work (let alone the distinction between intrinsic “good” and “evil”), thereby rationalizing trade-offs with Schumacher’s second and third objectives of work—perfecting our gifts as stewards of humanity and nature, and submitting the lowest elements of our souls (egos) in obedience to God’s will for our ultimate felicity. This agnostic economic view of ethical neutrality reinforces the secularization and degradation of the human spiritual jihād through engagement in ethical production, service and exchange processes.

“An honest debate over the analytical tools for evaluating the ethical implications of economic assumptions and policies is critically needed. Fortunately, the Islamic sciences of nature and ethical social cohesion have important implications for such a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory.”

The neoclassical claim of accommodating choice and preferences, without regard to ethics, fosters libertarian policies that claim to be ethically neutral, but, in fact, embrace hedonism as the prevailing economic policy while avoiding substantive philosophical debate over this covert objective. This obfuscation in honestly describing economic theory leads to prescriptive failure in economic policy. An honest debate over the analytical tools for evaluating the ethical implications of economic assumptions and policies is critically needed. Fortunately, the Islamic sciences of nature and ethical social cohesion have important implications for such a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory. This problematic theory was largely imported from Newtonian mechanics and nineteenth century physics, and frozen in place, while ignoring the revolutionary discoveries of more modern physics refuting Newton, such as those of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger. [33]

The jihād that Islamic economists must now undertake is to intensify debate among scholars and the public at large regarding the fact that the Westernized modern worldview of economics is in desperate and urgent need of a new economic paradigm—a paradigm based on fostering an economic system that meets all of the needs of mankind for engaging in their jihād of work in a way that mediates the objectives of work described by Schumacher, and recognized in traditional Islamic societies for centuries.

Dr. Waleed El-Ansary is University Chair in Islamic Studies at Xavier University, where he teaches courses on comparative religion, Islamic studies, and religion and science. He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic and Religious Studies from George Washington University and M.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, science, and economics. He has authored numerous publications, including “Islamic Environmental Economics and the Three Dimensions of Islam” in his co-edited volume Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of A Common Word. His recent work includes a book sponsored by a UNESCO-based organization, the Aladdin Project. 

This article originally appeared on Maydan on March 23rd, 2017.

[1]Thanks to Darrell Blakeway for reviewing and editing this offering.

[2] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London and New York:  KPT, 1987), 28.

[3] See Waleed El-Ansary, “The Economics of Terrorism: How Bin Laden Has Changed the Rules of the Game,” in Joseph Lumbard (ed.), Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars, 197-241.

[4] See for instance Whitall Perry, A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom (Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1971), 391-412.

[5] Matthew, 10:34 (a challenge to slay one’s ego and love one’s neighbor above all, and despite the harm he or she may have done to you).

[6] See for instance Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, A Muslim’s Reflections on Democratic Capitalism (Washington, D.C.:  American Enterprise Institute, 1984), 5.

[7] Al-Ghazzali, Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn (New Delhi:  Kitab Bhavan, 1982), vol. 2, 54.

[8] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam (San Francisco: The Aquarian Press, 1994), 98.

[9] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam in the Modern World: Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012), 55.

[10] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776, V.1.178. It is worth noting that Smith’s reservation regarding the division of labor does not appear in the first edition of the Wealth of Nations, but was added in subsequent editions. Smith seems to have had second thoughts about the salubrious effects of the minute division of labor.

[11] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Review of Ethics and Economics—An Islamic Synthesis,” Hamdard Islamicus 5/2 (Summer, 1982), 89–91: 89.

[12] “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).

[13] See for instance Amanda Coomaraswamy and Roger Lipsey, Selected Papers—Traditional Art and Symbolism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978); or Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam: Language and Meaning (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2009).

[14] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London: Kegan Paul International, 1994), 43. He also notes that ḥusn, the root of iḥsān (excellence) in Arabic, also means both “beauty” and “goodness” . . ..

[15] See Rama Coomaraswamy (ed.), The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2004), 124.

[16] For the man who has acquired faqr, its immediate consequence is “detachment with regard to all manifested things, for the being knows from then on that these things, like himself, are nothing, . . .  .” René Guénon, “Al-Faqr or ‘Spiritual Poverty’,” Studies in Comparative Religion 7/1 (Winter 1973), 16–20:16.

[17] Yusuf Ibish, “Traditional Guilds in the Ottoman Empire: An Evaluation of their Spiritual Role and Social Function,” Islamic World Report (1999): 6.

[18] Frithjof Schuon, The Eye of the Heart (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom Books, 1997), 15.

[19] See for instance Volumes 17 to 19 on prices (al-asʿar; sing. siʿr) in Ali Gomaʿa (ed.), Revealing the Islamic Economic Heritage (Takshīf al-Turāth al-Islāmī al-Iqtisādī) (Cairo: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1997).

[20] See Waleed El-Ansary, ed., Not by Bread Alone: E.F. Schumacher and the Perennial Philosophy (Bloomington: World Wisdom, forthcoming, 2018).

[21] E.F. Schumacher, Good Work (New York:  Harper & Row, 1979), 3-4.

[22] As Nasr points out in an essay on Islamic work ethics, “Work carried out in accordance with the Sharīah is a form of jihād and inseparable from the religious and spiritual significance associated with it.”  Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World, 35.

[23] For an excellent survey of classical and neoclassical approaches to work in the history of economic thought, see Ugo Pagano, Work and Welfare in Economic Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1985).

[24] Robert Foley, Adam’s Fallacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 1.

[25] Quoted in E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 24.

[26] See for instance Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s“Islam and the Preservation of the Natural Environment,” lecture at Georgetown University, Qatar, Center for International and Regional Studies, January 6, 2009.

[27] Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 7.

[28] Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, 9.

[29] Elizabeth S. Anderson, “Is Women’s Labor a Commodity?” Philosophy and Public Affairs 19/1 (Winter 1990), 72–92: 77, as quoted in Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 94.

[30] Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 95.

[31] See for instance John Medaille, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Market Place (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2007), Part I.

[32] See for instance Lutz and Lux, The Challenge of Humanistic Economics (Menlo Park, California:  The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1979).

[33] For a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory in light of the Islamic sciences of nature, see Waleed El-Ansary, “The Quantum Enigma and Islamic Sciences of Nature: Implications for Islamic Economic Theory.”.

An open letter to faith based organisations represented at COP 22 in Marrakesh

COP 22 The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) is being held in Bab Ighli, Marrakech, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016.

Dear friends and colleagues,


The Paris protocol is now in force but may I just remind you that where we need to take giant strides this is only one small step for humankind. The COP process is vital and necessary but what we need overall is a paradigm shift that will enable us to leave a liveable Earth for our children. Divesting in fossil fuel investment to the exclusion of everything else is like plugging a leak in a dam that is about to burst. Let us take note that big oil is pushing a pipe line through North Dakota in the face of stiff opposition and the British Government is inviting bidders for new offshore drilling licences. And I wonder if anyone is talking to the Middle Eastern oil producers about divestment.

The voices of faith communities are now beginning to be heard in the global arena in matters of vital concern for us all. From tentative beginnings COP 21 in Paris witnessed the burgeoning presence of Faith Based Organisations (FBO's) in the public arena to the extent that we have earned ourselves our very own acronym. FBO's are now on the map and ask to be heard. This is unprecedented and long overdue though it must be said that people of faith did run the world for millennia keeping it in reasonable shape for past generations to thrive in. The organisation of the Climate Conscience Summit by the far sighted Government of Morocco in Fez on 3 November, is a commendable event. It not only recognises the emergence of once marginalised faith communities but also assures the continuing consolidation of this movement.

As you are no doubt aware human induced climate change now poses a deadly threat to all life on planet Earth. Although FBOs have the potential to be a positive force for change there are other fault lines defined by special interests which have the capacity to impede progress. Looking at this fairly and squarely in the face it has to be said that much of the responsibility for change lies in the hands of corporations and banks that wield enormous power and have access to resources. They perpetuate a counter narrative to the COP process we need to address. In a sceptical editorial that appeared in the influential Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Monday 14 December 2015, on the first week day edition after the Paris summit, it made the following comment:

"The moment to be wariest of political enthusiasms is precisely when elite opinion is all lined up on one side ... if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it."

This is verging on the rude and displays an arrogance of monumental proportions. The WSJ is located like the UN headquarters in New York and I wonder if one is listening to the other or do they just stare at each other over the sand bags. The best place to experience the chasm that exists between big business and the COP process is to visit the World Economic Forum that is held in Davos, Switzerland each year. Take your snow boots with you as it is held in deep winter. There is a serious need here for the two groups that think they run the world to be talking to each other.

The G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, China just about eight weeks ago was heralded by both China and the USA announcing their ratification of the Paris climate proposals. However one doesn't have to read too hard between the lines to notice some feet dragging is going on. For example there were some rumblings in Hangzhou concerning timelines for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. In some countries tampering with existing subsidies is tantamount to political suicide because in the final analysis it is the voice of the people that matter.

Sustainable Development (SD) warranted frequent references in the final Hangzhou communiqué. But it is just about dawning on policymakers that SD becoming a reality requires a capital intensive transition which is bound to interfere with the carbon reduction programme. We are in a double bind and a huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of the politicians because it is they who have to straddle the fine line that exists between cutting carbon emissions to the required proportions which on the one hand requires a degree of austerity and on the other responding to people's demands for prosperity. This puts the onus on developed countries to rethink their economics beyond COP and SD and apply the brakes to slow down growth to enable the rest to have a fair share of the cake. This is no time to be pointing our fingers at the United States as it is preoccupied in electing a new leader and I only refer to that country as a template for the rest of the world. The campaign for the presidency clearly reflects the universal fact that the climate change agenda is always subordinate to the growth agenda.

Morocco is unique amongst Muslim countries in the lead it is giving to bring the climate agenda to the notice of the people and following it up with an agenda which is both international and local in scope. The hosting of COP 22 takes care of the international and the local which is of primary importance becomes apparent in government policy where there is an undertaking to provide renewable energy to hundreds of mosques in all parts of the country by installing solar panels. I would urge the Moroccan Government to catch the wind and embark on an education programme that reflects Islam's basic conservationist approach to life. In this regard we offer our experience built over more than thirty years of work.

We have a shared responsibility and this is where the burgeoning FBO movement has a vital role to play. The collective will of people of faith can be a force to be reckoned with and as an interface between people and policy makers there is much this movement can deliver. As a lobby we can be strong enough to influence public policy but we also need to engage in demonstrable change if we are going to be taken seriously.

Yours sincerely

Fazlun Khalid

Fazlun Khalid is the Founder and Director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (EcoIslam), Birmingham UK; Convenor of the drafting team of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change .Fazlun Khalid Founder Director IFEES/EcoIslam


Caretakers of the Earth: An Islamic Perspective


By Omar Bagnied 

Environmental stewardship is an integral part of Islam. We’re currently experiencing a revival in practice and scholarly engagement in this important area. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, as one example, has notably developed a contemporary understanding of ecological principles in Islam as antedating modern environmentalism. In a logical and compelling way, he has inspired many to re-engage the subject through his book “Green Deen,” and I will present some of his suggestions at the end of this article.

Quran and hadith contain numerous textual evidences in support of environmental stewardship. The Quran says, “It is He who has appointed you vicegerent on the earth…” (Quran 6:165). And indeed, the Muslim’s character (khulq) is one that is to be inclined to moderation and conservation rather than excess and wastefulness. The role of human beings in general, and Muslims by extension even more so, as caretakers of the environment, is stressed in seven Quranic verses that tie stewardship (khalifa) to the earth (fil ardh). There is a responsibility charged to human beings to carry out this trust (amana). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, the exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Saheeh Muslim).

Walk Gently and Share Resources

Although the earth is created to serve the purposes of man, it should never be degraded in any way – contaminated or immoderately exploited. Its resources are available to humanity, but are to be used in ways that are sustainable and without harmful impact to the environment and the ecological balance. The Quran tells us, “The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk gently upon the earth…” (Quran 25:63). Islamic teachings oppose using resources in excess or in pursuit of an opulent lifestyle; extravagant excess by some typically deprives others of a basic standard of decent and secure living.

There should always be justice (‘adl) in resource distribution. Allah SWT instructs us about the sharing of resources, using the example of the tribe of Thamud: “And let them know that the water [of their wells] is to be divided between them, with each share of water equitably apportioned” (Quran 54:28). Inequitable distribution of water has been a catalyst for conflict in several Muslim-majority countries. Consulting the prophetic example could offer a starting point to inspire solutions. There are no fewer than four hadith that speak to this. The first, transmitted via Abdullah Ibn Abbas, affirms that “humans are co-owners in three things: water, fire and pasture.” Another, relayed in Mishkat al Masabih, warns “No one can refuse [to share] surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man.” Still another, transmitted via Muhmmad al-Bukhari, relays, “There are three types of people whom Allah will not look at on the Day of Judgment, nor will He purify them, and theirs shall be a severe punishment. One of those is a person who possessed superfluous water on a path and withheld it from travelers.”

The fourth hadith, transmitted via Muhammad al-Bukhari, tells the story of the Ruma Well, which during the time of the Prophet was owned by a man who was charging a high price for people to use it. The Prophet said “For anyone who will purchase the Ruma Well and use its water jointly with other Muslims, a wonderful place in the Garden of Eden will be prepared.” The Prophet’s companion Uthman bought the well and made its use free for all people of Medina. Uthman would continue to maintain the well as he ascended to leadership as the third khaliph.

Land Preservation and Sanctuary for Wildlife

The Prophet was also a pioneer when it came to land preservation and providing sanctuary for wildlife. He designated special areas where water, wildlife, and forestry use would be restricted (haram) or left alone altogether (hima). These are precedents for what’s currently referred to as a nature reserve or preserve. The Prophet believed that animals, land, and water were not the possessions of mankind, but rather provisions from Allah to use in moderation and wisdom. The Quran says, “…waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters (Quran 7:31).

In line with protecting wildlife, the Prophet has instructed us that hunting is for valid reasons such as obtaining food or when necessary for the safety of humans, but never for sport or pastime. He mentioned: “If anyone wrongfully kills a sparrow or anything greater, God will question him about it” (An-Nasa’i).”

Recycling and the Balance of Nature

Recycling should be a reflex. In many places it’s as easy as placing non-food remains in the appropriate bin. And where composting is available (which can be anywhere food is grown), most waste can be reused as nutrients to fertilize the soil for further growing of fruits and vegetables. Things that we typically throw in the trash can be re-used in one way or another. Metals, plastics, and glass should not be going to landfills as they can be reused or recycled. The paper that comes from a chopped-down tree is worth far more than a single use.

The balance (mizan) of nature is complex and intricate and must be maintained. And all living things have a symbiotic relationship, and that interdependence should be mutually beneficial. Corrupting the balance of nature has far-reaching consequences. The Quran tells us, “Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return [to guidance]” (Quran 30:41).

Reinstating a Clean Environment

Our industrialized societies emit large amounts of carbon every day. Trees were once able to absorb the lower-level amount of emissions, but the balance (mizan) of greenery to carbon-fueled activity has tipped toward the latter. Carbon dioxide emissions, which account for roughly 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., come from burning fossil fuels, generating electricity, vehicle fuel emissions, manufacturing, and burning of waste. Exposure to even low levels of carbon dioxide can cause a wide array of health hazards, particularly respiratory complications. The imbalance that humanity has created has also resulted in a warmer atmosphere that catalyzes extreme weather occurrences like hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and droughts.

We should approach the need to reinstate the balance and clean up the environment with urgency but also optimism. We now, more than ever, have access to information, resource optimization, renewable energy, and recycling infrastructure. More and more people feel motivated and the tools are available. Wholesale lifestyle changes aren’t practical as they are not likely to be made, but incremental adoption can provide tremendous benefit.

Abdul-Matin details a number of smart suggestions that can help us change, and address the sources and circumstances surrounding climate change. And we should not forget what Allah SWT tells us: “…truly, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (Quran 13:11). Abdul-Matin points out that we can change our global narrative from one of scarcity to emphasizing that we have all we need if we use the resources equitably and in moderation. Both organic and halal food can become affordable and readily available when demand sensibilities change and folks refuse to buy unhealthy foods. There are ways to not only eat smarter, but also to build with greater efficiency. Islamic infrastructure, like mosques, can naturally optimize resource efficiency. Mosques in hot-dry climates are optimally built with heavy, thick materials and minimal openings (windows, doors) to keep hot air out. Mosques in hot-humid climates are better served by shade via plants, awnings, and courtyards, as well as good ventilation. And if mosques in cold climates are appropriately weatherized they can optimize energy efficiency by preventing air leakage.

As Muslims we should, naturally, be a community that consumes less, and uses the bounty provided on the earth in ways that are healthier, more efficient, and more equitable. Through this we facilitate more fair access to resources, preservation of public health, and cultivation of local economies. These practices promote social harmony, as well as charity (zakat and sadaqah) by shunning excessive consumption and the disharmony (fitna) that results. Recycle, repurpose, reuse, and reflect on Allah’s bountiful blessings. Look around and observe, in nature and in the environment, the multitude of signs of Allah, and the beautiful interweave of ecosystems and species that make up a oneness of creation, all beholden to the order and sustenance put in place by the creator.

Omar Bagnied is currently teaches environmental education with the Anacostia Watershed Society in Washington DC.

This article originally appeared on The Message on September 26th, 2016. Photo credit from NASA  

Green Ramadan Steps


By Khaled Dardir

1. Start Ramadan by making the right intentions.

What is your intention this Ramadan? Create realistic goals for yourself, and your community!

2. Have a healthy Ramadan through proper diet.

Ramadan is a time to detox ourselves: mind, body and soul. Add more vegetarian options, do not over-eat, use locally sourced foods. Avoid fizzy drinks, or anything high in sugar content, as an alternative use honey. Avoid deep fried foods or enjoy in moderation (once a week). Start and end your fast with green or herbal tea to cleanse the stomach after a day of fasting in order to help flush the toxins out.

3. Give up your CO2 contribution by traveling light and smart.

You can walk or ride your bike to the nearest mosque and earn both spiritual reward and help the planet. No need to drive 5 times a day for every prayer.

4. Spend meaningful energy, conserve wasteful energy.

Consider conserving more water when making wudu. Conserve electricity by shutting off the television and computer and opening the Holy book.

5. Charity is more than giving money to a good cause.

For Zakat, consider a local organization that is doing good work to protect the under privileged or the environment. Starting an initiative at your school, workplace or local mosque to make a real difference.

6. Host an Eco-Iftar that will be the talk of the town.

Show you care for the environment, host an Iftar that produces no waste, recycles, uses biodegradable cutlery and dishware or invite others to bring their own dishware! Most importantly, serve a healthy locally sourced Iftar meal.

7. Green your Eid, celebrate in style.

By all means, treat yourself to a nice new outfit, just be sure you are supporting local industry, and that the dyes used are not polluting the water streams. When giving Eid gifts to children, highlight the importance of using it responsibly: buying nothing unnecessary or that will harm planet, your body or community, consider paying it forward earn extra reward.

8. Commit random acts of kindness

Try smiling at people that pass by, greet the street guards, or just randomly express your gratitude for a friend. Volunteer your time at the local mosque, or in the community for an initiative you are passionate about or start a new one!

9. Celebrate Ramadan by breaking a bad habit

We all face our own challenges and bad habits. Ramadan is the perfect time to end that sugar or nicotine addiction, watch less TV, walk more, give up bad language, fix your sleeping cycle.

10. Reflect on what you’ve achieved this month.

By staying focused, observing your behaviour, lifestyle and habits you will have become much more mindful and aware by the end of the month. Make sure you stay consistent!

Khaled Dardir has recently completed a Master of Science specializing in the chemistry and is currently enrolled as a student in Mishkah pursuing a bachelors in Islamic Studies. He is the founder and Chief Coordinator of the non-profit organization The Building Blocks of New Jersey whose mission is: “To aid self development, promote activism, and bolster community building”

Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the Environment

  By: Francesca De Chatel

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].” [Al-Bukhari, III:513].

The idea of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) as a pioneer of environmentalism will initially strike many as strange: indeed, the term “environment” and related concepts like “ecology”, “environmental awareness” and “sustainability”, are modern-day inventions, terms that were formulated in the face of the growing concerns about the contemporary state of the natural world around us.

And yet a closer reading of the hadith, the body of work that recounts significant events in the Prophet’s life, reveals that he was a staunch advocate of environmental protection. One could say he was an “environmentalist avant la lettre”, a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management, and one who constantly sought to maintain a harmonious balance between man and nature. From all accounts of his life and deeds, we read that the Prophet had a profound respect for fauna and flora, as well as an almost visceral connection to the four elements, earth, water, fire and air.

He was a strong proponent of the sustainable use and cultivation of land and water, proper treatment of animals, plants and birds, and the equal rights of users. In this context the modernity of the Prophet’s view of the environment and the concepts he introduced to his followers is particularly striking; certain passages of the hadith could easily be mistaken for discussions about contemporary environmental issues.

Three Principles

The Prophet’s environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences. This belief is nowhere formulated in one concise phrase; it is rather an underlying principle that forms the foundation of all the Prophet’s actions and words, a life philosophy that defined him as a person.

The three most important principles of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa(stewardship) and amana (trust).

Tawhid, the oneness of God, is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith. It recognizes the fact that there is one absolute Creator and that man is responsible to Him for all his actions: “To God belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth, for God encompasses everything [4:126].”  The Prophet acknowledges that God’s knowledge and power covers everything. Therefore abusing one of his creations, whether it is a living being or a natural resource, is a sin. The Prophet considered all of God’s creations to be equal before God and he believed animals, but also land, forests and watercourses should have rights.

The concepts of khalifa, stewardship, and amana, trust, emerge from the principle of tawhid. The Qur’an explains that mankind holds a privileged position among God’s creations on earth: he is chosen as khalifa, “vice-regent” and carries the responsibility of caring for God’s earthly creations. Each individual is given this task and privilege in the form of God’s trust. But the Qur’an repeatedly warns believers against arrogance: they are no better than other creatures.  “No creature is there on earth nor a bird flying with its wings but they are nations like you [6:38]”; “Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of man; but most people know not [40:57]”.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) believed that the universe and the creations in it – animals, plants, water, land – were not created for mankind. Man is allowed to use the resources but he can never own them. Thus while Islam allows land ownership, it has limitations: an owner can, for example, only own land if he uses it; once he ceases to use it, he has to part with his possession.

The Prophet recognized man’s responsibility to God but always maintained humility. Thus he said: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it,” suggesting that even when all hope is lost for mankind, one should sustain nature’s growth. He believed that nature remains a good in itself, even if man does not benefit from it.

Similarly, the Prophet incited believers to share the earth’s resources. He said: “Muslims share alike in three things – water, herbage and fire,” and he considered it a sin to withhold water from the thirsty. “No one can refuse surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man” [Mishkat al Masabih].

The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) attitude towards sustainable use of land, conservation of water and the treatment of animals is a further illustration of the humility of his environmental philosophy.

Sustainable Use of Land

“The earth has been created for me as a mosque and as a means of purification.” [Al-Bukhari I:331] With these words the Prophet emphasizes the sacred nature of earth or soil, not only as a pure entity but also as a purifying agent. This reverence towards soil is also demonstrated in the ritual of tayammum, or “dry wudu” which permits the use of dust in the performance of ritual purification before prayer when water is not available.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) saw earth as subservient to man, but recognised that it should not be overexploited or abused, and that it had rights, like the trees and wildlife living on it. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet created inviolable zones known as hima and haram, in which resources were to be left untouched. Both are still in use today: haram areas are often drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater table from over-pumping. Hima applies particularly to wildlife and forestry and usually designates an area of land where grazing and woodcutting are restricted, or where certain animal species are protected.

The Prophet not only encouraged the sustainable use of fertile lands, he also told his followers of the benefits of making unused land productive: planting a tree, sowing a seed and irrigating dry land were all regarded as charitable deeds.“Whoever brings dead land to life, that is, cultivates wasteland, for him is a reward therein.” Thus any person who irrigates a plot of “dead”, or desert land becomes its rightful owner.

Conservation of Water

In the harsh desert environment where the Prophet (peace be upon him) lived, water was synonymous to life. Water was a gift from God, the source of all life on earth as is testified in the Qur’an:  “We made from water every living thing” [21:30].  The Qur’an constantly reminds believers that they are but the guardians of God’s creation on earth and that they should never take this creation for granted: “Consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter” [56:68-70].

Saving water and safeguarding its purity were two important issues for the Prophet: we have seen that his concern about the sustainable use of water led to the creation of haram zones in the vicinity of water sources. But even when water was abundant, he advocated thriftiness: thus he recommended that believers perform wudu no more than three times, even if they were near to a flowing spring or river. The theologian El-Bukhari added: “ The men of science disapprove of exaggeration and also of exceeding the number of ablutions of the Prophet.” The Prophet also warned against water pollution by forbidding urination in stagnant water.

The Treatment of Animals:

“If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation” [Mishkat al Masabih]. These words reflect the great reverence, respect and love that the Prophet always showed towards animals. He believed that as part of God’s creation, animals should be treated with dignity, and the hadith contains a large collection of traditions, admonitions and stories about his relationship to animals. It shows that he had particular consideration for horses and camels: to him they were valiant companions during journey and battle, and he found great solace and wisdom in their presence as the following tradition reveals: “In the forehead of horses are tied up welfare and bliss until the Day of Resurrection.”

Even in the slaughter of animals, the Prophet showed great gentleness and sensitivity. While he did not practice vegetarianism, the hadiths clearly show that the Prophet was extremely sensitive to the suffering of animals, almost as though he shared their pain viscerally. Thus he recommends using sharp knives and a good method so that the animal can die a quick death with as little pain as possible. He also warned against slaughtering an animal in the presence of other animals, or letting the animal witness the sharpening of blades: to him that was equal to “slaughtering the animal twice” and he emphatically condemned such practices as “abominable”.


It is impossible to do justice to the full scope and significance of Prophet Mohammed’s environmental philosophy in this short article. His holistic view of nature and his understanding of man’s place within the natural world pioneered environmental awareness within the Muslim community.

Sadly, the harmony that the Prophet advocated between man and his environment has today all too often been lost. As we face the effects of pollution and overexploitation, desertification and water scarcity in some parts of the world and floods and violent storms elsewhere, it is perhaps time for the world community as a whole, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, to take a leaf out of the Prophet’s book and address the current environmental crisis seriously and wisely.

This article was originally appeared on The Islamic Bulletin