Green Deen

FORESTS AND FATWAS: Islam, Terrorism, and Environmental Jihad

climatechane.jpg

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.

Green Eid Gift Guide

Toys2.png

As Ramadan comes to a close, most of us are preparing for the upcoming celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim month of fasting.  Part of the tradition includes exchanging gifts with loved ones and spending time with family and friends. To add an environmental slant to the celebration; this year consider purchasing products that are sustainable, ethically sourced or fair trade.  Some suggestions from both Canadian and international retailers are listed below of products that not only make good gifts, but also minimize the impact on the environment.

Green Toys

Eastern Toybox is a company offers a wide range of eco-friendly, fair trade and handmade products made by socially and environmentally conscious artisans. They carry a wide range of unique toys, stationery and decor from Turkey, India, Indonesia and Germany as well as locally sourced products from Canada and the United States. Some of the more novel items include hijaushka, whimsical wooden nesting dolls and Mecca Tours, a handmade, hand painted wooden bus with 4 Hajjis.

Toys

Green Fashion

For those more into fashion, the Azadi Project is a retailer that offers high quality, ethical products that ensures their producers provide fair wages and dignified working conditions. They offer an assortment of clothing from dresses and shirts to purses and jewelry. What impressed us most is that they clearly outline their fair trade standards and offer profiles of the artisans they source their products from. Their Saidpur Tote is an example of their commitment to working with rural communities in Bangladesh, a country that has recently been in the spotlight for its safety practices.

Fashion

 

Green Books

The gift of knowledge is often the most treasured, so why not share it with friends and family. Green Deen by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is a good primer on what Islam teaches us about protecting the environment. A Picnic of Poems by Dawud Warnsby is a collection of poems and songs for children that educates them about the importance of caring for each other and nature. Green Muslims by Luqman Nagy takes a historical perspective examining the contributions Muslim civilization has made in the field of environmentalism and sustainability.

Green Books

Green Causes

World Wildlife Fund Canada is one of the country’s leading conservation organizations whose goal is to prevent the degradation of the natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. Their online store offers several products that follow this mandate, such as organic clothing and books. They also offer ‘animal adoptions’ which includes a personalized certificate, a plush toy and details on the work this gift will support.

WWF

Food’s Complicated: Learning the UNcomplicated Prophetic Diet

FoodBy: Fatima Ashraf Our system of food production is becoming more and more complicated and we are becoming less and less confident in the quality of what’s going inside our bodies. Understanding food today is much more than reading nutrition facts labels. Last month, thousands of people on facebook posted a guide to decoding produce stickers.  Four numbers means chemically treated, five numbers starting with an ‘8’ means genetically modified, and five numbers starting with a ‘9’ means organic.

Learning and adhering to our Prophet’s diet is one way to maintain confidence in what we’re eating and to shift to a more uncomplicated foodstyle.  There are three practices of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that I find especially helpful (and relatively easy!).

1)  Eat less, specifically, less meat

Food today is ominous. Generations of humans survived just fine without having vending machines, food trucks, and fast food spots at every turn.  According to NPR,  the US Department of Agriculture reported that the average American eats ONE TON of food each year. In simpler days, say those of seventh century Medinah, this amount of food consumption would be condemned (not to mention, impossible).

The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” (Tirmidhi)

When it comes to meat, we all know the dangers of unchecked meat consumption — from food poisoning to chronic disease — and the horrid secrets of the factory farming industry are quickly being revealed to us. According to Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study,” eating meat was a classist affair.  Our notions of meat and nutrition come from a very biased, elitist, and arrogant field of nutrition in nineteenth century Europe. If you were civilized, you ate plenty of protein. If you were rich, you ate meat, and if you were poor, you ate staple plant foods like potatoes and bread. The lower classes were considered lazy and inept as a result of not eating enough meat.

Even during the period of early Islam, it was the rich that ate meat once a week and the poor that saved it for Eid celebrations.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not a wealthy man. He did not eat meat often, and he generally warned against meat as he said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine.” (Malik) According to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, there are no hadith mentioning the Prophet (peace be upon him) eating beef and there are plenty of hadith where the Prophet emphasizes the diseases that may result from beef consumption.

Eating less and eating less meat go hand-in-hand.  If you have ever sacrificed or watched the sacrifice of an animal, you know that it is serious business.  Ever since my husband sacrificed his first goat, he has reiterated that it is a difficult process and not one that he would like to do over and over again. He surely doesn’t want to become desensitized to taking a life (any life). For me, it’s important to know where my food — especially meat, comes from.  If I can’t trace the origin of the animal, it’s part of a complicated system that I’d like to avoid. Putting these two sentiments together results in my family’s dramatically decreased consumption of meat – we either sacrifice the animal ourselves or we go to a trusted, known source like Green Zabiha.

2)      Eat locally and seasonally

Prophet Muhammed (peace by upon him) was definitely not getting his dates shipped in from California or his milk trucked in from Wisconsin. His food was locally grown, and therefore, he ate what was in season. There is an ayat in the Quran that emphasizes eating seasonal foods. “It is He Who produces gardens, with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in variety): eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered.” (Quran 6:141).

In the book “Green Deen,” Ibrahim Abdul-Matin discusses a hadith that relates that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), when eating, ate from the dish closest to him.  Perhaps the spirit of this hadith can also be used to encourage Muslims to buy food from local sources (the ones closest to them).

Two years ago, my husband and I committed to joining a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture.  In our hood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a few hundred people gathered together, selected a farmer in upstate NY, and paid him to receive whatever produce his crops yielded for the winter and summer months. Every Saturday morning, we picked up our big box of fruits and veggies, and for the rest of the week knew, without complication, that we were eating wholesome, chemical free foods.

3)  Eat with others

While there might not be statistical facts and figures directly proving the health benefits of eating together, there is no doubt that eating with friends and family is far more fun than eating alone.  Perhaps sharing your food with others leads to you eating less.  Perhaps eating together results in laughter, and well, laughter is the best medicine!  The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with the company.” (Ibn Majah)

Anyone who invites guests to his/her house knows this. No matter how nervous you are about the quantity you have for everyone, it is always more than enough. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) also said, “Whoever has food enough for two persons, should take a third one, and whoever has food enough for four persons, should take a fifth or a sixth.” (Bukhari)

With Ramadan in full swing, you all are likely breaking bread in congregation.  Why not try to adopt an uncomplicated foodstyle. As you purify your intentions and seek spiritual renewal, seek a confidence in what you are eating as well.

Fatima Ashraf is former senior policy advisor for health and education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Currently, in her new role as mom, she is committed to feeding her family and running her household in a health conscious, zero-waste way. She is also a contributing writer for the American Muslim Health Professionals(AMHP) where she has been featured as part of the “Healthy Ummah Series.”

Photo credit from kayepants