Green Leaders

This Is How Islam Advocates for the Environment

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This article originally appeared on MuslimGirl.com on April 22nd, 2019.


Sarah Huxtable Mohr

We all know that the environmental crisis facing our planet is one of the most urgent issues of our generation, and for the near future. Whales are washing up dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic in their stomachs; rain that is falling from the sky is saturated in micro-plastics; there’s a lack of clean water for so many people on earth;  and, the most devastating extinction event since the dinosaurs is upon us. As a general rule, research shows that one in five species go extinct annually. However, scientists are now estimating that we are losing species at 1000 to 10,000 times the normal rate. We are losing multiple species per day and the biodiversity of our planet suffering so dramatically.

So what does the Islamic faith have to say about this? Islam teaches us that everything has rights. From the animals, the plants, the air, the water, and the soil. Our Prophet (PBUH) advocated for the rights of all beings and things with his radical emphasis on justice and mercy.   Most Muslims are doing something about climate change and the environmental crisis in their personal lives and practices, and some Muslims are also making this a full-time endeavor. Sister Nana Firman, originally from Indonesia, is one of the women doing the most on this issue. She kindly agreed to share some of her history, work, and thoughts with the #MuslimGirlArmy for Earth Day.

MUSLIM GIRL: Asalaam aleikum wa ramatulah wa barakathu. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about your work and knowledge on environmental justice. As we know, you are one of the most active figures in the Muslim community on this issue and have done such great work, including receiving an award from the White House in 2015 as a “Champion of Change.” How did you get involved in environmental justice work and climate activism?

SISTER NANA FIRMAN: Wa’alaykumussalaam warahmatullahi wabarakatuh. Alhamdulillah, the pleasure is mine!

I was born in Jambi (the eastern part of Sumatra) in Indonesia, but both of my parents are from Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra. Since the age of 9 months old, I was raised and grew up in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, until high school. I then continued my higher education in the United States. I did my Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design and my Master’s degree in Urban Design. I returned back home in 1998 and was a practicing Urban Designer for several years in Indonesia. That’s how I got into environmental work. My work in planning and designing cities and towns at that time required me to engage with a group of geologists from whom I learned a lot regarding the appropriate designs for cities with disaster-prone areas, such as the ring of fire regions like Indonesia.

At that moment, I realized that Islamic teaching could help me increase environmental awareness in Indonesia.

Fast forward to early 2005, I was called upon to lead a Green Reconstruction Program by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature in Indonesia for the recovery efforts after the 2004 tsunami in the religiously conservative region of Aceh (the northern tip of Sumatra). It was very hard to convince local people of the benefits of planting mangroves to reduce the impact of storm surges at that time—until I remembered a hadith (the saying of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) about the benefit of planting trees. At that moment, I realized that Islamic teaching could help me increase environmental awareness in Indonesia.

Since then, I have taken those messages worldwide. In 2012, I moved to the United States to join my husband in California, and immediately after, I was asked by the late sister Tayyibah Taylor to write an article about Climate Change from an Islamic perspective for Azizah Magazine.

I was also invited to join a Fellowship Program with GreenFaith that same year, and I have been part of the faith-based environmental movement in the United States and around the globe ever since. In early 2015, I was asked to join the Green Mosque Committee for Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and launched the Green Ramadan Campaign nationwide.

In the same year, I helped to organize the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change that calls on Muslims everywhere to take action, from conserving water during the cleaning rituals of ablution (wudu) to reducing plastic waste during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. And in early 2016, I co-founded the Global Muslim Climate Network (GMCN) as a platform to implement the declaration on renewable energy transformation and also to introduce the network to the international event of COP22 (UN Climate Convention) that year.

In my life’s journey, learning about the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been absolutely a major influence on me because he was so green in his attitude toward the natural world, including the animals and plants. Nevertheless, looking back, I also realized that my own mother, with her passion in planting and gardening, was very environmentally-friendly and has helped to instill in me some of the green virtues.

MashAllah, what great work. Can you tell us more about GreenFaith? What kind of work are you doing? I know part of it involves the Living the Change Initiative which I think is really exciting. It’s such a concrete way for average people to get involved.

So, I’d be happy to talk about this. GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental organization with a mission to inspire, educate, organize, and mobilize people of diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds globally for environmental actions. We believe that religious traditions see the sacred in nature, and that people grow spiritually through a strong relationship with the earth.  

Our behavior and consumption habits must help heal, restore, and renew the Earth—because all people deserve a healthy environment, regardless of their race, gender, or income. We do our work through several activities like Training and Capacity Building, Campaigning and Advocacy, as well as Local Organizing.

Living the Change started during the UN Climate Convention in November 2017. It’s a global, multi-faith campaign that supports sustainable lifestyle commitments by faith leaders and their followers in the areas of home energy use, diet, and transportation.

It came about from our concern on climate change impacts to the earth and our communities. Our misuse of natural resources over the years, while improving conditions for many, is wearing the web of life.

We have seen more disasters happening around the world, such as numbers of storms, droughts, fires, floods, and other catastrophes. They are more severe, intense and frequent, like the recent Cyclone Idai affecting the people in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Malawi, as well as the Bomb Cyclone in the U.S. which has flooded Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

As Muslims, we are called by Allah in the Holy Qur’an to “walk gently upon the earth”, meaning that we are bound by a moral imperative to treat our shared common home with the care and respect it deserves. 

The tragedy of such occurrences has caused much suffering and loss of life. Sadly, the most vulnerable amongst us—those least responsible for this global threat—suffer the most, unfairly and unjustly. We absolutely need to raise consciousness and start to live sustainably. This responsibility is more urgent than ever before! We have done the talks. Now, it’s time for us to take real actions and to change our ways!

As Muslims, we are called by Allah in the Holy Qur’an to “walk gently upon the earth”, meaning that we are bound by a moral imperative to treat our shared common home with the care and respect it deserves. So, for me and many other Muslims, the reality of climate change not only has grave implications for the future of our planet, but also represents one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time, which must drive us to respond with actions.

And through the collective effort of Living the Change, we started to create a global community of practice in which we learn to put our beliefs into real actions in our own lifestyles. We have also inspired each other during the past year and we look forward to invite more individuals and engage more communities to join this journey together.

Thanks so much for that explanation, and mashAllah, what amazing work! Please tell me more about the Green Ramadan campaign you are working on. That sounds like something beneficial for ourselves and our communities that we all need to focus on.

Yes, absolutely! Every Muslim around the world knows that the purpose of prescribed fasting during Ramadan is to attain taqwa. In my own words, I call it, the time for purifying our souls while detoxing our bodies.

Yet, whether we admit it or not, a big part of Ramadan is eating! Even more so, Ramadan is about eating in community. We fill up a plate, then grab a drink and a few utensils, sometimes we remember a napkin, eventually sitting next to people whom we might see every Friday prayer, but never know their names. After a month of bumping elbows at iftar tables, we leave behind Ramadan with tons of styrofoam, paper, and plastic plates, forks, spoons, knives, cups, napkins and paper towels to pile up in our local trash dumps! We definitely can’t ignore those bags of trash after every beautiful iftar each night—and don’t forget, the food wastage as well! That really defeats the purpose of the sacred month, doesn’t it? This has to change! So, how can we make this Ramadan spiritually and practically better?

First and foremost, we need to make a sincere niyah for this Ramadan to be environmentally conscious, socially responsible and compassionate to those around us by following the example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)—the mercy to the worlds. That’s how the Green Ramadan Initiative was born. Then, taking the opportunity of this blessed month, to remember and respect our planet which, through the grace of Allah, provides us with the sustenance with which we nourish our bodies and community spirit during a month of fasting.

…please remember that interacting mindfully with our environment is simply a manifestation of our imaan.

As the khalifah upon this earth, we have a responsibility to protect the environment. And please remember that interacting mindfully with our environment is simply a manifestation of our imaan. So, we should try to make this Ramadan a better and greener one by doing one or two simple actions individually or collectively with our communities. In short, just keeping in our mind that less consumption also means less waste! May Allah azza wa jalla make it easy and help all of us accomplish a better and greener Ramadan this year, to the best of our ability in seeking His pleasure, ameen!

This is so important. I would also say that Women have a special role to play in the work of a green ummah and a green Ramadan. I mean, we do a lot of the cooking, grocery shopping, and selection of what kind of household choices each family makes. In previous conversations you had said to me that you think women play a special role in environmental work. Can you elaborate?

Well, all through the history of civilization, women unquestionably have played a significant role in managing natural resources and contributing to environmental rehabilitation and conservation, on their family-level as well as community levels. In many communities around the world, women manage water, sources for energy and food, and in some instances also forests and agricultural lands.

Survival of their families and communities is closely linked to the health of the ecosystem around them. Through their roles as farmers, collectors of water and firewood, women have developed a close connection with their local environment. And on many occasions, they are the most sensitive to changes in the environment, and often become those who suffer the most from environmental problems.

Throughout centuries, women’s direct interaction with the natural world has produced their deep-knowledge about the environment, which served them as agriculturalists, water resource managers/keepers, and traditional healers/scientists. Because of their traditionally primary responsibility of domestic and household management, women interact more intensively with the natural and built environment they inhabit. Thus, they are vulnerably exposed by degraded homes, neighborhood and village/city environments, similar to if they are living in poor housing and community, with inadequate infrastructure and accessibility.

Even if climate change were not an issue, it is still our duty as Muslims to walk gently on the earth and to protect all creations.

Today, with devastated ecological degradation and intense climate change impacts, women also bear a disproportionate share of the burden—whether about access to food and water in times of resource scarcity, land ownership, or even being able to swim in floods/storms. These have become disadvantages. Nevertheless, women are still marginalized in the economic and political spheres to participate in decision-making processes for climate and environmental policy, finance and implementation. But, despite those disadvantages, many experts acknowledge that women have skills, knowledge, leadership and wisdom which is critical for solving the challenges the world faces today—climate resilience!

I was very fortunate, in 2009, to be selected to join the Climate Reality Leadership Program and was trained by former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore, in Australia. Immediately after that, I initiated Eco-Fab Living, a social campaign to increase public awareness in Indonesia, by presenting current ecological and climate crisis while at the same time advocating sustainability for a better future through citizen involvement, public participation, and policy reform.

During those times, I engaged with many women’s groups who were so eager to learn and participate in taking real actions, starting from themselves and their families. And I continued that initiative when I moved to the United States in 2012—this time around by engaging American Muslim communities in practicing eco-lifestyle in their homes and their mosques.

Alhamdulillah, in the recent years, women around the world from many walks of life have become change-makers toward sustainability, including behavior-change towards living in harmony with nature.

Women now account for approximately 80 percent of household purchases in developed countries. Interestingly, based on some studies, women are more likely to buy recyclable, eco-labeled and energy-efficient products than men. Women in Sweden spend more time than men seeking information on sustainable consumption and lifestyle alternatives. Meanwhile, Japanese women are more concerned about the environment and are willing to pay more for sustainable products. And, in North America, 80 percent of women believe strongly that individuals can affect the environment, though they aren’t yet doing enough.

In addition to that, more women in the developing world realize the financial and environmental advantages of eco-products and eco-markets. On many occasions, women are also the key to managing the aftermath of disasters, especially for the practical needs such as providing food, water, sanitation, clothing and health care. Since women are more likely to be affected by environmental problems due to their social roles and impoverished status in many places, women are more environmentally mindful and careful, and apt to follow sustainable pathways. At last, as the hand that rocks the cradle, they become the first and best teachers to their children—the future generation—and can instill in them the love for Allah’s creations, as the manifestation of our gratitude to the Creator.

Sister Nana, your work is so important. MashAllah, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, and to share your knowledge. Are there any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

Thanks so much. Yes, the thought I want to leave you with is that it is incumbent upon us, as Muslims, to protect the environment and to be green. Even if climate change were not an issue, it is still our duty as Muslims to walk gently on the earth and to protect all creations. With the crisis we are facing, it needs to be a central part of our lives as Muslims. This is the basic understanding we see amongst a lot of Muslims today and the direction we need to continue to take as a community.

Thanks so much, may Allah bless you in this work!

To learn more about the initiatives discussed in this interview, please visit the following websites:

https://greenfaith.org/

https://livingthechange.net/

http://www.isna.net/greenramadan/

Lakehead Student Crosses Canada to Raise Awareness of First Nations Plight

How far would you go for clean water? For one recent Lakehead graduate, quite literally across the country.

Hasan Syed, a community bridge-builder active in Thunder Bay, has undertaken a cross-country run to raise awareness about the water crisis among First Nation’s communities in Canada.

Syed was shocked to learn about the conditions on some reserves, and thought Canada had moved beyond basic water access issues he witnessed in his native Pakistan. As of the end of February, there were more than 80 drinking water advisories in First Nations communities across the country.

"It literally took me back to the country I immigrated from. Like then there's no difference between here and there." said Syed to the CBC. Until then he had assumed the services he had access to were afforded to all Canadians.

Upon learning more he knew he had to take action and his faith played a crucial role. "I feel like there's like God saying, 'Okay, I told you about this. Now what are you going to do about it?'"

Partnering up with First Nations organizations, Syed founded Access 2 Clean Water, to raise awareness about the issue and funds to develop solutions.  "I'm brand new to this, so I'm still learning how to approach these situations and how to be respectable so I don't overstep any boundaries."

Syed’s journey started in Vancouver and his goal is to reach Ontario in 150 days - marking the 150 years anniversary of Confederation. Given the tumultuous history between First Nations and the Federal Government, this journey represents the ongoing struggle in the era of reconciliation.

To support the project,, a Go Fund Me page has been set up and is almost halfway towards its goal. You can also follow Syed’s journey through the Access 2 Clean Water Instagram account which has photos and videos of the trek.

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Islam and the Environment - What can you do be an Eco-Friendly Muslim

By: Marwa Hamid

Asmaa and Max are the eco-friendly Muslim couple behind the website 'Greenkum'. In this article, they shared their thoughts on Islam, the environment and animal welfare..

During my masters’ studies, one of my Professors who was giving us a lecture on the topic of Urban Environments and Sustainability told the class that she admires the importance that Muslims put on their surrounding environments. She said, 'go to Delhi and you will be enchanted by the beautiful gardens that surround houses and palaces. The Muslims who like to surround themselves with gardens do so so that they can remind themselves of the heavens'

I am lucky that my academic interests are in an environmental setting and the more I learn about our environment the more I admire the glorious abilities of Allah Subhanah wa tala’a. However, regardless of the emphasis that Islam puts on conservation and the environment, many of us contribute to a high carbon footprint and that effects our environment in a very negative way. Why have we gone so far? Is it possible for us to enjoy our so-called modern lifestyles yet still care for our environment?

We spoke to Asmaa and Musa Max, a German blogging couple who shared with us their experience living a more environmentally conscious life...

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELVES AND HOW DID YOU BECOME MORE AWARE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES?

We are Asmaa, 27, and Max Musa, 28, a German married couple, best friends and the founders of the environmental blog Greenukum. Our blog is a showcase of our journey to become more conscious in hope to create an awareness for “green” topics like sustainability, environmentalism and animal protection, Eco-travelling, and so on.

So, how did we become aware of environmental issues?

Asmaa: As long as I can remember, I have been a huge animal and nature lover. My passion for environmental issues in addition to other things was inspired by my cats and by Hima, a Muslim organisation for environmental protection in Germany. On the other hand, I am working on my PhD in animal ethics in Islam and the more I do research in the field of nature and animals in Islam, the more I realised the importance of these issues.

Max Musa: I grew up in a vegetarian family that loves fellow creatures. Besides that, I worked for a big organic supermarket chain and had a lot of training and seminars on “green-topics”. Therefore, I tried to implement my knowledge in my daily life and realised more and more that the “modern” western lifestyle and the comfort that goes with it can have a negative impact on the environment. So I became more and more environmentally conscious.

WHAT DOES GREENUKUM MEAN?

The name Greenukum is a compound word consisting of the word green and ukum. Green a colour that is most commonly associated with the environment, life, hope and spirituality and is also considered the traditional colour of Islam. Ukum is an Arabic (possessive pronoun) suffix and stands for “your/yours” (pl.): Thus, Greenukum implies that it is YOUR nature, YOUR environment, YOUR life, YOUR spirituality... You have to take care of it!  For reasons mentioned above, we created Greenukum to inspire!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR BLOG AND WHAT HAS YOUR BLOGGING EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE?

After our marriage, we decided to do our best to life a conscious lifestyle. We read a lot and watched several documentaries to learn more about it. So we become aware of our impact on the world and our function as Khalifa, stewards, on the earth.

To get more motivation we tried to find some personal blogs to follow and we came across many eco-bloggers. However, we were very disappointed by not finding any German Muslim blogger whom we could follow and identify with. That was the reason that motivated us to start our own blog, knowing that we are not perfect either we are 100% conscious since it was the beginning of our journey. We both had many discussions before deciding to do this step. Nevertheless, the desire to inspire and mobilise other people for such issues and to share our experiences in our very own way was great, so we did it in the end. Alhamdulillah.

WHAT KIND OF RESPONSES HAVE YOU HAD IN REGARDS TO YOUR BLOG FROM THE MUSLIM AND WIDER COMMUNITY?

Since we started our blog, the feedback we received from Muslims and people of other faiths all over the world was surprising. Our Instagram posts seem to be motivating especially to young Muslims. We assume that it is much easier to implement sustainable ideas into your own life when you find people you can identify with. It makes a difference if you are only reading something in an impersonal newsletter text or in a personal blog. Moreover, it makes a difference if you are getting the feeling that the author is real and not perfect: That is why we are trying to show our successes as well as our failures on the road.

The many messages we get from people who get inspired by our posts give us strength. It is also great to know that the great majority of Muslims also confirm that part of our Deen (Religion) is to take care of everything that lives with us or next to us. After a short introduction phase, we started receiving almost monthly invitations and many questions.

WHAT CORE TEACHINGS DOES ISLAM OFFER US IN TERMS OF BETTER CARING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

There are so many teachings that we can find in Quran and Sunna, but let us focus on the aspect of being a Khalifa (steward). God placed human being's as a Khalifa (steward) on earth; He created us as intelligent creatures, gave us the task to take care and to act righteously in all of our affairs. Thereby we have to hold nature as a trust (Amanah):

 “Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave”
(Quran 10:14)

There are so many verses in Quran that emphasise our duty to look after the earth and not to over consume its resources. For example:

“O children of Adam! … eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.”
(Quran 7:31)

So we are really wondering, how we can damage nature, knowing that these are signs of Allah, placed by him on earth to show us his beauty? Even more: The Quran tells us that everything is praising the Lord.

"There is not an animal on the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are nations like you." (Quran 6:38)


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HOLDING BACK MUSLIMS FROM DOING MORE FOR THE PLANET (PARTICULARLY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD)? AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO TACKLE THESE CONSTRAINTS?

That is a very complex question and it is very difficult to answer it briefly. Nevertheless, I remember a statement of the Iranian-born intellectual Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who has written several articles about men and nature in Islam. His opinion is that it is because of two facts: Firstly, we have societies engaged with immediate problems. Remember, Colonialism and its consequences, Radical Islamists and more. On the other hand for non-western people, the environmental problem is kind of a western problem, created by western industrialisation and capitalism that they did not identify with. Additionally, many environmental discussions do not reflect on a spiritual side of this issue. We are convinced that you can better reach people when you confront them with their faith.

Asmaa: I created an experience with my family and friends: While talking to my grandmother in Morocco about these issues, I told her that it is our task as Khalifa (steward) on this earth to protect the earth and I provided her with examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) It was possible for me to reach her much better.

This is how people work! The religious values influence the way in which billions of people think and act. Why not work with them using the potential of religion!

IF YOU COULD GET MUSLIMS TO DO ONE THING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

At least reduce your meat consumption! It is not just good for you (many health benefits) but it is also necessary to protect our planet. By cutting down your meat consumption, you can help tackle these issues to name just a few:

  • Reduce greenhouse gases

  • Improve animal welfare
  • Save the Amazon from destruction (massive cattle is responsible for 75% of deforested areas in the Amazon)
  • Reduce waste production (did you know that 2000 - 2500 gallons of water go into a SINGLE pound of beef!)
  • Reduce world hunger (80% of global soy production is used as livestock feed).

In addition of all that we should also think about the way we’re treating animals before they are slaughtered and questioning ourselves if this way is really in accordance with the advice of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and if so is it really halal AND tayyib?

WHAT WOULD THE DAILY LIFE OF A GREEN MUSLIM BE LIKE? HOW WOULD THEY LIVE, SOCIALISE, TRAVEL, ETC?

A green Muslim is nothing more than a Muslim who is aware of his responsibility as a Khalifah on earth. Increasing awareness about this responsibility means that you are doing the main thing for the environment. You can also reflect on your daily behaviour while travelling, socialising, working or shopping – by asking yourself, is it really necessary and good? Example: Is it necessary to buy your 12th shirt only because it cost just $5? Is it necessary to take the car for a short distance? or could I go by foot or with a bicycle? Thus, with a clear understanding of how our choices are fundamental for us and for all creations around us your awareness will change and your awareness about your responsibility as a human being will rise.

“Do not mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order[…].”
(Quran 7:56)

And at the end: Pray. Make Du’a. Connect to God. Connect to nature. Remember: Paradise is a Garden!

Through the course of his life, the Prophet (PBUH) who was a shepherd just like other prophets, was concerned with the environment and its protection and has left behind an 'ecological Sunnah'. The love the prophet’s (PBUH) had for all living beings and nature was clear in his verbal teachings as well as his acts concerning their protection.

One of his greatest efforts in this context was a forest in an area called “Zuraybu’t Taweel,” where he announced: “Whoever cuts a tree here should plant a new tree instead”. Together with this regulation, the area shortly turned into a forest. The Prophet also declared an area of 12-miles in distance from the centre of Medina as Haram (forbidden by religion) and also prohibited the cutting of trees and the killing of animals within its borders. 1400 years later, our planet is paying a huge toll due to the shift in lifestyles, overconsumption and unsustainable practices and we are desperately in need to implement the Prophets (PBUH) ecological Sunnah so we can protect our planet and conserve its resources for the next generation.

Special thanks to Asmaa and Musa Max for taking time, to answer our questions and provide our readers with some tips from their own experiences.

For more eco-friendly tips: www.greenukum.com

To keep up to date with their work check out their Instagram page HERE

This article originally appeared on Bahath.co on February 3rd, 2017. You can connect via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more profiles.

Green Leaders: Maisaloon Al-Ashkar

Maisaloon Al-Ashkar
Maisaloon Al-Ashkar

Green Leaders is new online series, profiling Muslims who are involved in the environmental movement. The goal is to highlight the achievements of those within our community and provide role models for youth who are interested in pursuing a career in the environmental field. This week we follow Maisaloon Al-Ashkar, a university student and activist in British Columbia who is part of Fossil Free Faith, a national multi-faith consortium that supports and engages our faith institutions in climate justice, fossil fuel divestment and strengthening the role of  faith in our shared future.

1) Briefly explain your educational and professional background. What piqued your interest in the sustainability field? Was there a defining cause, person or event that was your source of inspiration? What possible career options do you have in mind?

I just started my second-year at Simon Fraser University, particularly focusing on First Nations Studies and Political Science. I work for the City of Burnaby as a Program Leader, through which I facilitate a wide-range of activities for children.

I’ve always had a spark for contributing to my communities, but I often got absorbed by popular organizations that glamourize youth engagement and approach activism from a subtle, yet problematic perspective. My view of involvement shifted in grade 12, when I took a Social Justice course. It was the pivotal moment through which I began to think critically, and learned how to conceptualize and contextualize embedded systems of oppression. As I reflect back on that class, I find that it was also a source that guided me to reconnect with and rediscover the causes that are dearest to my heart.

I feel the most gratitude when I do work that directly pays homage to my communities and where I come from. Also, as an immigrant-settler who lives on unceded Coast Salish Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, I want to engage in work that meaningfully supports Indigenous sovereignty. The main career options I’m currently exploring involve a combination of human rights law and community organizing.

2) Your identity has played an instrumental role in shaping your worldview when it comes to social and environmental justice. What are the parallels between the two and what experiences/lessons have you drawn from this? Why is it important that we review the impact of social issues with an environmental lens?

I’m a Muslim Palestinian woman of colour. These labels that constitute my identity are deemed problems that must be silenced by current hegemonic systems. So, engaging in activism is essentially both an act of resistance and survival for me; I’m fighting for my liberation, which is deeply intertwined to the liberation of beloved people and sacred places.

My grandparents were Palestinian farmers who planted so much knowledge in me through oral history, teaching me that land, culture, and traditions are interwoven, and that they cohesively contribute to the resilience of our well being, both as communities and as individuals. My grandparents were also refugees, and it really hits home when I witness that many communities, who are often already marginalized, are facing displacement due to the climate crisis.

Social and environmental issues are inseparable, and acknowledging this reality allows for approaching such matters with a meaningful and holistic lens. Existing colonialist and capitalist structures have formed the belief that lands, peoples, and cultures are separate entities, and internalizing these principles desensitizes and isolates us from everything around us. However, when we begin to look for the impact of social issues with an environmental lens, and vice versa, we can pave the way for reciprocal solidarity among diverse communities and empower our calls to action.

3) Describe what Fossil Free Faith is about. How did the organization arise and what is its mandate? Why is it important that youth become involved in the divestment movement? What lessons can you provide for other youth that are looking to become more environmentally active?

Fossil Free Faith is an interfaith divestment network, composed of passionate leaders who contribute their respective faithful voices to climate justice. It’s powered by Faith & the Common Good and Spirited Social Change, emerging from volunteers across Canada who are eager to involve faith communities in the divestment/reinvestment movement and contribute new perspectives to climate justice. We have a shared vision of bringing together diverse individuals who want to advocate from a place of faith or spirituality.

From a divestment perspective, fossil fuels and the corporations that perpetuate their use are embodiments of capitalism, colonialism, and injustice. They operate through the domination over lands, extraction of resources, and exploitation of all the life that relies on these lands and resources. Thus, divestment is one piece of the climate justice movement that seeks to revoke the immense socio-economic power that the fossil fuel industry holds and give this authority back to local communities.

I would encourage youth to learn about what it means to be environmentally active to them personally, and to also find ways to ground this awareness to a bigger picture that goes beyond making sustainable choices.

4) Are there any parallels you can describe between Islam and the environment specific to your educational/career path? How has your faith been a source or inspiration or direction in your life (both professionally and personally)? What is one environmental message you would like the Muslim community to adopt?

Faith is central to my soul, and so it’s a guiding force in my life. Islam means peace, and in many ways, it brings me internal peace, as I find that faith is very much integral to my self-care and sense of hope. Stewardship and valuing the intricate environment that Allah blessed us with are concepts I learned from Islam, and from stories about prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and how he was mindful of respecting his surroundings.

I decided to join Fossil Free Faith’s Youth Fellowship program because I was keen on finding an avenue that would allow me to directly unite my Islamic knowledge with my activism, while collaborating with youth like myself who also want to mobilize their respective communities to interlink faith and climate justice.

It’s crucial that I acknowledge that the Muslim community is widely diverse, as we are often generalized and made into a homogenized group. The Muslim identity isn’t one-dimensional; rather, it intersects with one’s ethnicity, gender, culture, and so many other aspects. The personal awareness I want to share with our exquisitely diverse Muslim community, is that all the magnificence of life around us is a reflection of Allah, and so I believe it’s a daily act of worship to treat the environment and honour all the humanity it encompasses as such; a reflection of the Divine.

5) Can you provide any advice for someone considering a career in the environmental field? Are there any lessons you have learned, mentors who were influential or causes that influenced you so far? What advice can you provide to those considering becoming involved with the social justice movement? 

I’m eighteen-years-old, and although I’m grateful to have a strong sense of purpose, I’m definitely still exploring the idea of career paths. I value intersectionality and aspire to bring all of who I am to any experience. I want to free myself from the narrative that restricts ourselves and our dreams into categories and hierarchies. I believe that we can bring an environmental lens, or any particular climate justice perspective, to any field we choose or encounter.

The social justice movement has opened my eyes to systemic forms of oppression, allowing me to become much more critical of the status quo around me. I’ll admit that this awareness can be daunting at times; however, I can wholeheartedly say that my soul, mind, and body are much more content now. I’m the granddaughter of Palestinian farmers, refugees, resisters and freedom fighters, and it is now that I truly appreciate the powerful beauty of my ancestors. I feel their legacy living within me when I engage in activism, which is a subtle yet empowering internal spiritual experience that brings so much meaning to my life. So, the social justice movement has been a blessing to my overall well being.

From what I’ve learned thus far, I strongly encourage starting from within to be able to meaningfully and holistically situate yourself in any activism you participate in; try to learn about your ancestors, cultures and heritages, and connect with causes that speak to your heart. I find that the process of doing so, is in itself a profound act of dismantling oppressive structures, as it supports me in revitalizing my spirit and intertwining my roots along the way.

Greening Islam

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Earlier this year, Sarrah AbuLughod, a Green Muslims Board Member, was interviewed by a reporter with Symbolia Magazine and Showtime on climate change. Her story was captured in comic format designed by Audrey Quinn and Luncy Bellwood and can be found as part of the Years of Living Dangerously series presented by Showtime. Greening IslamGI2 GI3 GI4 GI5 GI6 GI7 GI8 GI9 GI10 GI11

Green Leaders: Siraj Berhan

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Green Leaders is new online series, profiling Muslims who are involved in the environmental movement. The goal is to highlight the achievements of those within our community and provide role models for the youth who are interested in pursuing a career in an environmentally-related field. This week we follow Siraj Berhan, one of the founders of the Green Scholarship Organization that has developed an innovative way of raising environmental awareness while investing in the next generation of Muslim leaders.

1) Briefly explain your educational and professional background. What piqued your interest in the sustainability field? Was there a defining cause, person or event that was your source of inspiration? What possible career options do you have in mind?

After completing my Bsc. in Computer Science from York University I’ve continued my career in Information Technology. I have over 16 years of progressive software development, management, training, and coaching work experience in a number of companies ranging from start-ups to medium size and large enterprise including IBM, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, CPNI, Novator Systems, and RBC.

My interest in the environment and sustainability increased over the years especially as I’ve been fortunate to travel to a number of countries and experience different cultures. We are blessed in Canada to have an abundance of water and natural resources compared to other parts of the world

I remember going to a BBQ in Toronto a few summers ago at a public park with a couple of dozen people. We had a good time, but I remember feeling disappointed at the amount of waste, especially how we had used up cases of disposable plastic bottles with so much water wasted! I think we can change the world by starting with ourselves, even in small steps.

I’ve got some big dreams: Along with my passion for the environment, I’m learning more about Islamic financing which can be a topic for another day!

2) Describe what the Green Scholarship Organization is about. How did the theme arise? What is its mandate and what are some of the previous projects? Where do you see the organization moving towards in the future? 

The Green Scholarship Organization is a registered non-profit organization established in 2013 in Toronto with the aim of investing in the next generation in terms of environmental sustainability and access to education.

The theme for the organization arose after the successful trial of our first program: “Savings for the next generation – Reusable Water Bottles” in which we were able to raise awareness about environmental waste and channeling the savings from waste reduction towards a scholarship program for those entering post-secondary. Our initial theme focused on minimizing the waste during Ramadan at a local Masjid in terms of minimizing the administration costs in buying, managing, and disposing of plastic bottles of water.

The mandate of the organization evolved as we found a niche of bridging environmental awareness with putting together a revenue model for scholarship funding for underprivileged children and youth. Our other program during the summer was the “Community Reuse Program” in June 2013 where we had a tremendous response in terms of donated reusable electronic items.

The organization is still in its infancy. We have a lot potential for growth in terms of executing on our mandate. In the future we are exploring partnership with other institutions.

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3) This project has brought together individuals from a diverse range of professional and religious backgrounds (leadership team). What have been some of the benefits of entering into this project as a team? Do you all share the same passion for environmental/social justice issues or has there been a defined leader who spearheads the group?

I think the organization benefits tremendously from the diversity of the leadership team. We have experienced professionals from various backgrounds who are able to leverage their experience and network to bring the vision of the organization into reality. It’s a blessing from Allah that we were able to come together as a team. I might have been the kick starter for promoting environmental sustainability, but it was Mohammad Ashraf who is a board member who was instrumental in forming together the group. Dr. Reda brings his wisdom and years of community involvement in Canada and the US while Mohammed H. Ahmed has a passion for youth programs.

Coming together as a team in building this organization seemed a natural evolution to merge our fields of interest, especially when tackling a challenging subject of environmental sustainability and investing in our youth.

One of the main benefits of being in such a team is that we can grow in different directions and learn from each other. We might have different experiences or levels of development in addressing environmental or social justice issues, but at the end of the day what matters as a team is that each of us cares.

4) One of your earlier projects involved replacing disposable water bottles with reusable ones in the mosque. Why did you choose water bottles as a keystone issue? What was the response from the community? What are some lessons you learned from this experience? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Our first pilot program was called: “Savings for the next generation – Reusable Water Bottles.” The program started about half way through Ramadan and it lasted for about 15 days until Eid.

The reason disposable plastic water bottles was the focus of the program is because as a community you see mostly the same people usually coming in for Iftar and Shur and we would go through hundreds of disposable plastic water bottles every day and unfortunately most of them are more than half full or almost full by the time it goes to garbage or recycling!

The response from the community was positive – we sold about 100 reusable aluminum bottles raising about $1100 eliminating the use of 5,800 plastic bottles which saved about $2000.

At first the biggest challenge was raising an awareness for the program. We worked with the management of the Masjid to include our posters, flyers, and announcements. I think one of the lessons learned to make this type of program succeed is the need for better cohesive integration with the Masjid’s administration. For instance, there were occasions where donors brought cases and cases of disposable plastic bottles of water to the Masjid.

5) Are there any parallels you can describe between Islam and the environment specific to your career path? How has your faith been a source or inspiration or direction in your life (both professionally and personally)? What is one environmental message you like the Muslim community to adopt?

I think there are definitely parallels between Islam as a way of life and any career path you choose to take. For example, my career path included experiences in mentoring, coaching, facilitation, managing, and leadership which I think continues to serve me well when being involved in various community non-profit programs.

I believe we can change the world we live in by changing ourselves, even in small steps. I know Islam encourages that change is within our influence. Of course we have the power of Dua’ or prayer. We also have numerous teachings of our Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessing upon him, that shows us how to live a charitable life. We are taught that simply smiling, planting a tree, or removing harm from the road are all acts of charity that are encouraged in Islam.

The Quran teaches us not to be excessive and wasteful (Surat Al-'An`am [6:141]). In fact, we should be an example and leaders in environmental sustainability for others to follow. That starts at home with our families and extends to our communities and institutions. For example, the next time you plan on having a BBQ think of how to make that more ‘green’!

6) Can you you provide any advice for someone considering a career in the environmental field? Are there any lessons you have learned, mentors who were influential or causes that influenced you so far? What advice can you provide to those considering starting their own environmental non-profit?

I’m not sure I can offer an advice on a career in the environmental field. I understand it’s a growing field that’s becoming more “Mainstream”

I believe you have to have a desire to be in a field to excel in it. I think we definitely need more people who not only care about environmental sustainability, but also have the tools, support, experience, and the empowerment to make some badly needed changes

I think to succeed you can’t work alone. Partnering up with others who care and working with other organization takes some discipline, patience, and effective communication, but it’s worth it to have a stronger momentum.

I’ve been fortunate to have had strong positive influences and excellent support from my family including my parents and my wife who have always given me the boost to pursue my dreams.

In the end, when considering pursuing your own dream in the environmental field, you have to start with the right intention of doing it for the sake of Allah. Start small, reach out to others who you can partner with, but be persistent to execute an idea on your own from start to finish.

Green Leaders: Fizza Mir

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Green Leaders is new online series, profiling Muslims who are involved in the environmental movement. The goal is to highlight the achievements of those within our community and provide role models for the youth who are interested in pursuing a career in an environmentally-related field. This week we follow Fizza Mir, a Canadian educator, activist and designer with  Azadi Project; a fashion collection that caters to the socially conscious consumer.

1) Briefly explain your educational and professional background. What piqued your interest in the sustainability field? Was there a defining cause, person or event that was your source of inspiration? What possible career options do you have in mind?

By profession, I'm a high-school teacher. I've been involved in social justice work for much of my life, whether it's anti-poverty work, domestic violence prevention or organizing anti-war actions. I've also enjoyed design from a very young age and I would often (and still do) design and sew my own clothes. Although I haven't had any formal training in garment design or construction, they are skills that were passed down to me by my mother who was a college Art teacher herself. The creation of Azadi Project seemed the perfect merging of my creative side and my commitment to social justice work.  Although I love teaching and regard it as important, meaningful work, as a teacher I never had time grow creatively. Through Azadi Project I am able to revive my creative side while aiming to improve the condition of the earth and that of people in marginalized communities.

2) In the lead up to your current position with Azadi Project, briefly share your career path. What has been the most fulfilling position that you have had? What are some of the most inspirational experiences you would like to share?

Currently, I have taken a break from teaching to work on design and establish Azadi Project.  The fashion and apparel industry is among the most exploitative and environmentally destructive industries, so I knew that if I wanted to work in fashion it would have to be within an ethical and sustainable framework. The most beautiful part of my work is that I know I'm directly supporting women and helping to provide an income that allows them greater independence, opportunity and choice in their day to day lives. One of my most inspirational experiences was at the Fashion.Art.Toronto (FAT) fashion show in Toronto last spring. It was a high profile, city-wide event and I was very excited and anxious about the show. Just a couple of days before the event Rana Plaza collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh killing over a thousand garment workers. It was a horrific tragedy and I wanted to find a way to commemorate the workers at the Toronto show. Although it was extremely last minute, I, with the help of my sisters, was able to paint some placards and create some black ribbon pins that my models would hold and wear at the show. My co-presenters agreed to wear the ribbons as well. I thought it was a beautiful and necessary tribute; here we were celebrating fashion and entirely ignoring the people who tragically perished making it. The tribute was received well by the audience and was a way for me to make a statement against the conventional fashion industry and express my solidarity with Bangladeshi workers on a very high-profile platform.

3) Azadi Project is a fusion of indigenous techniques and original design concepts for the socially conscious consumer. How did the project arise? Why did you choose to focus on an environmentally sustainable and socially just product line?

My desire to work on a clothing line that would incorporate my love of design and my commitment to social justice was my motivation for working on Azadi Project.  Knowing how oppressive, exploitative and environmentally destructive fashion is, I knew Azadi Project's clothing label had to focus on ethical and sustainable sourcing and production. All our fabrics are hand-loomed using a mechanical loom, avoiding the use of electricity or dependence on precious water resources. Our artisans are encouraged to participate in the creative design process which incorporates indigenous craft as a means of preserving century old techniques of decorative design. At times, women are able to produce at home, alongside their daily household work. They take great pride in being able to contribute to the family income and earn enough to send their children to school. Supporting these communities means that they can stay in their ancestral home and not have to move to large urban slums to work in the conventional garment industry; an industry that makes up approximately 80% of Bangladesh's GDP.

4) This project has been a collaboration between your long-time friend and current business partner. What have been some of the benefits of entering into this project as a team? Do you both share the same passion for environmental/social justice issues?

My business partner Farah and I both share a love of design and commitment to ethical practices. Farah's involvement in fair trade for over 10 years, and my involvement in social justice work for much of my life meant we were both able to bring important knowledge, experience and passion to Azadi Project.

5) Are there any parallels you can describe between Islam and the environment specific to your career path? How has your faith been a source or inspiration or direction in your life (both professionally and personally)? What is one environmental message you like the Muslim community to adopt?

 My faith has absolutely guided my work, both personally and professionally. I feel social and environmental justice is an integral part of Islam, we see it in countless examples throughout the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To be a Muslim is to advocate for justice, whether it's justice for people, animals or the planet. The Quran also teaches that we are stewards of the earth, responsible for its care and preservation and unfortunately we're failing miserably. All of us are blessed with unique gifts and opportunities, everything we have is by the grace of God and ultimately we'll be accountable for how we utilized our blessings, whether it's time, ability, wealth, health, power or intellect. If we, as an Ummah utilized all our blessings to advocate for peace and justice in all aspects of life, we could be a beacon for the rest of the world, an example to emulate. As cliché as it sounds, thinking globally and acting locally can profoundly change the discourse and behaviour around environmental issues in our communities. Living consciously is the first step to affecting chance. My hope is that Muslims will be exemplars and leaders in fields of social and environmental justice, fulfilling our deen through example and action.

6) Can you provide any advice for someone considering a career in the environmental field? Are there any lessons you have learned, mentors who were influential or causes that influenced you so far? What advice can you provide to those considering starting their own environmental business?

When aspiring to work in an environmental field, the issues can get overwhelming and seem insurmountable at times.  There are powerful interests and agendas that oppose environmental justice and view it as a direct threat to their prosperity and way of life. As such, environmental action is very much a political, contentious endeavour and I don't think people always recognize that.  It's important to understand that change comes very slowly, in increments, in small victories; don't get discouraged by this pace. It's  very important to surround yourself with people that also share your passion and are involved in the same type of work (though, unfortunately, you won't always find these networks within the Muslim community). Engaging, sharing, collaborating and organizing with like-minded people is incredibly powerful, inspiring and motivating; it builds support, solidarity and growth for your environmental goals and aspirations. I have met so many incredible people that have inspired me on my journey and who motivate me to keep going. Most importantly, view your work as a fundamental part of your faith. To me, embarking on a career that respects people and the planet is integral to my faith; it's an act of worship.