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.

National Umbrella Day

By: Muaz Nasir

Today marks National Umbrella Day; a day where we mark our appreciation for this useful invention. (1)

Umbrella’s are an innovative tool, that have been around for thousands of years. Evidence of their use can be found in ancient art and artifacts in Egypt, Assyria, Greece and China (2). Not only do they keep us dry during the rain, but they can also protect us from the damaging rays of the sun.

As a result, the umbrella has become a symbol for climate change, representing the dueling forces of floods and droughts that have rocked the planet in recent years.

Floods, Droughts and Climate Change

Water vapour, which is the source of rain and snow, primarily comes from two sources. About 60% is derived straight from the oceans, while the other 40% is evaporated over the continents. This is important to note because the rate of evaporation from the ocean increases as the world warms, and this contributes to increases in the annual amount of snow and rain (2).

Globally, the atmosphere is getting warmer, which means that it can retain more moisture. More rain may seem like a good thing, but too much rain, especially high-intensity, short-duration storms, can have a devastating impact. Flash floods have become common in some parts of Canada, where rain that falls as a violent downpour, quickly runs back into the rivers and lakes, rather than being absorbed and retained in the soil.

On the flip side of the equation, even though evaporation is increasing, the holding capacity of the atmosphere is not keeping pace. This results in dry spells between rain events, as it takes longer for moisture to recharge the atmosphere. This leaves parched soils which are unable to hold moisture during these severe storms, and further exacerbates the run-off of water out of the system when rain actually arrives (3).

Whether it's heavy rain or blistering sun, the humble umbrella will become one of the go-to tools in the toolbox in adapting to climate change.  

Kamal Badawi, a Saudi engineer from Makkah, explains the features of a smart umbrella to a pilgrims. (Source:  Al Arabiya)

Kamal Badawi, a Saudi engineer from Makkah, explains the features of a smart umbrella to a pilgrims. (Source: Al Arabiya)

What’s Next for Umbrellas?

Recently, Saudi engineers have re-designed the umbrella to assist Hajj pilgrims avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration at the holy sites where temperatures can climb to over 40°C. Known as a smart umbrella, it is solar powered and has integrated USB ports, a fan, flashlight and a GPS system to help locate lost family members and friends (4). Other versions connect the base to a water bottle which can deliver a cooling mist to pilgrims (5).

This National Umbrella Day, give your umbrella a tune-up before spring arrives and consider its new role in a world with climate change.

Sources:

  1. National Day Calendar: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-umbrella-day-february-10/

  2. The Climate Reality Project: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/why-does-climate-change-lead-more-floods-and-droughts

  3. Climate Communication Science & Outreach: https://www.climatecommunication.org/new/features/extreme-weather/precipitation-floods-drought/

  4. Al Arabiya: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2016/09/11/Pilgrims-use-Smart-Umbrella-.html

  5. Daily Pakistan Global: https://en.dailypakistan.com.pk/technology/saudi-engineer-invents-air-conditioned-umbrella-for-hajj-pilgrims/

Alhamdulillah for Pinecones

IMG_3711.jpg

The traditional pinecone, is the seed bearing cone of conifer trees. They vary in size, shape and even colour depending on the variety. Pinecones play a vital role in keeping seeds safe and close their scales to keep out freezing temperatures, wind, ice and hungry animals looking for a snack. They truly are little gems in the forest.

The “Alhamdulillah Series” has been a feature on Khaleafa for several years, aimed at highlighting the simple blessings in nature that surround us. The goal is to pause and reflect on the small things in our lives, and give thanks for these gifts that have been bestowed upon us.

"There truly are signs in this for people who reflect." (Quran 13:3)


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]

rain2.jpg

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.

Wetlands: Our Collective Responsibility

By: Muaz Nasir

Saturday, February 2nd 2019 marks World Wetlands Day, where government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community, take this opportunity to learn, share and take action aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2nd 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea (1).

World Wetlands Day was established in 1997 to raise awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet. The theme for this year is Wetland and Climate Change, and draws attention to the crucial role wetlands play as a natural solution in building resilience to climate change.

What are wetlands?

Often an overlooked component of the ecological system, wetlands provide us with clean water, protect us from floods and droughts, offer food and livelihoods to millions of people and store more carbon than any other ecosystem. They also support a rich diversity of plants and animals, as well as migratory populations of birds and fish. Yet, the value of wetlands remains largely unrecognized by policy and decision makers (1).

“Wetlands play an important role in the health of our country and our communities. They remove sediments, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water. They are very effective at storing carbon. And much like a giant paper towel, they absorb and hold water to buffer our cities and farms from floods and droughts – both of which are growing more common and extreme in recent years.” Hillary Page, Director of Science and Stewardship, Nature Conservancy of Canada

wetland - vancouver.jpeg

Why are they important?

Since 1900, over 64% of the world's wetlands have been lost, with nearly 50% of this loss happening since 1970. Canada is home to nearly 25% of the world’s wetlands but 70% have either been destroyed or degraded. In the worst cases, such as some areas on the prairies, as much as 90% of our wetlands have disappeared (2).

There contributing causes for the disappearance or degradation of these valuable ecosystems include farming, urban development and resource extraction; which result in wetlands being drained and converted for other purposes (3). The negative impacts are cumulative and can have significant impacts to the surrounding environment. Every time a wetland is lost the entire watershed loses value to humans, animals and plants (4).

The loss or destruction of wetlands can result in:

  • Loss or degradation of wetland habitat and a loss of plant and animal biological diversity

  • Deterioration of wetland water quality

  • Reduction in water supply and water storage

  • Loss of flood plain land and floodplain protection

  • Increased soil erosion and desertification

  • Reduced range of recreational opportunities

“Wetland-dependent species are in serious decline. Since 1970, declines have affected 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species.” International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Wetlands in Islam

Recent theological research has highlighted the importance of wetlands as Hima or ‘living sanctuaries’, that deserve to be protected based on their ecological importance to current and future generations. The Islamic concept of Hima has been practiced since the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he designated a Hima around the area of Madinah to ensure the protection of vegetation and wildlife. This approach has been expanded today, and has been interpreted to include the protection of ecologically significant or sensitive areas, including wetlands.

Hima has been recognized as a Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) System, which promotes sustainable livelihood, resource conservation, and environmental protection for all. The Hima system is considered as one of the most widespread systems of traditional conservation that is based off of consensus and mutual benefit. Proponents of the application of Hima to wetlands cite passages from the Quran that clearly identify the responsibilities Muslims have as stewards over all environments, and ensuring their health for future generations (5).

“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” Quran 6:165.

What you can do:

  • Explore wetland areas in your community and enjoy the natural diversity of plants and animals that thrive in this environment.

  • Learn more about the importance of wetlands, and educating others on their role and importance.

  • Become involved in wetland restoration projects in your community by reaching out to your local conservation authority.

  • Raise the issue with at your local planning committee to ensure development does not adversely degrade wetlands.

  • Visit the World Wetlands Day website for more information and resources on how wetlands can help mitigate the impacts of the climate change.

Sources:

  1. Global Wetlands Outlook: https://www.global-wetland-outlook.ramsar.org/

  2. Nature Conservancy of Canada:

    http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/manitoba/stories/wetlands-are-disappearing.html

  3. Ducks Unlimited: https://www.ducks.ca/our-work/wetlands/

  4. Wetlands Alberta: http://www.wetlandsalberta.ca/wetland-loss/

  5. Hima as ‘Living Sanctuaries’: An approach to wetlands conservation from the perspective of Shari’a law: https://ac.els-cdn.com/S187704281304425X/1-s2.0-S187704281304425X-main.pdf?_tid=3953607b-370f-4b9d-b1dd-f90e3729cac8&acdnat=1548949103_c7e087d4a0fd8a16325fee5ff8b02eaa  

Caring for Our Common Home: Climate Change and Faith

hind_and_laura-min.jpg

Adopted from a keynote address at the Grand River Interfaith Breakfast held in Kitchener, ON on April 25, 2015

By: Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh
Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University

I had the honour and privilege to stand before 350+ attendees from the Waterloo Region and deliver the keynote on a topic that I’m passionate about at the Grand River Interfaith Breakfast, just three days after the world celebrated Earth Day. I provide below an edited version of my talk.

I started by acknowledging that “we are on the Haldimand Tract, traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples.” The indigenous people of this land have so much to teach us on how to care for it as it was their ancestors who were connected to this land, understood its seasons and rhythms, and welcomed settlers into their ever-expanding circle.

I have structured my brief talk with one goal in mind that I wanted to leave the audience with, which is that humans need to rethink and restore their relationship with and dependency on nature, and that people of all faiths are uniquely qualified to lead in this area.

The history of environmental degradation since the industrial revolution that started just two centuries ago clearly shows that human-induced climate change is by far the most serious threat to human civilization as we know it in the 21st century. Nature has a way of restoring balance in its systems after a storm, an earthquake or a volcano eruption. But, when you add to the picture people, homes, factories, farmlands, drinking water sources, basic infrastructure for transportation and sewage, border security, animals and microscopic species we depend on for food, it becomes clear how fragile this human-built civilization is to the impacts of climate change.

These impacts include, but are not limited to: rising sea levels, ocean acidification and its impact on marine life, increased intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes, loss of biological diversity and its impact on soil quality, increased intensities and duration of heat waves, flooding in some areas and drought in others, and mass migration of people fleeing conflict due to lack of water and food.

Because I’m a trained scientist and a practicing Muslim, it is very clear in my mind where science and religion stand on environmental issues:

I see science as a tool that help us make sense of the world around us at molecular, atomic and subatomic levels, and also as a tool to create things we can’t find in nature. Through scientific studies, we can quantify and project how human activities influence the chemical and physical balance of natural systems, and how we can fix them when they are out of balance because of our actions. I also can see that scientific findings can enlighten the faithful about benefits and harms of certain religious practices passed on from generation to generation.

As for religion, given what I know about human nature and how it evolves and changes over ones’ life time, religion can inform the application of science through instilling ethical principles so that products of scientific innovation are for the benefit and good of society and the rest of creation.

There is a relevant statement in Dr. David Suzuki’s book, the Sacred Balance, that reads as following:

"As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus, there is a vital role for both religion and science."

More scientists and politicians are coming out framing environmental problems as moral issues, not only technical scientific issues that can be fixed with machines. See for example statements by Dr. James Hansen and Al Gore.

So, what drove humanity to this degree of environmental degradation that threatens their existence? It boils down to two main factors: (1) unregulated corporate greed for resource development, whether at home or abroad, and (2) overconsumption by individuals eager to achieve and maintain a certain social status based on materialistic acquisitions.

Hence, what do religions in general, including Islam, have to offer humanity at this critical time of societal challenges?

In an excellent book authored by Andrea Cohen-Keiner with the title “Claiming Earth as Common Ground”, I echo what she lists there as the three main tools that people of faith bring to the table of environmental activism: Faith, Spirit and Social Wealth.

  • Faith: the belief in a mighty God and a benevolent universe. This faith is trust, optimism, and the capacity to work when we know we will not finish the job. With faith, we know the worst and work for the best.
  • Spirit: is the still small voice we hear that calls for alignment with natural order. It is the joyful wordless satisfaction we feel when are connected to ourselves and feel fully alive.
  • Social Wealth: is the non-competitive meaningful connection to the community. It is not governed by same physics of “material wealth”.
     

For decades, Muslim scholars specializing in religious studies, social and physical sciences have written on the topic of Islam and Ecology. They include Drs. Seyyed Hossein NasrFazlun Khalid in the UK, Adi Setia in Malaysia, and Ibrahim Ozdemir in Turkey.

The main questions addressed in their scholarly work were:

  1. What do the revelations in the Quran say about the natural world?
  2. How do Muslims understand the “stewardship” concept?
  3. How do Muslims translate that understanding into practice?

In answering question 1 on what the Quran says about the natural world, we find that verses regarding the natural world are universal and address all humanity, believers and non-believers.

These verses start with “O People..” and “O People of Adam”, or contain pronouns that refer to all humans. The context of these verses revolves around:

  • the creation of humans from a single soul and of diverse nature,
  • creation of the natural world, the living and the inanimate, and
  • how humans should view the natural world.

This verse in particular:

“He has raised the sky. He has set the balance: 8. so that you may not exceed in the balance” (Quran 55-7). The word “balance” in the above verse could be interpreted in light of our scientific understanding of how ecosystems work, where natural elements are interconnected with each other in a delicate cyclical fashion.

In addition, natural elements in the Quran are referred to as “signs” of God, a language for us to learn. God invites us to read these signs as a “book of Nature” and tell us that it is as sacred as the written “book of revelation”. It is not a coincidence that the first word that was revealed in the Quran is ‘Read’ and the name of the second chapter is the ‘Pen’, highlighting the centrality of seeking and recording knowledge to believing in God.

It is also not surprising that the first thing a reader of the Quran will notice is that a good number of the 114 chapters have names of natural elements: the Sun, the Moon, The Star, the Bees, the Ants, The Spider, the Sand Dunes, The Smoke, etc. See more selected verses in this link.

In answering the second question on how Muslims understand the “stewardship” concept:

It is mentioned in verse 165 of chapter 6 that, It is He (God) who has made you (people of Adam) successors, stewards, vicegerents on Earth.”

In light of this verse and other related ones, Muslim scholars interpreted the stewardship concept as the following: As God’s vicegerents on Earth, generations of humans are guardians of the natural world and should work hard to keep it in its inherit balanced state.

Early scholars deduced that everything in nature was created for reasons other than only serving or benefiting human kind. Hence, as Al-Burini inferred, humans “[do not] have a right to exploit the other kingdoms for [their] own desires”.

Should humans ignore their responsibility towards the natural world, we are told in the Quran (Verse 41 of chapter 30) that humans shall taste the consequences of their ignorance in this life: Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions and He will make them taste the consequences of some of their own actions so that they may turn back”. The keyword “corruption” is so broad in meaning and has been interpreted by many scholars to encompass environmental degradation as a result of people’s exploitation of the natural world.

To continue on to the answer of the third question of how Muslims translate their understanding of religious texts into environmentally-friendly practices, we have to start by saying that what drives Muslims to couple faith with action stems from their desire to live a good life now and in the hereafter, where they will meet their Lord. Acts of righteousness — as Muslims understand them — encompass those to one self, other fellow humans, and the rest of creation.

In addition, traditions of Prophet Muhammad inspire Muslims to cultivate land, treat animals humanely, reduce water usage, and tread gently on the earth. See specific examples in this link.

What I’ve mentioned so far does not only provide an alternative ethical worldview of the natural world, but also builds a sense of internal accountability to the Creator to whom we will return. This internal sense of accountability was the driving force for early generations of Muslims to (1) set up a range of conservation zones for protecting land and species in their habitat, (2) designate zones where human development was not allowed, usually for the protection of water sources, and (3) establish agencies known as hisba to whom members of the community were held accountable.

In more recent history, a number of initiatives by Muslim academics, activists and concerned citizens in Canada and around the world galvanized action towards raising awareness of environmental problems and solutions, and also produce scholarly work in this area. This modern Islamic environmental movement culminated in the publication of the “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change” in 2015 in Istanbul by a team of Muslim professionals recruited by the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences based in the UK.

2015 was also the same year when Pope Francis published his 192-page encyclical letter on climate and the environment. The letter was welcomed in the scientific community with dedicated editorial pieces written on its content in the top two scientific journals, Science and Nature. This is in addition to reports published regularly by a number of interfaith grassroots organizations and initiatives focusing on ecology: the Greening Sacred Spaces of Faith & the Common Good here in Canada, the US Sierra Club report entitled ‘Faith in Action: Communities of Faith bring Hope for the Planet’, and the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

So, the climate change issue presents opportunities to think globally and to act and collaborate locally towards a common goal. Instead of feeling paralyzed when thinking about the impacts of climate change, we need to shift our focus and energy and think of the massive opportunities that await us in creating a new future that is more sustainable, socially just, and in harmony with nature for us and future generations.

Scientists and thought leaders in politics and the energy sector tell us that the path to meeting Paris emission reduction goals center around the following three major points:

  • Stopping all subsides to the fossil fuel industry,
  • Pricing carbon to account for the true cost of pollution,
  • Divesting investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Religious leaders in all faith communities also have a role to play to:

  • Remind the faithful that their value as human beings in the eyes of God does not equal the material wealth they accumulate at whatever expense,
  • Remind the faithful that their faith in the heart has to be coupled with actions that benefit the planet, the people, and all creation for generations to come, and that God is watching their intentions and actions,
  • Encourage the faithful to renovate or build homes and places of worship that consume less energy and water,
  • Encourage the faithful to cultivate the land in their homes and places of worship in form of community gardens,
  • Encourage the faithful to contemplate their diet and ways of transportation to reduce their environmental footprints,
  • Reach out to members of the indigenous communities to listen to their stories on how they cared for this land,
  • Reach out to neighbouring faith communities and other non-faith based community organizations to learn about best practices and how to support each others efforts.

I hardly can think of other ways to engage the faithful — and youth in particular — for the long term, except through working on solutions to climate change. In this way, we are sure to build a future and a community that we will be proud of for years to come.

To conclude, while science provides the understanding and technical fix to climate change, religions provide the moral and ethical framework that influences the individual’s behavior towards the creation in general.

Acknowledgments:

I want to thank my dear colleague Dr. Meena Sharifi-Funk for the introduction at the event and encouragement to participate in this year’s interfaith breakfast.

Also, thanks to Sandy Milne and John Maine for their kind invitation, Mirko from the Laurier Seminary for the media coverage, and the hardworking volunteers who made that event possible.

This article originally appeared on Faith and the Common Good on May 7th, 2018. 

Bridging the gap between the three major faiths and nature

carolyn-v-546925-unsplash.jpg

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. 

Earth Day 2018

forrest-cavale-1738-unsplash.jpg

Earth Day is upon us, a day celebrated by the world to generate awareness on protecting our planet. Earth day started in 1970, and has become a very popular event where people plant trees, clean up parks and rivers, and campaign critical efforts. The struggles our planet faces is one of the most important topics of discussion and should be discussed in our masajids, in our halaqas, and on our minbars. Allah in the Quran says:

 “And it is He (God) who has made you successors (khala’ifa) upon the Earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Surah Al-An’am:165].

Throughout the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet  there are everyday lessons of our duty and responsibility in regards to the environment. These duties bring out our mercy, compassion, righteousness, and piety. These teaching and orders soften our hearts to increase our taqwa towards Allah . Our Prophet Muhammad  said:

There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.” [Bukhari, Muslim].

This encourages us to build a connection with our planet, something we need to re-establish through implementation of the Quran and Sunnah. By doing so you build a stronger bond with Allah  and you reach a higher level of harmony in your life.

These role of stewardship bestowed upon us by Allah also shows us his vast mercy upon us. Allah’s Messenger  said,

LIKE THIS?

Get more of our great articles.

 

“While a man was walking he felt thirsty and went down a well and drank water from it. On coming out of it, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said, ‘This (dog) is suffering from the same problem as that of mine. So he (went down the well), filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for his (good) deed and forgave him.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals?” He replied, “Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate.”

And abandoning our stewardship role that has been given to us by Allah reveals punishment in a sense. The Prophet  said,

“There are three types of people whom Allah  will neither talk to, nor look at, on the Day of Resurrection. (They are): 1. A man who takes an oath falsely that he has been offered for his goods so much more than what he is given. 2. A man who takes a false oath after the ‘Asr prayer in order to grab a Muslim’s property, and 3. A man who withholds his superfluous water. Allah  will say to him, Today I will withhold My Grace from you as you withheld the superfluity of what you had not created.” [Bukhari;2370]

Getting your masjid and community involved in worthy environmental efforts will increase rewards and reduce the chances of neglecting our obligations to the environment. This can go to the extent of being sadaqah jariya. In NJ we used to plant trees, not just on Earth Day but year round. We would go to the most impoverished cities and neighborhoods in the state and plant trees in their community. This allowed us to provide trees that will provide shade for decades to come. Prophet Muhammad  said:

 “There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

It was also a form of dawah:

“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining Al-Ma’roof (whatever is good) and forbidding Al-Munkar (whatever is evil). And it is they who are successful.” (Qur’an 3:104)  The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “The best among you are those who possess the best manners.” (Al-Bukhari/Muslim)

Make your masjid into a Green Masjid, raise funds for solar panels, wudu friendly faucets to conserve water, and proper insulation for the summer and winter seasons. Make small changes from irresponsible use of energy be it lighting, heating or cooling, to reducing use of plastics. Let us show the world how the values of Islam can lead to a healthier and more prosperous planet.

This article originally appeared on Muslims Matters on April 22nd, 2018. 

Au Revoir Plastic?

plastic-bottles-115071_1920.jpg

By: Klaudia Khan

Is there anything more frustrating than seeing the beauty of natural landscape spoiled by litter? Beaches strewn with empty plastic bottles and packets; plastic bags entangled in trees and hedges; picnic spots mottled with plastic plates and cutlery; plastic rubbish floating on the waters of lakes, rivers and seas. Plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere!

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:60). And “… do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors.”(Surat Al-Qasas 28:77).

The amount of rubbish people produce is truly corrupting the earth. Not only is it ruining the earth’s natural beauty, but it’s also polluting the soil, water and air with toxins from manmade materials that aren’t biodegradable or that take hundreds of years to decompose. The situation is so desperate that scientists predict that without urgent action there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

The realization of the scale of the problem is slowly dawning with some organizations and governments taking action. Their small steps to tackle a big problem will eventually gain momentum so we can reshape our relationship with plastic materials.

Muslim Pioneers

Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban thin plastic bags in 2002, after they blocked drainage systems during devastating floods.

Similar problems in other countries also prompted bans, while others imposed a tax or fee on plastic bags to discourage customers from using them. Animals often ingest plastic bags, which kill them by blocking their intestines. Small animals can also be trapped in them.

Thin plastic bags are currently banned in a number of Muslim nations: including Eritrea and Tanzania, who banned plastic bags in 2005; as well as Mauritania who banned the use, manufacture and import of plastic bags in January 2013; and Morocco, which was the 2nd largest consumer of plastic bags in the world after the US, who took the same step five months ago.

Two other Muslim countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have issued guidelines for retailers to charge consumers for plastic bags. The money that comes from this is used by retailers as public funds for waste management alongside non-governmental organizations.

Packaging Deposit

Sweden has one of the oldest functioning container deposit schemes. Container deposits, also known as bottle deposits, are the additional amount of money paid in return for temporary use of containers, such as glass or plastic bottles and metal cans, that are used to package certain products. The deposit is returned when the container is returned to the shop.

Operated by a private company, Sweden’s recovery rates have reached 86% for cans and 77% for PET bottles (made of recyclable polyethylene terephthalate).

Similar schemes work effectively in other Scandinavian and European countries, notably Germany.

In other countries, like the UK, passing the ‘bottle bill’ has been strongly opposed by the manufacturers’ lobbies. The UK’s Marine Conservation Society has repeatedly called for a refundable surcharge to be added to the price of all drinks containers after its annual survey found that: “There was a big percentage rise in most drinks containers found on beaches between 2014 and 2015 – plastic drinks bottles increased by over 43%, metal drinks cans by almost 29%.”

Recently, France became the first in the world to ban plastic tableware. The new law, part of France’s “Energy Transition for Green Growth Act”, will require all disposable cups and plates to be made from at least 50% biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home by January of 2020.

According to the French Association of Health and Environment, 150 single-use cups are thrown away every second in the country; a staggering number of 4.73 billion cups per year. Only about 1% of them are recycled, the rest end up in the landfills or as litter. The disposable cup is used only as long as it takes you to finish your tea or coffee, but it will last as rubbish for 50 to 250 years, depending on its material.

France’s move has been applauded by many, but the European food packaging manufacturers association, Pack2GoEurope, are determined to fight for their interests. Pack2Go Europe secretary general Eamonn Bates told The Associated Press: “We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law. If they don’t, we will.”

Plastic is cheap, light and convenient. It is easy to use and easy to dispose of as long as we turn a blind eye to what happens to it after we no longer need it. But if we keep on doing that, the amount of plastic rubbish will become too big to go unnoticed. Knowing that a product that will give us five minutes of convenience but hundreds-of-years-worth of burden to the ecosystem can’t agree with our conscience. It shouldn’t. Not as Muslims and not as responsible humans, God’s vicegerents on earth.

Klaudia Khan is a freelance writer interested in all aspects of green living. She studied Sociology in London and now lives with her husband and two daughters in the UK and Pakistan.

This article originally appeared on AboutIslam.net on September 27, 2017.

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.

Church.jpg

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.

Monk.jpg

Eco-Buddhism

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?

waste-2647287_1920.jpg

“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.

deer-1206934_1920.jpg

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.

YOUTH FROM FAITH COMMUNITIES CREATE “NATIVE PLANT” GARDENS

IMO Plaque presentation Nov 17, 2017.jpg

Faith & the Common Good (FCG) is a multi-faith not for profit organization that helps faith communities of all faith beliefs and all cultural backgrounds, to green their faith buildings and surrounding property.

Faith & the Common Good were fortunate to receive an Ontario 150 grant. It provided the opportunity for youth of different religions and cultural backgrounds, to create 8 native plant gardens in 3 cities this Spring; Ottawa, Halton/Oakville and Toronto. Toronto FCG chapter chose 3 faith sites; Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, Manor Road United Church, and the International Muslim’s Organization of Toronto (IMO).

On Friday, November 17, Donna Lang, Toronto Animator for Faith & the Common Good and Harold Smith, attended Friday prayers at IMO. After the service, Donna presented a garden plaque to Omar Farouk, Executive Director of the International Muslim’s Organization of Toronto (IMO).

Omar Farouk of IMO commented on the attendance of 3 different religions at the prayer service. “It is fitting that we have representation from 3 different religions here today. Donna Lang, Harold Smith and our congregation represent the 3 religions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, and all of these originate from the Father Abraham. We have many complementary stories and passages in our respective religious texts, due to our common roots”.

“First Peoples, First Plants” is the title of the gardening plaque presented to the IMO congregation, and these words are meant to honour and recognize the contribution of the indigenous people of this land. Native plants were before the settlers arrived and they are low maintenance and drought resistant, due to the fact that they are original to the land.

IMO Planting May 12, 17.jpg

 

Donna thanked Sarah Narine and Atik Patel, the 2 youth leaders at IMO, who helped with the garden. Atik recruited youth for planting day and also was responsible for the video coverage. Sarah was in charge of planting day and she did a fantastic job of organizing the plants and showing the youth where to plant. There was also a demonstration, to show the youth how to plant.

Donna also thanked Harold Smith, who is Chair of the North American Native Plant Society. Harold did the garden designs and plant selection for each of the Toronto gardens.

“We were very lucky to have such an experienced garden designer on board”, said Donna Lang. “We feel very fortunate to have worked with the IMO youth, who were fast learners and hard working. It was a delight to see their happy faces at the end of the planting day”.

HOW GREEN IS ISLAMIC STYLE?

bodyamr-resort-ss12-sensored-e1372014428342.jpg

By Miriam al Ali

Islamic Fashion, 101: Many Westerners may not know this, but the long, black covering for clothing worn mainly by Arabian women is called an abaya; the headscarf that is worn with jeans and other casual wear is called a hijab. Hijab is a term that means ‘barrier, covering or veil’, and for many Muslim women around the world, it’s an essential part of the fashion they consider to be modest enough to comply with Islamic dress codes.

Unfortunately, these items of Islamic clothing are often also a ‘barrier’ to eco-friendliness, as more than not, they are made out of nasty polyester, nylon or rayon, all of which trap sweat and heat. But that is about to change.

Abeer Al-Azzawi is a young Canadian woman who fretted that in a world where eco pet accessories and organic baby clothes worn for mere months are offered to consumers in abundance, there were very few ‘green’ options for the hijab, which is worn every day by millions of women around the world.

“From all of my research, I never found one eco hijab that was available,” said the designer to the leading newspaper, the Toronto Star.

So Al-Azzawi – who doesn’t wear the traditional head scarf herself – created Queendom Hijabs, a line of head coverings that uses soy and bamboo based fabrics that breathe well, and are warm in winter and cool in summer. Due to its flexibility, breathability, and natural credentials, the line quickly gained popularity with sportswomen and Muslims living in colder climes.

“My goal is to make every hijab eco,” she says.

hijab-fashion-style-2013.jpg

While this is good news for hijab wearers from Canada to Indonesia, the eco-abaya, however, remains elusive. Still mainly a Middle Eastern phenomenon, these long black robes do make a strong appearance in London during the summer months, when many Arabs escape the heat to the more moderate weather of the English capital. While the highest quality abayas are often made of fine silk, these are often reserved for special occasions, and even so, they can’t necessary be considered ‘eco’, because the dyes used are often toxic, and they are frequently covered in synthetic crystals, plastic beads or other non-eco embellishments.

Some brands, such as Body AMR, pictured in our main image, do carry all-silk, design rich pieces that are high on style whilst being low on bling, but they are not cheap, and the thirst for embellishment is unlikely to disappear from the Gulf region any time soon.

That being said, there’s clearly also a growing eco-fashion market in the region, as demonstrated by Vogue Italia’s green design talent hunt, in conjunction with the Dubai Mall. The question is: which entrepreneurial designer will be the first to truly corner that market and become the ‘Stella McCartney’ of the Arab world?

This article originally appeared on ELUXE Magazine in 2015. 

Conference Promotes Sustainable Development in the Islamic World

7ICEM_04.jpg

The Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers adopts various documents and projects aiming to give substance to environmental protection and promote sustainable development in Islamic world

Today at the headquarters of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Rabat, the 7th Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers closed with the adoption of many documents and projects that aim to activate environmental protection and promote sustainable development in the Islamic world.

In this regard, the Conference adopted the Report of the 4th Islamic Executive Bureau for the Environment and urged the Member States to complete the appointment of focal points for the Bureau to facilitate the follow-up to the implementation of the decisions, resolutions and recommendations of the Executive Bureau and the Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers.

It also adopted the Report of the Director General on ISESCO’s Efforts in the Field of Environment and Sustainable Development between the 6th and 7thICEM Sessions. In addition; commended ISESCO’s efforts devoted to the implementation of the programmes geared towards Environment Protection and Sustainable Development; and invited ISESCO Director General to pursue these efforts, in coordination and consultation with the OIC General Secretariat, the Member States’ competent parties and the national, regional and international specialized bodies, in such a way as to achieve sustainable development goals.

By the same token, the Conference adopted the Report on ISESCO’s Efforts in the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change and Preparation of the 23rd Session of the Conference and lauded ISESCO’s efforts devoted to activating the “Islamic Declaration on Environment Protection and Sustainable Development.

It also lauded the Organization’s efforts in enforcing the resolutions of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP), through the implementation of relevant programmes and activities for the benefit of Member States; commended its contribution to the preparation for and participation in the COP22 held in Marrakech and urged the Member States to engage in further joint action for activating the relevant conventions pertaining to climate change and to the mitigation of its effects; and to take practical measures likely to ensure the necessary adaptation in this regard.

Further, the Conference adopted the “Progress Report on the Creation of the OIC Water Council and its Terms of Reference”; commended the efforts put by the OIC General Secretariat and the Islamic Conference of Ministers Responsible for Water towards creating this Council, developing its statutes and defining its terms of reference and working mechanisms; invited the Member States to support this Council in the implementation of water-related programmes in such a way as to enhance water resources management and climate change adaptation in the Islamic world. Likewise, it invited the OIC General Secretariat and ISESCO to coordinate water-focused joint Islamic action in order to uphold the Council’s action in light of the “Strategy for Integrated Management of Water Resources in the Islamic World” and the “OIC Water Vision 2025”, in such a way as to contribute to ensuring water security for Islamic countries.

prize-env-2017.png

 

In another vein, the Conference adopted the Progress Report on the Creation of the Islamic Academy for the Environment and Sustainable Development; thanked the Kingdom of Morocco for its sustained efforts towards the implementation of this major academic and developmental project, as well as for the administrative and technical measures taken, within the framework of the new conception of the Academy, towards providing its headquarters and developing its organizational structure and action programme; and invited the competent party in the Kingdom of Morocco to coordinate with ISESCO for pursuing the necessary practical measures for the creation of the Islamic Academy for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

In addition, the Conference adopted the Report on “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Award for Environmental Management in the Islamic World”;reiterated thanks and gratitude to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the creation of the Award and for his kind consent as to expanding its scope to cover the Islamic world and entrusting its General Secretariat to ISESCO, in order to entrench the broad concept of environmental management and promote sustainable development in Islamic countries.

It also hailed the efforts exerted by ISESCO and the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to effectively launch this Award in the Islamic world, starting from the current edition of 2016-2017 and commended ISESCO’s role in assuming the General Secretariat of the Award, undertaking the organizational and technical arrangements for the implementation of its media plan, and ensuring the academic and technical supervision of the submissions assessment process, in cooperation and coordination with the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In another vein, the Conference agreed that a new category under title “Honoring the Best Environmentally friendly Islamic City” be added to the Award’s four categories in a bid to encourage the development of green cities in the Islamic world in line with the Guidance Document on Green Cities and their Role in Achieving Sustainable Development.

The Conference also adopted the updated version of the “Report on the Creation of the Joint Committee on the Executive Work Plan for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in the Member States” and adopted the proposal made by the Islamic Executive Bureau for the Environment to set up the Joint Committee on the Executive Work Plan for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in the Member States, composed of the OIC General Secretariat, ISESCO, Islamic Development Bank, the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, under the supervision of the Islamic Executive Bureau for the Environment.

In the same vein, it adopted the Pilot Programme on Capacity-building in Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in the Member States for 2018-2019 and invited the OIC institutions concerned to cooperate with the Joint Committee to convene an Expert Meeting in order to define Member States’ priorities and capacity-building activities in line with the said Pilot Programme, and submit a report on the subject to the Eighth Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers.

Further, the Conference commended the efforts being made by the Member States towards achieving sustainable development within the framework of their regional and international commitments, and invited them to continue their efforts to implement the resolutions of the 7th Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers in such a way as to respond to the needs, priorities and public policies of the Member States in this area.

In another vein, it called for building on the “Guidance Document on Green Cities and their Role in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals” in the development of relevant national plans; commended the ongoing efforts in the Member States having opted for sustainable urban planning and development, and urged the rest of Member States to prioritize sustainable urban development in their national policies and take the necessary legal measures to regulate green building projects, in line with the best international practices and in anticipation of the steady growth of cities in the decades to come.

By the same token, it recommended fostering cooperation and exchange of successful experiences in green urbanization and enhancing the climate resilience of existing cities, and invited Member States to adopt smart and sustainable city policies in building, energy, transportation, waste recycling and water use, protect forests and prevent their exploitation for urbanization purposes, and build the capacities of local governments in this field.

banner-site-env-eng.jpg

 

Moreover, the Conference adopted the Report on “the Creation of an OIC Joint Commission for Sustainable Development (OIC-CSD)” and called for merely activating the existing relevant OIC and its affiliated institutions’ mechanisms with regard to directing joint Islamic Action efforts towards encouraging sustainable development among Member States, and working towards highlighting these efforts within the UN System, the regional and international forums as well as specialized conferences on environment and sustainable development, in order to achieve sustainable development goals and enable the neediest Member States to benefit from the expertise and potential available in this field.

Likewise, it adopted “the Programme on the Celebration of Islamic Capitals of Environment and Sustainable Development”, taking into consideration the observations of the Conference members and called on Member States to adhere to this Programme and work towards taking the necessary measures for making their cities environmentally friendly as per the “Guidance Document on Green Cities and their Role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals”, and in line with the best international practices in this field.

It welcomed the endeavors of the Executive Director of the UN Environment Assembly to dispatch a qualified team of international experts to conduct a field study on the state of the environment in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Eastern Al-Quds, pursuant to the request submitted by the State of Palestine, and in accordance with the procedural guidelines of environmental assessments and called on the Executive Director to act towards dispatching the abovementioned experts team to conduct the said study in the event of a refusal by the Israeli occupation authorities to cooperate by issuing a written approval to facilitate the team’s mission and its entry to the occupied Palestinian territories, including Eastern Al-Quds and invited the competent parties to support this resolution in the relevant international forums in appropriate ways.

In conclusion, the Conference decided to hold the 8th Session of the Conference at ISESCO headquarters, in October 2019 and thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for allocating a fixed budget for the convening of each session of the Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers and the Islamic Executive Bureau for the Environment.

For more information about the conference, visit the ISESCO website at https://www.isesco.org.ma/

Beyond crisis: a film on social justice and hope for the climate

By Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh

“Nature has a way to go on whether we’re part of it of not” – Film director Kai Reimer-Watts

What a powerful line at the beginning of a film launch that marked the third year of the People’s Climate March on September 21, 2017 in Waterloo.  This day also marked the UN International Day of Peace.  

Beyond Crisis is unique compared to other documentaries on the topic of man-made climate change and the need for action.  It is narrated by the film director, Kai Reimer-Watts, who holds a Master of Climate Change from the University of Waterloo. The documentary is divided into parts: the first part reminds us of the science behind the changing climate at unprecedented rates relative to the past 400,000 years.  It shows news clips of the most recent impacts linked to climate change within the last 10 years on major cities across the globe, from flooding, to droughts, to intense and more frequent hurricane activities and wild fires.  The film shows interviews and highlights from the recent scientific literature by notable scientists like Dr. James Hansen of NASA, and those who contributed and reviewed the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports.  

The second part of the film interviews social justice activists who highlight the fact that people who did not contribute to the problem are the ones who are facing the most consequences.  More specifically, nations around the equator who live in low land will experience sea rise and floods.  Increasing heat waves in some of these lands will not only make life unbearable, but will affect food production and water quantity and quality, leading to mass migration and political conflicts.  Closer to home, indigenous communities who live in their ancestral lands in the northern parts of Canada have seen first hand the effects of increasing rates of ice melting on their infrastructure and food resources.  Interviews with social activists and journalists such as Naomi Klein emphasized the moral responsibility of those who live carbon-intensive lifestyles to those whose basic living conditions are threatened or even destroyed because of climate change impacts.  The movie featured what religious communities in particular have done in this regard, from Pope Francis’s Climate Change Encyclical to the Islamic and Hindu Declaration on Global Climate Change, to name a few.

bcposter2017-forweb.jpg

The following parts in the film focused on the background story behind organizing for the People’s Climate March in 2014 that brought together over a million people in many cities around the world to protest policies on climate change and call on government leaders to take action before time is too late to act.  This great march that brought people from all walks of life together was influential in exerting pressure on political negotiators who participated in the talks that led to the Paris climate agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2016.  This historical agreement aims to hold global climate temperature to well below 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial levels, by reducing carbon emission and increasing adaptation and climate resiliency efforts.  Signatory countries have to come up with their own national efforts to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.  Here comes the role of individuals and communities, who have to keep the issue of climate change front and centre when making choices in their lifestyles and when they elect the politicians who represent them.

The last part of the movie flowed naturally to the massive opportunities that awaits us in creating a new future that is more sustainable, socially just, and in harmony with nature.  With interview clips from scientists and thought leaders in politics and the energy sector, the path to meeting Paris goals was laid out in three major points:

  1. Stop all subsides to the fossil fuel industries,

  2. Price carbon to truly account for the true cost of pollution,

  3. Divest investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  

We need to shift our thinking from relying on an economy based on resource development to a technology based economy, where we harness the energy of the sun, wind and geothermal wells to power conscious and sustainable lifestyles.  Employment data shows that this transition to renewable energy will create more jobs that those lost from ceasing to work in fossil fuel industries.  The film emphasizes that this grand challenge can be overcome within a generation when the politicians and people come together and work towards a common goal.  Examples from history highlighted in the movie to prove this point included civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, funding projects that landed humans on the moon, and preparing for the military might that defeated Nazism in World War II.

At the end of the screening, the attendees left with a renewed sense of hope and mingled together to share their ideas and ongoing projects they’re working on.  It was a truly inspiring experience that shows the importance of grassroots effort in tackling what appears to be a problem of magnificent magnitude.  I highly encourage everyone of you to plan for a screening of this film in your community, invite the Director for a Q & A, and keep the conversation, and action, going.

Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh is a Professor of Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.  She is also the Science Advisor for Students for Sustainability at Laurier.  She could be reached via e-mail: halabadleh@wlu.ca

Can The Halal Industry Contribute to a Better Environment?

cosmetic-2357981_1920.jpg

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. 

Alhamdulillah for Lavender

Lavender has traditionally been used for centuries for both its aromatic fragrance and medicinal benefits. Today lavender oil can be easily purchased and has been touted as a cure-all for everything from inflammation to insomnia. While there is still some debate over its effectiveness in the healthcare community, one cannot argue that this potent flower is a versatile staple in any garden and its edible flowers are a treat for both bees and chefs alike.  

The "Alhamdulillah Series" was inspired by Ruzky Aliyar who featured a series of nature images with the tagline “Alhamdulillah”. The series was profiled on Muslim Matters during the Winter of 2012 and quickly drew praise for the simplicity of the message. Building upon this effort to remember the many blessings of Allah, Khaleafa.com has picked up the initiative and will continue to highlight the many signs of Allah.

“There truly are signs in this for people who reflect.” (Quran 13:3)

Environmental Challenges in the Light of the Theory of Maqasid

The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) leads the reform and renewal of contemporary Islamic legal and ethical thought and behavior by contributing a sustainable ethical framework for addressing contemporary global challenges. CILE’s initiative is maintained by the production, dissemination and application of Islamic ethical thought and behavior. This is achieved by engaging scholars of text and scholars of context to bring about a transformative ethical school of thought.

Overview:

Islamic scriptural sources (the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition) abound with references and reminders about nature and all of creation. Because creation is a sign of the Creator, respecting and preserving it is not just altruistic but also an act of faith and worship.

The environment is an essential topic for Islamic applied ethics. In light of the contemporary environmental challenges (deforestation, global warming, how the use of technology and our lifestyles destroy nature and kill animals), we need to turn to the Islamic scriptural sources to derive an ethical framework to halt, if not to reverse, the destruction of our planet.

We recognise that this field cannot be tackled separately from economics and politics. Many environmental decisions by politicians and states today are based on economic interests and/or pressures. In the global south as much as in the industrialised countries of the north, these three fields must be considered together in order to acquire a better and more holistic understanding of the framework of Islamic environmental applied ethics.

This requires Muslim scholars of the text/Shari’a and experts in this field to work together on specific questions and create a framework for resolving the crisis we confront. Only then will Muslim scholars be able to produce effective and relevant legal opinions.

The following video is from the CILE Granada Summer School session on the Environment 

Grateful for Gardens: Tarbiyah Elementary experiences the joys of green space

Tarbiyah students enjoy their time in the garden and help to create their own green space! 

by Chantelle Misheal

What happens when you introduce gardens and plants to your students? Well, they get awfully interested in learning more! We’ve had such an amazing time working with the students of Tarbiyah Elementary School in Milton, ON and a large part of that is due to the students’ excitement of being in the garden!

Given the generous funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to provide programming around gardens, as well as the funding from the Ontario150 Youth Partnership Program to install a garden at two schools, we were more than fortunate to have the resources to allow the children to really dig deep and get their hands dirty as they learn more about the benefits of restoring natural habitat.

We started off with a workshop from our partners at EcoSource, who took us to the Iceland Teaching Garden with 30 students from Tarbiyah. The girls got a first hand look at a community garden with a tour and basic information about everything that was growing, as well got the chance to help contribute to the garden by first making room in the garden beds for new seedlings to be planted.

Initially, I was worried someone would be terrified of getting their hands dirty. Soon enough, I realized the girls were racing to plant more seedlings and were eager to learn more! Learning about the processes of the garden helps to reconnect us to the process of food, and allows for a greater appreciation for the food we are so fortunate to have. The time outside was beneficial as their school is surrounded by quite a bit of concrete, and there isn’t too much opportunity to spend time in the garden.

GSS VISITS

SIX NATIONS

As we celebrate Canada 150, we have also made it a point to ensure we are acknowledging what 150 years really means. We’ve turned our efforts towards honouring the land and its original caretakers, looking for the support from Six Nations and the Indigenous Council to help us make this project representative of what the next 150 years will be through Truth and Reconciliation.

Sherry Caevil, the Aboriginal Liason Officer for the Halton Catholic District School Board, offered to take us to visit Six Nations. We were interested by the Kayanase Greenhouse and the amazing selection of native species, so we’ve made the decision to purchase most, if not all, of the plants for the schools from this greenhouse. After a tour and a quick bite at the Burger Barn, we left Six Nations with open minds and open hearts, a full belly and a van jam packed with beautiful plants!

You can plan your next visit to Grand River with a little help from this website!

BUILD DAY AT TARBIYAH

On June 13th, we held our official Canada 150 Build Day at Tarbiyah Elementary School. Planning around a shorter school schedule, busy last weeks at school and also being mindful that the students were celebrating Ramadan, made this build day nothing short of exciting! We were visited by MP Indira Naidoo-Harris who gave a special speech to the girls before we “broke ground”.

With a focus on native species, we invited Erin from Conservation Halton to teach the girls a little more of the importance of natural habitat. Luckily, the rain held off long enough for us to do the majority of the planting, but we will have to return over the summer to complete the rest of the garden beds. Even with most of the students fasting, so many wanted to continue working throughout the day to be involved in the garden!

While all the fun was happening outside for the older grades, I hosted a few sessions with the younger grades making some seed balls to help transform the bushy areas around the school!  Students were more than happy for the opportunity to help the bees and butterflies and eagerly asked to make more to take home for their own gardens.

Pictures will be up soon to show you the before and after of our wonderful garden, which includes a new rain barrel to help our thirsty plants this summer! With plans already underway for our next garden, we are optimistic and hoping for the same reaction from our students at Christ the King Secondary School in Georgetown.

Stay tuned to see what projects we’re working on! Follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @GSSHaltonPeel. See you next time in the garden! This article originally appeared on Faith and the Common Good on June 26th, 2017. 

Creating a Community Garden at your Islamic School

Community gardens have recently taken off as a way of engaging communities in the local food movement. Not only does it raise awareness, community gardens can also serve as a learning tool for schools. The Safa and Marwa Islamic School (SAM) in Mississauga, Ontario received a grant from TD Friends of Environment in 2015 towards the creation of their own gardening space. Khaleafa.com has the opportunity to speak with Nisreen Shawahneh, who was instrumental in coordinating the project, to learn some successes and challenges in creating a community garden in a school environment. 

Preparation:

a.     How did the idea for a community garden first come about, what was the motivation?

At Safa and Marwa Islamic School (SAM) our goals are to deliver a ‘living’ curriculum that ensures the spiritual and academic success of our student body and to build a sense of comradely and community amongst our students, parents and staff. Every year our team brainstorms projects that would help us meet these goals. It was in one of these sessions that the idea for a community garden was born. We recognized that building a community garden would bring to life curricular concepts allowing students to cement their learning in the classroom by living examples in the garden. From a spiritual point of view, having a garden would allow students to understand the importance of stewardship and the environment in Islam. Furthermore, having a garden that was not owned and manned by one, but the entire school community brought teachers, students and staff together to work towards a common goal. It was heartwarming to see the way harvests were enjoyed and celebrated by all involved.

In addition to being motivated by our goals for students we were also cognizant of the fact that having a community garden would complement our healthy living and physical education program nicely. Prior to having our community garden our student body has regularly participated in the 60 second kids club, we are currently ranked 10th in the Province. We would also have healthy eating competitions across the grades. We hoped that the addition of the garden would give kids the push they needed to begin eating healthier in their day to day lives.

b.     How have the students been involved?

Students from Junior Kindergarten to grade 8 all participated in the community garden.  Each class was assigned a plot to plant in. Students chose what to grow; the school provided the seeds and the seedlings. Students, with the help of their teachers, planted the seedlings and seeded the seeds. Students, watered, weeded and took care of the garden the whole season.

In addition, we conducted workshops for both parents and students on how to establish and run their own gardens at home. The presentation was delivered by Ms. Nisreen, the Garden Coordinator. The agenda was as follows:

  • General information for parents and students on how they could begin their own community gardens in their neighborhoods.
  • General information for parents and students on how they could begin their own community gardens in their backyards.
  • General information on the different types of plants that could be grown year-round.
  • General information on the tips and tricks of gardening. 

c.     What was involved in planning the project?

To plan the project we put together a planning team that consisted of members from administration, teachers, auxiliary staff, parents and students. The following diagram depicts the team and their tasks in terms of planning the project.

d.     What were the greatest hurdles?

In bringing this project to fruition, there were several hurdles. Following are the greatest hurdles we faced and we feel that these were all equally challenging:

·Finance: In Ontario, private faith based schools do not receive any public funding. Therefore, all the money that is generated to operate the school is derived from tuition. It is difficult to allocate tuition money to a project such as this because there are often competing needs that take precedence such as those related to the facility infrastructure and those related to curriculum delivery directly. Although there are many grants available through the Government of Ontario that could fund a community garden, they are often only open to publically funded schools - which we are not. We had to be creative in finding a grant. We are very appreciative of the grant we received from TD to deploy our garden.

·Space: We are at capacity in terms of student body because SAM has consistently been named the top Islamic school by the Fraser institute. Space is over utilized and therefore to carve out space on our grounds was extremely difficult. It required re-planning our play areas and putting in another outdoor rotation for our students which resulted in an overhaul of the school and classroom schedules. It was also challenging to convince some school members and parents that the reutilization of the space would add more to the curriculum then the original play space.

·Manpower: Maintaining a garden (watering, weeding, harvesting, replanting) and asking teachers to integrate curriculum related to the garden day to day was extremely challenging because both are time consuming and rely on volunteerism.

 

Participation:

a.     What has the response been to the project?

The garden has received so much love and support from students, staff and parents, especially around harvest time where everyone gets to taste their success. Our garden has inspired parents to create their own gardens.  Following are some testimonials:

I love the garden. I planted it, watered it and picked it. It was fun in the garden because I saw plants grow - Hannah, Grade 6

I love being in the garden. We picked basil and onions and many more. There were even carrots, being in the garden made me feel free and happy - Mustafa, Grade 4

The garden was the best. I especially loved when it was time to pick the plants. I even got to sell it. I loved the garden - Adam, Grade 3

I got to pick plants from the garden. We even bought some. I ate carrots, too. They tasted amazing - Leena Grade 1. 

 b.     Have you been able to incorporate parents and other groups into the project?  

We have successfully been able to engage parents during garden planning and planting. We did not incorporate other groups into the project.

c.     How does the garden sustain itself over the summer?

SAM operates a summer program that incorporates a unit on community gardening. Students in this program maintain the garden over the summer and are supervised by the summer teachers and administration.

d.     What happens to the produce in the fall?

Throughout the summer and fall produce is harvested and, depending upon the yield, either sold to parents during school fundraisers, distributed to student volunteers and those who have completed a related curricular unit, donated to families in need and shared with the entire school in our ‘welcome to school’ fall barbecue.

Programming:

a.     Have you included any spiritual or religious programming into the garden? If so, what has the messaging been?

Our community garden helped us explain Islam’s ethos of environmentalism and stewardship to our students using a hands-on approach. In Islam humans were created to serve God (Allah) and work towards creating the greatest good for all his creations which includes the earth and its environment. Caring for the earth is our shared responsibility. Our department of religion began incorporating what it means to live a sustainable life into religious curricula as follows:

  • Allah created us directly from the Earth and we must therefore be stewards of the Earth by taking care of it and protecting it in a sustainable way.
  • We have undertaken a trust with our creator to protect the planet and contribute to and sustain its resources responsibly.
  • We must treat all creation including the natural world with justice.
  • We must recognize that Allah has created the world in a balance and we must work to sustain that balance.
  • We must live a simple lifestyle – which includes growing our own produce.

b.     Are multiple grades involved in the project?

Yes, multiple grades were involved in the project namely: junior kindergarten, senior kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, grade 3, grade 4, grade 5, grade 6 and grade 7. Each grade was assigned their own part of the garden and were responsible for caring for it.

c.     How do you see the garden growing in the future?

Thus far, we have planted produce that was quick and easy to grow in our garden. We planted: tomatoes, curled parsley, basil, strawberries, carrots, sunflowers, corn, peas, beans, green onion, hot pepper, bell pepper, cucumber, potatoes, beets and Swiss chard.

In the future, we would like to plant our garden by theme. For example, we would like to plant a salad garden, a salsa garden, a fruit salad garden etcetera. In addition, we are looking to move our school to a new location to continue to deliver quality curriculum. Whereas a community garden would never have made it onto our list of ‘must haves’ for a new property in the past; after our project, we have decided that our new location would never be complete without space for a new community garden.

Lessons Learned:

a.     What have been the biggest challenges and what were the lessons that were learned in creating a community garden?

As mentioned in 1d above the biggest challenges were finance, space and manpower. The lesson we learned were as follows:

  • Finance: When establishing the garden, we factored in the cost for building the garden however we did not factor in the cost for continuing to maintain and sustain the garden.
  • Space: We could have collaborated with our school neighbors and shared property to build a larger garden which would not have compromised out play area.
  • ·Manpower: We need to build capacity around having more consistent volunteers for the garden and demonstrate to teaching staff that taking their students out to the garden is worth the time it takes to do so. In addition, we learned that it is important to ensure that those that tend to the garden document what they have done so that it can be passed on to those who take it over the following year.

b.     Can you provide any advice to other groups looking to start their own community garden?

Be cognizant of our lessons learned.