“As long as men lived according to religion there was no environmental crisis”

tree1Well, men AND women of course (a common challenge with translation too, clarity, sometimes leading a masculine/ male-dominated reading of the Quran and other scriptures), but this quote from Seyyed Hossein Nasr pretty much sums it up… the problem is not religion(s), the challenge is people calling themselves people of faith but then not going the full hog (including myself! I should do better in walking my environmental talk!). Like people reading Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations‘ and then going for neo-liberalism, ignoring Adam Smith’s other main work which he himself said should be read in tandem: ‘On the Theory of Moral Sentiments‘ (basically saying: if we forget our ethics, we’re done and things ill get really unpleasant).

Animal care: anthropocentric in Islam?

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I have added writing a longer article on this on my to-do list, but thought I would quickly share this extract from a discussion on LinkedIn. An article in EcoMENA on ‘Animal Welfare: Guiding Principles in Islam’ includes the quote that Islam teaches that they [animals] are created specifically in our service.” According to someone on the discussion “This is an anthropocentric position, it must be clear, and it has its critics (see: ecology and animal rights movement scholars). It is a value-laden position that ought to ought to be questioned or at least understood as a ‘value position’. A critical, open discussion about religions’ (monotheistic ones, in particular) place in the critical environmental debate is necessary, in my view.

I agree the Quran is necessarily targeted at the human species as target reader (having free will, always good to get a ‘manual’ to choose to follow or not), which upon casual reading can suggest a solely anthropocentric purpose for animals, but I would say there are so many that are of no (direct) ‘use’ to us, but then even more important to take up our stewardship role (we might have a selfish reason to look after elements of Creation that directly benefit us… true care comes from being a good steward for all creation)

‘EdenKeeper’ – nice reminder!

Eden Keeper logoWhat an exciting website to bump into: EdenKeeper, a website that “exists to illustrate all the beauty of one of God’s greatest gifts to us – the Earth! We need to appreciate it, and care for it. Edenkeeper.org is here to help show you how!” As ‘an environmentalist gone religious’ who has found it surprising to see the lack of further uptake to environmental issues by Muslims (as my chosen faith), when it was Islam’s environmental  teachings that convinced me to convert (see e.g. the strapline of this website). I can sympathise with the website’s  comment that “People often think of the environment in terms of economics or politics, instead of spirituality. And if they do think about environmental spirituality, they think that environmentalists all worship nature instead of just wanting to protect it for their kids.” Today was a particularly interesting day to bump into the Eden Keeper website as it published an article entitled ‘Islam and Permaculture Share Foundational Similarities‘, something that I am currently also researching. What a nice reminder – have subscribed to the website and looking forward to reading future instalments on jointly looking after Creation, our only home (there is no Planet B, so why do we so often behave as if there is?!)!

The role of animals as a sustainable solution in humanitarian and development programmes

World Animal Protection and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are today jointly hosting a special disaster risk reduction event exploring the role animals play in food security, livelihoods, poverty alleviation and resilience building, within communities and across nations. The opening session will be led by Ms. Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction and will be hosted at IFRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland.

Wish I could have attended; looking forward to the webcast promised to be made available after the event (on both World Animal Protection and IFRC websites). Another occasion to reflect on learning that in the run up to the tsunami, certain animals in the areas to be affected ‘knew’ something was up and already moved to higher areas.

World Food Day: it’s not about food

tree1I mean, yes of course we do need food to sustain ourselves, but what I aim to convey and trigger as food for thought is that we should think about where our food comes from. Is the way we are today producing our food undermining our ability to produce food tomorrow? Are we currently living an ‘out of sight, out of mind life? When our food is not produced locally, do we know, or even think about where our food does come from? How local people where our food is produced are being affected? What non-food elements affect food (e.g. did you know Ethiopia was EXporting food during its ’84 famine… why? because it needed hard currency to pay back international debts regularly lent odiously, or at least made much worse by big interest rates)?

16 October is World Food DayThe 2014 theme is – Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

“Do not cast yourselves into destruction by your own hands” (Quran 2:195)

“Eat and drink but not to excess” (Quran 7:32)

For he (the Prophet Muhammad pbuh) command them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good and pure and prohibits them what is bad and impure..” (Quran 7: 157) – note the ‘and’… not lawful (halal) and only wholesome if we can be bothered..

An interesting interview in that regard I found with Rhamis Kent on Beyond Halal.

World Mental Health Day – how green spaces help

tree1Today is World Mental Health Day, observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. As per the info on the World Health Organisation website, the day “provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.”

A key book I found thought provoking in this regard is ‘Last Child in the Woods‘ by Richard Louv (subtitle: ‘Saving our children from nature deficit disorder’). This book explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change. It also describes the accumulating research that reveals the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child—and adult—development. For Muslims this should come as no surprise, see e.g. in the Quran “And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you.” (Quran 6:38). If we lock ourselves up in cities, concrete jungles, we are away from our naturally intended state (fitra) and this is not without consequences….

In 2007, recognising that a growing body of evidence (link is to an example of more recent research) was showing the benefits of ecotherapy, Mind (a UK mental health charity) published Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health, a report setting out the case for using ecotherapy as a cost-effective and natural addition to existing treatment options.

Note, those working in disaster management (like me) may find the WHO page on ‘mental health in emergencies’ helpful.

“there is no public health without environmental health”

tree1A recent article in The Guardian posits that “How saving West African forests might have prevented the Ebola epidemic” Now, Ebola seems to be developing as all panic-flavour of the month*, which I wouldn’t want to contribute to. The reason I’m writing this blog post is to share yet another reason why we should be careful with with what we do to Creation: we can use it, but not abuse it (we’re only guardians – or: we are guardians of Creation, a serious job, the delivery of which will be written on our record). For the moment our record is bleak and moving in the wrong direction. The article linked above mentions: “Once blanketed with forests, West Africa has been skinned alive over the last decade. Guinea’s rainforests have been reduced by 80%, while Liberia has sold logging rights to over half its forests. Within the next few years Sierra Leone is on track to be completely deforested.”

Two verses from the Quran as food for thought:

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)

We have certainly created man in the best of stature; Then We return him to the lowest of the low, Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted.” (Quran 95: 4-6)

* if we look at the statistics beyond the time of media attention: ebola has to date killed a total of less than five thousand; compare that e.g. undernutrition being a contributory factor in the death of 3.1 million children under five every year (and then we haven’t yet looked at women, the elderly, men…).

Islam and animals

Today is World Animal Day. Today is also a day when many Muslims will be sacrificing (oft via a charity to implement it in a poorer country; due to Islam using a lunar calendar, some will be commemorating/ celebrating Eid Al-Adha, or Big Eid, on 5 or even 6 October*) an animal to commemorate Abraham being willing to sacrifice his (then only) son to God (but God’s mercy replaced it with an animal at the last moment). The basis for the observance comes from the 196th verse of Al-Baqara (the Cow), the second chapter of the Quran. The word “Eid” appears once in Al-Maida (the Table Spread), the fifth chapter of the Quran, with the meaning “solemn festival”. The animals (can be camels, cows – each counting for 7 Qurbanis – or sheep or goats – each counting for 1 Qurbani) have to meet certain age (not too young) and quality (not ill etc) standards or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice. The animals also need to be fed and watered properly beforehand, they shouldn’t see/ hear their fellow animals being killed and if killed, needs to be as merciful as possible: as quick and painless as possible (e.g. God has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease (Muslim).)

Some confuse this with a ‘barbaric religion’, or Muslims more generally being pro-killing. However, the Prophet said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.”  The listeners asked, “O Messenger of God, what is a just cause?” He replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away.” (Nisai, Hakim).

Also there is significant misunderstanding that because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The superiority of Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e., a meat and bread dish) to other meals.” When one first reads the above Hadith, it appears to be non-controversial and simply stated to honour a strong and blessed Muslim woman. A vegetarian reading it might have trouble accepting the fact that the Prophet himself (pbuh) elevated a meat dish to such a high rank among foods. However, some carnivores have taken this literally and ‘to be eating what the Prophet loved’, they degrade it to a staple dish.

On the other hand, vegetarians would be pleased with a Hadith related by Yahya that states that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine” (Malik). This view syncs well with the example of the Prophet (pbuh). The Quran (7:31) says, “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters.” Muhammad (pbuh) elaborated on this verse when he said (narrated by Yahya), “What is this, Amir al-muminin?” “We desired meat and I bought some meat for a dirham,” Umar said. “Does one of you want to fill his belly apart from his neighbour or nephew? How can you overlook this ayat: ‘You squandered your good things in the life of this world and sought comfort in them’ ” (Quran, 46:20). In this Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) seems to imply that eating meat in excess is an act of selfishness.

We are allowed to eat animals, but it is not necessary to eat them (e.g. those who don’t eat carrots, have they made carrots haram [forbidden]?)

* many countries now follow Saudi-Arabia due to hajj, but actually Eid is older than hajj, but that’s perhaps for another discussion