Develop your digital learning course

Reviewing my options around e-learning challenges, a few months ago I got reacquainted with Reda Sadki (I’d initially ‘met’ him on an IFRC pilot course). Due to some matters out of my control, I haven’t (yet) been able to reciprocate the focus and commitment he has for Learning Strategies International (LSi).

Now why am I telling you this? Because he’s the energy ball behind another exciting e-learning initiative: The Geneva Learning Foundation. In that capacity, in partnership with the University of Illinois College of Education and Learning Strategies International (LSi), they are pleased to announce an open access course to support the development of scalable digital learning. The course addresses the growing need for rapid, low-cost development of digital learning courses, a tangible sign of the ongoing digital transformation of learning, education and training (LET).

To read more and sign up (I’d highly recommend applying, and not just because it’s free), visit the Learning Foundation.

We don’t ‘save’ nature, we need to save ourselves

Good reminder to start the new year with with thoughts from Tariq Ramadan. Some strong and deep stuff … we don’t go “save” nature… nature was fine without us – we should save ourselves from our corrupt thoughts/ habits – state of the environment is a reflection of ourselves, how we treat the environment is a reflection of how serious (or not) we take our task of using our free will … we don’t protect for the result/ outcome, but because we believe in the principle that nature etc has rights, we are *part of* it, environment is not ‘out there’, but part of it.

“What is ‘halal’?” asked a colleague

Q: Rianne:  can you give a layperson’s guide to what halal actually means?  This is interest, not criticism.

A: I’m no scholar and things are a bit more complex than I could express here, but in essence Muslims believe that things (such as food) and behaviour (incl. dress and choice of job) are all along a sliding scale between halal (approved of – by God) and haram (prohibited), with at least three categories in the middle, including (simplistically) ‘disliked’. The default setting is that matters are allowed, unless stated otherwise. I despair when Muslims (can’t blame non-Muslims as not their religion!) who reduce their faith to simplistic lists of halal or haram (do’s and don’ts without using their own thinking – thinking/ reflecting is exactly what we’re supposed to do!). In the Quran the word halal is always followed by the words ‘and tayyeb’ (simplistically: and wholesome, e.g. 2:168 for food, ), so our choices need not just be approved of but also wholesome (e.g. too much of a good thing is to be avoided). E.g. (to use an example that in the media is oft used around religious slaughter) there is clear guidance on how to kill an animal for food (killing for fun is grossly disliked!) and if adhered to, then it was killed in a halal manner, though if the animal has had a miserable life (e.g. a cow hasn’t been fed it’s natural diet of grass and had a chance to live like cows are supposed to – e.g. not locked inside 24/7) it should not be considered halal to eat. Even the ‘extremes’ need to be interpreted logically: it’s haram to eat pork, but if it’s the only food available when walking around in the desert, then we should eat it as suicide is ‘more haram’. With financial investments/ choice of job (if one has no agency to choose a job, any job is better than none, then keep striving to improve so one can change job etc), it’s too often watered down to simplistically ‘no gambling, no alcohol, no pork’, but investment in e.g. so-called vulture funds (taking advantage of distressed lenders) or – for ease of argument – Fox ‘News’, which undermine a just society are not to be recommended by any means… Re clothes, e.g. wearing hijab is halal… but hijab is not just a women’s cloth on her head, but general modest dress, for men (addressed first on this) and women. Hope it’s a little bit clearer? Please do ask me re any specific example… thanks for asking!

NB: don’t confuse Muslims with Islam… as adherents we can be, and often are, incredibly fallible! It’s why we should strive (jihad) to overcome our weaknesses and try to be a better human….

The idea is that humans have free will so it’s only fair to have access to guidance (in the form of the Quran and God’s Prophets, from Abraham, through Jesus to Mohammed) as to what will make you most successful in reaching the truly desired place (Heaven: no *not* full of virgins) and thus enable us to make informed decision. I do agree slaughter has a nasty result (Islamic version is quite complex [though in practice not always adhered to ]: animal needs to be given last meal, not see/ hear its peers be killed, use sharp knife, go straight for the jugular vein) … though we shouldn’t think that other means are not cruel… and alternative is for all to become vegetarians?!

Q: “Slaughter is cruel no matter how it is dressed up! Also, all men and all women should wear modest dress?”

A: The idea is that humans have free will so it’s only fair to have access to guidance (in the form of the Quran and God’s Prophets, from Abraham, through Jesus to Mohammed) as to what will make you most successful in reaching the truly desired place (Heaven: no *not* full of virgins , as explained by a Jewish professor) and thus enable us to make informed decision. I do agree slaughter has a nasty result (Islamic version is quite complex [though in practice not always adhered to ]: animal needs to be given last meal, not see/ hear its peers be killed, use sharp knife, go straight for the jugular vein) … though we shouldn’t think that other means are not cruel… and alternative is for all to become vegetarians?! Whether “all men and all women should wear modest dress?”: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256)

Environment and war

tree1Yesterday was the International Day for the Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict (A/RES/56/4). Some food for thought related to that… Though mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicized victim of war. Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage. This is against Islamic laws of war (e.g. here in key words, and general jurisprudence on the environment). Abu Bakr as-Siddiq commanded the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet saying: “…No fruit-bearing trees are to be cut down and no crops should be set on fire. No animal should be killed except those slaughtered for eating…Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.

Also, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse. The Guardian has also published a thought provoking article on the impact of modern war.

For some useful guidance on Islamic law of war, check ‘Jihad and the Islamic Law of War‘ by the Jordanian Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute of Islamic Thought published in 2007.

I hope to have a chance to see Virunga, national park: “the incredible true story of a group of brave people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten and a gripping expose of the realities of life in the Congo” at risk from oil companies.

“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?


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. 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.