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

Launch of Green Communities Network in the W-Midlands

Good news: Sustainability West Midlands is launching a Green Communities Network for Green Community Groups based in the West Midlands region.  The network will aim to share good practice, discuss key topics such as funding, energy and resilience, encourage other community groups to get involved in sustainability and help to lever in support to develop their activities.

This launch event will include good practice case studies of green community actions that have already taken place, along with an opportunity to network and shape future content of the Green Communities Network.  The Community Energy Coalition (CEC) are pleased to be launching this Network in conjunction with Community Energy Fortnight and hope that this will help to catalyse and encourage action in our local areas.

Slavery and our fossil fuel addiction

tree1Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. You might think, well, laudable, but what’s that doing being mentioned in an environmental blog? Well, (un)fortunately, much more than you might think. I found Jean-Francois Mouhot‘s work on this very enlightening, see e.g. an article on the parallels of slave trade and fossil fuels he wrote for the Guardian. He states that “both [slavery and fossil fuels] perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.”

To have something positive come out of today’s Day, I suggest (re-)reading this article on ‘Slavery and Climate Change: Lessons to be Learned’ and reflecting on what our role is in this: we can get upset about the general issues, but to what extent are we not ourselves part of it by ‘voting’ for this system on a daily basis through the way we spend our money, where we invest our savings and pension etc (like the poster ‘you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic‘)