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.

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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.

‘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 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.

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.