By Sarah Jawaid
Every walk through nature has the potential to inspire a deeper connection with our Creator. Our hearts, sometimes unconsciously, are at heightened peace when surrounded by green. The perfected order and ever-obedient cycles of nature show humankind a point of reference to the beauty of God’s creation, and guides our aspirational selves. The natural world has the potential to exist in harmony with us as we both emanate from One Source, with one purpose, to serve the divine will.
“We shall show them our signs within the furthest horizons and inside their own souls until it becomes clear to them that God is Truth.” [41:53]
God identifies nature as a sign, just as the verses (ayah) of the Quran and souls of humanity are signs guiding us to His path. From the diligent bee producing its sweet treat to the plunging waters of Zambia cleansing the gorges of Victoria Falls, the Earth is filled with reminders of His creation and bounty. Studying nature is an important way of studying the wisdom of God.
“Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it…” [33:72]
Not only are we asked to contemplate the universe, God made us vicegerents on Earth, entrusting humanity with the duty to protect and restore balance in the environment. When God offered the trust to all of creation, man was the only one who was willing to accept it.
Furthermore, Allah enabled human beings to serve the Earth. Man has the capacity to understand the ethical values needed to feel empathy for all that ails the Earth. Counter to this, we are the only ones capable of negatively impacting the existing natural order, making us responsible for protecting the environment.
As we move forward, we are beginning to understand the severity of environmental degradation, but we have been slower to recognize the direct link between the ecological crisis and our inner spiritual crisis. Our values are skewed. Consumption is the driving force in society and we are failing to see how this adds to the dissonance in our internal beings. Our trusteeship has been compromised. Global warming proves the destructive consequences of forgoing this responsibility. But it’s not over yet! There is so much we can do to help our ailing Earth.
What can you do to be a better environmental steward?
1. Start conversations with like-minded individuals. Support is important. Make this a group cause with your friends and family. Gather like-minded individuals to start discussing and taking actions on these issues. For example, Washington DC Muslims are doing just that:
The origins of DC Green Muslims (DCGM) started with a ‘green iftar,’ a group of approximately 15 people who celebrated the end of a fast during the holy month of Ramadan, by breaking bread with an environmental twist. The first conversations centered on big questions of purpose, and the intersection between Islam and the environment. We applied these big picture concepts to understand how we can lessen our carbon footprint and make our communities more eco-friendly. Since then, we have put on networking dinners centered on an environmental theme, park-clean ups and most recently, DCGM participated in Huffington Post’s No Impact Week, in collaboration with No Impact Project – a national effort to collectively reduce our carbon footprint.
When we heard about this project, we began thinking up ways to mobilize the Muslim community around the event and ended up creating an addendum to No Impact Project’s guide. Our addendum guides participants to a more eco-conscious journey during the week, which we hoped would turn into a stepping-stone for a life-long journey of incorporating the eco-spiritual ethics in Islam. Each day of the week, we paid special attention to a given topic in hopes of reducing our carbon footprint, such as Consumption, Water, Food, Community Gathering and Transportation. The addendum can be found at our blog or by emailing us. We hope to take this event to MSAs across the country.
DC Green Muslims are trying to recognize the trusteeship (khilafat) towards creation by creating a space for Muslims to be green in the community, with a foundation in Islamic teachings. In providing responsible caretaking and sharing, we are assuring that future generations will be able to see the signs of God in their environment and within themselves.
2. Reflect on your spaces. Walk more. When you are walking around in your environment, step outside of your mind, be present and recognize the purpose behind creation. When we see the deliberate structure and order inherent in nature, we can start reflecting on existence in tandem with other life forms, from a place of wholeness.
3. Take inventory on your level of consumption: food, water, electricity, transportation, trash. Are you eating sustainable foods? How much water are you using during wudu’, showering, or washing dishes? Do you turn off the lights when you leave a room? Start getting a clear picture of where you can make changes.
4. Be conscious of the products you buy. Buy sweatshop free goods and organic cotton. Try to buy locally grown food. Do research on where your goods are coming from, and if people and animals were harmed in the process, refrain from buying them.
5. Start small. Make small improvements around the house, like switching your light bulbs to energy efficient CFLs. Patch up leaky faucets. Make a recycling station in your kitchen. Turn off the TV and enjoy the presence of loved ones. Get the whole family involved!
This list is not complete by any means. The point is, apathy is no longer an option – nor should it ever have been. Reflecting on the world around us is the first important step to caring and taking action. We will be better positioned to be protectors of the Earth when we recognize the responsibility of the trusteeship. This process of self-reflection will hopefully motivate us to individual action. Collectively, individual action means more than any list on how to live more greenly. Upon reflecting and recognizing the spiritual connection that exists between man and nature, individual action will come from a genuine place, sustaining itself over a lifetime. When we reflect on our spaces, we can be empowered to take ownership of our surroundings and live up to the trust we are entrusted with. The Earth demands no less of us.
We are reminded in the Qur’an:
“…God has cited the example of the good word as a good tree whose root is a firmly fixed, and its branches are high in the sky. [14:24]
Let’s look to the tree for the lessons it manifests. May we provide shade for those around us, starting small and growing with purpose, renewing and replenishing, and always reaching to the heavens while being rooted deeply in Earth.
Sarah is a budding urban planner and environmentalist residing in Washington, DC. She works as a Research Associate at Urban Land Institute, researching national transportation and infrastructure policy. She also helps to organize events with DC Green Muslims, a group of eco-conscious Muslims working to understand the connections between the environment, faith and holistic living. Sarah is originally from Southern California where she received a B.S. from the University of Southern California in Public Policy and an MA in Urban Planning from the University of California, Irvine.