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Why Materialism Doesn’t Cut it: Muslims and Permaculture Design

Photo: Paul Chapman

By Giovanni Galluzzo

The Stage is Set

Humanity has collectively submitted to the idea that the highest aims are material wealth and technological advancement.

This philosophy of economic materialism is what shapes the infrastructure and technology of our societies and such infrastructure and technology set the boundaries within which we must operate.

Furthermore, the means or methodology for developing technology has been firmly established as competitive and adversarial.

With the undercurrent of economic materialism guiding the activity of humanity, the results are imbalance and chaos between people and the environment as well as between people themselves. The consequences can be easily seen through the increasing number of warnings the natural world is revealing to us.

As Muslims, we must confront the fact that many of us are participating in this mindless pursuit with little resistance.

We attempt to drown out the glaring contradiction with our oft-repeated rhetoric of advocating a pure wholesome way of life, but our actual lifestyles easily betray the sad truth.

We Muslims clearly know that economic materialism is not the proper philosophy to guide human activity as we constantly denounce it quite vocally. The problem is that despite our knowledge and our vocal opposition, we are nonetheless conducting our daily lives using the technical solutions developed by the very same philosophy we denounce!

We do not need to devise a new philosophy as we already have it in Islam, but rather we need to use a methodology of developing technology and improving material life in our daily lives that is not based on a destructive philosophy. Of course, we can always improve our collective and individual dedication to Islam and that is also a vitally important undertaking, although that discussion is just not within the scope of this article. And regardless of how high our iman (faith) can reach, if the system upon which our lives depend is corrupted, it makes it that much harder to fulfill our duties as Muslims. Thus, it is incumbent on us to become independent of such systems as much as possible.

Enter Permaculture Design

The term ‘permaculture’ in its broadest sense describes what may be divided into three distinct components:

  1. An ethical component
  2. A methodological component
  3. A technical component – the resultant body of accumulated solutions and knowledge derived from the other two components

The ethical component is simple and often referred to by the three-part phrase of “earth care,” “people care,” and “fair share.” The permaculture design methodology component is the robust set of design concepts and techniques which are derived from observing nature. Traditional and modern methods are used together in a comprehensive and holistic way. The technical solutions that have emerged from the adherence to ethical component and the methodology of design are vast and growing exponentially.

The conventional technology and life systems that dominate the world currently may also be divided along a similar framework.

The chart below summarizes a comparison of different potential ways of organizing technical advance:


By using a set of methodologies that have their roots in the philosophy of economic materialism which are clearly contradictory to the foundational principles of Islam, the infrastructure for a society that excels at worshiping Allah will never be realized beyond a superficial depth.

Because the permaculture methodology is rooted in an ethic that is not essentially in conflict with the principles of Islam, it can be used to create technical solutions that truly work for Muslims. We simply need to supplement the existing ethical component of permaculture or just swap it out with the Islamic framework of ethics and then use the permaculture design methodology to create solutions tailored for Muslims. We can also take of the existing body of solutions and knowledge since they were derived from the ethical framework and simply adopt them completely or alter them as necessary. The claim being made is not that all modern technology derived from economic materialism and its associated methodologies is intrinsically evil, but rather that the overall impact of these technologies and especially the way in which they are produced and used is clearly detrimental at a macro-level. The simple suggestion of this article is not self-righteous zealotry demanding a return to the pre-industrial era but rather should be taken as sincere advice for us to begin making a transition in a reasonable and wise manner.

The Balance

“And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance / That you not transgress within the balance […]” (Qur’an, 55:7-8)

Imam Dawood Yasin of Zaytuna College describes permaculture as a balanced methodology:

“Islam and permaculture are about restoring and maintaining balance, both inwardly and outwardly. The elements in the natural world were created in balance, which represent outward harmony and unison. Similarly, in the Islamic tradition we find the concept that the inherent state of humans is that of balance and unison. Unfortunately, we are constantly witnessing detrimental practices when the human spirit is devoid of harmony and unison. Therefore, the relationship between Islam and permaculture is symbiotic. Our conscious decision as Muslims is to heal and repair our souls, which represents the required foundation upon which Permaculture and earth repair work will flourish.

Muslims using Permaculture Design

It is not surprising that Muslims are attracted to permaculture design. The methodology and resulting solutions are superior to the materialist approach and obviously in line with Islam. A number of Muslims are already involved in Islam and we can only expect this to increase.

Some Notable Muslims Utilizing Permaculture Design Include:

Summary & Action Plan

The design methodology of permaculture should be adopted by Muslims at a theoretical and practical level as opposed to the prevailing methodologies based on economic materialism.

The design methodology of permaculture can be easily adapted to provide technical solutions as the three core ethics it was based on already exist within Islam.

The design methodology of permaculture enables the development of technology and processes that allow Muslims to live a lifestyle in accordance with the ethics and justice demanded in Islam.

We don’t tolerate desecration of the Qur’an or insults to the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), as we shouldn’t, but yet we not only tolerate, but we are actively participating in the desecration, pollution and corruption of the natural world that Allah has created for our benefit. A robust methodology exists that we can make use of to remove ourselves from the participation in this project of madness and so there is no excuse to continue following methods that lead to lifestyles that conflict with core Islamic values.

A suggested strategy that we should join is two-pronged:

  1. The existence of permaculture design and its compatibility with Islam must be communicated to Muslims so that more and more of us are aware that such a methodology exists.
  2. Muslims must adopt technical solutions developed through permaculture design and using the methodology also innovate new solutions especially where solutions specifically tailored for Muslim communities can be developed.

While it may be unrealistic to expect all of humanity or even all Muslims to adopt the technical solutions derived from permaculture design in their daily lives, it is very feasible and expedient to join with like-minded individuals and form resilient local communities that are independent but not isolated.

These communities can share the knowledge and demonstrate the solutions to the greater population of Muslims and other fellow human beings thus embodying the full portrait of those who do good deeds on the Earth.

Giovanni Galluzzo of Murujan Permaculture Design

About the author

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  • MashaAllah tabarakAllah!
    I’m a Permaculturist and have been researching and discussing these matters with people for sometime…though I often find people feel won’t engage in this beautiful reality. Jazahkallahu kheirun for such a brilliant piece and advocating such an important mindset.

  • Salam,

    Thanks for the sharing on the important topic.
    Dr Adi Setia is a big intellectual proponent of permaculture masha Allah

  • Salam and Thank You Guest Author / Giovanni Galluzzo for posting such an important topic.

    I am an Architect / Designer by practice (and choice), and I understand many of the tenants of Permaculture Design as some of those ideals were / are reinforced by some architects living and deceased. However, there is one major element in the 20th and 21st century that is the antithesis of permaculture design – Planned Obsolescence.

    After WWII the United States and the world at large had a major economic and infrastructural shift with how cities, neighborhoods, and buildings were produced. Just as the industrial revolution completely transformed the idea of craft into easily created objects devoid of the human hand, the by-product was consumerism. Thus we can easily buy or replace objects with such disregard to waste because access to objects (cars, clothes, electronic devices, etc.) are so accessible that their life spans of the objects are planned to be obsolete. Now if we take that exact same concept and increase the scale to infrastructure, cities and neighborhoods have been created and destroyed with such ease because we think they are easily replaceable. One perfect example was Levittown,which was a response to the population influx of returning soldiers from WWII. Levittown took the modern concept of modularization of the home, replicated it 1000x into a monotonous and banal landscape of homes with no human interaction to the exterior environment. The Levittown model soon replicated itself across America and other parts of the world as “created” environments i.e. suburbs, which have completely alienated the human from the natural and social environment.

    What is daunting is that the majority of people living in developed countries are okay and even desire living under these standards. Furthermore, the general population practices Planned Obsolescence on a daily basis, whether it’s buying a new cell phone, lap top, shoes, clothes, car, food – we easily disregard daily elements of our lives because they can be easily replaced, without really thinking WHY we need new items and WHY we should sustain our current items and/or modify them. Many Americans live in suburbs, but hardly any of them produce their own food in their backyards. Even agriculture in the US, which was spectacular, has fallen victim to “agro-business.”

    What is worse is that if we observe the current urban conditions in the Middle-East, it’s frankly pathetic. People litter, dependence on fossil fuels is outrageous, no emission testing for cars, no heavy use of public transportation, smoking laws are too forgiving, no response to sustainable design, and no clear infrastructural plans. As much as people marvel at Dubai, it’s a monstrosity and embarrassment both at an aesthetic / design perspective, but more so at an environmental standpoint. Dubai is rapidly densifying but many of the buildings still depend on natural gas for electricity and their water supply is next to nothing. We also cannot neglect the fact of how horrendous the labor laws are for construction workers (mainly Southeast Asian), which is a by-product of Dubai’s densification initiatives.

    I highly recommend a book called “Architecture for the Poor.” It was written by Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian Architect. I consider this book the magnum opus of sustainable and humanitarian architecture and planning. Fathy aided the Falahees in the relocation plan from the Valley of the Kings / Queens to West Luxor, “New Gourna.” The majority of settlement was self initiated where Fathy taught the people how to build their own homes, canals, rivers, stalls, bathrooms, etc. The project was both socially and environmentally sustainable and renewable. Fathy goes into great detail about the entire project, from start to finish, and does not hide it’s ultimate failures – which was a cultural failure.

    This is a cultural issue. If people are not willing to reorient how and why they need to live in a more sustainable manner, they are going to continue in this self inflicting tragedy of consumerism and obsolescence. Especially in the Middle East, where Islamic Architecture once reigned (and still does) as one of the most rational and advanced engineering of its time, has been completely neglected and traded for a “western” aesthetic of design and building.The Qura’an teaches us to look around and ponder the creation of Allah (SWT); the world is a living miracle on a daily basis; its function and resources it can provide to the human is endless.

    Salam and Allah (SWT) Knows Best.

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