On St. Patrick’s Day this year when Irish Catholics around the world wore green in celebration of a man who explained the trinity through the metaphor of a shamrock, I was also thinking green, but not for the same reasons. You see, green is a very endearing color to Muslims. It was the favorite color of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). It’s the color of Jannah (Heaven). It’s the main color with which Allah has painted nature. And it’s the color of a movement that Muslims are increasingly finding that they must be part of.
I am reading an excitingly fresh book on the connection between Islam and the environment: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet (2010). It actually reminded me of a book I read in college called Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment is a Religious Issue: An Interfaith Dialogue (1992), which spoke on the major religious traditions’ response to the global environmental crisis. But Green Deen is a better read in so many ways–it’s more conversational than academic, and it focuses in on the Islamic perspective from a layperson’s point of view. With the opening introductory statement being, “The earth is a mosque, and everything in it is sacred” (p. 1), the premise of the book is simple and clear. People of faith need to be actively involved in the green movement. As vicegerents of The Creator on earth, we human beings have a personal responsibility and right to help make the rules that govern our environment and drink/eat/breathe clean, fresh, and non-toxic water, food, and air. And this is no selfish-endeavor–as The Creator’s vicegerents, we must ensure that all creation enjoys the same benefits of a green existence. Besides, environmentally-conscious living is a part of the sunnah…evidenced in the Qur’an and hadith. As such, Green Deen is nasiha for developing one’s green way of life. More than just an overview of the environmental movmement and the political, social, and economic processes by which we as human beings have led the world to an environmental hell, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin demonstrates how Islamic principles are deeply rooted in the environmental movement, usually only seen as a secular movement.
Green Deen also reminds me of the arguments of an interesting early 20th-century-French-philosopher-scientist-turned-Jesuit-priest by the name of Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. He studied the earth and helped the Catholic Church integrate science into its thought, especially evolutionary ideas. He studied the past in order to try to see the direction of the future, noticing patterns in nature. He saw that the patterns became more complex over time, but were always of continuity and growth. While there are some serious flaws to Tielhard de Chardin’s arguments [he was, after all, a child of the industrial age–see Berry Thomas’ critiques in Dream of the Earth (1990) and Teilhard in the Ecological Age (1982)], he did make some interesting points on the scientific laws of themodynamics that are enlightening on a spiritual and ecological level. The first law you’ll probably remember from grade school–matter and energy are of a constant amount on earth; they cannot be created or destroyed, but they can be transformed. The second is a law of entropy, stating that there is a tendency toward the dissipation of energy–that through time, less energy becomes available for work. We are now witnessing mass consumption of nonrenewable sources of energy, and the law of entropy proves to be true. But Teilhard says we must see a positive outcome for humanity in order to relate in a positive and constructive way to the earth. We should not despair and give up. If we do not see possibility, we are bound to perish (See Robert Imperato’s Christian Footings, 2000, pp. 6-12). Optimism. In the face of a growing truth–that we are going to run out of gas, coal, and oil one day. I say this because I’ve heard the argument by some that the world’s gonna end one day anyway, so what’s the point of all of this environmental fuss?
I’m sure my Christian brothers and sisters will agree–the point is that the conscious man person reflects upon his relationships not only to other human beings, but also to other forms of creation and the earth. If a person is also reflective upon The Creator’s Plan, then his/her intentions will be to serve it. Thus, the dedicated servant of The Creator will overcome egoism, selfishness, and all of the other isms that have lead human society to moral and environmental decay. The one dedicated to improving life on earth is thinking of the future, not the temporality of earth. They are not focusing on “the law of entropy”, but rather working on the principle of seeing multiple possibilities. The mindful worshipper will view the future as the inevitable meeting of The Creator and work even more diligently to not fail the Creator who has entrusted the earth to us. And as the world gets smaller through population increases and technology, this servant will unify with others on the same path, sharing and adopting ideas for the accomplishment of a mutual goal. The environmental cause is a crossroads for people from all walks of life to meet. And this is where Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s work becomes so important, because the book is not written only for Muslims, but those who know nothing about Islam as well. Here’s a positive point-of-reference for Islam in the face of so much negativity, such as the congressional hearings on Muslims (by the way, Congressman Keith Ellison wrote the forward for this book). In the end, we all want to live. Just take this hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) for its message of hope, “Even if the Day of Judgment should arrive and you are holding a sapling in your hand, plant it” (Bukhari, Ahmad).
I’m still reading and re-reading the book, but I’ve especially enjoyed learning about great examples of a green deen all around the world. For instance, did you know that the two holiest places in Islam–the masjids in Mecca and Medina–recycle wastewater, and issued a fatwa encouraging the recycling of treated wastewater for wudu? How about Zaid Shakir’s Lighthouse Masjid in Oakland, California having a green Iftar policy–complete with the use of stainless steel plates that are washed and composting? How about the exemplary model of Indonesia–the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation–having one of the few eco-mosques present in the world, investing in green technologies, with a green building council that rates infrastructure development? Taking care of the environment is seen as natural to them as the air we all breathe, with madrassahs teaching students as early as the 1950s to be good stewards to the Earth. And have you seen the Sheikh Zayed Mosque of Abu Dhabi, UAE, built in 2007, completely off-the-grid using solar and wind energies, shading, and geothermal cooling to power itself while not skimping on Emirati lavishness?!?!? Please feast your eyes on more pictures here. I think the Sandal is going to have to take a field trip there inshAllah.
The best (and at times, most annoying part) about Green Deen is its redundant and simplistic nature, but I don’t blame Abdul-Matin. He’s trying to get some important points across to some very hard heads that have become complacent in the ways things have been done. Of particular note is Abdul-Matin’s repetition of six principles that are cornerstones in Islam that Muslims should use to green their deen:
- understanding the oneness, unity, and connectivity of Allah and His creation (tawhid)
- seeing the signs of Allah everywhere (ayat)
- being a steward of the Earth (khalifah)
- honoring the trust we have with Allah to protect the planet (amana)
- moving toward justice (adl), and
- living in balance with nature (mizan).
I think the seeds have been planted firmly in my memory. And it has brought to the forefront of my memory things that I had forgotten about my upbringing. My grandma was born on a farm. My mom spent summers of her childhood on that farm. And I briefly recollect being three on a farm and learning how to pick vegetables and fruits. I have a distinctive memory of skipping down rows of blueberry and blackberry bushes with a basket on my arm. But where did all that go? Not everyone in my generation has had that same experience of being close to the earth, and as we progress, people are more unsynchronized and dislocated from the earth, not knowing where food comes from beyond the grocery store, or which way it grows…let alone how to pick it.
I’ve learned and re-learned a lot from Green Deen. I even have a little more admiration for one president in particular. On August 31, 1910, President Teddy Roosevelt said while giving a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us” (qtd. on p. 40). Abdul-Matin writes about the greatest people who walked the earth–those admired and honored long after their death: “Did their achievements come about because of a focus on the material world or because of a focus on serving the world?” (p.22).
Thought-provoking stuff, I tell you. We have become so removed from our essence and our beginning. The problems with which we are grappling haven’t always been this prominent. Pollution and energy became an issue after industrialization and colonization, as people (and subsequently, technology) have evolved. Pampers haven’t always been around…what kind of diapers do you think the people of the prophets used? What kind of diapers do you think were used just 100 years ago?
A couple of family members have called me “the green monster” in the past. I don’t take offense to it, it’s an endearing term. I like Shrek. I started greening my deen when I was pregnant with Noora. I knew I’d have to be accountable to her and show her a good example, and the need for new baby items, coupled with my fear of toxins and pervading-OCD personality did the rest. I wanted her to live in world that wasn’t a trash dump. I didn’t want the world of Wall-E to become her future.
But now upon reading this book, I realize that there is so much more that I can do. Perhaps I’m not as a green as I can be, and am more teal-green or closer to the blue that originally symbolized St. Patrick’s Day.
But for me, it all boils down to this: cause and effect. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What we do matters–and affects every thing. Abdul-Matin talks about the invisible side of the unsustainable practices we hold so dear…and the cost of holding on to those practices. It makes you think, pleading ignorance is no longer an option. We should know the consequences of our actions and the cost of what powers our lives. We can transform our lifestyles and let go of our unsustainable practices, but for the most part, we choose not to.
The green movement is a movement focused on creativity; we each must find ways to be better citizens of the earth–wherever we are–home, work, place of worship–how little or how much we can do it. The focus is on operating with less and being efficient–aren’t those the best business practices anyway? We must leave our world better than we found it and live with less in order to have more. This world of instant gratification and immediacy is too damaging. We won’t transform into green monsters overnight, but any one little change we make will make a positive change in the world. A little adds up. Remember, there is a a cause and effect for everything. By acting responsibly with the environment, we ensure that future inhabitants of the earth can enjoy some of the same blessings we’ve enjoyed.
The Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all creation, including animals, plants, and bugs. He (saws) said, “There is reward in doing good to every little thing.” (Bukhari and Muslim). He (saws) also said, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Our brotherhood is not only limited to human beings. The earth is one community. We are used to taking from the bounty of Allah, but it is only a loan. Are we willing to give it back? How about share it? As many Qur’anic ayah and hadiths point out, killing one thing is like killing everything, and saving one thing is like saving all of humanity. The whole earth is alive, and full of many little living things. Let’s pay it forward and be good to ourselves by being good to our neighbors. With lots of tips for greening your deen and references to follow for Muslims active in the environmental movement, Green Deen is a great read to start your journey to being a more-conscious citizen of the planet. But for more practical green tips for the everyday (even when traveling), check out the green book: the Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Krostigen (and yep! the title is lowercase on purpose). I picked it up at Kohl’s for a flat $5 and 100% of the net profit supports children’s health and education invitiatives nationwide. Double charity points, inshAllah!$!$!
And here are some basic tips that I’ve picked up from my greening efforts that you could start with as early as today:
- Recycle, upcycle, and reuse–this usually doesn’t cost anything, and your local government will give you a separate bin to use
- Buy green products, voting with your dollar for stores to keep carrying the good stuff and devalue the bad stuff
- Use energy-efficient electronics in your home
- Turn off energy sources when not in use–this includes electricity and water
People in third-world countries use less materials than us and seem to be at the brunt end of the deal–they use less so we can use more. Perhaps we can use less so they will have more. Just look at this tip from the green book, “…Flush just one less time per day, and you’ll save about 4.5 gallons of water–as much water as the average person in Africa uses for a whole day of drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning” (p.6). Can you imagine? When did wasting water become the popular thing to do?
The Creator says, “But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” (Qur’an 7:31)
The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said ,“Do not be wasteful when performing wudu even if you were at a flowing river.” (Sahih Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Majah)
In Surah Al Kahf (The Cave), Allah says:
“As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a (single) righteous deed. For them will be Gardens of Eternity; beneath them rivers will flow; they will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade: They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good the recompense! How beautiful a couch to recline on!” (Sura Al Kahf 18:30-31)
Everything in the universe emanates from One Great Source. We can choose to mirror and reflect that Greatness or stray from it. We are but earth, water, and spirit, and in the end, we will return to the earth. I’d prefer for my next home to be already well kept, not a junkyard. The way we treat our planet is ultimately a reflection of how we treat ourselves and others.
I don’t know about you, but I believe in treating others how I want to be treated, and in the end days, I want to be a permanent fixture in the Ultimate Garden wearing those garments of fine silk and green brocade, surrounded by flowing rivers of Heaven because I did not waste from the flowing rivers on Earth.