by Hinna Sheikh in Ramadan on 19th April, 2020
Written for Ramadan 2019
Sustainability and the environment have been on my mind a lot recently. After reading some articles on Amaliah about ethical fashion, our spiritual connection to the earth, as well as the symbolic nature of the colour green, it really got me thinking about my own impact on the environment. I was thinking about accountability for looking after the planet and doing my bit to try to help curb the damaging impact certain practices have on the planet. Nature and the environment is mentioned in the Qur’an in various places. Our Prophet, peace be upon him, mentioned the benefits of things like honey and black seed oil, natural things produced from the earth. As a Muslim, there is more I need to do to actively preserve and look after what Allah has created, He mentioned it in His Book and put signs in creation for us to remember and thank Him. I think part of our gratitude to Him comes through our relationship with the earth.
We all know the damaging impact we are having on the environment. We all know there are things we can be doing to reduce our impact. I am often inspired by those people who have adopted more sustainable lifestyle options. I work with many people who are vegetarian or vegan, who walk/ cycle/ use public transport daily, who try to adopt a waste-free lifestyle. The underlying cause of their lifestyle choice is an inherent reverence for animals and the earth, and the majority of these people are not Muslim. Being surrounded by such people on a daily basis has inspired me to step back and think about my own lifestyle choices and to think, as a Muslim, how much am I actually and actively doing to make a positive change to the way I live in order to benefit the Earth?
This really got me thinking about my own life, how sustainable is it?
How can I make it more sustainable?
Why am I more readily eager to campaign and speak out about political issues but not environmental ones?
I was listening to a podcast about Islam and environmentalism recently when it hit me: as Muslims we are stewards, khalifa, over this Earth. It’s been entrusted to us to be looked after and preserved. Yet so many of us (myself included) have not been treating the earth as it should be treated through our consumer choices and the way we live.
In Surah al-An’am, Allah (SWT) says: “And it is He who sends down rain from the sky, and We produce thereby the growth of all things. We produce from it greenery from which We produce grains arranged in layers. And from the palm trees—of its emerging fruit are clusters hanging low. And [We produce] gardens of grapevines and olives and pomegranates, similar yet varied. Look at [each of] its fruit when it yields and [at] its ripening. Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe.” [Qur’an 6:99]
In the same ayah it is stated later that, “And it is He (God) who has made you successors (khalifas) upon the earth…” (Qur’an 6:165).
I was thinking about these two verses and not only do they speak of the process of natural growth, but also that we are successors of this process and the planet upon which this process takes place. But some of us are not fulfilling the duties we should.
Allah (SWT) has gifted us the Earth as the place for us to live, has created each living organism for a precise purpose and created every natural process in the cosmos. When you’re gifted something you don’t discard it, you treasure it and appreciate the source of the gift. But we often find ourselves doing the opposite when it comes to appreciating the Earth.
I am not saying I have the perfect model for all to follow in terms of being more environmentally conscious, but I do think there are a few things we can all do to try limit our environmental impact. A starting point would be to analyse your own daily practices and think of ways to change them if they are harmful to the environment. For example, have you got a reusable water bottle? How do you get to work and are you able to use a different mode of transport which would mean less CO2 emissions? Can you shop locally? How many times a week do you eat meat? This is not an exhaustive list of questions but it can get you started in the right direction to shift your daily practices or even just start to think about them.
There is a whole host of places you can go to for information, including podcasts such as HerbRally and For the Wild. For something to watch, Planet Earth 2, Blue Planet and Our Planet are all great and give you an in-depth look into the different ecosystems and wildlife. They make for wholesome family watching too! You may find this audio and/or visual depiction gives you a kick-start into thinking about more environmentally-friendly practices.
Islam is a religion of introspection and one that pushes for ihsan or best practice in our daily lives. We often talk of disciplining the soul, of matters related to the heart, and the ills of our communities. While these are imperative, of course, I think that “green issues” should also occupy the minds of our Ummah too.
In this Western capitalist society, it is often difficult to be conscious of the choices we make. We live in a world of fast fashion, fast food, instant messaging; we can order something online and it will arrive at our doorstep the same day. We live in an instant world where time for thinking is clouded by convenience (I am guilty of this too). But this external environment is affecting our internal, and our ability to stop, think and reflect about the choices we make.
Our religion tells us to stop, think and contemplate; and Ramadan is often the best time to do that. In Surah Al-Imran Allah says, “Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah whilst standing, sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth [saying], ‘Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.’” [Qur’an 3:190-191].
It’s a time to eliminate bad habits and create new good ones. It’s more than just not eating and drinking. It’s a time to push ourselves and evaluate our daily practices and how we can improve them. I would argue it’s also a time to think about own contributions to climate change. One way you can do this during Ramadan is to try going meat-free (join me!). Start small; if you can go vegan, go vegan, but if you think you need a bridge between eating meat and veganism, trying being vegetarian for the month. Secondly, get yourself a reusable water bottle. A lot of plastic cups and bottles go to waste during this month. Try something different and set an example when you go for communal iftar: take your own bottle. Lastly, if you are not usually big on recycling, try it out for the month. Alongside the main bin in your home you can get a recycling bin, or even use a reusable shopping bag for recyclable waste.
We can all imagine the amount of food and plastic waste there is during Ramadan. While we are in the pursuit of good, we can improve it by being mindful of the environmental impact of some of our decisions and addressing them. Our mosques and community centres are doing important work and run amazing community initiatives. Perhaps we can encourage or facilitate the mosques to think about the environmental impact too. Encourage people to bring a reusable bottle to iftar by setting an example and doing this yourself, to cut down on meat at iftar by offering alternative options, and encourage people to walk to Tarawih or car share (if people are able and safe to do so).
As we all start our preparations for the month ahead, I think it’s important that we take a moment to think about the impact we are having on the environment, how it’s a gift to us, and how we owe rights to the Earth in the same way that we owe rights to one another.
So when you start thinking about the changes you want to make this Ramadan, be sure to include the environment in there too.
One place to start is by measuring your carbon footprint. The WWF has a tool that you can use to get an idea of your carbon footprint and then gives you some tips on how to reduce it.
May this Ramadan bring the internal and external growth we are all hoping for. Ameen.
I work in student support services with a focus on finding ways to help break down the barriers for BAME students seeking and accessing support whilst at university. I do some diversity and inclusion work too. I am a big mental health advocate and hope to work in the Islamic Counselling field one day. For all things, Arsenal, sometimes political and the occasional meme follow my Twitter.