Let’s begin this conversation on sustainability with a conversation that Allah ﷻ had with the angels.
Remember when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a vicegerent on the earth!” They said, “Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodshed, while we proclaim Your purity, along with your praise, and sanctify Your name?” He said, “Certainly, I know what you know not.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:30)
So, what is a vicegerent, exactly? Some translate the original word, khalīfah, as “deputy,” “pontiff,” or “governor.” However, as is the case with most synonyms, this often leaves us with more words than we know what to do with, rather than a clear definition.
A vicegerent is this: someone who is put in charge of something by someone else. That person has the authority to rule on behalf of the real ruler. In the above verse, Allah ﷻ is blessing Adam (may peace be upon him), with vicegerency. According to the tafseer Maarif ul-Qur’an, the angels are surprised by this. How can humanity be trusted with the task of taking care of the earth, when they knew that humans would spread disorder on it? “Spreading disorder” isn’t limited to just causing bloodshed either. It can take many forms like theft, usury, corruption, and pollution.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare reports that 90% of seabirds consume manmade plastic. Animals aren’t the only ones doing so; even human blood was found to contain microplastics. The amount of hormones in our food causes children to mature faster and can lead to cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. When we look up at the sky, we may or may not see a few sprinkles of stars due to light pollution, and when we look at the world around us, we see showers of floods and tornadoes from climate change.
While this conversation can include measures that can be taken with corporations, governments, and other larger bodies that overwhelmingly contribute to this global crisis, this article will cover the lifestyle changes on an individual level that can be made.
It is important to remember that conservation is not deprivation, and a sustainable summer can become a sustainable lifestyle. After all, vicegerency ultimately involves responsibility, and taking care of the earth is ultimately part of that responsibility.
1. Use portable water bottles: The “emotional support water bottle” isn’t just for personal comfort. It helps communal comfort as well. If you carry a 25 oz water bottle with a goal of 75 oz a day, you cut down on five 16 oz plastic bottles daily. Despite being recyclable, 80% of them are still dumped into landfills. Even if you do end up turning these bottles into a green or blue bin, you ease the price you’d be paying to keep them on hand. Additionally, you reduce the potential threat of consuming microplastics.
2. Carry a traveling mug: Perfect for your caffeine fix! With inflation on the rise, a cup of coffee can easily cost $10 with a snack. For the price of four days’ worth of coffee, one could have an entire month’s supply of homemade coffee, with a more expensive machine like Nespresso. That’s not counting the add-ons like oat or almond milk that are often overpriced at the coffee shop, when you could purchase a carton and use it at home.
3. Shop consciously: This isn’t about being frugal, or only buying things that claim to be environmentally conscious. It’s about making better buying choices. The next time you need an article of clothing, try opting for a preloved outfit rather than a new one. Not only is it cheaper, it also helps cut on the 10% of carbon emissions that the fashion industry contributes toward. Companies like ALMAZ Wearables even offer wedding wear in addition to other gently worn clothes. One can also opt for sewing or patching minor tears on clothing. Thrift stores are treasure troves of vintage and preloved items that make for an exciting shopping experience.
When it comes to food habits, there are other switches to make as well. Rather than purchasing candies and snack bars, go for fruits and vegetables. Peels can be composted, and most don’t require extra plastic wrapping in order to be preserved.
The aluminum that canned goods are packaged in can also be recycled, rather than the plastic that frozen ones come in. A glass jar can either be recycled or reused, for example, as a pencil holder.
4. Rethink recycling: This is one of the most commonly-known forms of sustainability, and oddly enough, one of the most misunderstood. Did you know that only certain recycling centres take certain plastics? The same goes for styrofoam, and they both undergo different processes. Generally, the trick is to look for a triangle on a package. If it’s 1-6, it can be placed into any recycling bin, but only after being washed. Coffee dregs on a recyclable cup have to be thrown away, and even if a cardboard pizza box has the triangle, any stains on it mean that it must be placed in the garbage. Ask your local recycling centre about their policy on plastics and styrofoam. Home for Foam is a great resource, and major department stores will often provide bins in the front for you to drop off things like plastic bags.
5. Carpooling and consolidating: Carpooling is an oft-cited move for conserving on costs, but as we grow in a world that increasingly relies on individual vehicles, it is not always practical for everyone to use public transportation. An easier thing to do is to cut down your use of vehicles as much as possible. Set aside one or two days in the week for errands, rather than doing one each day. Walk as much as you can—to the mailbox, to a nearby store, even to the park around the corner.
6. Conserve water: Long showers and baths are a guilty pleasure for us all. Keep a waterproof timer in the shower to condense showers to 4 minutes or less. Hand washing dishes can also save on water. If you use a dishwasher, fill it to the brim, the same goes for clothes washers and dryers as well.
7. Get creative in the kitchen: When you cook more at home, you also give back to the local economy. Farmer’s markets or smaller stores offer ingredients cheaper, and at a higher quality, because they don’t have to pay as much to transport the food.
Eating seasonally is a healthier and more economic choice as well. It’s a miracle in and of itself that Allah ﷻ has provided us with the nutrients we need. For example, citrus comes to crop during cold and flu season, when we need the Vitamin C. Seasonal food also relies less on greenhouse gas, pesticides, and other chemicals needed in order to grow the food outside of its time.
Meal prepping has another added benefit. Going into a store with a list helps you save by buying only what you need. Takeout may seem to be the easy option in the short term but in the long run, it has heavy consequences. If you’re picking up something to-go, you also pick up plastic cutlery, a styrofoam box, a plastic bag, and other waste. At home, you’re using dishes and cutlery, and any remains can be comfortably frozen or refrigerated for later. Instead of plastic-wrapping your dishes, you can use either beeswax or tupperware.
8. Compost your kitchen scraps: Otherwise known as “nature recycling,” composting involves organic matter. Food peels, fruit vines and pits, tea and tea bags, coffee grinds, oats, along with other things, can be dropped off at a composting centre, a compost bin at a specialty store, or into your own backyard (provided that it’s been prepared for it). Keep in mind that dairy, meat and bones depend on the centre.
One common concern is not having easy access to a compost centre, or that a countertop compost bin attracts flies. An easy trick is to put a lined bin inside of your freezer, and to fill kitchen scraps with it until you’re ready to drop it off. In countries like Canada, it’s normal to have a green bin collected every few weeks for compostables, and another pail under the sink. But places like the United States are more difficult. You can use resources like Where to Compost for composting businesses, ShareWaste for neighbours who will take your scraps, and your local Whole Foods for a compost bin.
9. Mindful electricity consumption: The biggest ease of being in your living space is that you can dress to your comfort. In hot summers, you don’t need to wear a hijab or long sleeves at home. If it is feasible, you can keep cool by drinking cold water and wearing light clothes. When it’s winter, rather than turning on the heat, put on an extra layer and have some tea or hot chocolate. Be mindful of electronics, and whether they should be plugged in at all times. Open shades in the winter to keep your living space warm, and close them to keep it cool.
10. Reuse, reuse, reuse: Most stores offer reusable shopping bags and totes for their customers. In some cases, it’s too expensive not to. States like Colorado will even charge you for a plastic bag, just like ALDI charges for paper bags. Walmart Canada eliminated single use plastics across their stores in February 2023 for all in store and online pick up orders, encouraging people to bring reusable bags from home. Keep reusable bags in your car for your shopping and reusable containers nearby so that when you go out to eat, you don’t have to use styrofoam. If you go to work, you can keep a tupperware by your desk in case lunch is hosted, as well as a spork or bamboo cutlery.
Personal comfort can come with a communal cost, but building habits like these doesn’t mean breaking the bank. These humble efforts to save our planet also help save on spending as well. So many organizations can help you get started; first, from identifying your carbon footprint to ways you can reduce it, like the Carbon Literacy Project for assistance. Aim for conscious consumption and rely on Allah ﷻ for results. May He ﷻ make us of His vicegerents.
Hannah Alkadi is a Lawful Good Social Media Master, starving writer, cat mom, and total nerd. She is 29 years old and lives in Dallas, TX. Her current project is the revival of her blog, “Social Media Free Sabil Allah,” helping nonprofit and for-profit owners navigate the wild, wild web.