Observing, Understanding and Respecting Nature is Imperative of Deep Faith

The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) thanking students for remembering that some things decompose and others don’t.

 Last week, I read Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, a book that calls you to open your heart and care deeply about yourself, your community, city, country, continent and our shared planet. I started the book after reading In the Footsteps of the Prophet, a book in which Tariq Ramadan writes:

“This relationship with nature was so present in the Prophet’s life from his earliest childhood that one can easily come to the conclusion that living close to nature, observing, understanding and respecting it, is imperative of deep faith. […]Being close to nature, respecting what it is, and observing and meditating on what it shows us, offers us or takes (back) from us requirements of a faith, in its quest, attempts to feed, deepen and renew itself. Nature is the primary guide and intimate companion of faith” (Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet, p.13)

This insistence that nature is needed for faith intrigued me, because I love the natural environment, but I am my most energetic and passionate when I’m in a beautiful city. I love the gleam of skyscrapers, the chatter of coffeeshops, the bustle of a crowd, and the feeling you get in a large city that you could meet a wonderful new friend just around the corner. This book however, asks us to think about the world that our city hides from us. It asks us to think about where food comes from beyond the grocery store, the scarcity of water beyond our (Western) household taps, how polluting energy sources adversely impact the planet, and where waste goes beyond the ‘chutes’ in our apartment building or the garbage can outside our house. It acknowledges it is hard to be mindful of these things, but emphasizes that understanding chains of consequence is a key component of living an ethical life.

This journey begins with spending time to repair our own hearts.  In the beginning of the book, the author notes:

” Our hearts need healing just as our planet needs healing. We can heal through prayer, and we can heal the planet through prayer – not just in the spiritual sense, but also by becoming more open to living a life in concert with all of creation. The way we treat our planet is a reflection of how we treat ourselves, and the way we treat ourselves is a reflection of how we treat our planet.”

The book in itself is a basic introduction to environmental issues such as water, watts, food and waste, and details issues that require sustained personal and collective reflection and action. If you’ve taken any courses at the high school or undergraduate level on the environment much of this information is not new, but the book attempts to invite those who have not typically thought about the environment to become informed and act. It tries to add an Islamic perspective to the environmental discussion by articulating the principles of a Green Deen. These principles include striving for justice, protecting the earth, being a steward, and being in balance with nature. The point of these principles (which are repeated in each chapter and section) is to show the reader that caring for the environment is not an ‘add on” to faith; it is vital. According to the author:

“Islam orients Muslims towards living a life that is not wasteful, a life in which we are mindful of where our food comes from, and one in which we are careful not to create more harm, whether it is through our words, our actions, or our inaction.” (p.167)

For me, what was most engaging about this book was the author’s discussion of topics that relate to Muslims specifically, such as the ecological impact of one’s local mosque  (and how to create a strategy for improvement) and being water – conscious when preparing for the five daily prayers.

On the topic of water, the author notes:

“A person with a Green Deen is mindful of the amount of water used during wudu (ablution). Although wudu is an essential and vital part of Islamic practice, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught thriftiness with water. He warned against wasting water when doing wudu, even if one lives near a river. Today, however, many of us forget this “green” practice of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).

My critique of the book is that it would have been strengthened with more time spent on these areas, but less than a critique, this is a reminder that there is much more to be written on this topic. This book is the only one I know of like it, and for this reason cannot be everything to all readers. More writers need to get involved, and as this book tries to argue, more Muslims, and more people of all faiths and philosophical backgrounds need to feel part of the environmental movement because there are so many technical, scientific and creative problems that need  the attention of critical minds. Addressing all of us, this book calls on us to get informed, get inspired, and start working.

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