Whose Environmental Crisis?
3. Reconnect with Creation. Another essential ingredient is to reconnect with "nature" so as to develop in our children (and maybe ourselves) a natural "bodily" reverence for life that many of us are only able to intellectualize. But this must be guided by sound belief in the Oneness of God, and by inculcating them with the principles of the Qur'an and the prophetic way of His Messenger. For if we conserve no befitting servitude to God, we shall preserve no wholesome care for His creation. The two are inseparable, our observing the rights of God and the rights of God's handiwork, the environment. Put another way, if we behold not the beauty of God, we shall hold not the beauty of the creation He fashioned for us and all "others." Or we may say that God is the Truth who created all things with the truth. To violate His Truth with falsehood is to necessarily corrupt creation.
We can nurture our children's connection to nature by giving them the toys of creation instead of planting consumerism's seeds in them from birth. Have them spend a significant amount of time outdoors playing with mud, sticks, trees, water, and animals, and keep them away from media. We must cultivate in our children a love for work, such as making things by hand. This can also be integrated into a curriculum and at home. It is a great deficiency and point of criticism that we Muslims have come to see ourselves "above" the labor of self-sufficiency, valuing instead desk servitude, jobs that may give the delusion of social prestige but contribute nothing to our communal wellbeing.
4. Reconnect Our Education with Life, Namely, the Qur'an. Our education has to be reconnected to life. Our learning must become contextualized so that we move from learning "facts" to critically understanding the world we live in and being able to function in the world with wisdom and integrity. That is to say, we must address the needs that come with our life as spiritual beings not fully of this earth. Humans are always looking for upliftment, for a high, for power and control to give them purpose and meaning. Even though we kill our hearts from a young age, we are driven for a need to "feel," which comes from our increasingly adrenalin-driven activities and furious search for wealth and worldly status. What we are really searching for is transcendence, truth, spiritual fulfillment.
So most importantly we must read and reflect on the Qur'an. There are dozens of Qur'an classes online and probably at most mosques, but we need, in addition to learning meanings and commentary of the Qur'an, to program our own implementation of it, as our scholars have detailed it for a millennium and more. Yet this will only be consolidated and meaningful if we add to this our own reflection on its meaning in our lives, times, environment, and the universe -- with wide-open creativity.
I have begun a program where we read a few ayaat, look some words up in the dictionary, and then reflect and ponder on them. We then write and share a few paragraphs about our own reactions and thoughts. It has been most enlightening and enjoyable. Family and friends can share their reflections and discuss them. Challenging each other is very important in the dialogue to move it past chitchat to discovering our own deep-seated beliefs and allowing our ideas to grow and change. In addition, we should set goals to achieve together -- for Allah tells us to compete in good works: Examples are memorization, keeping a Qur'an Reflection Journal, fasting, praying nights, and giving regular charity from the things we ourselves grow and make, and countless other things. For in the end, it is spiritual upliftment and good character that will help us to stand strong for justice and plant seeds for real change.
Islam tells us that all the prophets were shepherds, a job most of us now look down on with contempt. But as a scholar who recently passed away once said, he came to understand through years of observation, reflection, and cultivation of land, there is a profound wisdom in the healing of the earth as the cure for a world filled with horrifying human oppression.
Our challenge is to learn to see ourselves, the animals, plants, minerals and all the beings of the earth again, as they truly are, fellow creatures worshipping the same, sole God who created them and us, and who sustains us. That is why it is so important that we once again learn to listen. For, as we have seen, it is only the words of the Qur'an that can put life back into our hearts and cure our blindness. Then, when we look into its unfailing mirror, we shall, indeed, see clearly the fairest of creation.
Shireen Pishdadi has been involved in Chicago's Faith in Place, an interfaith organization that helps religious leaders address environmental issues from their faith perspectives. She also co-founded Taqwa Eco-Food, a co-op that aims at producing food that meets Islamic dietary regulations.