Below is a summary of a talk I gave at Lambeth Palace in March this year, at a national Interfaith conference on sustainability. Attending the conference was a valuable experience for me. I observed some inspiring and thought provoking talks, as well as a number of small group discussions. At the same time, I noticed that 'power' and the extent to which it can be centralised in faith groups was something that a number of small groups showed some resistance to reflecting on.
The conference was on a selection basis (as opposed to first come, first serve) in a prestigious venue, and no doubt many of the people who attended were probably in positions of privilege in their faith communities. Might it be that some might ultimately lose some of that privilege if the issue of power was brought more fully to awareness? This is something I have thought about. Amongst a bunch of other things, I'm looking at writng a piece focussing more on my experience of the day, but for now here's that summary of the talk I gave at the conference!...
An Islamic Ecological Engagement: Uniting the Strands
By Muzammal Hussain, Founder of Wisdom In Nature
The Outer and the Inner
The faiths – by providing a framework that re-orient life from the material to the spiritual – offer a means of lessening our attachment to the physical world, to materialism and to wealth accumulation. Faiths can thus offer a quality that is of profound value to environmental care.
We are spiritual beings. However, we also have the gift of a body - a vehicle to help bring wholeness into the world. Along with the concept of stewardship expressed in a number of faith traditions, the fact that we physically exist places on us a responsibility. In Islam, this role of a ‘steward’ is called khalifah.
Yet, if faith traditions re-orient us to the inner whilst placing an outer responsibility, what kind of approach might we take outwardly? How might it be distinct from an approach which disregards the inner?
Nature, social ecology & an interconnected world
One quality might be that with a spiritual or Divine centre, we are able to act without ‘our issue’ becoming an idol in the marketplace of competing issues.
We might also look to nature. The Qur’an guides people to contemplate nature which it refers to as ayat or ‘signs’ - the same term used to describe verses in the Qur’ an. For Muslims, thus, nature is a ‘sign’ of the Divine; and can offer inspiration that moves us to wholesome solutions. In nature we can witness mutually supportive relationships, and multi-directional processes rather than linear ones.
If we can apply the lessons of nature to environmental care, we might take an approach that is co-nurturing and ultimately more resilient. Rather competing with issues, our approach might integrate the social, economic and ‘environmental’. Indeed some say that the economic system - based on fictitious money, usury and unending growth on a finite planet - is at the heart of the environmental crisis. There is no absolute separation, and to make any would go against the nature of things in a world where things are inter-connected.
To me, ecological activism - the activism that I strive to participate in - is activism that values interconnectedness - honouring the relationship between different strands of existence however much cultural norms differentiate between them.
From a social perspective, it means awareness around class, gender, culture, power and privilege, for example. Without an appreciation of social diversity, so everyone - with our unique stories, hurts and hopes - can feel and is included, how effectively can we work in communities as we take our work forward?
Ultimately a joined-up, integrated approach, whose centre is the Divine is one, which I believe, was embodied by the Prophets, who were compassionate and holistic as they engaged outwardly.
Wisdom In Nature: Islamic grassroots activism
The group I am involved with, Wisdom In Nature, attempts an integrated approach. We used such processes to complete our photo-booklet ‘Islam & Climate Change ~ A Call to Heal’.
Also, we do not accept donations from government or corporations. Indeed our day-to-day funding comes only from individuals.
A natural extension of our work is to support local initiatives. Our Islamic community food project at Spitalfields City Farm is an example of this. Participants connect with the earth, train in facilitation using inclusive processes whilst also discovering their own direction – all within a framework that values spirituality.
With a presence in London and more recently in Brighton, we look forward to collaborations and community building as we further an integrated approach in these locations.
© Muzammal Hussain