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18 Sep 2011

WIN Rep talks at Lambeth Palace: Summary of speech

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!... 

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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

14 Sep 2011

Mobile Phones: Appreciating Another World Out there

With mobile phones being such an integral part of modern culture, it takes a courageous person to raise questions about their use. One such person is my friend Geoff Robinson.

In his late thirties, Geoff's health took a major down-turn near the end of last year, upsetting almost every aspect of his life - and which he was privately told "was probably" triggered by taking a course of a licensed antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin (though possibly exacerbated by also taking two other medicines within a few days of the antibiotic). Although somewhat better, Geoff is still recovering and dedicating a significant amount of time to questioning the safety of certain things we take for granted.

Turning his attention to mobile phones, Geoff recently posted a general information link on social media concerning the potential health risks they posed. Pleased that someone else I knew was highlighting another side to this technology, I began to feel courageous enough to share additional thoughts I had about wider aspects of mobile culture. Using the medium of this blog, this is one place where I will contribute some of my thoughts, with the intention of wrapping this up in a short piece, hopefully sufficient to capture some key points that may or may not resonate.

My three points for this post are as follows:

1) Many of us find it easy to accept that mobile phones can be a social convenience (and convenient for activism too), but it seems hard for many of us to acknowledge that they can also end up being a social nuisance, especially when used without restraint. On the one hand they allow us so much more freedom to roam while also being available, yet, this strength can also become a weakness - making them potential candidates for invading intimate conversations, stripping our relaxation time, and startling us with the latest ring tones.

2) This one is a question: Why do some mobile phone users assume that those, like me, who choose not to use one are hard to contact? In every instance where this belief is held, I've found that the effort to make a call doesn't seem to have been made. Yet, it isn't infrequently that many of us hear the following statements when unable to communicate with a mobile phone contact:

a) "Oh so sorry - I wanted to return your call but my phone got stolen and I lost your number. Can you text it me?"

b) "My battery ran out, I didn't get your message until it was too late".

and of course...

c) "So sorry, man. I ran out of credit, and wasn't able to get my voice mail."

I would go so far as to say that being contactable has less to do with the technology we carry, or not, and more to do with an attitude of mind!

Onto point 3!

3) Sometimes mobile phone non-users are pressured by their mobile phone buddies to get one, or pressure one another to keep their mobile on in all circumstances! Thus, if as a user, you are tempted to pressurise your friend to get a mobile or to always have it on, please do be mindful that in today's world those of us who tend not to use a mobile phone, or only use one wisely are a minority. We've probably been feeling the pressure to get one for a while, if we haven't already done so bearing in mind the glossy, repetitive, corporate advertising flung at us, and have thus probably made our decision with due thought.

Another approach that may be more interesting to consider for each of us would be to ask how it might be possible to accommodate everyone of all beliefs and lifestyles as best possible. To consider this, we may want to switch off our mobile phone for a few minutes, take a deep breath, go within to introduce the question mindfully and then let go. Quite possibly some kind of clarity will eventually come...

One thing I respect from many friends who have a mobile and which helps welcome those, like me who tend not to use one, is when they appreciate the sky high costs of calling their mobile phone from most landlines. Remember, if we don't use a mobile, a landline's what we use! These friends who deserve this given praise will either give me a landline number I can call them on (much more cheaply), or they'll call me back using their free minutes. And if they do I'll do my best to excuse any potential connection issues due to a poor signal!

Thank you for reading. May we honour Unity in multiplicity. May Peace be with you :)

Article text © Muzammal Hussain