This is the first in a new series within Inside Islam that will explore the intersection of faith and environmentalism. Posts here on the blog by diverse religious leaders and community activists are leading up to an interfaith panel discussion (to be held in Madison on March 6th) and a radio show on the topic. Specifics on those events follow below.
Huda Alkaff is the founder and director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin (IEG) and president of Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light. She taught ecology at UW-Oshkosh and has spent over a decade working as an advocate for environmental justice, initiating Muslim and interfaith programs focused on energy, water, and land conservation. In addition to orchestrating the Green Ramadan project, Alkaff has also led IEG’s monthly environmental awareness campaign.
Believe it or not, I have been an environmentalist since I was a child. Back then, I remember being asked the famous question from the adults in my family and my teachers, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Remember that question? To everyone’s surprise, my answer was “An ecologist, an environmentalist!” I was and still am fascinated by nature, the sea (my best friend) and all its inhabitants, the mountains, the stars, the trees, the birds, etc. And I wanted to learn more about them.
Ecology is the study of interconnections and interdependence among everything in space and in time. Systems Ecology interested me the most since it looks into the big picture and studies patterns, processes, and relationships among different parts. The continuous attempt at establishing connections is the driving force for my ongoing work to build strong and sustainable bridges between the environmental teachings in Islam and my university environmental training and education.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said,
If doomsday is about to take place while anyone of you has a sapling in his/her hand, which he/she can cultivate, let him/her cultivate it for he/she will be rewarded.
My little sapling is the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin, a volunteer group, formed in 2005. We consider environmental justice (the right for clean air, pure water, healthy food, good sanitation, etc.) as a human rights issue. Our goal is to work with others to make environmental justice a reality for all.
Justice is the basis of all human relations and a foundation of Islamic rule. It is this word–“justice”–that is the overriding value of Islam and captures the essence of all Islamic laws and teachings. God speaks of justice many times in the Qur’an.
These are the Signs of God: We rehearse them to thee in Truth: And God means no injustice to any of His creatures. [Surah ‘Ali ‘Imran 3:108]
God created a perfect balance: the water (that Muslims use in ablution to purify themselves before prayer), the soil (that Muslims use in tayammum, in the absence of water, to purify themselves before prayer), and the earth that Muslims can pray on wherever they are to purify themselves.
God created the wonderful, just, balanced, and sustainable creation. Corruption of the Earth such as the destruction of crops, livestock, and the environment in general is forbidden in the Qur’an.
Do no mischief on Earth after it has been set in order. [Surah Al-‘A’raf 7:85]
Unnecessary waste is also forbidden in times of plenty, as well as in times of drought or famine. God says in the Qur’an,
O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters. [Surah Al-‘A’raf 7:31]
Islam has urged humanity to be kind to nature and not to abuse the trust that has been placed on our shoulders. Both the Qur’an and hadith emphasize the accountability and responsibility of humans towards protecting and maintaining God’s balanced creation. We Muslims have a great responsibility. Learning, understanding, and preserving the balance on Earth is an Islamic duty and obligation. We have to step up to it now, and always.
On Tuesday, March 6, Huda Alkaff will join other contributors for Green Faith: An Interfaith Conversation on Eco-Consciousness and Activism. In addition, our radio show on Wednesday, February 29, will be about Green Faith. More details will follow soon here at Inside Islam. Let us know your thoughts and reactions to this initiative below.