Where does your concern for the environment stem from?
My environmental interest stems from when I was living in Argentina as a young girl. As expatriates we were living in a gated compound, but just outside the compound there were people living in shacks on a waste dump next to a deserted harbour full of oil slick. I didn’t think this was right. This is where the seeds of my ‘environmental jihad’ were sown.
Do you think growing up in an environmentally-aware society such as the Netherlands contributed towards your interest in environmental issues?
I actually grew up in several countries, with my time spent in Argentina being particularly influential. In the Netherlands I did join the ‘Panda Club’ (juniors of the World Wildlife Fund), but left as I thought they were wasting time on social events, while all I wanted was to save the pandas! I was about 12 at the time.
Were you aware of the environmental teachings of Islam prior to reverting?
Yes, the environmental teachings of Islam were actually the reason for converting. I wasn’t looking at becoming religious. I grew up in quite a fiercely secular household and though I had some big questions about life, I was not looking at religion to provide answers, thinking it would only add more questions! While I was studying for a second Master’s degree in international politics, Islam was mentioned. I had started in the Autumn of 2001 so the terrible events of 9/11 changed the programme. Wanting to keep my brain busy, I thought I’d read what the Qur’an and Sunnah were really all about. As an environmentalist, it all made complete sense.
Do you think that most Muslims are aware of the powerful environmental message of Islam?
I fear not. I appreciate that Islam is a way of life which should guide our life in all aspects, but as it is all-encompassing, it is not easy to get educated about all the aspects. Many community and faith leaders also seem to have the environment at the bottom of their list of priorities, even if research shows that being around nature – even your local park – can significantly improve your physical and mental health, thus also helping you be a better Muslim. The fact that many Muslims are currently not aware of the powerful environmental message of our beautiful faith only motivates me more to do my bit to change this. We can do this together, if we want to and we should, both as submitters to God’s will and in fulfilment of our ‘job’ as khalifah (guardians) of God’s Creation.
Can you tell us about your involvement in the Muslim environmental movement in the UK?
When moving to the UK, I wanted to get to know people and also continue my environmental work. I found that IFEES (Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences), though small, punches way above its weight. I set up MINE (Midlands Islamic Network for the Environment) as a ‘brain child’ of IFEES to focus on local practical activities such as a yearly organic iftar open to women and girls of all faiths.
What are the obstacles, in your opinion, towards revitalising the ecological ethic of Islam?
In the rich countries we are lulled into thinking that we can buy ourselves out of any (environmental) challenges, while in the poorest countries people need to focus on their immediate survival. I believe our key obstacle is ourselves. We choose to not give the ecological ethic of Islam the attention it deserves and we can choose to change that, for our own sake on the Day of Judgement and because generations after us have an equal right to God’s bounties.
Where did the idea for writing ‘199 Ways to Please God’ come from?
Upon converting I noticed how few books there were on Creation and our duty as Muslims to look after it, so instead of waiting for this to change I thought I should try to change it myself, even in a small way. The book is intended as a ‘save cash and planet’ book, but from an Islamic perspective.
What is the reason behind the title?
I started thinking of collecting 52 ways, one reminder a week, but it just grew from there. On purpose I left it at 199 as that number sounds open, that there are many more ways.
What would be your advice to Muslims wanting to live in an environmentally-friendly and responsible manner?
Read about the way the Prophet (SAW) led his life, for example, how much (or how little!) water he used to make his ablutions (wudhu and ghusl): he used less than 2 litres for ghusl. Also, remind yourself about how compassionate Prophet Muhammad r was to all creatures. Finally, as Muslims we should be environmentally friendly, whether our actions have an immediate impact or not, we should do it even for the sake of pleasing God.
INTERNET RESOURCES FOR MUSLIM ECO-ACTIVISTS
Earth Mates Dialogue Centre (EMDC)
Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES)
London Islamic Network for the Environment (LINE)
Muslim Green Team: A Muslim American Society Project
Go Green Muslim Campaign
Green Creation (Rianne ten Veen)
Green Muslims in the District
Najma Mohamed is an environmental researcher and writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled for her PhD in Islam and Environmental Education.