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Process Focus: Returning to Fitrah

In this article on Process Focus, Shumaisa Khan explores living in accordance with our fitrah and purifying our livelihoods by taking small steps together and Elizabeth Lymer accepts her gentle push to take the first steps.

Returning to our fitrah is a means of living according to a moral, whole economy – an economic ethic driven primarily by relationship rather than financial gain.



Shumaisa Khan:
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”-Rumi


This quote, to me, speaks of rightful livelihood (righteously gained) and life as worship.


As Muslims, we aspire to live in a manner in which every breath we take and act we do is in a state of surrender to Allah (SWT), the Most Glorified, the Most High. Yet, the realities of our lives – whether raising children or going to a job – involve stimulation that distracts us from our primordial essence (fitrah), which is the state of surrender to our Creator. Perhaps this essence can be considered our soul.


As I delve more into permaculture, I have greater appreciation of the wisdom of the Qur’an in pointing to signs in nature. I believe that cultivating a deep nature connection is essential to living a life more aligned with our soul. I’m struggling to find the time to do this myself, but when I have had such experiences – albeit fleeting – I have found they have helped me reclaim presence. And a state of being in presence brings us closer to our fitrah.


Other sentient beings naturally live more in the present moment. While they might plan ahead and store food, there is no clock telling them the time. They live according to the cycles of the day and the seasons. Many Muslims today are uncomfortable at the thought of doing prayers without consulting a timetable or hearing notifications on their devices. Such things are useful at times, but we are incredibly out of touch with deep time – or perhaps timelessness – and would benefit from spending some time regularly not on a clock and perhaps with no particular destination – just being in the wild areas around us.


Returning to our fitrah is also a means of living according to a moral, holistic economy – an economic ethic driven primarily by relationship rather than financial gain. ‘Work’ used to be more integrated into life and thus also occurred according to natural cycles. How can we create a livelihood that nourishes our soul and is repairing and healing to life – both human and other – within the existing context of dysfunctional social and economic structures? I think the key to achieving deep, meaningful relationships that serve as the means to a moral-based economy, where people can do what they love, what makes them feel alive, without worrying about how to get by, is DiT – doing it together.


Let us put greater faith and investments in the development of structures that enable individuals to live according to their fitrah than we put in investments that may offer strictly financial gain. The latter can provide a false sense of security, but often at the expense of our health and wellbeing, the wellbeing of others and that of the planet.


If we truly surrendered and tried to create alternatives rather than participating, and therefore being complicit, in a destructive economic ethic, would not our Sustainer create openings and possibilities for us?


Consider the popular hadith, “If one of you sees something wrong, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart and this is the weakest faith.” (Muslim)


Most people reading this probably acknowledge in their heart that something is deeply wrong with the hyperstimulatory, contemplation-deficient world we live in and many probably voice it as well. While overstimulation and lack of space for reflection may not seem so important on the spectrum of ‘wrongs’ taking place in the world, anything that contributes to deviating from our fitrah is a wrong. And the current economic, social and ecological crises are the result of a collective disconnection from the fitrah.


Let us take the small, but potentially transformative, steps that help us live according to our fitrah and strengthen our faith and our ability to create a different world.


Each of us can consider a small, but achievable, challenge and then progress further. For example, make some space for deep time. Although sometimes it seems difficult to spend much time outside, we can cultivate deep time indoors. Disconnect from the internet, tv, mobiles, etc. for a period of time and observe what happens! As with most things, it’s easier and more fun to do with someone else or a few people. Try to develop a structure for this – maybe do it on a particular evening every week or part of the weekend, starting with an amount that is a challenge, but also achievable. You can always increase this incrementally.


Similarly, we can directly take small, incremental steps to develop a whole economy. With new DiT tools, such as crowdfunding, small contributions from many people help create alternative ways of working, such as co-operatives, that create local jobs, use local resources and often protect the environment. These are tangible examples of people living out the beauty they love and, indeed, the beauty we all love. For who among us would decline the greater beauty in a unique, locally-crafted product for something shipped in and produced by an anonymous factory overseas under exploitative conditions?


DiT endeavours reduce the exploitation of people locally and overseas and add beauty, inspiration, hope and love to our lives and, by strengthening these endeavours, we cultivate wholeness, in ourselves, our families, our communities and our world.


Elizabeth Lymer:
Having reached the end of the Process Focus series I’ve found myself resisting letting go of my passive learner-of-permaculture role. I have been reluctant to proceed with permaculture action, but I know it is time to act upon the knowledge that my heart is bursting with.


“What do you feel drawn to at this juncture in your life?” Shumaisa asked me. My answer: “Writing. Facilitation. Permaculture.”


So I have started an online magazine structured according to permaculture principles of peoplecare, earthcare, fairshare, for which I’ve undertaken the role of facilitating others to be active in a community of writers – to take the time and space to reflect on themselves and the world, pen in hand.
‘Your Lord is the Most Generous – Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not.’ (Al-Alaq:3-5)


Alhamdulillah, thanks to Shumaisa’s gentle push I now find myself in the midst of actions that feel neither like work nor play but are both and more – acts that need to be performed and through which I feel myself in flow with my purpose for the sake of Allah (SWT). Of course, Allah (SWT) knows best.


At the moment, the venture is completely voluntary, but I know that the next push is coming. I cannot achieve peoplecare of the writers in isolation from the other two permaculture principles. Well cared for people need to be part of a fair, well cared for earth. Writers’ relationships with the project will need to perform a part in creating a moral, whole economy.
Small steps. Achievable steps. Increase incrementally. Can you hear my deep breaths? My fears could lead to stagnation and I could let myself be hyperstimulated into hasty inaction. But I shush my fears and ask to let me be present. More than anything, I am gasping for our fitrah.




Read More: Connecting Community to the Earth



Shumaisa is a permaculture and sustainability tutor.  She is a representative of Wisdom in Nature – Islamic Ecology, Permaculture & Facilitation, who deliver workshops in this area/ these areas. For more information on upcoming permaculture workshops in Oxfordshire and London delivered by Shumaisa and colleagues, see:

Elizabeth is a representative of Wisdom in Nature. She has just started Young Muslimah Magazine. Read (and submit to) the magazine here: www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/.