Green Reflections: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

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Mspiration speaks to Ibrahim Abdul-Matin about his book Green Deen, the New Yorker’s delivers a rallying message on how Muslims can save the environment.

I am not a scholar by any means. I am just an environmentalist and activist understanding my time on this earth is very finite. My goal with my book Green Deen is to draw connections with what some Muslims are already doing when it comes to serving the environment. There is no finger wagging and saying Muslims you are bad and you need to do better. The book offers suggestions and questions about what we can do better. In reality, the book is a challenge to the scholars to include these ideas in their khutbas, a challenge to Muslim governments to dramatically change the relationship their countries have with the natural world.

I studied electricity and waste management in New York City and I worked for Mayor Bloomberg’s Office for Long Term Planning and Sustainability. I really got into the nitty-gritty of water, waste, energy and food in New York City. I was learning that as well my religious studies. You know, one of the beautiful things about hadiths is that they are organised by the way people live their lives. I learned a lot about the Prophet’s PBUH approach to water, food and resources. Linking it to the current world only increased my faith. One story stood out to me: it’s a Hadith based in the Battle of Badr where the Prophet was injured. He had blood coming from his mouth and to dress his wound the companions burnt date palm fibre and took the ashes and stuffed it on his wound. For me the story says to use what’s around you. Use the resources that are near you. It was powerful. I started thinking locally. What are the valuable things around that I can use? Do we know much about the plants and animals that are around us –  not only why we shouldn’t don’t destroy them but if they could benefit us as well.

Most Muslim lands learned to manage our natural resources through their colonial history. The European countries and the United States learned how to take and not necessarily replenish. The focus is profits and not people. Muslims lands learned how to internalise that message and the goal became growth by any means. This means doing things that doesn’t make any sense to the natural world. We learned that to get ahead and compete we have to treat the natural world with discord and disrespect. This is fundamentally against what we are supposed to be as Muslims. We are the custodian of the land. As inheritors from those that came before, we are supposed to be stewards of the land and make it better for those coming after us.

The other challenge facing Muslim communities in relation to the environment is the total obliviousness to it. We don’t understand things such as the water cycle or the fragility of the soil or food supply. Basically, the problem is this lack of reflection; something which Allah SWT consistently tells us to do. We don’t step back and say what are we doing? How does this affect us and how will we be held accountable for that?

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The environment was a constant theme in the life of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The idea of water management was central 1400 years ago. Realise that they were in the desert of Arabia, a harsh place where that concept was essential to maintaining their lives. There wasn’t enough food at that time in general, so they were mindful of every bite they ate, praising Allah SWT for it, and understanding to eat enough so they can have energy to go out and please Allah SWT. Such conditions made everyone aware of their actions and intentions. Even the timing of the prayers, consider that it shifts every day because the earth is shifting. The early Muslims knew this. They didn’t use Islamicfinder.com to know the prayer times. They looked at the sky and said yup, it’s time for Asr. They took a hike to the mountains and realised that yes, Ramadan is here. They were much in tune with the natural world. They knew prayer is an anchor that you have with the entire universe and your relationship with the earth.

The Muslims of before were very aware of their relationship with the environment. Think of the architecture of the mosques in Turkey and the concepts coming from Muslim Spain in the golden era. It was astonishing as everything was blended with an understanding of the natural world. Those Muslims really understood that everything is a reminder. As well as the ayats in the Quran, they knew that every thing in nature is a miracle and a trigger to make dhikr of Allah. All of the prophets came to make the people better. But what was the response of the people? We didn’t find our fathers doing this. In a way Muslims today are at fault of this. We think, well our previous generations taught us a certain way, and that’s all. We didn’t become critical and think for ourselves. This is why Allah SWT brings new converts to the fold. When you hear their stories of shahadah, it makes people rethink and re-imagine themselves and their deen. This is what I want Green Deen to do, to reinvigorate our understanding of our deen from an environmental perspective.

Green Deen is a form of dawah for Muslims themselves. It is for the kids that grew up Muslims, sometimes practice and have a very lassie fair relationship with the faith. They think they have a very progressive view and what they feel politically doesn’t align with what they understand is their religion. What I say in Green Deen is listen, don’t talk about being an environmental Muslim and not pray. Get your prayer on and understand how that is critical. We are the only faith whose prayer times are linked with the way the earth moves in the cosmos. That is a deep thing. It tells you that you are part of this planet, this experience and this cosmological context. Make sure you constantly remember that prayer is not for Allah SWT. It is for us. It is our anchor. If you do nothing else with Green Deen just get into that rhythm of prayer and dhikr and remind yourself of your relationship with The Creator. That is the challenge.

For more information on Green Deen by Ibrahim Abdul Matin click here.

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