Called to care
Being stewards of the environment is common in many religions. Here are some thoughts from a member of Green Muslims
By Asma Mahdi
They say many people have a calling in life. Well, I knew from a very young age that my calling was to protect the ocean.
Growing up near the water, I have to confess, absolutely had a huge influence on my decision to pursue a livelihood where I get to be an ocean steward day in and day out, but there is really more to it than just that. Being near water is where my heart is most calm, where I can really focus my thoughts, dissipate most of my worries, and feel a sense of rejuvenation unlike anywhere else in the world.
Soul filling — that’s what it is.
It’s where I feel a spiritual connection unlike any other. Granted, I have yet to travel to Mecca. To date, the ocean is probably the closest I’ve been to feeling that connection. It’s good to know that I’m amongst a pure form of God’s creation, and though it doesn’t entirely go untouched or unharmed by human impact, it’s a place that is least developed and still to a large extent a mystery.
Close to half of the world’s population lives near coastal areas, and one of the greatest threats the ocean faces today is trash, also known as marine debris. Trash ends up in our oceans either intentionally or unintentionally, posing a threat to wildlife when animals consume debris, mistaking it for food, or are caught in debris such as six-pack rings or fishing gear and are unable to escape. Debris can also impact habitats such as coral reefs, which are fragile and sensitive to any disturbance.
Regardless of where it comes from, one thing is for certain — all trash is human generated. Plastic marine debris, specifically single-use plastics, is one of the most pervasive and common type that plagues our oceans and beaches.
For decades, plastics have played a central role in our daily life. They have helped advance a culture of convenience and have been critical in developing new technologies, some of which even save lives.
Think about it. From the bag of chips we eat, the disposable sandwich bag we use, to the disposable cup we’re handed with our iced-coffee and the soda we purchase from a vending machine — they all have one thing in common: they are single-use-disposable plastics. Disposable plastics, plastics made for just one use, surround us every day.
A recent study by the University of Georgia stated that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. And unlike other materials, once plastics enter the environment, it’s there forever.
In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis started off by saying, “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.”
Take a minute to focus on those words — our common home. A shared home. There may be many factors that divide people, but the fact is that we all share this planet.
We need to think about ways to stop polluting our home and to come up with solutions to care for creation. The amazing part is that we all have that power. It starts with something as simple as using a reusable bag or water bottle, thinking about how much plastic we consume, making sure we recycle products when possible and dispose of items properly, so they don’t end up making their way into the water.
Water is very sacred to almost all traditions. Before prayer, Muslims perform wudu using water. It’s an obligatory purification ritual to cleanse the body and also the heart and soul. In the Quran, God points out that we are all made from dirt and water — the same dirt and water that we encounter day in and day out. We are sustained by the food we eat to the water we drink to hydrate. We cannot live or survive without either.
We share the boundless oxygen we breathe every day. In fact, 75% of that oxygen is produced from our oceans. We share the food grown from the soil in the ground. We share water to quench our thirst. The essentials that sustain life bring us together in our faith traditions, and many of our traditions speak of being Earth’s guardians. Keeping this peace and balance is essential to building a resilient climate.
Water, of course, is a life necessity. Climate change will only exacerbate water issues. It is no longer a problem of the future; it’s something we face today.
It is estimated that by 2050 in Bangladesh, 17% of the land will be flooded, displacing nearly 18 million people. Today, California is facing one of its most severe droughts in recent history. Some scientists have claimed that the state only has one year of water left.
If we don’t act now, these severe climate conditions may be a preview of future environmental conditions. It’s a dire situation, but it’s also something that can be prevented and stopped.
Believers have a duty to strive for the world’s safekeeping. As Muslims, we have to be more mindful of our impact and the environmental legacy we want to leave behind because of the amana — or trust — that has been bestowed upon us.
Climate change is global in impact and touches every faith known to mankind — to prevent it we have to come at this with a global solution as a united front, working across faiths toward saving the one resource we’re all connected to, and that’s Earth.
In the Quran it says, “It is He who has appointed you guardians in the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in reckoning; and surely He is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate” (6:165).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also stated, “The earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it.”
Islam is inextricably linked to the environment, and Green Muslims strive to raise awareness in Muslim communities to live the environmental spirit of Islam. We do this through spiritually inspired reflection, action and education. For me, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain one of his most beautiful creations, planet Earth, and also to have Muslims and people of all faiths across the world care for creation and care for our common home.