“Human beings, according to Islam, are considered the best of creation. Created from organic materials, Earth, water, and infused with the ‘fitra’ — a divine inclination — humans are from the Earth. The Earth is a part of ourselves. And it is our responsibility to protect it.” – The Eco Muslim.
The rising concern of protecting nature and creating balance in the contemporary environmental issues such as pollution, climate change, global environmental destruction provides a concession between religion and spiritual guidance to save the planet.
For centuries, inter-religious positions and commitments to nature and their belief in sustainability have been ignored.
The root of Islamic feminism is not limited to gender justice through the reinterpretation of Islam, quranic sources and hadiths. Rather, it creates a possibility to reveal what is largely unknown to many Muslims that Islam and ecofeminism can come forward to protect nature with the teachings of Islam and the sunnah of Prophet Mohammad.
The activism of sustainability and eco-consciousness is a global movement in which many Muslim women and men come forward to form the basic foundational grounds to study religion and the environment from a humanistic perspective.
It is for the sustenance of humankind through “Mizan”, an Arabic word that means balance between humans and nature — affirms the teachings of Islam on the environment and sustainability as part of Muslim communities around the world.
Our faith, beliefs and sustainability can go hand in hand as a tool of resistance against the ongoing crisis of environmentalist destruction. Our religion, Islam, hence, proved an asset to faith-based eco-consciousness activism.
Irrespective of the central debates of ecofeminism between cultural and socialist/materialist stances, Islamic environmentalists, women activists and religious forums persuade gender inclusivity in the natural safeguard paradigms.
The approaches are mainly known under the spectrum of Islamic environmentalism rather than highlighting the emerging activism led by Muslim women globally under the label of Islamic feminism.
The strong opposition against the word feminism seems problematic at times for many Muslim women. But we can’t reduce the efforts of many scholars and Muslim women activists such as Al-Jayyousi, Nawal H Ammar, Allison Gray, Richard Foltz, Memona Hussain, Kadiatou Balde, Zainab Koli, Ndeye Aida Marie Ndiegrene, Mishka Barari, Jana Jandal Alirifai, etc. They extensively enlighten communities and the world towards environmental activism through religious practices.
What are the individual moral responsibilities of human beings on earth to protect nature irrespective of gender, division of labour and the attributes of femininity and masculinity in the gender and religious discourses?
According to the Quran, human beings are entrusted as Khalifa (see Amina Wadud’s Qur’an and Woman, pp. 23, 74, 85, 91 and Gender Jihad), which implies a succession of responsibilities of managing the worldly orders, the sacred commission, a law that empowers humans to maintain and protect the entire planet.
It is, of course, sustainable by bonding the ties of beautiful bounties of the earth. Islam is intertwining into the concept of protecting nature instead of highlighting women’s special relationship with nature and aside men from the debate. The Quran emphasises protection and fair distribution of natural resources.
In addition, like all things, resources are considered not to belong to human beings but Allah alone. It has been given to the humans who must hold nature in trust (amāna).
Islam emphasises balance and justice in all aspects of life, especially in the interaction between humans and nature. For example, in the Quran, He (Allah) said: “And establish weight in justice and do not make deficient the balance.” (Qur’an 55: 9).
Therefore, human beings are the guardians and trustees of nature. They need to make plenty of personal efforts and changes to maintain the ecosystem. Waste can be easily reduced through recycling, saving water and planting. It can guarantee to protect other natural resources and soil drought.
The basic principles of Islamic environmentalism are Tawhid (Oneness of God and the unity of creation), Mizan (Balance and harmony of all parts of creation), Khalifa (Humans as stewards of God’s creation) and Maslahah (Public interest and the care for future generation).
The emerging wave of eco-consciousness in the environmental activism led by Muslim women around the world considers sacred responsibility prescribed by the Qur’an as it mentioned, “It is He who has appointed you vicegerent on the Earth.” (Qur’an, 6:165).
Muslim women advocate various Sustainable approaches and initiatives.
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Faithfully Sustainable was founded by Kadiatou Balde and Zainab Koli. They encourage everyone to adopt a sustainable framework with faith through education, entrepreneurship and activism.
Deriving from the principle of justice and capturing the essence of their faith into actions is their success through Islamic teachings. They claim that the initiative is community and justice-centred. Ibrahim Abdul Matin’s book Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet deepens their understanding of sustainability and environmental justice.
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Another Muslim woman and a Climate Reality Leader, Nana Firman, is driven from the faith-based approach to tackle climate change. She is the co-founder of the Global Muslim Climate Network, director of the GreenFaith nonprofit interfaith organisation, and also organised the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.
She said, “We have an obligation in our faith and by our common humanity, no matter when, where, and in any way, we must stand up and fight for all those people affected by climate change.” The implication of faith on Muslim communities led them together to reduce food waste, phasing out plastic products during celebrations, carpooling to reduce emissions and save water.
Hence, the Quran does not transfer ownership, possession or rule over the earth to humans, rather it makes humans the Khalifa, the representatives or heir on earth. The ongoing succession of humans from generation to generation highlights the faith-based approach of sustainable development in every aspect of life that humans can use resources without compromising the needs of the future generation.
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Ndéye Marie Aïda Ndiéguène is a climate activist and a founder of Eco Builders (construction company) in Sénégal. To maximise food security, build affordable crop storage and prevent crop loss for the farmers, she uses recycled tires, bottles and natural materials. Later, she discovered a reddish-clay material called laterite was historically used as a building material in the indigenous methods.
Another initiative, called The Eco Muslim website led by Zaufishan Iqbal as an “eco jihad”, projects community-driven efforts to recycling and sustainable living with religious reflections and motivations.
Muslim environmentalists rely on the Qur’an and Sunnah to drive environmental principles from them, thus, creating an ecological interpretation of Islam and a set of Islamic environmental ethics.
The rise of Islamic feminism in the contemporary world opens multiple overarching debates in environmentalist movements and Muslim women’s participation through the reinterpretation of Khalifa, public and private sphere, shared responsibilities of all human beings irrespective of gender discrimination, sex, ethnicity, racism, etc.
The values inculcate through active consciousness, solidarity, sisterhood with the egalitarian spirit of gender justice in all spheres of life symbolise faith-based resistance to achieve gender equality.