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How Islamic Environmentalism Is Helping Muslim Women Fight Climate Change

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“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 Muslim Environmentalist Lens

climate change protest
Representative Image. (Source: piqsels)

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.

Why Does Emerging Activism Use Faith And Religion To Maintain A Sense Of Belonging To Nature?

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.

Our Responsibilities

Representative Image. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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).

How Do Muslim Women Incorporate Faith And Eco-Consciousness In Their Activism?

Muslim women advocate various Sustainable approaches and initiatives.

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.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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