The Blog

Easing Into Uneasiness

Okay, I have a confession.  I don’t always love nature.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to!  I want to be that girl who can strap on a backpack and go camping in the woods for a week.  Or the girl who hikes through the dessert all day to find the best spot to see the sun set.  I am just not that girl.  I’m the girl who starts sweating when it’s 78 degrees outside.  The one who really hates the feel of sand under her fingernails at the beach.  The one who struggles to keep up on even the gentlest of hikes.  The one who just learned what sea-sickness is like (gross story, you don’t want to hear it).

But.  I’m also the girl who keeps going out there anyway.  Standing on the beach feeling renewed as the salt from the ocean hits my nose.  Walking through the woods and gasping at the beauty of the trees.  Going to the farmer’s market on the hottest day of the year to buy peaches with my neighbors.  Maybe not getting back on that sailboat, though…

This crazy heat that we’ve had recently has put me in the frame of mind that we need to learn how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable position.  A good friend of mine is a yoga instructor and explains to her students that it is only through discomfort that we grow.  She tells them to be gentle on themselves, to notice that they are uncomfortable without judgment.  To sit in it and become fully aware of their bodies.  This advice works whether you are trying to perfect a difficult yoga pose or just convincing yourself to leave the apartment on a hot sticky day.

Ramadan is nearly upon us, and (let’s be honest, people) we will be uncomfortable.  We will be thirsty and tired and hungry and hot.  And it will be okay.  It always is.  We can notice our discomfort without judgment and give thanks that we are alive feel it.

What about you guys?  Is there anything in nature that feels difficult for you, or are you the “give me some hiking boots and I’m out the door!” type?  How do you get beyond your fears to better connect to the natural world?

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Teresa Kane is an ESOL teacher at a nearby elementary school.

Simple Steps

Yesterday, my brother and I went on a lengthy bike ride, weaving through the buildings of DC proper and passing by the national monuments only to arrive at a secluded area on the edges of the Georgetown Waterfront. I sat upon the stone cliffs overlooking the Washington Harbor and couldn’t help but smile looking down at the purity of the blue water and the fresh green in the surrounding trees, listening to the laughs and cheers from the kayaking locals.

For a brief few moments I was able to think beyond the work I was behind in, the emails I was yet to respond to and the general reality that I didn’t have time to sit here. I began to reflect on how essential it is that we, as the DC community, do our best to preserve that natural beauty and build a stronger relationship with it.

As part of Green Muslims, I would love to discuss topics of conversations that can range from things as simple as ways we can work to green our daily lives to things a bit more complicated like expanding the ways we get our daily supply of energy and how we can raise awareness about how to lower energy consumption. I feel that Green Muslims will be a great opportunity to establish an open dialogue on these issues and a great opportunity to grow in understanding as to the relationship we should be having as Muslims with the environment.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgDJ_H-BzFo

Faizan Tahir is in his second year of undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he is studying Political Science and Legal Studies.

Urban Environmentalism?

As human beings living in almost every corner of the globe we have learned how to adapt to the differing climates and spaces that we inhabit. Because of our God-given ingenuity and expertise we have mastered much of the natural space around us, forging ahead through discovery and science and finding new ways to both tame Mother Nature and leave a lasting dominant impression on the land we inhabit. However this leads to new interconnected ideas that are somewhat at odds with each other. The first is that our expertise at adaptation and where and how we live leads us to live increasingly disconnected life from the natural world around us. The second is that through our living choices, which are ever-increasingly urban, we actually can have a drastically positive impact on our natural space.

For me it wasn’t until college when I fell in love with bicycling that I realized how disconnected from nature we really are. Starting my first semester at Michigan State University, I was heartbroken at the thought of having to walk or take a bus to class. My car’s transmission had failed one week before I was to make the 50 mile move, and I couldn’t be more upset. “My life was over,” I thought. How would I get to class, get groceries, hang out with friends? Without enough money to get a new one I instead decided to pack up my old bicycle to buzz around from class to class. But I was not happy about it.

Almost immediately though I realized how disconnected from my immediate surroundings I had been while driving. It wasn’t just my waistline that changed, but how I saw the world! Hearing passing peoples voices, feeling and seeing the street, experiencing the changing of the seasons. Bicycling connected me back to the outdoors in a way that I hadn’t experienced since I was a little kid.

While my transition to college propelled me to bicycling and fed my burgeoning interest in environmentalism, it’s something I never could have experienced in my hometown of Flint, MI, where traffic moves at 45mph and where public transit and alternative forms of transit are almost nonexistent. Now living in D.C., I see the same type of opportunity as when I first moved to  Michigan State. Where before it was thousands of college students and buildings packed together that induced easy mobility, now it is density, a streetgrid  system, and a city designed to accommodate alternative forms of transportation: metro, buses, zipcars, bicycles-  all things which owe their existence to our density and the multitudes of people.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3nMnr8ZirI

On the surface, living in an urban area may seem to inevitably decrease environmental awareness because of the disconnect from the natural world, yet there are many opportunities unique to an urban setting which allow individuals to decrease their impact on the natural world and live in a more harmonious way with it.

Ryan Strom is a DC resident and native of Flint, MI. He currently works with the DC Government as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in addition to being the Green Muslims Communication Manager. He can often be spotted darting in and out of traffic on his bicycle.

Wanna Help in Ramadan?

With Ramadan upon us in a blink of an eye, we have high hopes for Green Muslims to have an active presence in our community and beyond. I am writing to reach out to people who have a little extra time this coming month to get a head-start on the blessings! We are looking for 5-7 people who can help with our Green Muslim Ramadan Initiative.
What this entails:
  • Project 1: It is our hope, inshaAllah, to sponsor (via biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils) 5-10 Iftars at 5-10 different mosques and community centers in the DC-MD-VA area. We hope to solicit enough donations of money and biodegradable products to host a week-long initiative of low-impact iftars where we will have a presentation highlighting the importance of more environmentally conscious methods as well as focusing on how these mosques and community centers should invest further in organizations that provide these biodegradable products. We have already started soliciting donations of both money, and biodegradable products, and just need a few extra hands to take this effort forward.
  • Project 2: We are in the midst of creating a Ramadan Page-a-day tool-kit in order to help people develop and uphold environmentally conscious and spiritually connected habits. We need 1-2 people to help us come to a finished product by the first week of Ramadan.
If you are interested in either of these projects, more details are to follow. Please contact sarrah.abulughod (at) gmail.com.

Doing Things

“I should have been a plumber, or a handyman,” a friend of mine reflected as he set forth fresh from school with his law degree. His rationale was not the prestige of the career path or the glory of the work, but the simple fact that people just don’t know how to fix things, and he thought he could make bank on just having a skill or two.  I think he has a point.

I’ve always valued skills. There’s something beautiful about working with your hands.I would spend summers watching my grandfather in the “shop,” as they called it, fixing trucks and mending various pieces of farm equipment. He’d lean down to explain what he was doing as he hammered something here, or added oil to something there and thus began my understanding of the importance of fixing rather than tossing, of mending rather than replacing.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5wmParkppw

I value people who have skills, who can teach their skills, and who are more self-sufficient beings because of their skills. Talents, like cooking, sewing, building, making things, and fixing things are like money in your pocket in this day and age. I’m sure every person has a skill or two that has remained untapped because of the lack of importance that was placed upon it.

The lack of value we have for practical skills goes hand-in-hand with how throw-away our culture has become. As soon as something breaks, we replace it.Yes, perhaps this is more a problem of quality.  I believe though, that with a little development of talent, and perhaps self-confidence, we could drastically reduce our consumerism.

It is my goal, inshaAllah, in the next few months, to develop a new skill set. Though ambitious, I’d really love to apprentice with someone who knows how to refurbish a house. Those talents would be not only useful, but priceless for the rest of my life. To be able to count on my own two hands to build and mend the place I call home would be of such use to not only me, but to those around me.

I also intend, inshaAllah, to teach what few skills I have already. Just as my grandfather did so patiently, I hope to pass along what I do know, to someone who doesn’t. It is important for us to recognize what knowledge we already have, and develop those untapped innate abilities to help those around us. Not only are we being resourceful, practicing the teachings of our Beloved, but we are also taking one step towards living a more sustainable life.

As I go forward to find my home refurbishing mentor, let me know if you’d like to learn how to sew on a button…or change a tire!

SarrahAbuLughod is a DC resident who works at a youth development non-profit that serves low-income students in the DC area. She is also the Educational Programming Manager with Green Muslims.

Sarrah grew up in Wisconsin and spent many summers on her grandparent’s farm, developing skills.

Connecting the Built Environment to Nature

On a warm summer day in July on vacation, I had spent the early hours of the morning waiting in line to visit the Sistina Chapel, the famous ceiling mural painted by Michelangelo. Despite my enthusiasm to digest this beautiful artifact of history that holds religious significance to many around the world, I needed to quickly find a place to pray dhur. I was reminded of the prophet pbuh, who said, the entire Earth is a mosque, but at the moment, I wanted a dedicated and intentional space to connect with the Creator. I wanted familiarity in a foreign land where I could feel the presence of Muslims before and after me, who knelt to the ground and placed their mind on the same dedicated carpet and whispered the same intentional prayers. After asking locals, I found the Mosque of Rome a little outside of the center city. The structure was typically Roman with ornate pillars made of like travertino and cotto. But it wasn’t just the architecture that grabbed me; it was the proximity to the rest of the city that carved this experience as memorable. I was able to be a worshipper within the framework of my day, making it an organic part of my experience and reminding me that the way we design our cities and proximity to places of worship directly impact how we experience our faith.

Spaces can be sacred. Our external world has the power to elicit a spiritual connection with our creator when we are in an environment where we feel safe and open to seeing God’s signs around us. I am reminded of a park near my home, where I often walk to feel connected to a world outside my head, and end up feeling like I am walking in the verses of the Quran. God says, “We shall show them our signs within the furthest horizons and inside their own souls until it becomes clear to them that God is Truth.” [41:53] When I see the trees, the running streams, and wildlife, I see signs from God, just as the verses (ayah) of the Quran and souls of humanity are signs guiding us to His path.

In addition to the natural world, a well-designed building in a well-chosen part of town can also bring forth a feeling of connectedness to the Creator. The way a city is planned, and the relationship the different parts have to each other, such as the location of the school to our work place or our place of worship to our homes, directly influence our day to day. As an urban planner, I feel a heightened sense of awareness on the intentionality of how and why our spaces come to be. Aside from the practical planning process of bringing together various stakeholders in community meetings or collecting data, the resulting spaces reflect the values we hold dear and the thoughts that regularly cross our minds.

When I reflect on worsening environmental degradation and the continued disharmony of the built environment with the natural world, I ache for the spiritual turmoil within our collective hearts. Questions like these fill my mind: Why aren’t we better able to connect the built environment with the natural world? Who makes the decisions and what is their reasoning? Who is left out of the equation? How can we bring them to the table? Why is the environment not a priority to many of our leaders? How can we mitigate disproportionate environmental degradation in the most vulnerable populations? How can we ensure that children are growing up in affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?

As part of Green Muslims, I hope to create a space to have these conversations. Perhaps by becoming more intentional, we can demand a place in our community membrane that begs the question, “How can we embrace Islam if we can’t embrace the Earth that God bestowed as a covenant to us?”

Sarah Jawaid is an urban planner and artist originally from Southern California and now, residing in Washington, DC. She currently works on affordable housing advocacy issues.

Slaughtering for the Spirit

Almost a year ago, I promised that I would slaughter an animal. I made this promise during last Ramadan when I attended a no-waste iftar, where I’m pretty sure only vegetarian dishes were served… Anyways, it hasn’t come true. Yet.

The promise came out after eating the various pot-lucked foods off of the plate that I brought from home. I sat down in the circle that was beginning to form around the guest speaker of the event, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet.

During our discussion, he urged us to re-cultivate our spiritual connection to the earth and relayed a story about how he killed a chicken for the first time in his life. Ibrahim reflected on how this was a profoundly deep experience in which one can finally comprehend, feel, and smell the reality of where our sustenance actually comes from.

And he shared his vision of how being green was really about waking up to this reality. It isn’t just a mission to track the size of your carbon foot-print or even an effort to save more water in your shower if you could just be a bit stingier about it. It’s about having a deep respect and love for God’s creation.

And it really hit me at that moment to ask myself: Am I someone who blindly takes from the earth? When I eat meat, am I thanking God and the animal for providing for me?

So I thought to myself about the relationship I had with the meat that I ate. Even recently, I was talking with a fellow Pakistani-American about how we hated on daal and other non-meat dishes in our childhood. Back then, meat needed to be in every dish for me; it was something I took for granted and still do.

I told the group during our discussion about how I probably wasn’t going to stop eating meat altogether, but that I actually wanted to have a similar experience so I could appreciate more the meat that I did eat. I wanted a deeper relationship with the livestock that I was consuming.

Since then, I haven’t taken on that challenge. The farthest I’ve gotten is having Is it local?-type moments from Portlandia, which don’t really work out all that well. But once again, I’d like to rectify my neglect of the lives that I’ve been taking by eating meat. By ignoring this sacrifice in my daily life, I have not been honoring this deeper relationship.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2LBICPEK6w

So, as I said almost one year ago, I want to challenge myself to slaughter an animal (or at least witness it), in order to start appreciating the cycle of what I’m involved in. As Green Muslims rejuvenates itself these days and provides us with more energy heading into the month of Ramadan, I write this blog post as a renewed promise to face what I’ve been neglecting, though regularly eating.

I also write it as an invitation to those daal-hating meat-eaters like me, to take part in this quest together by the end of Ramadan. And on the other hand, if you’re able to connect us to your farm and you welcome visitors, please contact me as well!

Rizwaan Akhtar is the Volunteer Manager for Green Muslims and works to organize volunteer and community engagement activities. He currently administers an exchange program that focuses on leadership development for Iraqi youth.

Originally from Chicago, IL, Rizwaan has now actually grown to love daal in its many different forms. He sends big thanks to his mom and dad for their wonderful daal.