A Brief Introduction to Permaculture: Sustaining Our Future

A Brief Introduction to Permaculture: Sustaining Our Future and Why It Matters to Muslims 

By Tara Tariq and Sakina Grome

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

– Albert Einstein

In 2005, the United States Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management, (also known as the Hirsch report). The report predicts that the production of oil that fuels today’s economy and our lifestyle will peak and decline in the coming years. According to some industry analysts, it has already peaked. The report also underscores the inevitable and “unprecedented risk management problem” that Peak-Oil will present to the world.

Today we have reached a moment, a status quo that is characterized by extreme imbalance of resource depletion and consumption and it did not happen overnight: The famines in East Africa, riots in Indonesia, warfare in the Middle East, and tight-fisted policies regulating under- developed regions and their precious resources all share the common denominator of natural- resource and food insecurity.

Call it post-Enlightenment neo-liberalism or the dissolution of Keynesian economics to a self- goading monetarist system, but these imbalances did not manifest without any antecedents — they are the result of collective choices we have made over time. Moreover, we have also begun to see the ramifications of these choices through incessant strife and civilian unrest along with excruciating poverty among the most helpless members of the world’s population: poor children.

Fortunately, this scenario presents us with the unique opportunity to embrace responsibility and the challenge to wean ourselves from our oil dependency in the coming years as we re-envision our way of living on the planet.

We simply have to ask ourselves: Do we want to contribute and be regenerative or do we want to further deplete and be degenerative?

As Muslims, we gain our strength through our relationship with God as His servants. The core understanding of our ability to properly worship Allah is our responsibility to care for His creation. When we are not performing as servants of God – toward the rest of creation – then we are not in a state of equilibrium. The relationship goes both ways: “To be at peace with the Earth one must be at peace with Heaven.” (Syed Hossein Nasr)

 Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth,  and the alternation of the night and day,  and the ships that sail the sea for the benefit of humanity, and the water God sends down from the sky,  with which God enlivens the earth after its death, and distributes all kinds of animals thereupon; and the coursing of the winds, and the clouds employed between sky and earth,  surely there are signs for people who discern.

(Qur’an, 2:164)

Our connection with our Creator is by way of His Signs in the world: through the signs (ayat) mentioned in the Qur’an and through signs in His creation.

In the above verse, Allah solemnly assures us that reflection upon His creation will always reveal what is not only transcendent, but also efficient, beautiful, balanced and perfectly symmetrical. By the myriad signs He mentions, Allah engages us to witness them as an interconnected whole and implicitly recognize how every component of His creation exists to sustain us so we can serve Him.

Thus we are linked with this creation in an intricate web of relationships that informs our responsibility to ensure its preservation.

When your Lord said to the angels, “I will place a Deputy (Khalifa) on earth,” They said, “Will You put there one who will cause trouble there, and shed blood? And this while we extol Your praise and we worship You?”

God said, “I do know what you do not know.”

(Qur’an 2:30)

In the above verse, Allah evidently states our qualifications, despite our shortcomings. Humans, by God’s leave, have been endowed with the extraordinary but empowering ability to be stewards, “deputies,” over God’s creation.

How do we understand this responsibility of stewardship (khilafah)? In the context of our deen, how do we know how to manage the Earth?

Not coincidentally, there is a specific design concept, a science, and a methodology that provides the tools and ethics to address this question: It’s called Permaculture.

Coined from the words “permanent” and “agriculture” by Australian ecologist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren in the 1970s, Permaculture is a design science based on the principle of observing systems that regulate nature. A Permaculture system:

a.  Mimics the relationship between different elements of nature’s various ecologies,

b.  Fosters the conditions for life to flourish, and

c.   Provides a foundation for sustainable human culture.

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Permaculture simply instructs us to observe natural systems, identify patterns and established links within these systems and then mimic those relationships in human environments in order to achieve efficient exchanges of energy.

The foundations of Permaculture are based on three ethics:

1.  Earth Care

2.  People Care

3.  Surplus Share

These ethics are already well established in the Islamic shari’ah, making this system of design compatible with Islam. Earth care is apparent through the verses mentioned above regarding stewardship of the land – we have a responsibility to preserve Allah’s creation. People Care is present in our responsibility toward our families and neighbors. Surplus Share is evident in Zakat (charity) and other forms of philanthropy that ensure peoples’ needs are met.

The key word is “balance”: a balance of the Earth’s natural systems (Earth Care) essential for the perpetuation of human culture and civilization. In the principles of Permaculture, this balance is a catalyst for People Care and Surplus Share.

The principles of Permaculture teach us how to become stewards; take on the role of the Khilafa by providing us with the tools and attitude necessary to perform the work. Each of us can learn to sow seeds, each of us can make a commitment toward positive change.

Examples of Permaculture at work globally include the simple urban community garden and the re-greening of whole neighborhoods and parcels of land with efficient water-harvesting techniques – even in extremely dry climates. Demonstrations exist in the far reaches of the world, from North America to the Jordan Valley and the Hijaz.

Today, the Middle East is undergoing another kind of revolution. In the Jordan Valley, there are efforts to re-green the desert. A demonstrable site and educational center is growing as project founders Nadia and Geoff Lawton engage people at all levels of society in the conversation.

Food insecurity in one of the world’s most arid places is rising as water tables drop through unsustainable irrigation and growing practices. In such places, Permaculture is not new – the bedouin have practiced water-harvesting techniques long before the word “Permaculture” was coined. Roman cisterns, which still dot the landscape, and the elaborate water-harvesting features of the ancient Nabatean civilization at Petra call us to rethink our water strategy – simple, smarter techniques using passive energy provide the basis of a sound Permaculture system.

In the United States, a prototype is emerging of Permaculture successfully interfacing with citizens, government and land-use restrictions. In 2009, several diverse members of the Beacon Hill community in Seattle, Washington created a committee called Friends of the Food Forest. With the dedication of landscape architects and Permaculture designers, Beacon Food Forest is on track now to be one of the largest city-approved urban food forests in the nation.

The site will use Permaculture principles to create edible landscapes intelligently designed to be self-replenishing (Earth Care). With deliberate community planning, the site designers have ensured they will cater to the local Samoan and Chinese communities by including crops of their choice (People Care), and the community’s enthusiasm in self-governance is further translated into educational workshops that teach skills such as fruit-tree care, basket-making and food preservation (Surplus Share), thereby creating a new niche within the local economy.

How we individually implement the practice of Permaculture is up to each of us. We have been called to be stewards over the resources that Allah has provided us individually and collectively. Stewardship first entails acknowledging this trust, then branches to all other facets of resourceful living. It inevitably leads to a balance of our needs with those of all other living things.

“God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition.”

(Quran 13:11)

By reducing waste, becoming producers and not just consumers, and creating dwellings of sufficiency, we can see through the illusions of our materialism and appreciate the wealth of the bounties we’ve already been blessed with.

We ask Allah to grant us sincerity in our intentions and the wisdom to change our manner of interacting with our environment to one of contribution, not depletion – toward the regeneration of critical ecosystems that not only provide for us and all of His creatures, but also foster the stability and balance we inherently need to worship and serve Him.

“We are not superior to other life-forms; all living things are an expression of Life. If we could see that truth, we would see that everything we do to other life forms we also do to ourselves.”

–Bill Mollison (founder of Permaculture)


Tara Tariq is a LEED AP and a graduate student at UCI in the Urban and Regional Planning program. Sakina Grome serves as Outreach Coordinator for CAIR, OH, and has also written for the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) of USA and Australia.They have both taken courses in Permaculture design

 COPYRIGHT Tara Tariq and Sakina Grome