The Blog

Visiting Umm Shajara

Abu Zainab Abd ar-Rashid and his family reside in Eastern Canada, where they are in the process of establishing a small farm on land that has been in his family for generations, growing their own food, raising their own animals, and using traditional, non-oil/gas based methods of agriculture. He and many others in his community are actively engaged in protests against industries engaging in hydraulic fracturing in the region. He’s interested in studying and reflecting on religion, society, culture, nature, and how these aspects of humanity/creation interact with each other and effect who we are.

Recently, I took my 4-year-old daughter with me into the forestland on our property, as it is the time of year we begin to collect and selectively cut the firewood with which we heat our home. This year I started early, as I wanted to cut as much firewood as possible using our axe and bow saw, without resorting to the use of gas powered chainsaws and the like. So with axe and saw in one hand and my daughter’s hand in the other, we set off down the road, turning off into one of the forest paths that had been made long ago by my grandfather, and maintained by my father with great care and attention. With my daughter at my side, I remembered when I was young and came down these same paths with my father and grandfather to do the same work. Many fond memories surfaced in my mind, and I was content in doing my best to pass on what my elders had given to me: a sense of connection to the natural world, a sense that is often tragically lost in our age of mass disconnect.

I had one thing other than collecting firewood on my mind, and that was to introduce my daughter to someone who I had been introduced to when I was young. As we walked through the forest of fir, birch, maple and various other sorts of trees, we came to a small clearing, which was dominated by a single massive tree that no one could have missed.

“That’s a big tree,” my daughter said, casting her gaze farther and farther towards the sky as she followed the giant from the seat of its trunk to its towering branches that reached far above any other trees in the area.

“This is Umm Shajara,” I said, “This is who I wanted you to meet.”

Umm Shajara, or Mother Tree as we say, is an ancient pine tree, gigantic in size, towering far above the other trees in the vicinity. I had known her since I was young, and both my father and grandfather had pointed her out to me. I never remember her being a small tree, she being well over a hundred years of age.

“Umm Shajara is very old Zainab,” I said to my daughter as she still looked at the tree in awe. “She has seen a lot, she has a lot of wisdom. Sometimes when you come back here with me, I want you to go and give her salaam [greeting of peace], and talk to her. She is the only pine tree here, and I imagine she could be lonely. We should try to talk to her when we can.”

My daughter looked at me and asked, “Was she with the Prophet?”

I wondered myself at how old the mighty pine was, but being conservative in my estimation, I replied, “I don’t know, but I know one thing; she knows the Prophet, and she remembers him. And she is always remembering Allah.”

I laid my tools aside and sat down in the grass with my daughter to talk to her, “There is a tradition that says that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in Madina, he used to give his sermons while leaning against a tree. One day, his companions arranged for a pulpit to be made for him. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to give his sermon and stood on the pulpit, there was an awful sound of sadness. This sound startled those present and they found that it was the tree that was crying! The same tree that the Prophet (peace be upon him) leaned on when he spoke; it was crying like a human being. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard this, he left the pulpit and went towards the tree and touched it. He comforted the tree until it slowly stopped crying. Do you know why the tree cried?”

“Why?” my daughter asked.

“The tree cried because it felt far away from the Prophet. Do you know why it stopped crying?”

“Why?”

“The tree stopped crying because the Prophet came and told it that everything was all right, he hadn’t forgotten the tree, and he was not far from it. That made the tree stop crying.”

Telling that miraculous event to my daughter while in the presence of such an ancient being made many thoughts come to my mind. Truly, our Prophet (peace be upon him) is the mercy to all that exists, the comforter, not just to Muslims, not just to humans, but also to all that exists. And we as his followers have been shown his example; we have been shown how to manifest mercy and grace in the world. What a beautiful man he is, our Prophet, who stopped his sermon to console a tree that loved him in the manner of a human being, and who longed for his presence, his touch, as we should long for him. Indeed, there is much wisdom in the tree, and this is the beauty of creation; it all points to the beauty and majesty of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and he only points to the Supreme Beauty and Majesty that is Allah.

“Papa, are we going to cut her down?” my daughter asked, looking from me to the pine and back to me again.

“No no, we aren’t cutting Umm Shajara down, we are only taking what we need from the birch and the maple. I want Umm Shajara to be around so you can bring your kids to see her, insha’Allah. She has a lot to teach us, if we think about it.”

“Yeah,” my daughter said.

So I set to work collecting firewood, some that was dead and had fallen because of storms, and some fresh trees that over crowded certain areas. As I worked I noticed my daughter had gone over and sat beside the massive trunk of the pine, touching it’s side and talking to it. I could not make out everything that she was saying, but I did hear her say, “We are not cutting you down, we have to learn from you. You don’t need to be sad.”

I smiled at this as I continued to work. The practice of his sunnah is far deeper than we often realize.

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. (more…)

Think Green Khutbah Campaign, Friday April 20th

Our friends at Khaleafa.com have launched a campaign to commemorate Earth Day on April 22, 2012 and we are joining them. Mark your calendars for April 20th and ask your religious leaders to celebrate Earth Day by reminding us of our role to protect this Earth, a trust given to mankind. We hope this is an opportunity to deepen our role as protectors of the planet.

This year’s Think Green Khutbah Campaign’ challenge is to request all Muslims to live according to the S plan:

a)    live a simple life

b)     live a sustainable life

c)     live as stewards of the environment

Please sign up online if your organization will join the campaign and if you will be delivering a Khutbah on the environment on Friday, April 20th, 2012.

Also, if you need specific verses from the Quran, check out the resources here as well as Green Muslims Ramadan toolkit from 2011. There are wonderful ideas of what to do on Earth day in there as well.

And with Him are the keys of the Ghaib (all that is hidden), none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but he knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record. Qur'an 6/59

Our Prayer: Oh Most Merciful, Oh Lord of the Worlds, Oh Creator of the Universe, protect our homes, protect our land, protect our water, protect our air.

Oh Sustainer, Oh Most Powerful, Oh Inspirer, help us maintain good habits, help us be agents for change, help us inspire our communities to action.

Mission: Green Muslims seek to reemphasize the unique role and responsibility entrusted upon humanity by God: environmental stewardship. We hope to serve as a bridge between American Muslim communities as well as partner with a wide spectrum of organizations accomplishing great work. Additionally, Green Muslims seek to provide a unique and organic source of environmental leadership, inspiration, awareness, and direct action within Muslim communities.

red, black, blue….and green!

sooo, how about that new president, eh? dc was abuzz with swarms of people on january 20th, and lucky me i got to experience it from the warmth of my office, just on the other side of that there capitol. i want to give a shout out to the good Lord for live streaming.

my being at work on the 20th came at a price though. it meant i was in dc all day the 19th, that night at a friend’s on the hill, and all day the 20th- right smack in the middle of inaugural happenings (ie, waaayy too many people). those who know me know i am not city. translation: too much pavement too often makes me a grouch. and my theory has always been that it’s true, to varying degrees, for everyone. you might *claim* you’re not a nature-y type, but spend a few days (longer if you’re stubborn) without traffic, bricks walls, street lights, and sewers, and tell me that again. i’m not trying to open the technology can of worms here; i’m just saying that it is human nature to enjoy things green, alive, and, well, natural. so when sarah i. sent this article out, i felt nicely justified in my beliefs. challenge away though, if you wish – there’s a comment box for a reason!

and you mighta thought obama was black, but actually, the man is green. take from that what you will, but he’s on a mission. impossible? maybe. though after 8 years of the equivalent of an “i can’t heaarr youuu” coming out of the west wing, this is pretty cool. personally, obama’s brand of environmentalism worries me because i think the american people need to understand its ramifications- i won’t be a dissenting voice, at all, but much needs to be said and done in the way of kind education for a people that are still reeling from being told that global warming (call or define it what and how you will) doesn’t exist.

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Wise County, VA

This write-up is about my two-day trip to Wise County, VA (the Appalachian mountain range) on June 23-24, 2008. Images > http://picasaweb.google.com/nadia.jay/BlackMountainWiseVA

Approximately ten cars full of mountain activists from cities all over the state of Virginia drove through what seemed like the only street in the town of Wise, up towards Black Mountain. We first stopped at a site which held the remnants of a house that once belonged to a small family. As Larry Bush, chairman of SAMS (Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards) narrated to the crowd, a young boy had been laying in his bed one night as a dislodged boulder from the coal-mining above plummeted straight through the bedroom wall and into his bed, killing him instantly. This happened about four years ago. No one did anything. Strip-mining operations continued at all hours of the day and night. They declared it an “act of God.”

Our caravan, consisting of multiple prii (pl. of prius), amongst other cars, moved on to a site of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) mining. To state it simply, MTR is a process which involves about ten workers who use heavy machinery to blast off the top layers of the mountain, dump it into the valley below, and shovel out the coal. They are expected to restore it to “the approximate original contours” after coal removal.

As we stepped out of our cars and leaned on the guardrail to look beyond at the destroyed mountain range, there were hushed reactions from the crowd. In the distance were tractors and bulldozers moving about like little displaced plastic Fisher-Price toys. Layers and layers of dark brown and black revealed themselves, stripped and bare, open wounds at one time, unsightly scars left behind. This was “approximate original contours?” I thought to myself out loud. No, this was utter perversion of a natural landscape. This was ecological decimation. “This was blasphemy,” as my friend Julie, from Immanuel Church on the Hill, turned to me and said.

A few of us continued on to take part in a guided hike of a different part of the mountain, Roaring Branch, filled with canopies of trees and biodiversity. It was just before dusk, the air was cooler and the only sounds were the occasional chatting and the crunch of leaves beneath our footsteps. Our local guide, Anna, stopped us every few minutes to share an interesting fact about a particular plant species, or to hand us an edible leaf to try. The sun was lowering in the sky, soaking the fingers of the trees in golden light. As I paused and looked up at the rays piercing through the treetops, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the hikes I took in the breathtaking rain forests of southern Costa Rica earlier this year. I also thought of the mountains I was surrounded by growing up in Western Maryland. “I will always be a mountain woman,” I thought to myself as I smiled at no one. I could never live among flatlands bereft of inconsistencies, of highs and lows … but what if I had to live through the mass deformation of the landscape I knew so well changing literally overnight?

An older man, Tim, who I had ridden in the car with earlier, was a local of Wise, and he had grown up here. He wore a t-shirt that said, “Who would Jesus bomb?” He was a maverick of a guy, sharing stories with everyone and lamenting over people’s apathy. He told us that growing up he never really paid attention to the strip mining that was happening in his hometown, that he thought “this was just the way we made our money.” Now that more people were seeing firsthand the adverse affects of mountaintop coal mining, churches and individuals in Southwest VA were mobilizing and becoming proactive about protesting against it.

Earlier a stranger had stopped me and exclaimed that I looked familiar and asked me which college I attended. I told her that she had probably never seen me before as I was from Northern Virginia. She revealed a mouth full of missing teeth as she smiled and said “Oh I know. I just wanted to talk to you and see where you were from.” We both laughed. I told her why I was there and she was taken aback by the fact that perfect strangers to the town of Wise had come to support the preservation of the Appalachian Mountains.

In my two days in Wise, VA I continued to meet locals and out-of-towners so eager and willing to share and exchange ideas and backgrounds and support one another. I was pleasantly surprised and truly humbled to see such a celebration of diversity in such a small town.

The following day about sixty of us gathered and donned our green bandanas in solidarity. In a few hours would start the hearing consisting of a panel of six members from the VA Citizen’s Air Pollution Control Board. The issue at hand was the approval of a permit for Dominion (VA’s producer and supplier of energy) to move forward with a coal-fired plant being constructed in St. Paul, a town very close to Wise.

The first speakers were politicians and delegates who attested that this would be the “cleanest coal-fired plant in the US” with “one of the best technologies out there today,” that “Wise County needs this power plant from an economic standpoint and we need to stop foreign dependency on oil.” Dominion employees and businessman stated “Dominion was in the people business. We keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer time. We’re not in the coal business; we’re in the people business.”

Turn by turn, individuals in opposition gave their three minute testimonies, stating how any level of mercury dumped into the air from MTR coal mining was not acceptable, how pollution would contaminate and affect both the environment and human health, contributing to global warming, that mountains were being destroyed and creeks filled up, that employment would actually decrease, not increase and it would only become more difficult for Virginians as electricity rates would increase. A young girl cleverly stated she decided to make a list of pros and cons about the building of the power plant, and she equally came up with pros for why we shouldn’t build the power plant, and cons for why we should build the power plant. Parents with children approached the podium and stated how building this plant two miles away from their child’s school was not something they wanted and they feared for the health of their children with the work of coal-mining and the power plant so close to them. People of various backgrounds stood up behind the lights and wires in front of that panel and spoke with heart: Wise county residents, citizens, scientists, nuns, engineers, young student activists, filmmakers, parents, non-profit board members, environmentalists, representatives from faith-based organizations, and the list goes on.

Giving my three-minute testimony (see below) was an absolute high, there’s no other way to say it. A little taste of activism for an issue that hit home so hard served to motivate me to continue involvement and activism, and a reminder that each person really, truly, can start to make a difference just by themselves.

“Hello. My name is Nadia Janjua. I am an artist and architect and I’ve come from Arlington, VA. I represent an organization called “Green Muslims.” We are a network of Muslims in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. proactively working together to implement sustainability and eco-conscious ways of living. As a Muslim, environmental stewardship is a vital part of my faith.

I am also an individual representing a generation of architects promoting and practicing sustainable design, construction and development. Although I am a relatively young architect, I have spent my working years in the affordable and low-income housing industry, and disaster relief housing. I traveled to Kashmir and Pakistan and led an operation working alongside army soldiers and local laborers in building alternative sustainable housing for victims of the earthquake. I have lived in underdeveloped areas and have worked and designed projects that are sustainable and sensitive to the environment while having less available resources and being in a community with less passion than what I’ve witnessed in this community here. Certainly, here, in this country we can come up with the creativity, the resources, the technology, the sensitivity, and the professionalism to be sustainable in our approach, to significantly lessen our environmental impact, to find ways of promoting jobs and a thriving economy without having to destroy the environment and dump out carcinogens that kill all forms of life around us in the process.

Seeing the devastation of the Appalachian mountain ranges has been shattering on a very personal level to me for another significant reason. I was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of Western Maryland, in the small town of Cumberland. My parents immigrated there from Pakistan in the 70’s, and still live there 30 plus years later. I cannot imagine how different my world view and upbringing would have been, had I not grown up and been surrounded by such a well-preserved natural landscape. Just a few weeks ago I was in Cumberland, hiking, and I wrote something in my journal which I’d like to share:

‘When you become quiet enough in nature to observe the vastness, you realize that vastness exists within yourself. If you go deep inside, you realize you don’t find something small, but something immense, something as vast as a mountain range.’

To continue with the building of this coal-fired plant, to continue mountain-top removal, to continue to destroy our mountain ranges, will be to continue to destroy ourselves ultimately. Please consider this in making your decision to pass or deny this permit. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.”

* Unfortunately the next day we found out that the permit had been passed for the coal-fired power plant to go online in 2012. (But that still gives us time and no effort is gone wasted!)

* For those of you in the area, please come to our Interfaith event on July 16th where others (and myself) will share more experiences like this one!