The Blog

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…)

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.

Never Homeless

He is never homeless.
For the earth is his dwelling.

The sky is his ceiling.
The earth his floor.
Tired eyes are his windows.
Day and night his doors.

He is never homeless-
As long as the trees have the earth
And the birds have the sky.
This is where he lives; this is where we live.
Still we call him homeless.
Why?

-Starlette McNeill

In Washington DC’s Street Sense Newspaper
“Where the poor and homeless earn and give their two cents”
Dec. 10-23 2008 V.6, issue 3

Lanscapes of the heart : Tenessee, Kashan, Tehran, Maryland

Different things make you realize how fast time flies, how quickly we “grow up” (and that we never really do grow up). I have memories that remained with me as markers of places I have been, of feelings of wonder and contentment, and they involved the native plants and climate of the land.

In Tehran, most homes have a small courtyard garden: its the first thing you see when you walk through the heavy metal doors. There were roses there with a scent that could send you to heaven. I remember my great-uncle, Daii Asdollah watering his tiny garden in pajama pants, a button-up shirt and plastic sandles, a limp cigarette hanging from his mouth. My grandparents had a great big mulberry tree, and we would stand under it, holding our shirts to catch all the ripe berries and staining everything with their purply blood. Even in the busiest part of the polluted city, enormous trees lined the streets, standing so tall you had to tilt your head all the way back to see the green tops.

Outside the city, there are several lush escapes. Aabnik is one village, nestled between two mountains. In the early morning, you hear dogs barking and the jingle of goat bells. The smell of fresh bread and donkeys mingle, and when you stand at the top of the surrounding mountains and see the shadows of clouds on the ground below, you begin to comprehend how small you are.

To the north is an orange orchard where we played cow boy and cow girl games. We ran between trees while the adults strolled through citrus heaven. The villagers near-by went about their daily lives, helping their cows give birth, making cheese, harvesting. A three legged cat was a wonder to us city kids but just a humorous detail of the day to them. The simplest meal of white rice and beans was a feast to us there–with so much beauty, there was little else we needed.

Kashan is a desert city, and in the old days you satisfied your thirst with cool watermelon juice because the water was saline and chalky. Even in the baking heat, one particular garden offered cool spring water gushing out of the ground, like an oasis in a dream. Thousand year-old remains of villagers’ homes line some roads. My great grandmother lived there in a home her husband had built till her death. Chickens ran around in her small courtyard.

More than an ocean over is another world: we drove through Virginia and West Virginia’s mountains and hills to get to Granny’s house in Tennessee. She had aloe vera plants hanging in kitchen windows–Granny used them to heal the chigger bites on our ankles when we ran through the grass. She decorated her front steps with red Geraniums, and always had a basket of eucalyptus by the bathroom hallway. At breakfast, there was almost always some type of home-made jam: fig, pepper relish, strawberries. There were always dark walnuts in the corners of the back yard like huge, black tennis balls. At Christmas time, there was the tree to decorate, and even though the real thing was replaced with a fake one for economic consideration, it was beautiful to behold! 😀

When we first moved back to the States, there were grassy lawns everywhere for the first time. At the apartment complex in Virginia, there was a small thicket of trees, and when all the leaves fell and there were only trunks and scraggly branches, we’d make believe that we were running away into a mysterious forest. Our first pumpkin harvest was a blaze of big, orange Cinderella-coaches and fresh apple cider. When we got our first town house in Maryland, there was a small garden and tall evergreens in the front. There were little mossy patches here and there, pine needle havens that became a make believe forest for my dolls. There was juicy summer-time grass to run through, and at dusk lightening bugs twinkled here and there. My future husband and I climbed trails at Great Falls: the air was severely humid as it is right before a heavy summer thunderstorm. The night air was sweet, and anytime I remembered, I’d look up at the stars. My aunt, Ammeh Mitra told us once when we were kids, “the moon will be the messenger between us. When you miss us, look up at the full moon, and there you’ll see our faces looking down at you.”

Its the little things that make you remember where you were and who you are.

“Pieces”

There are
pieces of me that stand
on mountains
that sparkle
in tidepools
that contemplate
in deserts
that glisten
in city lights
but the whole of me
lies everywhere
and nowhere
at once.

Ecology of the Heart & Mind

I was born on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where I grew up playing on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. My father, a Syrian civil engineer, would take me to a resort town he was building on the western coast of the Peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

When I was eight, my family and I moved to America. There, on the East Coast, I played on the edges of eastern forests and grew entangled in an ecology that wove existing memories of a dry land and warm waters into seamless, intricate webs in my middle-childhood mind.

There is no gulf between the ecology and culture of East and West for a child whose heart and mind encompasses both.

They say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory. The first time I smelled diesel exhaust on the streets of Washington, DC – the City of Trees – it transported me to my mother’s native Damascus. In that city inhabited for over 4,000 years, the waft from diesel-powered engines that first entered my lungs and imprinted itself upon my memory unfortunately still fills the urban air.

Somewhere between DC and Damascus I learned that there need not be a gulf between the ecology and culture of city and nature for someone whose heart and mind could encompass both.

As an undergraduate student in biology and religion in Washington, DC, my mind started to lay the first intellectual strands of an ecology of science and spirituality that was already reflected in my heart. All this came together for me as a Student Conservation Associate in Tucson Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

There was something about the Sonoran Desert, so foreign yet so familiar, that spoke to me deeply. Perhaps it was the American West’s reflection of the dry Middle Eastern landscape that I carried within.

An ecology of the heart and mind, my own, was starting to reveal itself.

Beyond that first impression, I busied myself with acquiring the skills in botanical field research that our project (PDF) entailed. I was awash in statistics and scientific data collection, the object of which was the saguaro cactus. But to the Tohono O’odham, the native peoples of that part of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros are no mere object. They are ancestors.

One late afternoon, as the shadows grew long, another intern and I were walking ahead on the trail when we saw something that forced us stop. We were in the shadow of a giant saguaro. Much larger, much older and much grander than us, we stood in awe of this Tohono O’odham elder.

It was no different than many of the other saguaros we measured, plotted and photographed that day, yet no number, no picture and no words could capture what we saw. So we stood there in silence, enchanted and humbled by the elder’s presence.

How can there be a gulf between science and the spiritual for people whose hearts and minds encompass both?

Mosaic Landscape

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, 40 minutes from the mountains and 40 minutes from the beach. It was a wonderful place to explore and reflect on nature.

On the other hand, I felt the sprawling nature of Southern California negatively impact my inner landscape. Los Angeles County is compartmentalized, just as my psyche was fragmented and disjointed. Entertainment hubs, friends, work, and home are miles apart, taking hours in traffic to get from one place to another, both in public transit or auto. The lack of unity and harmony felt within me reflected the disharmony in my surroundings.

Less happens in a day when you are spending hours on end sitting in a parking lot, more commonly known as the 405 freeway. It is hard to feel collected and stable when your daily activities are so heavily determined by externalities like commute time and distance from work to home, etc. The daunting thought of getting from one place to another usually meant I stayed home on my couch. This took a toll on my sense of community and place. I felt little ownership for my surroundings/inner-self and frankly, was not equipped with the right tools to fix my predicament.

Seeing as how I was so clearly affected by my built environment, I decided I wanted to learn the tools. I wanted to understand the spatial composition of cities. Who decides where buildings go?… Who decides where the roadway network is constructed?… Who doesn’t have a voice in these types of discussions?… How do we create a sense of community?… How can we lessen the burden the environment experiences because of us?… How can we make public transit a viable transportation option by lessening door-to-door transit time?…

As I try to equip myself with the right tools to help influence the external world, my internal world is on its way to becoming more centered and rooted in a framework of thought that encourages reflection, growth and acceptance of change—paying special attention to how externalities/built environment affect(s) me.

Sometimes our past issues/mistakes can seem as immovable as a 10-story skyscraper, casting its shadow over our future pursuits.I am starting to realize now that we have the ability, the strength from within, to create buildings we deem worthy and raze structures that impede our processes of growth on our respective journeys.

I finally recognize the harmony of my inner landscape comes from an alignment/unification of my soul, mind, and heart—-making every part of me ready to hear God’s presence in my life.

Inner Landscapes

The verses of the Qur’an are called ayaat, literally signs. As some of the ayaat in the Qur’an state, signs (or ayaat) can also be found on earth, in the horizons and within our selves.
“And in the earth, there are signs for those who (seek truth to) believe, and in your own selves! So, you do not perceive? And in the heavens, there is your sustenance and all that you have been promised.” (51:20-22, see also 41:53)
Through these verses, we understand that there are signs in the world both within and without – an outer and inner landscape – that are means for us to reflect on our own creation and remember our Creator.
This concept of an “inner landscape,” coupled with frequent references from a few of our proud Southern members to the landscape of where they’re from (Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee…), got us thinking…
How do these outer, physical landscapes speak to us? What do they say? How are they connected to our inner landscapes? In other words, how do the hills and valleys of a land feed the spirit of someone who’s grown up there?
A few of us decided to answer these questions in the form of blog posts. They’re all labeled “Inner Landscapes.” Enjoy them! …and tell us where you’re from! What’s the landscape there like? What does it say about your inner landscape?