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Earth Day – Helping or Hindering Our Movement Toward Wholeness?

by Shumaisa Khan

What is the purpose of Earth Day? What does it mean to you?

As with other designated dates (e.g. International Woman’s Day), Earth Day is intended to focus attention on an issue, usually associated with some kind of injustice. In this case, it is an annual date for people to reflect on our relationship with a complex entity, the earth, on which we completely depend, yet have taken for granted.

Such designated dates and the attention that they can shine on issues undoubtedly have positive impacts. Perhaps it has inspired you to be more conscious of your personal impact on the earth, or to get involved in a local or national environmental campaign.

In a way, however, this approach to calling attention to the earth reinforces the pervasive notion of our separation from it. Yet we are inherently part of earth and the complex web of life that exists.

Thus, this approach somewhat undermines the idea of interconnectedness and wholeness, through which various areas of concern can be addressed in a more integrated way; certainly, women deserve deep, ongoing respect that is woven into every aspect of life—home; community; economy; education; etc—and the same can be said of the earth.

An Islamic Perspective

We articulate an alternative approach through our five strands: earth & community; deep democracy; whole economics; climate justice; and what underpins them all—engaged surrender.

As we have stated, “Our intention, thus, is to facilitate a movement away from states, processes, and paradigms that contribute to imbalances in the social and wider ecology, and move towards ones that are nurturing, wholesome, in alignment with our natural order (fitrah), and that help restore ecological balance (mizan).”

Let’s focus on just one strand, deep democracy, which draws out the range of diverse voices, including those that are marginalized. Deep democracy pertains to how we make decisions within our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and community or campaigning groups. In most settings, conventional structures operate in which a few people (usually at the top of pyramid) make decisions for the many.

These people at the top have more power, higher salaries, more authority, and perhaps a greater sense of self-importance. However, wisdom and creative solutions to challenges are more likely to emerge from insights of the diverse ‘many’, rather than from a narrow, less diverse group of people (e.g. of a similar class, ethnicity, age, or gender). Increasing recognition of this is resulting in workplaces moving away from traditional hierarchy to structures with self organization, distributed authority, and decentralized decision-making via methods such as sociocracy and consensus.

Voices of the Seen and Unseen

How does this relate to the earth? Any issue or relationship requires communication and decision-making; at the most fundamental level, the current state of the earth rests upon countless decisions taking place over hundreds of years—decisions where many voices were excluded or suppressed.

Notably, several Native American tribes apply the principle of seven generations; this principle stipulates that they ask ‘how will the decision we make now affect the seventh generation to come?’ It thus requires them to think not just of themselves or their families, or even their generation, but to always bear in mind the voice of those who are yet to arrive, just as their ancestors would have done for them.

We can also reflect on this in relation to deeper democracy that includes the voice of the non-human world, which is especially marginalized. As the Quran states:

And there is no creature on the earth or bird that flies with wings except [that they are] communities like you” (Qur’an 6:38) and “each one knows its own prayer and praise” (Quran 24:41). 

Ripples in the Web

The way we conceive of, speak about, and frame issues influences our behaviors and actions.

We hope that the five strands framework facilitates a more holistic, inclusive, and mutually supporting way of thinking about our roles and responsibilities in light of the web of life that we are part of, where our actions can have effects that transcend time, space, and any single issue.

This is the longer version of a piece originally posted at the Inclusive Mosque Initiative

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