When Less is More: Indian Practices for Protecting the Environment

Saad Razi Shaikh explores how tapping into India’s cultural practices can fulfil the Prophetic command to not waste resources, and to protect the environment.protecting the environment

And do not waste, for God does not love the wasteful. [Quran 6:141]

About two weeks back, I heard a scrap dealer passing by the road in front of my house. His booming voice announced the time had come to clear the unused items from the house. His voice was a familiar one in the neighbourhood, yet it was only now that I began to ponder about people like him, and the practices they represented.

In this case, I reflected on the many ways old objects are recycled and reused, and particularly so in my home country, India. Here, there exists a whole cultural system of reusing and recycling. In our house, there was a special place to store old newspapers, old plastic, and old utensils. Each of these would be separately sold to a scrap dealer, who would send it further up the recycling ecosystem.

The dealers had unique barter systems. We would exchange our old clothes for new utensils. As for old blankets, they would not be thrown out. A group of women would drop into our neighbourhood. Armed with needles and thread, they would sew together these blankets, creating what you could call a superblanket, a ‘godadi’ which would act as a  formidable defence against the winter cold.

Food, a dear necessity of life, had its own reuse routines. If curry and rotis were left from the night, they would be mixed and heated together the next day, a dish that we called sareed. If fresh roti was left, my mother would grind it together with sugar and cardamom, to make ball-shaped sweets called laddoos. Leftover meals would be taken by the domestic workers who came to our locality. If small morsels and bits remained, they would be fed to crows and other birds.

These routines, of reusing and recycling, were the traditions I grew up with. Much later, when I had seen the world a bit, and dug through a few books of the Deen, I came to appreciate them for what they truly were: a way to sustain, conserve and make the most of our limited resources. Little to nothing would be wasted in the house, and we were taught that from an early age.

But as we grew older, we became more susceptible to the consumerism of the society we lived in. Malls sprang up in place of the bazaar. We frequented it first, dazzled by the sheer breadth of products on display. If that wasn’t enough, Amazon landed in our homes, and we ordered products as if the world was ending tomorrow-which is not far-fetched, seeing the rapid depletion of resources and the sheer abuse and violation of the environment. Woke as we were, we read news pieces on the environment, cheered when the Paris Deal was signed, switched off our lights every year on Earth Hour, and furiously signed internet petitions for saving the environment.

Yet, we faltered where it mattered the most; in taking ourselves into account. Each one of us is mukallaf, a sane, believing adult  is accountable for his or her actions. We are the vice-regents of Allah, to whom the Earth has been entrusted as an Amanah, a trust. In our wanton consumerism, unsustainable lifestyles and poor management of our resources, how well are we carrying the trust we have been given?

Here’s my humble take:  the environment will continue to degrade until each one of us begins to take responsibility for our actions. Petitioning governments to change their policies is fine. But we need to make a real commitment to tone down our own consumption.

A good start is knowing our carbon consumption. Are you using your car when public transport is available? Are you using plastic when you can carry your own bag? Is your plumbing leaking the life out of the water systems? Do the products you are buying adhere to the latest environmental standards? Finally, are there ways you can reduce your wastage? Are there avenues for you to recycle and reuse your old stuff?

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, the best of creations, laid great emphasis on avoiding wastage. He asked the believers to marvel at the signs of Allah in the creation of  the heavens and the Earth. We need to return to that sense of awe, of marvelling at nature and knowing that we are entrusted with it. Our mindless consumerism is blinding us to the fact that we are accountable to Allah, and that on the Day of Judgment, every action of ours will be measured.  

It is said that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, when on his deathbed, asked his daughter Aisha, may Allah be pleased with them both, not to spend money to purchase cloth for his shroud, and to instead use the bedcloth he was sleeping on to shroud him. We need to remember examples like the actions of the righteous and how they can be of benefit to us, both in this world and the next. We need to respect the environment, to know that we do not own it, that we are its mere trustees.

This is where tapping into our traditional practices of sustainability can come in handy. Each culture has valuable practices which fit this concept, and my example is just one amongst plenty.  We need to revive them, for they allow us to follow an Islamic ideal while doing our part to save the environment.

May we be those who respect the environment. May we neither waste nor neglect the bounties entrusted upon us.

Saad Razi Shaikh is a journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on popular culture and community initiatives. He can be reached on Twitter @writweeter


Why Biodiversity Matters – Living Green Series

The Living Green Series takes us through our responsibilities towards green living and environmental stewardship. In this segment, Leslie Adams speaks about the importance of biodiversity and why we have a responsibility to protect it.

Leslie Adams from the Ontario Biodiversity Network, begin by giving an overview of biodiversity and its functions.

Biodiversity is the different organisms that are found within an ecosystem. The relationship between these organisms forms a unique environment which is crucial to our living. A biodiverse ecosystem provides food, clothing, and medicine. It covers genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. As humans, we depend on all the species and ecosystems that exists, because they all have a part to play towards the quality of our environment.

Ecosystems provide us with goods and services. Goods include things like food, wood, air and water. Services are the benefits that the ecosystems provide us. They are sometimes less obvious but equally important, and they include things like water filtration, temperatures, and pollination.

One of the largest problems of the modern age, is that ecosystem services are taken for granted. Because of this, a monetary value can be easily attached to them, which is quickly paid by development companies eager to construct buildings on natural land. However, the replacing a natural ecosystem such as a forest, with concrete jungle destroys the services it was providing. Since the forest no longer exists, pollination of nearby crops and plants can no longer take place, and the water that the people drink becomes dirty.

When we learn more about biodiversity, we begin to understand how important it is to preserve the natural habitat.

About the Series

What is the place of green and environmental stewardship in Islam? How does the Qur’an view concern for the environment?  What is your responsibility towards the environment? Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin and Shaykh Ali Hani answer these are other critical questions by citing several prophetic traditions emphasising environmental consciousness and awareness.

Resources for Seekers

Contemplating A Future Without Honey… Or Bees, by Saleema Umm Bilal

Saleema Umm Bilal reviews a documentary on the wholesale destruction of bee colonies that has shaken her to the core.

Just today, I was talking to my kids about the new, raw honey my husband bought us. It was thick, creamy and smelled so good. Bilal and Amina were eager to try some as I stirred it into my chai. I couldn’t help but spill out of my mouth, “Can you believe this comes from those busy buzzing bees??”… and then I paused and worried a little, which Bilal immediately sensed.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked as I gave Amina a half spoonful.

“Well, it’s scary because the bees are having trouble finding flowers to drink nectar from and make honey. We aren’t seeing that many bees anymore.”

From that came a whole host of questions. In my simplified and, to be honest, ignorant explanation I started describing how all the smoke the kids notice from cars, airplanes, motorcycles, the one factory they’ve seen, etc is mixing with the beautiful clouds in the sky. When that happens, it’s like a blanket covering our Earth. They guessed that the Earth warms up, especially as the sunlight hits us. That sounds nice and cozy but it’s making the planet too hot, and causing problems. His face looked worried but we kept chatting. We got back to the issue of bees and honey when my son realized I might not be able to use honey anymore in my tea, something I enjoy so much. He almost laughed and then felt bad when he said, “You’ll have to use sugar…”

Then he quickly asked, “What about Shifa?” That’s the love of his life, his 4 month old sister. “Will she be able to taste honey?” (All this time, Amina is listening and enjoying the thick, sweet beautiful topic of discussion.) I had always heard those sentimental words, “I want my kids/the future to enjoy what I had…” And I always felt bit smug hearing them be used. But this time, it made me feel empty inside. I looked at her, in her swing, sitting a little bit from the kitchen table. I had hope God would let her taste something so pure like honey, one day. I did fear her kids would not. I knew I could not sit around status quo without doing my part to make sure they would.

We concluded that we need to make changes. Bilal suggested battery cars. I thought, less Amazon Prime. The solution is all that and much more. We have to live differently, dress differently, eat differently and spend differently… All the billions of people on this planet, if we want to keep enjoying and surviving. It starts with me and my family. and you and yours.

Later that same day, my sister sent me this video link. It had such an impact on me, I decided to send it to every email in my contacts list. Please watch, let it move you, and share with everyone you can. God is Great, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. I believe that and I believe He gave us free will to choose how we act.

“Before the Flood,” captures a three-year personal journey alongside Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio as he interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations who provide unique, impassioned and pragmatic views on what must be done today and in the future to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet. The film was released on October 30, 2016 and made available free by National Geographic through November 8, 2016. The “Before the Flood” website shows ways in which you can watch the full movie. Video from KarmaTube.

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