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Reflecting on Water, the Anti-DAPL Movement, and Our Stewardship of the Earth

In response to the call from a native American tribal leader, there’s been a groundswell of support among North American based faith leaders to pray and reflect in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock working to preserve local waters from the DAPL project. Ustadh Sharif Rosen delivered the following reflection at a prayer vigil, with particular focus on working to preserve the blessing of water. This movement combining both social justice and our roles as stewards of the earth appears to be one that Muslims should be invested in, however possible, he writes.


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Ustadh Sharif Rosen’s reflection

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Allah, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth says in the Quran, in the chapter entitled “Rome”,
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَيُحْيِي بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
{And from His signs is that He shows you thunder which incites awe and hope, and He sends down waters from the sky by which the earth is revived after its death; indeed, in this, is a great sign for those of intellect} [30:24]
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
{Corruption has surfaced in the land and the sea from what human hands have earned that they might turn back} [30:41]
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The current struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project in the United States represents only one flashpoint in the wider crisis affecting each living creature. The insatiable desire to control and exploit our most precious resources is nothing less than a declaration of war on our own selves.
God invites us to witness and reflection upon His signs in the creation; to view existence through the lens of sacred meanings embedded therein.  As scholars like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remind us, we might then see that the state of the earth’s waters mirrors the inward and outward state of humanity who have been tasked as custodians of the earth.  Thus, when our oceans, rivers and streams are corrupted with acidity, garbage, and toxins; when our seas are over-fished and then, overrun with hyper-consumers like the brainless, heartless, spineless jellyfish on one hand; and the far more destructive predator, ourselves on the other, by sacred measures, the imbalance we have caused is setting the table for our own annihilation.
Water is among the greatest proofs of God’s mercy; in this life as our sustenance and means to purity; in the next life, where the lush, shaded groves of the Garden are nourished by pure, flowing waters.  The Arabic word for water is ma-a, whose letters form the roots for the word mahiya which means “essence”.  Water is who we are, in the very composition of our bodies, and what will enrich us again in the world to come.  Yet, in our relationship with water now — whether through our care or our abuse — we may see the reflection of who we really are, or rather, what we have become.
The noble poet, Imam Muhammad al-Busiri, God have mercy on him, may as well have been describing the blessing of water when he said, “The more familiar and obvious a thing, the more subtle and hidden it is.”
Our prayer is that we not be of those who let all of that which is most valuable, most near to us, go neglected, and then, damaged beyond repair.
May we aid the struggle to preserve the right of all peoples to access the cleansing and pure water that is among God’s great mercies to all of creation.
May we support the centuries-old cause of the native peoples of this continent, and in all lands as they defend their lives, their water, their cultures, their sovereignty and dignity.
May we apply our entire selves to the restoration of sanity and balance in this world — in its ecology, in our consumption, in our political and economic systems, in our social discourse, in our aspirations, in our religion and spirituality, and in our very souls.
May our life’s impact be wide in benefit, but our footprint, gentle.
And all praise is God’s alone.
Amen.

What You Need To Know About Standing Rock

The Native American tribes of Standing Rock are protesting the construction of a pipeline to transport shale oil from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico across their land. This pipeline threatens their sacred sites and their way of life, their water and very livelihoods. The situation brings to mind countless like confrontations, but this time, with global support, the Sioux of Standing Rock may have turned history’s tide.

“Perhaps you have noticed that even in the slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.”—Black Elk

Since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Sioux of Standing Rock and other Six Nations Tribes have seen a great number of promises broken with devastating consequences. One of the most well-known battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876 between the Sioux, allied with Arapaho and Cheyenne, and the US Government was the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The war is also know as the Black Hills War due to the central object of contention between the Sioux Tribes and the Government, namely, the Black Hills—a site sacred to the Sioux. What sparked off the war was a 1874 violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty by General George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry. They entered the Black Hills and found gold, which started a gold rush on Sioux Lands. The Standing Rock Protests of today are, in a similar way, the result of a contemporary gold rush.

The Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota (Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) were discovered in 1951. But only recently, with the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, has oil production boomed since 2000. This kicked off a modern day gold rush, and marked improvements in the economy of North Dakota.

“You have to follow your heart and it will tell you what you can do to help. It’s not for me to say, we need this, we want this, or we have to have this. It’s up to you. Just being here is enough for me: to know that you are here, and that you’re supporting us.”—Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, David Archambault II, to Imam Zaid Shakir

As a result of this oil production increased and shipment of Bakken Oil from the fields to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico became necessary. The solution to this logistic problem was pipelines. The main one being the Keystone Pipeline. However, several plans for new pipelines that can accommodate the volume produced have been on the table for years. One of the more notorious of these is Keystone XL, which has also been met with a great deal of resistance. This was, however, rejected by the Obama administration in 2015.

An alternate plan, known as the Dakota Access Pipeline or the Bakken Pipeline, was made public by Dakota Access, LLC in July 2014. This plan, in turn, gave rise to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests (NoDAPL) we see today. At the center of these protests are various Native American Tribes, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux. A protest camp was established by a tribal elder in April 2016.

Mainstream media coverage of the protests has been very limited until recently. It seems clear that the coverage is nowhere near that given to the Keystone XL protests in their time. Despite that the protests have received a great deal of international attention and support from other tribal and religious communities throughout the world. Many Muslim leaders and groups have stepped up in support of NoDAPL, among them, Imam Zaid Shakir, who visited the camp in October 2016.

Sources and further reading:

1. From a local protest to a Global Movement: What Standing Rock is about and how it grew
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/standing-rock-standoff-how-north-dakotas-native-protest-became-an-americanmovement/article31764530/

2. Imam Zaid Shakir visits the protest camp.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxt_0rnu-KE

3. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe History.
http://standingrock.org/history/

4. The bigger picture: “The Bakken is the most dangerous oil field to work in the U.S. The energy producers never pay for their mistakes.”
https://www.revealnews.org/article/in-north-dakotas-bakken-oil-boom-there-will-be-blood/

5. Bad News For The Bakken As Obama Administration Blocks Pipeline
http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Bad-News-For-The-Bakken-As-Obama-Administration-Blocks-Pipeline.html

6. A Special Report on Standing Rock: The Environmental and Social Justice Consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline
http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/special-report-standing-rock-environmental-and-social-justice-consequences-dakota

7. Standing Rock protests: this is only the beginning. The world has been electrified by protests against the Dakota access pipeline. Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/12/north-dakota-standing-rock-protests-civil-rights

8. Standing Rock Sioux Pediatrician: Threat from Fracking Chemicals is “Environmental Genocide”
http://www.democracynow.org/2016/10/18/standing_rock_sioux_pediatrician_threat_from

9. The Injustice At Standing Rock Is An American Story
http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/10/29/the-injustice-at-standing-rock-is-an-american-story/

http://www.countercurrents.org/tag/standing-rock-sioux-protest/

10. Boom and Bust in the Bakken Oil Fields
The discovery last decade that fossil fuels could be tapped from rock deep beneath the windswept prairies of North Dakota acted like a magnet on American working people. By the thousands they came, from as far as Texas and California, fortune-seekers in a modern-day Gold Rush.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2015-11-30/boom-and-bust-in-the-bakken-oil-fields

11. Muslims Defend the Sacred – Solidarity with Standing Rock
https://mpowerchange.org/blog/post/muslims-defend-the-sacred-solidarity-with-standing-rock-1