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An ecological activism: Wisdom in Nature

A core quality of an authentic spiritual tradition is that it offers practises and guidance for its followers that can reveal holistic solutions to the challenges of the time. Muzammal Hussain believes that this is true of Islam.

Yet I also believe that there is much work to be done to uncover the essence of the tradition, such that will allow its beauty and relevance to be known in the challenging times we find ourselves in. In my own life, I find myself in a process of re-evaluating and gathering the different strands that represent my own core values and the different facets of my existence. Whilst one of these strands is the spiritual, however hard I look I can find no separation between this and other strands that represent me - my relationships with others, my means of gaining income, the passions to which I give my time, and so on. Neither can I separate these aspects of me from the wider community and political landscape. Life is just too interconnected.

This process of gathering is also reflected in my journey of initiating and co-participating within the UK’s first local Islamic ecological activist group.

Whilst my journey into initiating Wisdom In Nature arose in part out of my noticing the need for more ‘environmental’ awareness, more fundamentally it emerged out of sensing more intimately that we live in an inter-connected world - that humanity is not separate from nature, but is a part of it. My increasing appreciation of the latter has strong resonance with my deepening appreciation of the principle of tawhid, of Oneness or Unity. Ultimately everything arises from a single source, and to attempt to engage in life’s challenges by compartmentalising them - albeit convenient and with some limited use - cannot lead to real, long-term solutions and would go against the true nature of things.

This interconnectedness is increasingly self-evident in a world in which communication can travel wide and far so rapidly, and in which we have developed powerful, albeit questionable, technologies, both at the macro and the micro level which very quickly can have profound far-reaching consequences - from the genetic modification (GM) of food, to advertising and nuclear technologies for instance. Thus, any awareness that inter-connectedness is a fundamental truth of existence is being amplified by the state of the world today.

To me, ecological activism - which is the activism that I strive to participate in - is activism that is guided by an awareness of this interconnectedness. It includes the so-called ‘environmental’ but is not limited to it.  With the principle of tawhid being such a core principle in Islam, activism that is Islamic must also, I believe, be ecological. We must act in a way that honours the relationship between the different strands of existence however much our cultural norms might choose to differentiate between them.

Hence, whilst I concede that Wisdom In Nature was initially called the ‘London Islamic Network for the Environment’ (LINE), the word ‘environment’ - which can imply separate-ness, as well as a competing of issues rather than their integration with respect to the natural order – was amongst the main factors that led us to re-evaluate and change that name. Indeed, the ecological challenges we face and the potential solutions are, in one sense, not bound by the environment but are in us. We have caused the problem, and thus it is our consciousness and patterns that must be transformed. It is for us to become the solution.

Consequently the word ‘nature’ in our new name, Wisdom In Nature, refers in part to our innate nature, or as in the Qur’an, to the fitrah. By living according to this natural disposition - which necessitates inner work and getting to grips with the nafs or ego and its disguised compulsions – we can with more ease live in harmony with the wider creation, or the ‘environment’.

Simultaneously, the laws and principles in nature can offer insights and inspiration that can move us to wholesome solutions in tune with the principles in creation that creatively nurture life. The Qur’an continually guides us to witness and observe the natural world which it refers to as ayat or ‘signs’ that when reflected on with receptivity can simultaneously draw us closer to God, and open us to reconnect to the fitrah.

In addition, having had Islam in our name easily led to assumptions about who we are and what we do. If we are an Islamic group, what does that really mean? Are all ‘Islamic’ groups very similar, or are they more diverse than we might like to think? We were also aware that we were sometimes wrongly considered a ‘Muslim’ only group by those somewhat over-enthusiastic to compartmentalise, yet we enjoy and are grateful to have the presence of participants that do not call themselves Muslim. The process, thus, of defining and re-articulating what we call ourselves was helpful in re-establishing what we are really about, what we understood to be the core values of Islam, rather than simply slotting the term into a name.

Whilst the grassroots and activist nature of the group can be seen in what we do, less visibly yet more importantly it is intrinsic to our process – i.e. how we do things. Rather than being led from the top-down, we lean strongly to using consensus-based, bottom-up processes that draw out the diverse voices, creativity and wisdom of the group. We might also consciously bring in awareness around gender, power relations, privilege and class for example, helping to build cohesiveness and community as we move forward with our ecological work.

We used these kinds of processes within the numerous meetings we had to complete our colour photo-booklet ‘Islam & Climate Change ~ A Call to Heal’. This took considerable time, but we gained a strong sense of ownership that helped take it to completion. None of our members were, or wanted to be paid (that includes myself!), to complete the project, and with minimal funds in our account we still beat the odds to finish it. The end-product clearly reflects the value we hold dear and the care that has gone into it.

Another aspect of our grassroots ethos is that we do not accept donations from government or corporations. Indeed our day-to-day funding comes entirely from donations from individuals. Whilst we need and are actively inviting more people to donate regularly, we remain true to our principles, despite there being the attractions of numerous external sources to whom we could go.

Thus, we have discovered ourselves to be a group that in its understanding of the term ecological, aims to weave together the different strands of activism - the inner, social, process, economic and ‘environmental’, within a common value system. Rather than simply campaigning for people to recycle more for instance, valuable though that is, we work to link issues and look deeper into them

There is a huge potential waiting to be born out of joining together theological knowledge and spiritual maturity with practical work to connect to the land and awareness of grassroots organising and social change. This is a potent combination that draws together the desire for social change within a world view of compassion and love. Separating the spiritual from the outer and the active is an illusion, and this is touched on in Surat Al-Ma ‘un, Chapter 107, in the Qur ‘an.

Our intention with Wisdom In Nature is to continue working within this integrated framework, a natural extension of which is to support, where we are able, the development of local initiatives that feel comfortable working in a similar way. Our community food project in Spitalfields is an early example of this effort. With our main geographical focus being in London and more recently in Brighton, as we draw more willing volunteers as well as funding from individuals, we look forward to collaborations and a growing contribution to an ecological activism as we further our work in these locations.

Muzammal Hussain is the founder of 'Wisdom In Nature', an ecological and communtiy activist group that has a presence in both London and Brighton. He is passionate about engaged spirituality, social organising, and creating meaningful relationships between diverse communities. In the past, he has been a volunteer for the local World Development Movement (WDM) Brighton group, and he has also completed a full Permaculture Design Course as part of Earth Activist Training (EAT) in an eco-community in Devon. Muzammal is also a medical doctor, has a background in mind-body healing, and an MA in Environment, Development and Policy, writing his final dissertation on 'Islam and climate change'.