Muslims are increasingly adhering to plant-based diets for a variety of reasons inclusive of health benefits, environmental preservation, and concern for animal welfare. But vegan or not, all Muslims share the responsibility of treading lightly on the earth while maintaining the sanctity of Allah’s creation, both human and non-human. This can be manifested through the day-to-day choices of where you shop, what you buy, and how you go about your daily lives. But for our family, this also means intentionally avoiding zoos, parks, or tourist attractions that reduce the lives and functions of animals to entertainment. To that end, we took our first opportunity to visit Kenya at the beginning of this year and had an opportunity to model our animal ethics in a practical way while enjoying the following destinations with our two children.
As one of the only cities in the world with a wildlife game reserve within a capital, Nairobi National Park is a priceless opportunity to experience a safari without venturing far. One of the humbling lessons about seeing animals in the wild is that they are not on display and not always visible. Their actions and movements are primarily their own, so one must be patient in waiting for their appearance or content with the lack thereof. Fortunately, we were able to see lions, antelopes, buffalos, warthogs, and a Masai giraffe during our visit.
To see elephants, we visited the David Shelrick Wildlife Trust where orphaned and injured elephants are nurtured until independence and re-released into the wild. Public viewing is limited to a singular lunch hour every day, but the caretakers do an excellent job of enriching the short visit by identifying each elephant and sharing the personal details of their rescue stories. It was heartwarming to learn that the re-released elephants often return to the Trust to introduce their offspring to the surrogate human parents that cared for them.
Venturing towards the eastern coast, the port city of Mombasa has a notably large Muslim population with an abundance of mosques and halal eateries. The hustle and bustle of tuk tuk carts, matatu minibuses, and taxis can be dizzying when moving around the town centre, but near the historic Fort Jesus, visitors can catch their breath at the Mombasa Butterfly House. Surrounded by a colorful array of butterflies in their various stages of development, we also learned about nationwide conservation efforts that give low-income families opportunities to thrive instead of resorting to environmentally destructive ways of making a living.
Outside of the city, the Nguuni Nature Sanctuary is a clinic site, as well as a wildlife reserve for endangered giraffes, elands, and a single ostrich. Without fences or partitions, visitors have the opportunity to walk amongst these majestic animals and share a table while they feast on leaves and millet pellets.
Our last stop was the oldest continuously habituated Swahili settlement, Lamu. The small group of islands bear traces of Portuguese invasion, Omani support, Indian trade, Chinese settlement, and many other cultural influences. A significant moment for the spiritual life of Lamu was the arrival of Habib Salih bin Alawi Jalal al-Layl, the scholar and healer whose blessed lineage extends from Comoros to Yemen, all the way to the Prophet (saws).
The Riyaadha Mosque and boarding school that he established stands just outside of his former home and continues to be a center for learning and remembrance of Allah. His legacy of spiritual and natural healing lives on through the annual Lamu Maulidi Festival and Red Crescent Clinic. The occasion draws visitors from all over East Africa to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad (saws) for three continuous days with daily gatherings outside of the mosque and processions leading to Habib Salih’s burial place. Visitors bring medical supplies and participate in blood drives to support the medical mission.
Lamu is notably a conservative part of Kenya, but it has grown accustomed to the traffic of elites, backpackers, yoga enthusiasts and spiritual seekers. Like a gracious host, Lamu maintains its integrity while making room for the many who choose to visit or make the island their home.
This post was originally published at Sacred Footsteps.