Sustainability Matters : Sunnah-Style Small Acts Equal Big Environmental Improvements

64 Pounds of Trash Killed a Sperm Whale in Spain.  Australia Shocked by Death of 2,400 Sheep on Ship to Qatar. A Male Infertility Crisis is Coming.  Globally, we are bombarded with new threats facing the well-being of our selves, animals, and the planet on a daily basis.  The barrage of bad news easily stirs feelings of fear, helplessness, and defeat.  However, by recommitting ourselves to the sunnah of small and consistent actions, we can translate our global concerns into tangible, yet radical, daily commitments that make a difference.  Regardless of how high or low our carbon footprint currently is, there are daily steps we can take to practice environment, social, and spiritual sustainability.

The life of the blessed Prophet Muhammad  is replete with examples of being totally concerned with the weight of the world while remaining present and engaged with the realities of day-to-day life.  His thoughts of salvation didn’t preclude him from showing affection to his family nor did his woes for the ummah keep him from principled living with far-reaching wisdom.  He knew that his strength to face what laid before him was drawn from a well filled by nights in prayer and replenished by a simple life that authentically connected him to creation and the hearts of everyone he encountered.  Such a lofty example of mindfulness is rare in our digital age but necessary to reclaim for our collective survival.

Social Welfare

Every day, our hearts are tugged in each direction—asking for prayers, donations, and resources for various causes, struggles, and people all over the world.  The woes of the entire planet flood our minds before we’ve even greeted our neighbors and asked about their well-being.   However, our generosity and compassion must include those with the greatest rights over us—our parents, family, and neighbors—before radiating to each corner of the globe.  It is easy to see the strife of war and poverty at a distance, but let’s challenge ourselves to face and address inequity and adversity that exist in our own community or city first.

Water Conservation

Water is a universal necessity in both our physical and spiritual life.  The gateway to performing acts of worship is the ritual washing.  It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad  would perform ablution with a single mudd, approximately 750 ml of water, and wash his entire body with a sa’a which is around 3 liters of water.  He advised scarcity in the use of water, even if beside a running stream.

In our own lives, we should ask how vigilant we are not only when performing wudhu and ghusl, but with any encounter with water—washing dishes, brushing teeth, showering, watering the lawn, doing laundry, etc.  Try catching water from rinsing fruits and vegetables to water plants, adjust washing machine settings to one rinse cycle instead of two or three, and simply turn off the running water when not in use.

Avoiding Excess

The Quran consistently warns against wastefulness and excess in anything.  Whatever the resource—be it food, energy, or material goods—it should be used according to its need and usefulness.  When eating or drinking, one should only take what they can consume and in the amount that removes appetite or thirst.  If you find that plates are rarely left bare at the end of a meal, consider preparing and serving less food or saving some for another day.  Even clothing should be bought with ‘quality over quantity’ in mind, with special attention paid to sweatshop-free labor, avoiding non-biodegradable materials, and purchasing second-hand when possible. Such acts of ecology and economic awareness scan be found in the blessed actions of the one who mended his own clothes, avoided waste and emphasized paying a laborer their fair wages “before the sweat on his brow evaporated.”

Reducing Waste

When purchasing products, be mindful of excess packaging.  If we are to leave this planet better than we found it, we must caution ourselves against individually wrapped snacks, boxed drinks, and products that wash into our oceans, if not properly composted or recycled.  When possible, purchase products in glass which can be reused or paper which can biodegrade.  Single-use plastic has overburdened our planet to the point of being ingested by un-discerning birds and marine animals.  Therefore, sea-derived foods like fish and salt have also been contaminated by traces of plastics that humans in turn consume.  Avoid bottled water, which can be replaced by water filters and refillable water bottles, and substitute plastic food storage containers with stainless steel or glass.

Low-Impact Living

Personal car use can be either a luxury or necessity, depending on your lifestyle and location.  If you have the option of shortening your commute or using public transportation, both will lighten your environmental burden on the earth by reducing carbon emissions.  Also, try carpooling or planning more efficient vehicle use to save cash and lower your carbon footprint.  For longer distances, consider traveling by rail or bus and select flight itineraries with the fewest stops possible.

Semi-Vegetarianism

While slaughter and meat consumption have become almost synonymous with most Muslim cultures, it has been widely noted that the Prophet Muhammad  did not consume meat on a daily basis.  In spite of his enjoyment of it, it was his normative practice to feast on whole grains, fresh fruits, dates, dairy, olives, and other vegetarian foods.  There is an obvious difference between the quality of food currently produced by agriculture industries and that which is tilled and harvested by the hands and hearts of real people.  Therefore, consumers should pursue the most ethically derived and humanely handled food products available, preferably locally sourced as opposed to imported.

Spiritual Sustenance

Knowing that every deed is rewarded according to its intention is a great comfort for the believer.  If we are advised to finish planting a tree “even if the Last Hour is upon us,” then we know that our hope is not in the fruit the tree will bear. Our hope is in the One who made us stewards of His earth—the same earth we are advised to tread lightly upon “as if we are a stranger or wayfarer.”  Nourish your soul, not by slogans, protest, and leafletting, but rather the timeless wisdom of the Holy Quran, the silent assurance of the night prayer, and the daily pruning and grooming that polishes and refines our character into a Prophetic reflection.

This article was original published in Hayati Magazine.

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