Healing Wounds: Centering Climate and Environmental Justice

The following blog is a part of our Climate Scholars Series. 
The American Climate Leadership Summit 2020 (ACLS 2020) host committee offers a limited number of scholarships to provide a pathway for rising climate leaders from front line communities and youth climate efforts. Register now and join us at ACLS 2020 LIVE ONLINE every Thursday during the month of August.

Healing Wounds: Centering Climate and Environmental Justice

— Huda Alkaff, Founder and Director, Wisconsin Green Muslims

Assalamu Alaikum / Peace be with you from Wisconsin Green Muslims, a small state-wide grassroots environmental justice group formed in 2005, connecting faith, environmental justice, sustainability, and healing through education and service. It intends to educate the Muslim community and the general public about the Islamic environmental teachings, to apply these teachings in daily life and to form coalitions with others working toward a just, healthy, peaceful and sustainable future. 

Our work is guided and inspired by the sacred teachings from the Qur’an –the Holy Book for Muslims- and the Hadith –reports on the sayings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad, God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him-

For 15 years now (in 2020), Wisconsin Green Muslims works on environmental justice issues as it relates to climate change, clean air and pure water, healthy food, solar energy and energy efficiency, waste reduction and transportation equity. We also weave healing justice work into every aspect of our movement building.

It is a duty and obligation on Muslims to care for Earth, our common home. God states in the Qur’an (6:165), “It is God who has made you viceroys on earth.”  The earth was mentioned more than 450 times in the Qur’an. Of course for a reason. There are approximately 1,500 environmental messages in the Qur’an and the Hadith that guide Muslims toward care for all God creatures and the sacred gifts and natural resources, such as water, air, food, light, land, etc.

Some of the Qur’an chapter titles are: The Cow, The Honey-Making Bees, The Light, The Ants, The Spider, The Star, The Iron, The People, The Pen, The Dawn, The Sun, The Moon, The Night, The Day, The Fig, The Elephant, etc.  There are many stories, signs (Ayyat) and lessons.  “Be like a Tree”; and “Be like a Bee,” are some of the lessons in the Islamic teachings.

God mentions the grapes, onions, garlic, lentils, and many other plants, fruit, etc. in the Qur’an.  God states in the Qur’an (6:141), “It is God who produceth gardens with trellises and without and dates and tilth with produce of all kinds and olives and pomegranates similar [in kind] and different [in variety]: eat of their fruit in their season but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered.”

In Islam, there are clear teachings and signs about the important, beautiful and intricate balance of creation. God repeatedly tells us to maintain that balance and not to upset the order in creation.  In the Qur’an (15:19), God says, “And the earth We have spread out; set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.” He instructed us to “Eat and drink of that which God has provided (and permitted) and do not act corruptly, causing mischief on earth.” (Qur’an, 2:60).

Muslims are advised to be moderate in every aspect of life.. In the Qur’an (7:31), “O Children of Adam … eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters.” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) forbade a person to waste water even in washing for prayer on the bank of an abundantly flowing river.

 At the time of darkness of environmental and climate injustices to the most vulnerable, current and future generations at home and around the world, it is important for us to do everything we can. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is reported to have said: If doomsday is about to take place while anyone of you has a tree sapling in your hand, which you can cultivate, then cultivate it for you will be rewarded.  This message of active hope inspires me and motivates me to plant and tend to the garden of life.  Personally, I strive to seek the light in the midst of every dark and difficult situation, including this time of climate emergency.

At this time of darkness, it is urgent for us to work for light, love, unity, and climate justice. To stand up together against hate, division, and racism. We gather to embrace each other in mutual respect, not turning our backs to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our neighborhoods and the world. “…and God has set up the Balance (of Justice), in order that ye may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance: It is God Who has spread out the earth for all God’s creatures” (The Qur’an 55:7-10). “These are the Signs of God: We rehearse them to thee in Truth: And God means no injustice to any of God’s creatures” (The Qur’an 3:108).

Recently, Wisconsin Green Muslims celebrated our 15th Green Ramadan Campaign –whereby each day during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of the Qur’an and daily fasting from food and drink, including water from dawn till dusk, we celebrated virtually daily action items with the community, centering environmental and climate justice, and energy, water, food, and transit equity-. Also, we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the International Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change (released in 2015). The Declaration calls for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and a transition to equitable 100% renewable energy, as well as increased support for vulnerable communities and climate refugees already suffering from global climate impacts.

Current Wisconsin Green Muslims Projects:

a. Open Circle of Diverse Monthly Themes

The model that works for us is to designate a theme for each month, focus on it with participants from different Islamic Centers, formal and informal Islamic Schools and institutions, quantify the results and celebrate the outcomes, then move to a new theme in the next month. This diverse approach enables us to connect with a variety of constituents who join our open circle at the point of entry that matches their interest, whether it is water equity with lead issues that affect vulnerable population, community vegetable gardens with families participating and intergenerational exchange of knowledge that takes place, solar energy and energy efficiency with engineers and facility managers coming into the fold, friendly recycling competitions with robust youth participation, or transit equity issues with seniors, students and people of disability concerned about transportation access and affordability.

b. Wisconsin Faith Communities for Equitable Solar

Through over 100 one-on-one and small group conversations, listening sessions, presentations, Wisconsin Green Muslims reached more than 5,000 people of different backgrounds and a wide variety of constituents in Wisconsin to generate Just Solar guiding principles from the people, by the people, for the people, rooted in our collective values of justice, equity and inclusion. Two pathways came up from these listening sessions and conversations: (1) Energy Efficiency to Solar power and (2) Solar Trainings to Living Wage Jobs, primarily for women, people of color and disadvantaged communities.

We are centering energy democracy in our work: community-based, solutions-focused, frontline-led, and justice-centered renewable energy efforts that have two main characteristics:

  • Promoting racial and economic equity as a cornerstone: leadership and benefits of energy development are those communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the harms of fossil fuel economy and inequality, and
  • Working to build community ownership and control of healthy, renewable energy resources, with the main focus on solar energy.

Wisconsin Green Muslims has two interfaith initiatives “Wisconsin Faith and Solar” and “Faithful Rainwater Harvesting, or FaRaH, which means joy” connecting faith communities with the unifying powers of sunlight and rainwater, as sacred trusts and gifts, while providing valuable peer-learning and education, assessments, and collaborative benefits to advance equitable solar and solutions to flooding, so that together we increase our understanding, appreciation and care of our common home.

The Wisconsin Faith, Environmental Justice and Solar Initiative, received high approval ratings from people from diverse backgrounds reaching nearly 5,000 people of at least 18 different religions and spiritualities in Wisconsin and counting, is an interfaith peer learning program built on the foundation of trust in the unifying power of solar energy to bring people of faith and morality together to care for Earth –our common home-, save money to reinvest in their missions and to move forward toward an equitable 100% renewable energy future.

Both initiatives have three components. First, a social and educational component, where we’re building a peer learning circle of those who have built solar or green infrastructure and those aspiring to do so. Secondly, we have the financial component, where we provide free and discounted remote and on-site solar assessments and consultations. We love spreading the good news, telling people “Your site is a solar-promising site.” Thirdly is the spiritual component. We see sunlight and water as the commons. No one owns them, and everyone should have access to them. Both sunlight and water are sacred healing gifts and trusts. We need to appreciate them and welcome them responsibly into our homes, congregations, and lives.

c. Climate Justice Healing Conversation Circles

The purpose of this project is to foster collaborative approaches to overcoming shared barriers. Our shared barrier that we would like to deal with and overcome is how to heal our personal wounds in the climate justice movement. How to be healers for our wounds and the wounds of others in the climate justice movement? We as “wounded healers” can learn to become effective healers, rooted in our traditions, cultures, and lived experiences.

Climate grief and climate-related stress and anxiety are experienced more often within our community of climate activists. Understanding the healing process is important. Many of us have wounds that stem from the labors of our environmental and climate justice work that are in desperate need of healing. We must ask each other, “how are you healing?” and then listen to and learn from each other on those methods through guided listening and learning sessions within the climate justice community and allies. In 2020 and beyond, Wisconsin Green Muslims together with a few partner climate justice organizations are working on a pilot project to form a safe space and a welcoming open circle that can be virtual (at online / zoom meetings) and perhaps physical (at certain in-person meetings) with a curriculum/toolkit that moves us together on the path of healing, rooted in our traditions, cultures, spiritualities, and philosophies.

The Islamic teachings are rich with environmental messages, and the true practice of Islam really means living simply, treading lightly on Earth, caring for our neighbors and all creatures, standing up for justice, and collaborating with others to care for our common home.

People of faith, Muslims included, have a great responsibility to stand up for environmental justice and address the concerns and calamities of the poor and marginalized communities, those with the lowest ecological footprints, yet they are the most impacted by environmental and climate disasters. It is a moral issue, and the interfaith voice standing united for environmental justice and care of creation is instrumental in mobilizing the faithful for the common good.

We are educating and mobilizing the community to make their voices heard in the Governor’s Task Force on Climate change public hearings to demand bold, ambitious and equitable climate solutions in Wisconsin.

It is time to light the way and heal the wound. The intensity of light is stronger in darkness, providing greater opportunity for light to lead the way. Let’s continue to work together countering darkness and spreading light and healing justice. Shine On!

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