On Earth Day, Step Outside and Remember Why This Movement Matters.
April 21, 2022
I have been reading the latest offering from Fazlun M. Khalid, founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences. His recent book, “Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity, and the Climate Crisis,” is a must read. In it he asserts that: “Alarm Bells are ringing, presaging an irreversible human-induced climate change threatening the world-wide collapse of ecosystems. Previously ignored and marginalized, faith communities are now emerging as significant contributors to the restoration and protection of the biosphere”
His comments echo how I feel at this moment. People of faith need to step up and be the conscience that the world desperately needs. Fazlun notes, “We now exist in soulless secularized spaces, concealing the reality that we are trapped in an irresistible undertow of debt and hedonism aimlessly driving us through oceans of consumerism.” His observation begs the question of the faithful: How are we showing up in this moment?
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Ten years ago, I wanted to be part of a conversation of those protecting the planet, a conversation between the faithful and the reverent of all faiths and the advocates and organizers involved in the movement to transform and renegotiate our relationship with the Earth. The book that I wrote, “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” has since become a touchstone for Muslims, environmentalist, climate activists, academics and educators, community, religious, business, and political leaders all over the world. Nature and sustainability issues are part of my work and purpose, and I engage in policy development on issues related to the management of water, waste, energy, transportation, and food. Still, despite my ongoing work in these areas and my role as an author and as a policy expert, I stay involved in this work because it is very personal to me. My involvement in sustainability is really because I love the natural world, am in constant awe of what the Creator of the Universe has created, and I truly love being in nature—no matter what the season and I urge all people of faith to reconnect to why this movement is important to you—personally.
My reflection on this Earth Day is about spring and our need to reconnect with the cathedral, the masjid, the temple, and the outdoors—even if you live in a city. Fazlun M. Khalid reminds us of something almost academic, “it is generally accepted that Rachel Carson’s seminal ‘Silent Spring,’ published in 1962, was the consciousness-raising trigger and since then we have been trying to get to grips with what we have brought upon ourselves.”
Spring is one of the best times to be alive. In spring you can feel the ground beneath you thawing out from the deep freeze of winter. Blades of grass unfurl and stretch their way to the sky. Animals, big and small, peek out from their hiding places. In cities, people flock to parks and open spaces and it is these spaces, designed with care and deep attention to detail, that fill me with awe.
Frederick Law Olmsted may very well be the greatest American landscape designer. With his partner Calvert Vaux they designed some of the greatest natural spaces in the world. Central Park was one of their first creations. Over time they also created Boston’s Emerald Necklace and the campuses of Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley—just to name a few. Olmsted and Vaux were intricately precise in understanding the way that human beings interact with the natural world and with the man-made world. They felt a strong pull to help to shape the budding conservation movement with action. One of the principles that they espoused, which you see time and time again in all the spaces that they designed, was the way that the approach to and exit from a destination were part of the overall experience. They had a context outside of the edges.
They were aware of this when they designed Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and helped shape the surrounding areas. By design they stretched the greenery of the park so that you could come down Eastern Parkway and be hugged from above in the delicate, curling, green canopy. The Grand Arch of Grand Army Plaza sits as though a war is still being waged and yet it heralds something far greater—the entrance to the park. When you enter the Long Meadow, the longest stretch of urban green space in the United States, you leave behind any personal baggage and distracting attachments to the noxious and crowded metropolis behind you.
It is in our city parks that poets take time to write on paper and pen on park benches and outside chattering cafes watching winter become spring. Dancers take to the open spaces and work their craft amongst the swaying movement of budding trees and their fragrant blossoms. Musicians occupy public spaces, and they greet you as you enter and exit, inviting you to sing, and to move, and to hum along to tunes that you may not have heard since you were bouncing on your fathers’ knees. To the trained ear and eye this is an astonishing accomplishment: millions of people sharing pace; bending, twisting—moving all different directions, all at once—is the ultimate in performance art. It is an art installation of epic proportions in a living, breathing museum that seems to have no end.
Our parks in spring become the greatest expressions of our relationship with the unknown, the yearning to make something out of nothing, and our most stupendous public art projects. They remind us of the places where our ancestors herded cattle or tilled land, yet they are just a stone’s throw from where we tap our feet on the concrete. We do not migrate the same way our forefathers and foremothers did but in our souls, we remember, and spring brings us back to that memory.
People of faith: this is your reminder that we are critical to the repair and healing of our relationship with the earth. Your task is first: go outside, put your bare feet in the green grass, feel the sun, listen to the birds.
Spring is not silent—yet.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the co-founder of Green Squash Consulting and the author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet.”