On Your Environment
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was one of the most significant saints of the Indian subcontinent. He held that a friend of God must be affectionate like the sun, which shines on everyone irrespective of caste or creed; generous like the river, which offers itself indiscriminately to all who thirst; and hospitable like the earth, which cradles and supports us while we walk upon it. Our environment shapes and fashions us, and we in turn can shape and impact the environment. Our surroundings are critically important to our overall health and happiness.
What’s more, small changes in our environment can make a big difference to us and the world. James Clear writes about how a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston improved the eating habits of thousands of hospital staff and visitors by changing how drinks were arranged in the cafeteria. They saturated the environment with water by making it readily available in all drink locations. Over the next three months, sales of bottled water increased by 25.8 percent. He notes that “People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are… Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior” (Atomic Habits). He encourages his readers to make the cues of good habits obvious in their environment.
If we look around us in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, we’ll find several opportunities to make positive changes that will “spark joy” and clean up the environment. Our current residence is near a Walmart Supercenter. Consequently, all these plastic bags and other debris get blown into the surrounding areas. I have found plastic bags tangled in trees and floating high in the sky. Such refuse makes me think of our oceans and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how marine life gets entangled by fishing nets (Seaspiracy.org). I recently found one delicate plant helplessly ensnared by a Walmart bag and went about carefully freeing it. Plantlife is home to myriad creatures. Only it cannot give voice to its difficulties as efficiently as other sentient beings, and yet it quietly sustains all of us.
Once on a walk, my husband took the time to pick up some trash. Since then, I’ve been making it a point to follow his example. Sometimes, when a Walmart bag is among the litter, I’ll fasten it to my pants, and we’ll load it up with all the bottles, garbage, and other items strewn in the grass. On one such walk, a neighbor honked happily and waved to express his appreciation. I read about a bus driver who single-handedly cleaned up an entire park during his short breaks. His example reminds me of the starfish story about a boy who tried to put as many starfish back into the ocean as possible. An old man laughed at him for undertaking a seemingly impossible task and criticized the child saying, “What difference can you make?” As the boy gently placed another starfish in the sea, he enthusiastically answered, “It made a difference to that one!”
From an Islamic perspective, the whole of humanity is born in a state of purity and innocence. That is our natural state, or fitrah (فطرة). With time we often lose touch with this state. It’s not surprising that children and young adults, who are closer to this state, tend to be at the forefront of advocating for the environment. Our 23-year-old nephew doesn’t drive. He prefers to ride a bike everywhere or use Uber. He got us recycling and takes a cloth bag with him to do any shopping. He’s been a vegetarian for years because of the inhumane practices in the meat and dairy industry. We face an ecological crisis. If there is going to be a future, it must be with those who are conscious and aware who sincerely care.
“The Earth is alive,” said Pir Zia Inayat Khan, “we live in and through her, and as we are in her keeping, so is she in ours.” May we be like Khwaja Moinuddin and learn from the Earth, may we strive to make lasting changes in our environment, and realize that we can and do make a difference!
With great affection,
PS. How do you practice spiritual ecology and work to save the Earth?
For most of our lives, we’re taught in schools to keep our environment clean, do not throw litter in public places and so many things. But I guess it’s not just the practice that makes us do it, it’s the cause that keeps us going. To know why is it important.
I often get weird looks when I carry my McDonald’s coke with me to my house, which by the way would be empty or any sort of paper or waste. Because there simply aren’t enough trash cans around. It’s actually very sad that there had been a whole national movement for cleanliness in India but nothing changed. Because people often think it’s the government’s job and not theirs, so there itself the chain breaks. Honestly, I don’t know when people will actually start taking our environment seriously but let’s hope it’s soon.
Love every single piece you write.
Hugs and candies,