The Earth Is A Mosque

The Earth Is A Mosque

Nature can elicit the calm comfort of a mosque, or other holy site of worship, but some may confuse their appreciation of nature for an object of worship, rather than nature’s Creator. Ancient people were noted for idolizing the sun, moon, stars, elements of water and fire, and even some modern day folks choose similarly without the logical conclusion that the Creator is responsible for the genesis of the universe and its contents.

We, having some of the attributes of that Divine Being, also have responsibility to honor our unique status among those created. We can differentiate ourselves from haughtily claiming ourselves to be the Divine because we cannot only revel in the wonders of nature, we can also fear and be overwhelmed by it. Recent reminders are the effects of hurricane Sandy, our frustrated feeling of helplessness when we are ill, or when we wish well for someone struggling but lack the power to help them. In all these situations though, it can assuage the soul to know that the Earth is a mosque, any place is amenable to worshiping and connecting to one’s Creator.

As nasty, cold weather has curtailed my golf, biking, and general activities in exchange for lifting weights, running indoors, and getting belly laughs when my husband and I attempt yoga, I miss “playing outside,” and have taken to reading a backlog of books about the environment and Green careers. There was even two seasons on DVD of “Living With Ed,” featuring Ed Begley, Jr., an actor who is a zealous environmental activist. The show featured several other celebrities, including Larry Hagman, Jay Leno, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, who share his passion for taking strides toward a “Greener” lifestyle. I wish my kids watched the programs, but they managed to disappear when their nerdy mom tried to ambush them into watching for some cool ideas.

Now I have a ton of websites collected in my notebook that I intend to check out from “Green Careers for Dummies.” With the Obama administration in the saddle for the next term, I hope to see more Green Job growth, and am considering what opportunities we may explore for high school aged children and ourselves for the next few decades. One must always be ready to adapt; that is how survivors manage.

How did all this Green reading start? Well, it’s a little embarrassing because it was over a month ago that I saw Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet” when he presented to students at Elmhurst College. I’ve been intending to blog about his message since that time, but felt that I was not informed enough to do justice to the wider scope of it. That is what prompted my inquiry and extended reading in subjects related. It is from him that I cite the concept that “The Earth is a Mosque.” He writes, threading references from the Qur’an, to help the reader fathom that we are intimately connected with nature; and he substantiates Islam’s compatibility with science through several references, among them are oceans meeting and not mixing (Holy Qur’an 25:53 and 55:19-20), and development of a fetus (Holy Qur’an 23:12-14). He describes Light (Noor), which has repeated references in many religions. Looking at subatomic particles, with the strongest magnification, they look like small flashes of light. On the opposite side of the spectrum, zooming from our moon to the limits of the universe, we see Light. Abdul-Matin expresses that light is an expression of the Oneness of Allah and His creation (Tawhid), “the universe is aglow with continuity.”

As humans, we are created from clay, water, and a divine spirit. The Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, helped us realize “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily Allah, be He exalted, has made you his stewards in it, as He sees how you acquit yourselves,” from Sahih Muslim, book 10, hadith 10. This gift of life also has a trust (amana) associated with it for us to freely make decisions, decisions that we will be accountable for about this sacred creation and how we chose to interact with it. Abdul-Matin puts it beautifully, “Our mandate from God dictates that we must praise the Creator, take care of the planet, and take care of one another.”

Sharing deeper enlightenment at our Elmhurst College presentation, he brilliantly sized up colonialism’s subjugation of people who lacked political and economic power by those who did not view the Earth like a mosque. They exploited the people and resources for their own greedy gain, without regard to Justice (adl), and humans became defined as “units of production.” Taking natural resources and raw goods, they manufactured and marketed to create hunger for materialism. The contagion of this artificially induced addiction to “stuff” has had a detrimental effect on the planet. We buy, throw, and buy some more. Manufacturers deliberately design products now with intent that one day the consumer will need to replace items again. Meanwhile, we are not living in harmony with the Earth. This pattern simply cannot be sustained.

The way to find balance (mizan) is found through the rite of prayer. Through it, we find ourselves in synch with the rest of Creation and the Creator. The author writes of his recollections praying in many awesome natural settings. It brought back to my mind memories of praying the sunset (maghrib) prayer beside a lonely strip of highway about 20 years ago in Saudi Arabia, praying close to the Grand Canyon, by a mountain in Colorado, and in Glacier National Park in Montana. All of these were so peaceful, deep, and fulfilling, like an ideal mosque.

Then, in a wonderful connection, he binds prayer as the means to heal our hearts. Our hearts mirror how we treat ourselves and the planet. We need Allah to mend our injuries and open our hearts to live in accordance to a just and balanced relationship within Creation. The culmination of this is to take action to advance a Green Deen Movement. Deen refers to a way of living with reference to the holistic teachings of Islam.

Four points summarize the contents of the book which target Waste, Energy, Water, and Food.
• Sharing stories to inspire and illustrate
• Getting educated about environmental issues and solutions
• Connecting with people of other faiths as we live together and work to serve
• Taking responsibility to make the world better, and not succumb to fear of failure

One such story was related about Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who was speaking in 2008 at the Anacostia Green Jobs Now rally around Washington, DC. He said, “We need to get our energy from Heaven–wind, solar, and waves, instead of from Hell—the stuff in the ground like coal, oil, and gas.”

Other interesting initiatives were how Chicago-based IMAN has connected training energy auditors to help people in poor neighborhoods get energy saving improvements that can help them spend less money on utility bills, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Pachamama people who linked up with American environmentalists to effectively spare their homeland from oil companies threatening to encroach and change their habitat. They have improved their economy and initiated ecotourism successfully.

Abdul-Matin introduced readers to sources of Halal, humanely raised foods from ethical purveyors Whole Earth Meats, who also brought fresh organic produce to a farmer’s market they initiated in the urban desert of Chicago’s inner-city, and Green Zabiha, from which consumers can purchase Halal, grass-fed, and organic products online. These companies were started by entrepreneurs who sought a better way to feed their families in line with their values. It seems to have been a struggle, but they found like-minded people who will pay more and make do with less to live in congruence with their conscience.

Many of our students are wasteful with water, but the ADAMS Center in Virginia has checked the meter to calculate how they can achieve the goal of reducing water consumption by 10 percent. Reminding people that their ablutions (wudu) need not be like a shower, a Malaysian company has invented machines to ration water for it. Waste-free Ramadan dinners (iftars) have been initiated in several mosques whereby people bring their own plates and eating utensils from home instead of using disposables. Food scraps are then composted. Many examples of novel ideas coming from humble people with genuine concern for the Earth are illustrated.

I truly recommend reading this book, and would consider its benefit for students who can reference many Islamic vocabulary terms defined in its glossary, numerous websites cited, as well as it is indexed. The examples cited offer guidance to all who hope to realize the power of even a single person that can make significant strides to better lives for many.

Prompting my curiosity further on the subject, I delved into another interesting read, “The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One” by Sylvia A. Earle. It was not as dense as the previous books mentioned, but it did raise consciousness as Earle has had many diverse experiences over a lifetime with the National Geographic Society. She has traveled distant places of the globe, above and below into the deep, and has even started two companies to help resource efforts to learn more and explore the wonderous oceans. What resonates from her writing is, “The big question is what can we do to take care of the blue world that takes care of us?” (p. 14). She documents man’s wasteful presence in the most remote areas, and shares stories of mishaps that give us concern. She serves to warn as did Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, that our lives are intricately balanced with the ocean, and we are vulnerable if we continue to pollute.

From the macro to the micro, I’d read “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, by Rob Dunn. This was different from everything else in that the writer analyzed many angles of how we have changed our internal as well as external habitats over time, and ironically our changes have perhaps been more detrimental than we realize with ultimately unbalancing our existence. One of the most bizarre, yet seemingly cathartic remedies for Celiac disease may be to actually inoculate patients with hookworms, parasites, to relieve their symptoms. It was a strange symbiotic proposition that was suggested after realization that Celiac disease only happens in cultures that have used antibiotics and have a modern world (i.e. clean) existence. On another note, the eradication of native mammal species to the western United States over the past one hundred years or so has tipped the balance of predator-prey in nature, and even the history of shaving body areas has been tracked as thwarting the spread of disease historically, particularly due to the avoidance of lice and venereal crabs. One never knows what tidbits reading can gain for trivia freaks!

However, the best part of Dunn’s book was toward its conclusion, “We do not always dream or decide consciously, many days we are rather like the ants pushed this way and that by our urges and conditions. Collectively though, we have the ability to learn and extend beyond our individual limits. We have the ability to develop a plan and on the basis of that plan to enact change that affects not just our own lives, or even those of our own species, but instead all of our lives and all species. We have the ability to pick up the drawing pad on which the future will be laid out and sketch the streets, the houses, and the people, our descendants, moving back and forth, and to decide whether they walk or drive, but also how they interact with each other and the rest of life (p. 236).

News came today that the Israelis have started another incursion into Gaza, and I’ve seen on Twitter posts of four children under the age of five who have been killed within the first hours. On one hand, I take Dunn’s message of empowerment to heart, and Abdul-Matin’s vision to personally connect my raised consciousness into action, but what impact can even a group of environmentally conscious individuals have to thwart the carbon footprint of a nation inciting incendiary violence? What justice can we hope for? President Obama: Please stop this insanity.

I long for Shangri-La.

Tiger Parenting

Sharing tips from parents of successful students with other parents and their students, who aspired to greater academic achievement, was a favorite highlight at parent-teacher conferences. A physician with several children in our school simply stated that he reminded his kids, “The difference between an A student and a B student is that the A student simply put in more time.” Also, one most accomplished student had the habit of scheduling/predicting how her evening study time would be spent, and she would try to work more quickly-while maintaining focus-than her plan. Yet, another student always utilized every possible second between classes to whittle away some of her homework, or she would gain a few pages in the current novel she was reading. Her other secret to success was that she would quit and go to sleep at 10:00 p.m.; and if her work was not complete, she rose early before dawn to finish it before school. Success leaves clues! One common denominator among all students I recall though was that their parents always came to conferences; this shed light on some parenting tactics for me too. Obviously, their students’ achievement was important, and their taking time to be present, analyze, and work with teachers was testimony to that.

Education Week published, “Study: Parents Influential in Academic Success,” Michele Molnar, author of the blog, quoted co-author of the study, Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, “The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement.” Two of my recent reads, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua and Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers–And How You Can Too, written by two Korean-American sisters of immigrant parents, underline attributes of Asian parents and give up some of the secrets to the statistically high achievements of Asian students. Coincidentally, Roy F. Baumeister, co-author of the willpower book I’d recently blogged about, mentioned that in terms of IQ the Asian students tended to score slightly below Caucasians, but the sisters’ book, published in the middle of this decade, referenced an overwhelming 43% population of Asians attending our own local Northwestern University! There’s definitely a higher rate of acceptance to Ivy League institutions, education, and income levels of Asian students relative their representation in the general population. I delved into these books to try to find out why. If interested, the former is a better read (active voice, more dramatic, and intense), but both books contribute pragmatic counsel for parents who want to take an active role in channeling their students’ progress in academics and other personal growth skills.

It’s not that I’ve been a negligent parent, but when I related some of the books’ anecdotes with my husband, he said, “Why didn’t you use this with our other kids? You’re too late!” All I could do was shrug and state that Tiger Mother was only published in 2011. Alhamdullilah, all of my offspring are still in secondary or post-secondary institutions; but while the elder two are sailing well on their own, my high school senior and freshman could use the savvy strategies I’d acquired through reading.

Somehow I find myself becoming like one of the matronly mothers of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, minding my children’s business, coyly giving orders while fully expecting compliance and fealty. Yet, since being late in starting this initiative, I am getting resistance and head butting attitudes from merely insisting on an additional three pages of pre-Algebra meant to decipher where learning gaps occurred. Never to concede, I have drafted, in typical Asian strategy, my children’s other siblings and even their friends for reinforcement. Collectively, we expect achievement with our efforts and a little pressure. It is just a matter of time and persistence in working until progress breaks through neural log jams. Our sacrifice and dedication is a family issue, and our sons’ performances will be our own, as we strive to find strengths and talents, fortify weak areas that potentially could cut short the trek toward a career.

To sum up nuggets of wisdom the books gave me are the following:

  • Don’t be a wimp! Insist on excellent effort in performance, whether in academics, chores, sports, habits, and conduct.
  • Expect to invest monumental time in practice, patience, and persistence.
  • Lead by example; for what you value, you must also strive to learn and discriminate degrees of quality to fine tune performance.
  • Spare no expense when the value is justified. Spend time and money when the long term return on investment is expected. Eliminate or minimize unproductive time wasters.
  • Offer short term rewards for significant achievements by communicating them when motivating the student to work more, and celebrate successes.

My perspectives have been altered a bit, as the authors have managed to contrast typical Western parenting with Asian parenting, and through this filter I found my senses and directives sharpened. Remanded to take the final step to put the dish in the dishwasher drying rack, even my husband has had the whip cracked and quickened to self-monitor that his dinner plate goes in the right place after he washes it. Formerly laissez-faire, now I am drilling a bit more precision into my family’s habits, and I have heightened my own discipline in expectation for better outcomes. True to the ayah, “Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves,” (13:11, al-Rad The Thunder). We want to match with more fidelity our potential in hope that we can improve by using our given gifts and capacities.

Mindful of our upcoming elections, America needs to foster greater excellence and overall performance in education for all Americans  to avoid more hardship. It is wise to prepare our populace for the higher demanding and rewarding luxe jobs versus the lousy jobs that offer little satisfaction and income. May every soul realize that they have work to do that can better our world.

As the weather around here has blocked progress in my golf (maybe I can play 9 early before thunderstorms tomorrow), I have returned to the gym to lift weights. Evenings typically net some brisk walking, and my annual physical seems to be passed with flying colors. Weight is down fifteen pounds from a year ago; thyroid meds have stabilized so that I do not require naps—as long as I sleep eight hours at night—and my bone density seems to be holding up well.

The next challenges are to try to compete with Riad in a free online Spanish course, and we are immersing ourselves in reading about Energy and opportunities in the Green Movement. As our youngest two are still undecided in their careers, it may be that these industries are to the future what Plastics meant to the 1960’s. We want to research and guide them to fulfilling careers, if we perceive a match for their aptitudes and interests. Our senior is president of his school’s environmental club, and he has long shown interest; even when I sponsored our high school ecology club, he sat in on meetings while in 3rd grade; subhanAllah.

Eid al-Adha is this Friday, and I feel the blessedness of these days of Hajj. May all sincere and wholesome dua’a be answered, and purity be your reward. Peace! Eid Mubarak!