History of Wisdom In Nature and Islamic Environmentalism in the UK -
by Muzammal Hussain, Founder of WIN
Before the Paradigm Shift
In the 1990's, there were very few people who were actively promoting awareness of environmental ethics amongst Muslim communities in the UK. There was the occasional public talk at which after a bit of listening, the nodding of heads, questions and answers and momentary inspiration, the audience would return home and re-immerse themselves into their normal routine. Of course, whilst seeds would have been sown, the dispersed and rare nature of enthusiastic environmentalists in Muslim communities meant that any progress would confine itself to a small sphere of possibilities. For real progress to be made, it was clear that the paradigm in which Islamic environmentalism existed in the UK would need to transform.
Over the years, I began to hear more and more Muslims voice their frustration that they had not come across other Muslims, who like them, were interested in environmentalism. Whenever I came across such people, they were always shocked to hear that as well as myself, I knew others who shared their passion. "I thought I was the only one" became a mantra that I began to hear frequently. The signs were encouraging, and the path seemed obvious: People had to meet up regularly, get to know one another, and thus be empowered to build their own networks within which they could work together and thus engage more creatively and effectively in their local communities. The paradigm shift was now ready to take place.
As one of a few Muslims who would speak on the environment at events and write an occasional letter to MP's, Ministers and various organisations, it was in recognising the above, coupled with my involvement in local group activism in Brighton, that I then reflected on the possibility of starting local Islamic environmental groups in the UK. I then discussed this with several people, and felt this could really work.
In Autumn 2003 I was invited to speak on GM foods at a conference on 'Islam and the Environment' in Reading. After gaining the green light from the organisers, Imaad and IMASE, I used my talk at this delightful event as an opportunity to encourage the more committed audience members to get together with the aim of focussing on starting a local Islamic environmental group in Reading. Afterwards, a small number of people did successfully meet up on one occasion with myself also present. Whilst the potential and enthusiasm seemed strong, the effort within the group was not sustained long enough for the group to properly form at that time. However, several years later, in 2009, the seeds that were sown began to bear fruit as RITE (Reading Islamic Trustees for the Environment) was initiated.
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The Birth of WIN
Several months later in early 2004, I used an Islamic environmental elist I had developed over the years (later called Ecobites) as a vehicle to publicise my intention to form a network in London, which is where I felt there would be greatest potential, even though I was then living in Brighton. The first meeting of just three people took place on January 10th 2004 in my parents home, and with sustained effort the group became established. Eight months later on September 5th 2004, this new group decided on an official name: the London Islamic Network for the Environment, or LINE.
It should be added that whilst I was working with IFEES when I started LINE, LINE has always been autonomous. At the same time, with experience in local group activism lacking within IFEES, the foundation and soul of the group were instead inspired and nurtured by a diverse range of other sources without which I do not feel that the project would have stood much chance of success. For instance, the idea to set up a local environmental group at all was influenced by my experience with the highly competent 'World Development Movement' (WDM) in Brighton, an impressive group that I was actively involved with. I also discussed ideas and drew on the experience of other activists mostly from Brighton, in an attempt to consider what might work and what wouldn't, in the context of a group comprising of mostly Muslims. The lengthy conversations with these and other individuals continue to this day, as part of the ongoing process of drawing on expertise and sharing experiences from a wide range of sources for a constantly evolving network.
For a group to be empowered and established within a grassroots ideological basis, it is necessary for as many voices as possible to be heard within it, the quieter ones as well as the louder ones, and from the beginning, I had always felt it important for the committed members of LINE to also develop their awareness of group processes and thus be in a better position to facilitate the input and integration of these voices. This led me to look at group psychology and development as well as meeting facilitation skills and consensus decision making. I attended workshops and looked into literature on the web, such as on the Seeds for Change website, which offers resources that continue to benefit the group as it evolves. Also particularly useful was the Gaia Education book 'Beyond You and Me'. As recogniition of the need for a healthy process seeped into the group, in the summer of 2005, we particpated in our first formal group development trainingwhich was organised with 'Seeds for Change'.
In terms of my personal influences, awareness of social movmements and social change particularly through Mandela's inspiring autobiography, Gandhi's 'The Story of my Experiments with Truth', and the life of Abdul Ghaffar Khan influenced my early vision, as did Islamic teachings and Islamic history through reflection on their relevance to effective ecolgoical activism and social change now.
Despite the low priority given to the environment amongst Muslims and the low level of experience in local activism amongst many newcomers to the network, LINE nonetheless beat the odds and established itself as a competent, creative and self-aware activist group which has demonstrated that it can deliver.
Whilst LINE was succesful in its aims, we were aware that our emphasis on process, our holistic approach that was wider than the environment and included the social and spiritual, and our inclusion of those who were not Muslim meant that our name was not quite congruent with our focus and means even though these had not changed. We were also finding that in describing our work, we began to use the term 'ecological' (which implies interconnectedness and gives value to relationship ) more, and the term 'environmental' less. In November 2009, after discussions that included a consensus-decision-making process, we unanimously agreed on a change of name and became Wisdom In Nature . We continue as an Islamic group and hope that our new name captures more of the essence of our work.
Many thanks must go to all the sources mentioned above, for their invaluable support which helped WIN to become established in the solid form that it now takes as well as early members who helped support the group to get off the ground. Also, people of other faiths and beliefs gradually began to join in our forums, some of whom have now become regular, and too, have given valuable support and encouragement.
The journey for WIN has been challenging but fun, and truly rewarding. Its success has shown what is possible, and shortly after it's formation, it inspired effort from other individuals to also get together to form other local Islamic environmental networks in their own areas in the UK.
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There had been a couple of attempts at starting an Islamic environmental group in Birmingham that didn't quite take off. On the 11th June 2004, I introduced the idea to an audience at an event organised by the Birmingham City Circle. People were clearly interested but a meeting was yet to happen.
Next year, Fazlun Khalid, the director of IFEES and well known for his writings and Islamic environmental ethics workshops was now based back in Birmingham following some time abroad. Having heard about LINE, he was keen to try to set up a similar group in Birmingham. He thus organised a meeting which took place on Sunday 20th Feb 2005 at which I also presented my experience in setting up LINE. A number of keen people attended this event including a couple from the Birmingham City Circle meeting, and the possibility of a Midlands Islamic environmental group opened up. The efforts that followed were spear-headed by Rianne ten Veen who thus initiated MINE.
That Birmingham meeting was also attended by Nadeem Shah, who reported back to his home town, Sheffield, and with the leadership of Kate Fryer, a Sheffield Islamic environmental group, called ShINE, began.
Simultaneously, around the same period, a small number of individuals were also looking at the possibility of a group in Wales and had been communicating this to me via my elist, Ecobites. Masood Yousef took the idea forward with the support of Omer Williams and on June 5th 2005, WELCOME was initiated.
I had the honour of being invited to speak at the launch of both WELCOME and ShINE and was encouraged to see many enthusiastic people wanting to come together to take things forward.
Later, RITE formed in Reading in 2009, initated by Summreen Sheikh.
Of course, whilst enthusiasm is often there at the start, the development of a strong group also depends on a number of other ingredients such as the following through of mundane tasks, having the tools to work through challenges that come up, open and sincere communication, as well as consistency. The ongoing development of one's own inner state and inner resources is also crucial as a means to remain centred and to prevent burn-out. It is my prayer that these networks can develop and become strong. The potential exists for amazing things to happen. Given the scale of the ecological challenge, the alternative is far too painful to even contemplate.
© Wisdom In Nature
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