November 16th, 2010
08:00 AM ET
Editor's Note: CNN's Maria Ebrahimji filed this Q&A.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is a second generation American Muslim, radio personality and a policy advisor in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
In his new book, Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, he challenges Muslims and non-Muslims to be stewards of the earth. He hopes the book will help rebrand Muslims from terrorists to environmentalists.
Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:
What does Green Deen mean?
Green has become the catch-all word for being environmentally friendly. Deen in Arabic means religion but can also be translated to path or way. So a green deen is literally an environmentally friendly religion.
I use green deen to also mean finding inspiration in one’s faith to become more conscious about humanity’s effects on the planet. Islam is a green deen in many ways. First and foremost, Islam recognizes that while God is all-powerful, humans can and do impact the Earth.
Therefore, Islam provides guidance by way of the Quran and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) on how to make that impact positive. This is basically what my book is about - what Islam teaches about protecting the planet.
Do Islam and other faiths have environmentalism in common?
Islam has a lot in common with other faiths as far as its environmentalist perspective. The principles of khalifah (stewardship) and amana (trust) are two examples.
I met an older Christian woman at the Washington, DC Green Festival in October and she described her understanding of humans' dominion over the earth as stewardship. She said that our role was to be responsible because we represent God.
She described khalifah almost verbatim as I describe it in the book. When I asked her why some people interpret dominion over the earth as control, she said, "because they don't understand that God has entrusted us with the planet."
Again, she described amana – our sacred trust with God - almost exactly as it's described in Islam. Simply put, she and I shared this essential message: if you love the creator, you must love creation.
Does a green deen have room for capitalism?
Critically, Green Deen looks at how the negative outcomes of capitalism have created pollution that we now have to clean up. Capitalism helped us overcome certain challenges but it created others.
We can tweak the money first and greed mantras to include different bottom lines, such as protection of the planet and public health benefits. The fundamental problem with capitalism, socialism, communism, and the other isms is that they reduce human beings to units of production. People are valued only by what they can produce.
Islam and other faiths base the value of a person on his/her relationship with the creator. A green deen affirms ambition, innovation, and competition, but not at the sake of the health and well-being of the earth and the health and well-being of humanity.
Thankfully, we are resourceful and can look at this as an opportunity. There is a market for making a building more energy efficient. There is a market for cleaning up oil spills. There is a market for finding greener, healthier and cleaner ways to live as we are already living.
Have your ideas gained traction in the U.S.?
Absolutely. In fact, my idea was to show how the idea of Islam being a green deen has been in existence for quite some time and that Muslim Americans have been and are using their understanding of Islam to protect the planet.
In the book I profile several Muslim Americans and how they are committed to reducing waste, thinking innovatively about energy, saving water and supporting local and organic food systems, all because they believe it is their duty as Muslims to do so.
For example, Qaid Hassan (of Chicago, Illinois) and Yasir Syeed (of Sterling, Virginia) are both young Muslims who strive to provide healthy, organic, and halal (lawful) meat for the Muslim community.
They developed partnerships with farms that treat animals well. Qaid and Yasir will tell you that in Islam, animals are not seen as raw materials here simply for human consumption. Animals have a noble role on this earth. They too worship God and are slaughtered for food only because God has given permission and has set standards and requirements of how to do so.
The animals must live a good life - allowed to roam free, eat grass and be communal with each other. One cannot slaughter animals consecutively. There must be time and space between each. The animal has just given its life for a human’s benefit. Reflection on the weight of this act is necessary. My book also makes a case for vegetarianism supported by Islamic teachings.
As my Muslim brother Zachary Twist says about his vegan lifestyle, “my relationship with Allah does not depend on eating meat.” There are a growing number of Muslim vegetarians in the country. Qaid’s Whole Earth Meats , and Yasir’s, Green Zabiha are doing well and gaining support everyday within the American Muslim community and beyond.
You have said that your father taught you that the “earth is a mosque, and everything in it is sacred.” What have you done in your own life to adhere to that?
I have always lived within my means. For example, ten years ago I was an Outward Bound instructor. My job was working with young people to foster personal growth through experiential learning in the wilderness. I made less than $10,000 that year but I ate healthy, slept well and lived a full life.
My job helped to feed me spiritually so I didn't need to fill up on material possessions to feel valuable. You see, treating the earth as sacred does not mean buying expensive organic fruits or hybrid cars. It means being conscious and aware of our consumption patterns, and reducing what we use in the first place. This is just as important, if not more, than properly disposing of what we've used.
How does your book contribute to changing perceptions of American Muslims?
This is a core mission of my book. Look, everyone wants to know where the moderate Muslims are. They’re everywhere. They go to work, they go to school. Frankly, they’re boring - which is why the media doesn’t do any stories about them. Why would CNN do a story on Ali the doctor who spends his evenings watching ESPN?
So I’m creating the story by writing this book. I’m highlighting Sarah the Muslim who believes in recycling. As more and more Muslims come forward, describing the positive ways they are contributing to society - and they are, they’re just not advertising it - I believe people will stop focusing on the tiny percentage of Muslims who are extremists.
I hope my book will re-label Muslims from terrorist to activist or, even better, environmentalists. I want Muslims to be known as the people who save water.
As an American and Muslim, do you feel your identity is more challenged now than after 9/11?
No, I don’t feel that my identity has been challenged more or less because of 9/11. I am a black man in America; my identity is already filled with considerable challenges. However, my identity as an African-American Muslim also creates an opportunity.
The nation wants to know: Is Islam compatible with America? Well, look no further than the 2.5 million black American Muslims in the United States. I find it interesting and, frankly, annoying that as the conversation about Islam in America has turned heated and the presence of Muslims in America questioned, the voices of the enormous black American Muslim population have not been heard or considered.
The American Muslim community is more diverse than immigrant Arabs and South Asians. The community is the most racially diverse in the country and includes East Asians, West Africans, people from all parts of the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and even white Americans.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.