At a time when fundamentalist religious fringe groups are doing their best to bring on the next world by destroying this one, it’s thrilling to see a bigger, more powerful movement of interfaith and progressive religious communities engaged in making the world a better place to live and raise our future generations. Survival does not depend upon being the fittest or strongest, but on being the cleverest, most persistent, determined — and lucky.
Until now, this column has concentrated almost exclusively on Jewish environmental efforts. But great earth-healing actions are being taken in the Christian and Muslim communities, too. Jewish sages have repeatedly noted that the Torah does not begin with Abraham or Moses, but with Adam and Eve. Dr. Jeremy Benstein, director of the Abraham Heschel Environmental Center, notes that after the flood, when humanity begins again with Noah and his children, God’s covenant is made with all “children of Noah.” It occurs 10 generations before the covenant with Abraham, and only Noah’s son Shem becomes the ancestor of the Semitic peoples, including the people Israel. So we are all created in God’s image, and can act out of that knowledge. No individual or group can claim purer or holier blood than anyone else.
What does it mean for all religions if no one religion is superior to any other? Benstein and other scholars conclude it makes us all equal partners in healing the earth. And as David Brower, the father of America’s environmental movement once said, “Environmentalists may make meddlesome neighbors, but they make great ancestors.” Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all become for our great-great-grandchildren to come.
So, what are our partners doing?
New York community organizer and author Ibrahim Abdul-Matin (www.greendeenblog.com) has launched a national Muslim initiative called The Green Deen (“way” or “path”). His book by that name is his first step toward reversing the ignorance among other religions, secular society, and even many Muslims, of “the deep and long-standing convergences between Muslim beliefs and environmentalism.”
Noting that the Prophet Muhammad declared, “the Earth is a mosque,” and that the Quran admonishes to “walk on the earth with humility” (25:63), he draws on scripture, research, and viewpoints of Muslim scholars and community leaders to trace Islam’s historical and contemporary preoccupation with humankind’s collective role as stewards of the Earth. In the book, and on his Web site, he focuses on Green Deen initiatives in four areas: Waste, watts, water and grub (food). Examples include:
• The Light House Mosque (Oakland, Calif.), has banned the use of paper plates, styrofoam and plastic bottles during iftar, the evening feast that breaks the daily Ramadan fast; and the (Washington) D.C. Green Muslims’ first-ever “Zero-trash iftar” this past Ramadan, at which attendees brought potluck food in reusable dishes, their own water, plate, cutlery and linen napkin;
• Abdul-Matin asserts that our industrial world relies on “energy from Hell — oil, coal, and non-renewable sources that require extraction and destruction.” He advocates instead choosing to develop “energy from Heaven” — solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, and highlights the Chiapas, Mexico Muslim community, which lives entirely off the grid — manufacturing its own solar energy and growing its own organic, halal food;
• Yasir Syeed founded GreenZabiha (www.greenzabiha.com — the Muslim version of kashrut), to provide free-range/halal pastured, grass-fed, well-treated meat animals, raised by farmers who heal the environment through sustainable practices. (Coincidentally, the Magen Tzedek hechsher, developed by the Conservative movement, with input from Reconstructionist and Reform, is set to be introduced this month. It certifies for food producers that meet strict ethical standards beyond basic kashrut).
Our Christian tikkun olam partners are very busy, too.
• GreenFaith Interfaith Partners for the Environment (greenfaith.org) embodies an ecumenical approach to the triple bottom line — economy, ecology, and social equity. While Christian faith-based organizations outnumber Jewish ones by about 18 to 1, and Muslim ones by about 40 to 1, it highlights initiatives and achievements of all denominations, including Green Deen, and individual actions, such as those at Temple Beth Rishon (Bergen County, N.J.) and Jacksonville (Fla.) Jewish Center;
• Interfaith Power & Light (interfaithpowerandlight.org) mobilizes a religious response to global warming in congregations, through the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation
• Seattle-based Earth Ministry (earthministry.org) engages Christian and other faith-based communities in environmental stewardship by working in partnership with individuals and congregations to educate, promote individual and congregational lifestyle choices, and organize for social change through environmental advocacy.
Clearly, we’re united by our principles, our goals, and our willingness to work in partnership. We’re not alone in the tikkun olam endeavor, and we can’t do it alone. We can practice our religions in ways that bring us together. We can cultivate senses of awe and appreciation in living on this wonderful planet. And we can recognize that we’ll survive best if we all work together.