Blog: Ramadan. Finding a deeper connection to food, consumption and nature.
Ramadan offers us an opportunity for an annual stock take in our lives and time to reflect on the blessings we have. It is increasingly vital that we assess our relationship with the natural world. Our social environment and spiritual and mental health cannot be divorced from our natural environment, as each affect the other (for good or ill).
The on-going pandemic is a stark reminder of this. There is certainly no lack of evidence highlighting the increased risk of pandemics due to the intensive factory farming of animals. It also doesn't require great intelligence to recognise that confining billions of animals to industrial scale factory farming conditions, will facilitate the spread of viruses and disease with zoonotic potential.
In a recent editorial commenting on the risks of Factory Farming, the American Journal of Public Health noted that, “it's time for humans to remove their heads from the sand and recognise the risk to themselves that can arise from their maltreatment of other species.” But ultimately this is more than a question of self-interest. It's a deeply moral and spiritual question. The prophet Muhammad reminds us that “(our) religion is social interaction” it is the holistic sum of what we do in our daily lives. The month of Ramadan offers us an opportunity to move beyond simply leaving aside excess consumption and in addition to focus on an assessment of all the blessings which we require to survive and to ask from where they come and how halal (acceptable) and tayib (pure) our lives actually are.
Modernity, however we wish to define it, has undoubtedly set man apart from nature, both in our philosophical understanding of our place in the order of creation and also physically, in our interactions with our physical environment. Over 77% of the world’s population now lives in urbanised environments. In the UK the figure is 85%. One of the most important features of this separation, is that individually we are unable to take any meaningful responsibility for our actions. We often do not even know what harm we are doing. We survive only due to a chain of external activities, leaving us passive consumers. For those following a spiritual path, where we are individually required to act in a morally defensible manner, this is a serious issue. The Quran urges us to act as stewards or Khulafa of the Earth and to maintain the natural balance (Mizan). Yet in our daily activities, all of us, lay persons, community leaders and religious scholars, are often unable to meet even the basic standards. Unwittingly perhaps, we are all breaking the sacred law in obtaining our daily bread, in how we construct and heat our homes, in the production of our clothes and our all so important gadgets and our modes of transport.
So how can we encourage mindfulness and personal spiritual growth? Ramadan provides a space where our routine is upended. Prayer becomes the primary routine to punctuate our day, the frivolous routines of tea breaks, snacks and binge watching of Netflix, are curtailed and we are presented with more time for our private thoughts and reflections. The Quran urges us to strengthen the nexus between contemplation and action and to reflect on the Ayaat or 'signs of God' in the natural world, the balanced nature of our climatic forces, the water cycle, the health of our oceans and the flora and fauna placed under our supervision. Consideration of the condition of these Ayaat and the destruction we wreak upon them, should serve as a vital corrective, encouraging us to make meaningful changes in our daily lives.
“Pollution and corruption have appeared on the land and the seas as a result of humankind's actions in order that they may be given a taste of their own actions and in order that they may turn back (to the right path)”
The role of steward for all creation may seem a heavy responsibility and indeed it is. However, we are only responsible for our own intentions and actions and that within our sphere of influence. Furthermore, doing the right thing, in association with friends and family, is a lot more fun and fulfilling than just passively accepting what is easy. Although requiring more effort and some sacrifice, the results heal our souls, our societies and our environments. So, in a month of reflection and abstention, in a springtime of rebirth and growth and against a backdrop of a potentially major societal shift, it is important to take stock and embark on positive changes to nurture our individual growth. We need to make an assessment of how 'balanced' our lives truly are and begin to disentangle ourselves from a global system, that is built on social injustices and engages in the systematic destruction of our natural environment. We need to recognise the sacred nature of the created world and take seriously our responsibilities of stewardship.
And every journey begins with small steps.
At Willowbrook farm we regularly welcome volunteers to work alongside us, managing our woodlands and pastures and caring for our livestock. In almost all cases participants leave feeling inspired and invigorated and connected to the land. This is especially important in engaging children at an early age. Similar opportunities exist on farms and in land-based organisations and environmental pressure groups across the country. Sign up for a visit to one, or join a local environmental group.
Turn over half of your garden to growing vegetables, or with a few friends apply for an allotment. The value of the association with your friends and family in producing your food is as rewarding as subsequently savouring the fruits of your labour.
We all have demands on our time and growing may not be an option, beyond simple salad crops on a window sill. If so, perhaps also try to make a connection with local farms through farmers markets, or by paying visits to farms offering open weekends and educational visits. This a great way to nurture ones own connection to the land whilst supporting local initiatives and creating a 'community'.
Avoid supermarkets. Where this is not possible, source ethical and sustainable produce, rather than the cheapest. This will help pressure them to take this aspect seriously.
Assess your energy use. Lockdown has promoted virtual meetings as a means for avoiding unnecessary journeys and encouraged us all to take walks and cycle in place of a reliance on fossil fuels. Try to maintain that and perhaps go further in reducing energy use in your household. This should include the clothes we wear, by choosing natural fibres (wool and cotton) over fossil fuel-based synthetics.
Finally try to reduce your waste, recycling and repurposing and by giving up plastic bags and getting a 'bag for life'. It may not change the world, but it can change you!