25 Apr 2011

slowing down

i am sitting writing this in the sun, in a plastic chair in the back garden.  at my feet, one of the dogs is giving herself a wash, and the other is having a barking contest with the duck.  We've just had a chat with the neighbours about their tree - her mum's looking out for seedlings so my foster mum can plant one too. after a tour of my foster mum's greenhouse, and a pause to spot a newt in the frog pond, and marvel at how many tadpoles there are, and how big, we've sat down to chat about planting seedlings in the cardboard from toilet rolls (something i've heard from another friend), and how i've maybe left it a little late to plant seeds, so maybe will have to go for seedlings instead. still, it might be worth trying a few, and my foster mum promises to give me some runner bean seeds from her crop last year to have a go at planting. 'you've got up to may the 25th to plant your beans, as my uncle used to tell me' she says 'keep them well moist - they like a lot of water, beans'.
she is sitting, relaxing from a morning of working on the garden, extending the space they have for planting.  she wants to be able to grow more of her own food, she tells me. i spot a turtle-shaped pot plant i bought for her when i was still a child - she tells me: 'it has a plant in it every year - i always think of you when i put something in there'. from indoors, my foster dad jokes about needing 'grecian 2000' for his hair, while he boils the kettle for the day's 5th pot of tea.  he sits down with the crossword, stays in the shade.  i am sitting, wearing one of his t-shirts and cardigan - i did some cleaning this morning, and it took the last wear out of the one top i brought with me.  the dog settles, lays across my feet.  the pond waterfalls splash and trickle, and inside its pen, the duck quacks a reminder of its presence.

i have been reading a blog about minimalism recently ( and enjoying a lot of what it has to say, wondering how i can hold on to the calm and contentment of this past few days once i go back home, to london, and once i go back to work.  i've been ignoring my phone a lot since i've been down here, and the last money i spent was on saturday morning, when i bought an ice-lolly.  i suppose it helps that i've barely left the house since i came down on friday.

except for a friend's wedding.  it was the loveliest and happiest wedding i've been to in a long while - and being nigerian, i go to a lot of weddings!

on friday afternoon, i joined the bride and groom to be, along with a group of their friends, part of the decoration squad.  their reception was to be the next day at the local village hall.  over the course of the afternoon and evening, we hung bunting and fairy lights, prettified tables with jam jars of flowers from the back garden.  and all around their were other brilliant home-made touches: a giant purple heart, made to match the bunting, a present from the groom's sister; table names held in place by blocks cut by the groom's dad; a hand-made cardboard suitcase to hold wedding cards and gifts.

on the day, the bride wore a dress she'd bought on e-bay ('only used once'!), and the registrar was a friend of the family.  myself and another friend sang and read, and another orchestrated the photos afterwards.  the wedding breakfast was provided by a local caterer (delicious salads, some quiche and salmon, and three choices of praise-showered desserts - i opted for the double chocolate fudge cake…).

as the day became dusk became dark, the dj took over from the home-made music mix, people hit the dance floor, and the joy that had bubbled up throughout the day spilled over into un-self-conscious jumping and gyrating, shimmying and shaking - joy dance-onified.

and i'm overwhelmed by how much everyone talked to everyone else.  and how blatantly people enjoyed each others company.  it didn't seem ridiculous that i felt i left with new friends.  people i'd never met before with whom i now have plans to organise a piano based sing along at their not yet found new home.  people i'd never met before who i've arranged to meet for tea next time i'm in their town.  it was a brilliant, lovely day.

in the reflection of my laptop screen, i see a bird alight on the duck pen - look around, and fly off again.  and as i look up, i swear i see a swallow heading west.  the sun warms my ears, throws dark shapes across the lawn, and my foster parents discuss their grand-children as they pat the dogs.

i am not surprised by my contentment here, by how little i miss the movement and bustle of london.  i'm definitely not surprised by how little i miss work.  inklings of the possibility of packing it all in now (rather than sensibly saving and waiting until next year) play around the edges of my mind.  perhaps it's a short -term thing, but it feels good not to be rushing to this or to that.  it feels good to sit and not worry about  what next.  it feels good to have been able to put all the usual clutter and worry out of my head - for now.  i'm hoping i can hold onto this when i go home.  hoping i can find it increasingly easy to minimalise, detach a little more. just slow down.

17 Apr 2011

May 2011 Gathering of the Islamic Community Food Project (London)

Community organising with the earth in mind

"On the earth there are Signs for those of inner certainty, as also within your own selves..." (Qur' an 51: 20-21)

Next gathering
: Sun 8th May 2011: Registration details below
Time: 11am-4pm
Venue: Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, London, E1 5AR (near Brick Lane). Nearest tubes: *Use either Bethnal Green or Liverpool Street* (both on the central Line and still walking distance) as other local lines are scheduled to be closed during the weekend. Buses D3. Map & Directions:

Organised by Wisdom In Nature (WIN) with Spitalfields City Farm

Some people call it a 'food growing project'; others, like Corporate Watch describe it as 'part of a rising social movement that can shake...the global corporate food system'. So, what happens in the Islamic Community Food Project? Who is it for? And what will you be doing if you join in?...

  • Open to people of all faiths and beliefs; Tower Hamlets residents especially welcome.
  • Be empowered: Practicals on the land & grassroots organising with like-minded participants.
  • Develop experience in social change & facilitation - life-enhancing skills so vital in today's world.
  • Hear and share ideas & stories - take small, vital steps to make the imagined real.
  • Bring a team spirit & the yearning of your soul to create a sustainable, more compassionate world for all!..

  • As more people organise from the grassroots, community food initiatives are on the rise. These small steps not only empower, but offer alternatives to the globalised food system that favours multinationals. At the same time, within Muslim communities awareness is growing that Islam offers ecological principles that extend beyond the term 'halal'. This project aims to contribute to a more holistic way of thinking - one that empowers individuals, helps build resilient communities, and genuinely draws us towards a sustainable and more compassionate world.


    -Anyone seriously thinking about being involved with the ongoing project. All kinds of experience and backgrounds are welcome. Also present will be those already involved.
    - A background in community organising or Islamic ecological activism is a plus, but is not essential. The project caters for anyone motivated to contribute. You will have more to offer than you may now imagine!


    -This is the fourth gathering.
    -We will participate in a hands-on practical on the land with Spitalfields City Farm.
    -There will also be a workshop with Wisdom In Nature: Existing participants will give a brief presentation about the project to help everyone get up to speed. We will then get creative, yet realistic, as we co-organise our next key step on our journey - a stimulating, fun, open event for July on the theme of the project: We will ask ourselves, what would we like to see there? And what can we each offer? (The outline so far centres on: a campfire, picnic, workshops, talks). The collective spirit in organising will be of co-learning and being empowered, which will include taking responsibility. The project is ongoing, and for those who want to continue there will be follow-up activities for organising and taking action together.

    Please dress for the weather and bring sturdy footwear. Tea/coffees/refreshments will be provided. Please bring food to share for lunch.

    COST: £5 per person. Reduced rate for unemployed/regular WIN donors/regular participants (£2).

    REGISTER: To reserve your place, please send an email titled 'Register', with your full name to: communityfood AT (replace AT with @ & delete the gaps); You will then receive confirmation and further info. Note that each person must register for her/himself only, and registration is for the full day.

    Past Posts: ; More info: Wisdom In Nature: tel 0845 456 3960 (local rate).

    Gathering Momentum with the ICFP...

    Our next gathering of the Islamic Community Food Project (i.e. ICFP!) is due on May 8th. So, let's take a look at of some of the ideas that are brewing..!

    Firstly, we've been brainstorming ways of
    keeping the creativity and energy going between the gatherings at Spitalfields. We went through a facilitated exercise a couple of weeks ago and captured ideas that were shared on this very topic. See flip chart, below. To enlarge, simply click on the photo...

    We'll develop this further and have already started to act on it as a team.

    Participants in the project are also excited about jointly organising a
    potential action in July, in the form of a stimulating, fun, open event on the theme of the project. At the May gathering we will carry this forward and ask ourselves, what would we like to see at this July event? And what can we each offer?

    The outline so far centres on:
    a campfire, picnic, workshops, talks. These, and other ideas raised, were caught on this next flip chart:

    So, the next step will be the next gathering, where we will share more ideas, get organised and make the imagined real! The date for this is
    Sunday 8th May 2011, and it will be at Spitalfields City farm. We'll be putting a post up about this very soon. Stay tuned, and come join in if you want to be part of this movement for organised social change...!

    6 Apr 2011

    An Islamic Ecological Activism: Uniting the Strands


    A core quality of an authentic spiritual tradition is that it offers practices and guidance for its followers that can reveal holistic solutions to the challenges of the time. I believe that this is true of Islam, yet I also believe that there is much work to be done to uncover the essence of the tradition, such that will allow its beauty and relevance to be known in the challenging times we find ourselves in.

    In my own life, I find myself in a process of re-evaluating and gathering the different strands that represent my own core values and the different facets of my existence. Whilst one of these strands is the spiritual, however hard I look I can find no separation between this and other strands that represent me - my relationships with others, my means of gaining income, the passions to which I give my time, and so on. Neither can I separate these aspects of me from the wider community and political landscape. Life is just too interconnected.

    This process of gathering is also reflected in my journey of initiating and co-participating within the UK’s first local Islamic ecological activist group.

    Whilst my journey into initiating Wisdom In Nature arose in part out of my noticing the need for more ‘environmental’ awareness, more fundamentally it emerged out of sensing more intimately that we live in an inter-connected world - that humanity is not separate from nature, but is a part of it. My increasing appreciation of the latter has strong resonance with my deepening appreciation of the Islamic concept of tawhid, of Oneness or Unity. Ultimately everything arises from a single source, and to attempt to engage in life’s challenges by compartmentalising them - albeit convenient and with some limited use - cannot lead to real, long-term solutions and would go against the true nature of things.

    This interconnectedness is increasingly self-evident in a world in which communication can travel wide and far so rapidly, and in which we have developed powerful, albeit questionable, technologies, both at the macro and the micro level, which very quickly can have profound far-reaching consequences - from the genetic modification (GM) of food, to advertising and nuclear technologies for instance. Thus, any awareness that inter-connectedness is a fundamental truth of existence is being amplified by the state of the world today.

    To me, ecological activism - which is the activism that I strive to participate in - is activism that is guided by an awareness of this interconnectedness. It includes the so-called ‘environmental’ but is not limited to it.  With the principle of tawhid being such a core concept in Islam, activism that is Islamic must also, I believe, be ecological. We must act in a way that honours the relationship between the different strands of existence however much our cultural norms might choose to differentiate between them.

    The name to reflect the reality

    Hence, whilst I concede that Wisdom In Nature was initially called the ‘London Islamic Network for the Environment’ (LINE), the word ‘environment’ - which can imply separate-ness, as well as a competing of issues rather than their integration with respect to the natural order – was amongst the main factors that led us to re-evaluate and change that name. Indeed, the ecological challenges we face and the potential solutions are, in one sense, not bound by the environment but are in us. We have caused the problem, and thus it is our consciousness and patterns that must be transformed. It is for us to become the solution.

    Consequently the word ‘nature’ in our new name, Wisdom In Nature, refers in part to our innate nature, or as in the Qur’an, to the fitrah. By living according to the fitrah or our natural disposition - which necessitates inner work and getting to grips with the nafs or ego and its disguised compulsions – we can with more ease live in harmony with the wider creation, or the ‘environment’.

    Simultaneously, the laws and principles in nature can offer insights and inspiration that can move us to wholesome solutions in tune with the principles in creation that creatively nurture life. The Qur’an continually guides us to witness and observe the natural world which it refers to as ayat or ‘signs’ that when reflected on with receptivity can simultaneously draw us closer to God, and open us to reconnect to the fitrah.

    In addition, having had Islam in our name easily led to assumptions about who we are and what we do. If we are an Islamic group, what does that really mean? Are all ‘Islamic’ groups very similar, or are they more diverse than we might like to think? We were also aware that we were sometimes wrongly considered a ‘Muslim’ only group by those somewhat over-enthusiastic to compartmentalise, yet we enjoy and are grateful to have the presence of participants that do not call themselves Muslim. The process, thus, of defining and re-articulating what we call ourselves was helpful in re-establishing what we are really about, what we understood to be the core values of Islam, rather than simply slotting the term into a name.

    The means and the end

    Whilst the grassroots and activist nature of the group can be seen in what we do, less visibly yet more importantly it is intrinsic to our process – i.e. how we do things. Rather than being led from the top-down, we lean strongly to using consensus-based, bottom-up processes that draw out the diverse voices, creativity, and wisdom of the group. We might also consciously bring in awareness around gender, power relations, privilege and class for example, helping to build cohesiveness and community as we move forward with our ecological work.

    We used these kinds of processes within the numerous meetings we had to complete our colour photo-booklet ‘Islam & Climate Change ~ A Call to Heal’. This took considerable time, but we gained a strong sense of ownership that helped take it to completion. None of our members were, or wanted to be paid (that includes myself!), to complete the project, and with minimal funds in our account we still beat the odds to finish it. The end-product clearly reflects the value we hold dear and the care that has gone into it.

    Another aspect of our grassroots ethos is that we do not accept donations from government or corporations. Indeed our day-to-day funding comes entirely from donations from individuals. Whilst we need and are actively inviting more individuals to donate regularly, we remain true to our principles, despite there being the attractions of numerous external sources to whom we could go.

    Thus, we have discovered ourselves to be a group that in its understanding of the term ecological, aims to weave together the different strands of activism - the inner, social, process, economic and ‘environmental’, within a common value system. Rather than simply campaigning for people to recycle more for instance, valuable though that is, we work to link issues and look deeper into them 

    Opening the potential

    There is a huge potential waiting to be born out of joining together theological knowledge and spiritual maturity with practical work to connect to the land and awareness of grassroots organising and social change. This is a potent combination that draws together the desire for social change within a world view of compassion and love. Separating the spiritual from the outer and the active is an illusion, and this is touched on in Surat Al-Ma ‘un, Chapter 107, in the Qur ‘an.

    Our intention with Wisdom In Nature is to continue working within this integrated framework, a natural extension of which is to support, where we are able, the development of local initiatives that feel comfortable working in a similar way. Our community food project with Spitalfields City farm is an early example of this effort.

    With our main geographical focus being in London and more recently in Brighton, as we draw more willing volunteers as well as funding from individuals, we look forward to collaborations and a growing contribution to an ecological activism as we further our work in these locations.

    In whatever way you can, we invite you to join in.

    This is a version of an article that was originally published on the Muslim Institute website