ENVIRONMENTAL activists look to a variety of source material for their inspiration but for a group in Sheffield there’s an alternative starting point for people who haven’t yet got round to reading the fourth assessment reports of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“For Muslims the Koran is very clear: Islam teaches us about our duty, and so it’s not an optional thing, you have the responsibility to go out there and improve your environment.”
Nabeel Nasser is vice-chair of the Sheffield Islamic Network for the Environment. On Saturday close to 300 members of ShINE, their families, friends and supporters held an activity day in Weston Park to encourage Sheffielders to think about their local environment.
“The day is giving us a platform for getting our message across,” continued Nabeel. “We want to encourage all Sheffielders to think about the environment, to think about improving Sheffield together.
“We think it’s a duty for everyone, you don’t have to wait for Streetforce to do their thing, the more we can do as Sheffielders the better it is for all of us.”
He added that ShINE has two audiences: Sheffield as a whole and the Muslim community in particular.
“It’s stated in our tradition you must keep everything clean, it’s considered a noble act to remove litter from a path, for example, and it’s forbidden to chop down a tree if there’s no reason to do so. Our tradition says you should be aware of everything that’s been created around you, humans and non humans.”
The many children taking part on Saturday were all getting the message: the main theme for the day was recycling and ShINE had been provided with litter-pickers and other materials by the city council ranger service and Veolia.
There was a cardboard recycling bin for kids to recycle packaging, clothing and plastics, there were recipe cards for home-made food, planting advice and plenty of nature-themed craft and face painting activities.
ShINE has been organising activity days for five years. The group operates a mailing list, and has seen local litter pick days as it’s main focus up to now, with sometimes up to 50 people taking part. In the future, ShINE also hopes to organise seminars at mosques and community centres.
There have been two distinct reactions from members of the Muslim community, said Nabeel.
“One reaction is very supportive, with people saying it’s about time you’re doing this kind of thing, we should encourage it because people are fed up seeing Islam linked to all these other issues. But the other reaction is that people say you’ve got to get your priorities wrong with all the other things going on. But we think this is probably the best way of dealing with these bigger issues, its about showing we’re not always in the middle of trouble, we’re in the middle of something good.”
Nabeel’s father came to Sheffield as a young man from Yemen to work in the steel industry, so Nabeel has grown up here and says he adores Sheffield. He now works as a software development manager, with ShINE as a voluntary concern.
“If you look at the Middle East now, there’s a lot of anger, and rightly so if you look at all the oppression,” he said. “There’s a lot of injustice. But it saddens me to see aggressive Muslims, to me that isn’t Islam, the Prophet was not an angry man, he was a calm, collected individual, he forgave and always tried to go for the least aggressive option.
“The awful impression people get of Islam is really saddening because it portrays Islam as the opposite of how it should be portrayed. If society is against you, don’t retaliate, be patient.
“You’re not going to teach people unless you’re patient. In Islam, patience is beautiful.”
Nabeel said that ShINE has many links with the wider environmental movements, looking at issues like scarcity and climate change, and describes members as ‘footsoldiers.’
“The big concepts can’t happen unless at ground level people understand why they’re doing something.” Otherwise, he added, they will just dismiss big issues like climate change.
“We understand the Koran says this thing above us, the atmosphere, is to protect you and God says we should take care of it and don’t harm it. Often at big conferences they talk at a level that local people can’t get to grips with, but we think this is a way to say I am contributing to that issue.
“It’s about helping people to see their place of contact, how we can do things to help the world as a whole.
“If you just clean up your own area, that is of benefit. There is an opportunity to go out there and make a difference.”
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