British Muslims are breaking the terrorist stereotype in a new eco-awareness campaign. Trees4Life, a British grassroots organisation has branched out as far as Palestine and Indonesia, to facilitate positive solutions to environmental problems in the form of tree-planting programs.
In the faithful hopes of trying to make us aware of our environmental obligations, Trees4Life believes planting a tree is the first small step in being a green Muslim. ”We are just trying to open the door in thinking ‘green’,” says founder Naweeda Ahmad.
Green Prophet writer Zaufishan Iqbal asked the Trees4Life team how British Muslims can help the Middle East and whether planting trees is really the way to go about it.
Green Prophet: Great to speak to you Naweeda. First up, tell us a bit about Trees4Life. When and where did the campaign begin? Who’s on the team?
“Trees4Life Campaign began in June 2010. There are two members on the team; Ruhul Tarafder and Naweeda Ahmad. We also have 5 trustees, Shahed Yunus (Chair), Lina Khan (Secretary), Robin Virgin, Naima Bouteldja and Rafia Meah. Each of us has a varied role in terms of promoting unusual fundraisers and organising campaigns.
The main aims of the organisation are to raise awareness in Britain of the ecological and environmental problems facing the planet, especially some of the most vulnerable populations of the less developed world.
Trees4Life Campaign is an innovative, global initiative to raise awareness of the ecological and environmental problems facing our planet. Our belief is simply that life cannot survive without trees because trees are in essence the lungs of the earth, they breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, this is what sustains life.”
Green Prophet: How does faith as a Muslim fit into your environmental action?
“Ecology may seem like a western concept but really this is something that Islam promoted over 1400 yrs ago. Allah (Arabic, God) has made humans custodians of the earth; this has been entrusted to us by Allah and it’s important for us to look after it.
As Muslims, we have an obligation to preserve the planet, and what better way than planting a tree.”
Green Prophet: Is Islam therefore the inspiration behind Trees4Life
“At Trees4Life, we felt that Islam is not just about fulfilling the rituals of the faith – prayer, fasting in Ramadan – but to look beyond that and to be concerned about the world we live in.
We are therefore supposed to be concerned about our environment and to learn about how we can help our world in a positive way, this is part of our faith.
We wanted to engage in an act that would help us to help the environment and also encourage others to do the same. Planting a tree is one of the simplest acts anyone can do to help support the environment.”
Green Prophet: Where in the world have you planted trees so far, and where are you going next?
“Trees4Life Campaign is working to support tree planting programs in many parts of the developing world. Our first and current project is Trees4Life Indonesia whereby we aim to help our partners (IFEESand the Consortium) to re-plant trees in two of Java’s National Parks. Between 1985 and 2007, the island of Sumatra alone lost 12 million hectares of natural forest; a 48 percent loss over 22 years. Our humble aim is to plant 2,000 trees.
*Updates on the Trees4Life Facebook group page say over a half of this target was recently met. Great stuff.
We hope to initiate projects in other countries including Bangladesh, Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Costa Rica and Brazil. Developments are being made to launch these soon.”
Green Prophet: What response have you had about your campaigns from the Muslim and wider community?
“We have had a very positive response so far in a short space of time which is very pleasing. Earlier this year, we hit over 500 members on our Facebook group supporting the Banglatown road trip where through donations, we had the funds to plant just over 300 trees.
People from all over Great Britain have supported the project as well people who met the road trip team in the different countries they have driven through.”
Over the summer season, Trees4Life organised an open eco-poetry competition, allowing submitters to gift a tree planting, and a fantastic Fusion Rally environmental car trek across Europe saw the Muslim ‘Green Burqettes’ fundraise and promote Green Islam ideas.”
Green Prophet: Middle Eastern regions only constitute 4.7% of the world’s total carbon emissions, so it’s ironic that leaders fly across in planes just to tell us to switch off our kettles. How can planting trees help reduce our global carbon footprint?
“It is no myth that trees help to reduce carbon emissions. As they grow, they help in the fight against climate change. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, store carbon in the trees and soil, and then release oxygen into the atmosphere.
Research shows that global warming is threatening the world’s trees. If current rates of fossil fuel emissions continue, the rainforests are in danger of collapse. In turn, deforestation exacerbates global warming when dying trees release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. This vicious cycle could lead to irreversible and dangerous climate changes that would affect all life on the planet.
Planting trees is a simple step that anyone can take that reduces carbon dioxide and makes a pro active stand against global warming. Our official website provides a carbon calculator which can be used to find out an individual’s carbon footprint and how many trees he/she needs to plant to offset this.”
Green Prophet: Faith is a driving force for many environmentalists. Do you believe Muslims have an additional role to play in keeping the earth ‘green’?
“Yes definitely. In fact, studying the biography of the Prophet Muhammad shows his actions would be considered in today’s world as that of a green and eco-friendly person.
We think many Muslims are unaware that this is their social and Islamic responsibility as part of our Islamic faith to be ‘green’.
Over 1400 years ago the Prophet taught us to not waste our energy and resources but to use these wisely. In a hadith (saying) emphasising the urgency of preservation, he was reported to have said ‘If an individual has an opportunity to plant a tree, even if he knows the Day of Judgement is imminent, let him plant the tree’. [Bukhari]
Green Prophet: Although we have reported on the lives and passing of green Muslims, positive reenforcement of the ‘Muslim environmentalist’ image is lacking in mainstream media. What do you think is holding back Muslims from doing more for the planet?
“There are many factors holding Muslims back from doing more for the planet. First and foremost would be a lack of education on environmental issues. When taking into consideration many countries with an overwhelming Muslim population are hugely underdeveloped, and there are high illiteracy rates, environmental concerns are often not seen as a high priority.
Many ordinary people throughout Asia and Africa struggle for basic necessities such as clean water, food, shelter, and free education. What is not highlighted is the correlation between having these basic necessities and preserving the environment.”
Green Prophet: If you could get Muslims to do one thing for the environment, what would it be?
“Stop wasting what Allah has given us. Use water wisely, think about our food, how much we consume and how much we actually waste. We need to re-educate ourselves on being grateful to Allah for the blessings He has given us.
If the simple act of planting a tree across the globe could be promoted amongst everyone then this single act would not only be a step in the right direction of preserving the planet but for Muslims it’s a small action for which the spiritual reward is far reaching.”
Green Prophet: As educators yourself, what work does Trees4Life do in Middle Eastern countries in protecting the environment?
“Our Trees4Life Campaign launched this year with the first project in Indonesia. The tree planting process involves identifying a nursery site, constructing the nursery, and preparing and maintaining seedlings. We train local people to look after the nurseries and thus, continue the tradition of tree preservation.
The planting stage includes land preparation – clearing, green fertilization, preparing sites for planting of each tree – as well as establishing land control, shelters and signboards. The program in Indonesia, along with others, will plant “cash crops” and will facilitate community mobilization, education, planting and maintenance activities.
We hope to launch future projects across the world including the Middle East, with recruitment currently underway in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Brazil. We are currently exploring possibilities of developing olive tree programmes in Palestine.”
Green Prophet: What are some of the core green principles inspired by Islam?
“Islam is a way of life in which justice, fairness and compassion towards all of creation is paramount. Prophet Muhammad is the role model for humanity. Like Prophet Jesus and Prophet Moses, he had the Islamic environmental philosophy, simple living, moderation, and respect and concern for all creation.
Trees are a blessing from Allah; they provide us with shade, with fruits and more importantly they are the lungs of the earth, providing us with oxygen. They also provide us with a beautiful environment. Many different types of trees and flowers with herbal uses and beautiful shades of colour, are a reminder of Heaven, all of which make us reflect on creation.
Trees are mentioned in the Quran and hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s sayings) including the date palm tree, olive tree, fig and pomegranate. These fruits have many health benefits and undiscovered remedies so Islam teaches us to be grateful for these blessings.
Several hadith (prophetic sayings) refer to planting a seed or tree:
- ‘There is no-one amongst the believers who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but it is regarded as a charitable gift for him.’
- ‘If any believer plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity.’ (Hadith recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).”
Green Prophet: And finally, what changes do you hope to see in the Middle Eastern and Asian community in the next 25 years with regards to environmental awareness?
“It is very important for the countries mentioned and others to consider environmental awareness for the next 25 years and beyond.
One of the other benefits is that trees provide a powerful defence against floods and soil erosion, such as in Bangladesh and Pakistan, which climate scientists warn will suffer from increased risk of floods due to rising sea levels from climate change. The recent devastating floods in Pakistan fit into the long-term pattern of increased frequency of natural disasters and erratic weather symptomatic of global warming. Deforestation made Pakistan much more vulnerable to flooding.
Trees4Life Campaign thus aims to get to the root of the problem by encouraging people all over the world to plant trees. Extensive reforestation of the southern hemisphere would also significantly reduce the effects of global warming and help to restore the natural balance elsewhere. Trees are nature’s way of ‘locking in’ carbon, so planting more trees is one of the most powerful ways of combatting climate change and defending our environment.”