Articles

Towards Intentional Communities

I admit. I do not particularly find the greatest peace of mind in the company of others. I am forever grateful for those heartwarming moments shared with family and friends, but my solitude-loving self suffers from a pre-emptive, itchy phantom pain by the mere thought of the loss of so-much-needed long stretches of time by myself. It goes hand in hand with a deceitful feeling of complete independence and self-reliance, which makes, truth be told, little to no sense. Because even though the loner in me yearns for flying solo, the more I look around, the more I see that individualism as a way of being and, even more so, of being together in this world, is not working.

Connected Oases

Not only is it not working, our individualistic—and may I include our racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, and overall non-inclusive—tendencies are, at their worst, lethal. Towards us ánd our planet, and the creatures we so privilegedly share her with. A worthy alternative to these ways is the creation of intentional communities, or what Dr. ʿUmar Faruq ʿAbd-Allah called oasis communities in a talk entitled Tending the Earth.1 A cornerstone of these communities is respecting the environment the way the environment is supposed to be respected, he states, referring to the fiqh term of huquuq al-bahaa’im wa-l-hayawaanaat, or what we would call animal rights today.

In the past, Dr. ʿUmar points out, Islamic cities were self-sustainable. To recreate this self-providence through intentional communities, we would not need to go off-grid. On the contrary, the starting point would be the communities that are already there, where each and everyone comes with their own talents.

Respecting and keeping everyone’s personal authority in mind, it is about bringing together and connecting people so that the range of skills and knowledge that comes to be serves this very purpose of communal self-sustainability. To begin small, and begin with “something that’s working within the reality that is there,” as Dr. ʿUmar describes it. He further distinguishes a few pillars these oasis communities lean on:

  • They are to depart from—as everything we start with—sound belief, to which I would like to add, maybe somewhat redundantly, the right intentions.
  • For us to then build these communities, we would first and foremost need a ton of financial resources, and land.
  • Land, as the most basic metaphysical principle, that has water and good soil, is fertile, and allows us to have gardens, plants, raise animals as a part of our families, and learn and practise crafts.
  • Dr. ʿUmar’s words are thus a convincing reminder that it is time to regionally reclaim traditional craftsmanship, as it was once wiped out by colonialism in a vast part of the world out of, amongst others, economic warfare.2

     

Buying on a scale this local could furthermore, I would argue, be a first step to purify our consumption, as it makes verifying that products have been made in ethical circumstances easier.

A part of Surah al-Naba’, from an early 19th-century illuminated Qur’anic manuscript from Aceh (Indonesia). Verses 14-16 in particular resonate within some of Dr. ʿUmar Faruq ʿAbd-Allah’s words.

As we live in a post-agrarian age, Dr. ʿUmar states, producing food for the sake of food and not for the sake of profit is a revolutionary act, and therefore farmers and shepherds are to be honoured and respected. We need to re-recognise the central role plants and trees play, not necessarily as a source of our sustenance, but even more so because of their constant state of glorifying Allah (swt).

Every plant has stamped on it the name ar-Razaaq. Because they give you medicine, oxygen, they give birds a place to nest in, they give you wood, they give you carbon. They give you everything. A tree or a plant is three things: light, air, and water. And God makes it into lumber and into these other things,” Dr. ʿUmar beautifully concludes.3

Mercy, Mercy Me

What this shifts away from, is—with the words of Dr. Anna M. Gade—an anthropocentric environmentalist worldview. It looks at humans as a mere participle with respect to the world account, at humans as a part of a bigger, nonhierarchical unit.4In her book Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations she stresses how, as described in the Qur’an, “the non-speaking subject of the environment serves as a continual reminder of the responsibilities and limits of human capacity in relation to God the Creator.5

The tenth-century scholar Abu Bakr al-Kalabadhi has been reported to have said that the foundation of faith is compassion for Allah’s creation.6By practising mercy to sentient and non-sentient creatures, including humans and animals, we hope to receive the ultimate mercy in the world to come,” Dr. Anna M. Gade points towards this essence.7

Letting the Sunnah take the lead would be the best model for maintaining such merciful relations with all beings within intentional communities. In this sense, what could be dubbed as ‘environmentalist’ practise through community engagement, centered around practising justice in all its meanings, serves the transformation of the heart. It is a way of using the dunya to reach the ultimate Garden in the akhira, and evidently leads to the final goal: drawing closer to Allah (swt).8

To Conclude

Now where does this leave Einzelgängers like me? I could stick to building a community exclusively out of fellow lone wolves and cats, where the underdogs thrive and quiet abodes are plenty. Not only would we be doomed for a miserably utopian, commune-like failure, but the truth of the matter is that the idea of social cohesion behind oasis communities does not entail overstepping each other’s personal boundaries. It is, ideally, their organic, merciful ways of becoming that allow all types of characters from all kinds of backgrounds to thrive and feel at ease. This is far, far from where we are now, living in communities segregated along several kinds of lines—class being only one of them. It is hardly imaginable. But if we start small and strive towards these oases in a balanced way, who knows, maybe even I could become a people person.

Literature for Further Reading

  • Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet (Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010).
  • Anna M. Gade, Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019). Specifically chapter three: A Qur’anic Environment: Relating Creatures and Resources.

About the possible pitfalls of keeping an intentional community going: Marina Benjamin, Utopia Inc, Aeon, February 28, 2017, https://aeon.co/essays/like-start-ups-most-intentional-communities-fail-why.

Image Used

  • Header image:
    Miniature of honey bees returning to their hive. From a 13th-century bestiary with theological texts in Latin and Old French, from England. British Library, Royal MS 12 C XIX, https://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_12_c_xix, f. 45r.
  • Image used within the text:
    A part of Surah al-Naba’. From a 19th-century Qur’anic manuscript in Arabic from Aceh, Indonesia. British Library, Or 16915, https://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Or_16915, f.244r.

    *Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tayyib Society team.

    Would you like to contribute an article to our website?

Sources

  1. Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, “Tending the Earth - Shaykh Umar Faruq Abd-allah”, YouTube video, April 23, 2018, https://youtu.be/SOsnObs74Yg.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. New Books Network, New Books in Islamic Studies, “Anna M. Gade, Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations”, Podcast, January 24, 2020, https://newbooksnetwork.com/anna-m-gade-muslim-environmentalisms-religious-and-social-foundations-columbia-up-2019.
  5. Anna M. Gade, Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), p. 202.
  6. Ibid., p. 218.
  7. New Books Network, New Books in Islamic Studies, “Anna M. Gade, Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations”, Podcast, January 24, 2020, https://newbooksnetwork.com/anna-m-gade-muslim-environmentalisms-religious-and-social-foundations-columbia-up-2019.
  8. Anna M. Gade, Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), p. 217, p. 219-220 and, for examples from Indonesia of the cultivation of community connection for the sake of ‘Islamic environmentalism’, p. 231-232.

Tine is a founding member of Tayyib Society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *