Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oun. Indeed it is is to Allah we belong, and to Him is our return. I’ve just learnt that Hajji Ayman Ahwal has left this world for a better one. May Allah bless him, forgive him and grant him a place in His Garden.
Hajji Ayman was an environmentalist, traveller, journalist, film-maker, craftsman and eco-warrior who campaigned passionately to save Aceh’s rainforests.
Here is an interview from EcoIslam magazine to give you just a small glimpse into his unique soul. May he dwell in eternal peace in the greenest Garden of all. Ameen.
A Man of the Earth
Ayman Ahwal is a British journalist, film-maker, craftsman and environmentalist who campaigns for the protection of threatened rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia. He converted to Islam in the late ’60s, while in the Moroccan desert. His extensive travels across the world, and years spent living in wildernesses have reinforced his belief in the interconnectedness of all life. He speaks to EcoIslam about frugal living and the importance of staying in touch with the natural world.
How did your interest in environmentalism first arise?
My love of the environment, combined with horror at the way it’s being abused, began with Islam. When living with traditional Muslims living close to the land, I perceived a harmony between men and nature that I had not seen before. This symbiotic relationship of man with nature extended right into the cities at that time (some 40 years ago). Things have changed now as urban Muslims become slaves to consumerism. Frugal, ‘close to nature’ living fades nowadays in the haste towards ‘progress.’
But perhaps the most environmentally vivid experience of my life came from wandering in the desert. Things are very clear in the desert. Heaven and Earth, life (water) and death (no water); from earth and water stems every life form. Living in the forest many years later, the memory of the desert became an instantaneous reminder of the priorities in the natural order. Then one sees how interconnected every living creature is and how Allah’s pattern of life is so supremely beautiful. In spite of our sciences we have only understood 0.01% of His creation on Earth. Yet the destruction continues unabated. Who will stop it? Sadly Muslims seem unconcerned.
Can you describe the different projects you have been involved with over the years?
Wherever and whenever I have the opportunity, I do some gardening. To dig a field or a garden is a very humbling and spiritually rewarding occupation as well as being good exercise. Perhaps the most thought-provoking garden was one I made in the tropical forest. Where the garden becomes wilderness is a critical point of understanding of one’s relationship with Creation. To be reminded of the earth is a part of Islamic education. At present I am involved with building an eco-village in post-tsunami, post-war Aceh in Indonesia. In collaboration with IFEES we are also launching an ambitious project of tree planting. Trees live in communities and families like we do. Planting a tree is an act of charity.
Your latest production is the environmental campaign film, ‘Clean Medina.’ What potential do you think film and music have to contribute to the environmental cause?
Plenty. The media with film and music is the culture of the day and has largely replaced religion as the prime mover of public attitudes in urban societies. Urban Muslims are not immune to this and in any case most have lost contact with nature except perhaps as a recreational facility. Hopefully the film “Clean Medina” has started the ball rolling to get people, young and old, talking about public cleanliness. Most ills of the environment are caused by man’s lack of cleanliness in one way or another.
Do you think that ‘Islamic Environmentalism’ can make an impact in the struggle to save our planet?
This word ‘environmentalism’ sounds like just another distorted pseudo-scientific worldview like atheism, humanism, secularism, Islamism, etc! To be complete (insan al kamil) a Muslim should be as conscious of the natural environment as he is about other temporal preoccupations, as well as his nafs (ego), his ehsan (striving for excellence) and his ibadat (worship). The environment is about loving the Earth. To serve the people is to love Allah; to manage the Earth wisely is to love Allah. It’s like the other face of deen (faith). Without being conscious of the natural world a Muslim is out of balance. How then can he be expected to be khalifah (guardian) and see when nature is out of balance, as it truly is today?
What would you say is your greatest ‘environmental’ inspiration?
Surah Rahman in the Qur’an. Read it ten times. You will see why.
If you could change one thing that impacts the environment what would it be?
Allah does not change people until they change themselves.
What actions help you personally to live a greener way of life?
Live as frugally as possible, throw away as little as possible, be sparing with water and remember the Garden. Let’s make frugality fashionable, as it was with the early Muslims.
A craftsman works materials with his hands and learns patience, similar to farmers. People who live on the land still live in the fitrah. If you look at any person of faith who has worked all his life on the land, when they get to a certain age they have this wisdom. The land itself, and harmony with the earth, gives mankind wisdom. But we are deaf to that. When Islam combines with the wisdom of the Earth it’s like an inspirational spark – knowing man’s relationship with the Earth and the interdependence of both. Allah is the ultimate conserver and may He accept our efforts. Ameen.
(You can read more about Hajji Ayman’s work to protect Aceh’s rainforests on his website: http://www.upriverprojects.org )