THERE USUALLY COMES a point in life when we can step back from the day-to-day hassle and sincerely reflect upon our entire lives as well as the questions eating away at our conscience. At such times, I have found myself asking whether I am successfully living within the bounds of the halal while staying as far away as possible from what Allah has declared forbidden. This, for me is a time of awakening; an opportunity I take as a blessing from Allah to further guide me upon a path that is right. At such times, as I slow down, take a deep breath and reflect upon my life, I realize that merely staying within the bounds of the halal cannot give me a “get out of jail free” card. These are times when I realize that the halal is no longer enough.
From the food we eat to the clothes we wear and even the everyday choices we make, Muslims around the world have found themselves overlooking the impact of their daily activities on the planet and its inhabitants. We have expanded the earth by the reclamation of swampy areas around oceans and seas; we have wiped out trees in the forests in order to build more industries; we have diverted chemical and toxic wastes into the rivers and atmosphere; we have turned vast lands into waste-dumping grounds; we have inflicted harm on other creatures in a bid to make life better for ourselves; we have wasted resources without consideration for sustainable development; and we continue to do other vain acts, which not only bring unprecedented hardship to us but also constitute the breach of an important trust bestowed on us by our Creator, which we are surely going to account for on the day of judgement.
Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned. Thus, He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return [in penitence to God]. [Surat Al-Rum, 30:41]
It is not uncommon for us to feel indifferent about the series of inhumane processes that give birth to the food we purchase on the shelves of supermarkets and the clothes we acquire at the shopping malls. Sometimes, we are so careless about what we put on our bodies and the impact our decisions have on the environment that we look for the quickest excuse to justify our actions. “I am not indulging in haram,” is the most common statement we lend our ears to when seeking a way out of assuming responsibility for what Allah has entrusted to us. Yes! As human beings, we have been made trustees of this earth and the time has come to start seeing it as serious business.
Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger said:
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The world is sweet and green (alluring) and verily Allah is going to install you as vicegerent in it to see how you act. (Muslim)
Reflecting deeply upon this has marked the starting point of my journey on a new path. I decided to start with a clean slate, and this has led me to developing what I coined as the “G-N-H Guide.”
What is the G-N-H Guide?
“G-N-H” simply means “Green – Natural – Halal.” This is a faith-driven lifestyle guide that implies that in our everyday choices, we have a duty to ensure that what we purchase, consume or execute meets the criteria of being green, natural and halal. In this context, Green means being aware of the impact of our lifestyle choices on the environment and making efforts to ensure that what we consume is backed up by an eco-friendly supply chain. Natural implies that whatever we consume is organic, safe, healthy, wholesome and not harmful to us and the environment, while Halal means that what we consume falls within the bounds of the permissible under the Shari‘ah. From finance to travel, and even fashion and food, the G-N-H Guide applies to every aspect of the life of a Muslim.
In a world that has simultaneously developed a culture of consumerism and seen the rise of more and more conscious Muslims around the globe, manufacturers of our everyday basic needs such as food, clothing, cosmetics and household items are deliberately tapping into the Muslim market by getting halal certifications for their products.
On the surface level, this certification would have been enough to guarantee any Muslim that he or she is operating within the bounds of the permissible. However, what happens when the entire production process of a brand of toothpaste that has been labeled halal is devoid of any Islamic environmental ethic? Do we care whether such a product has been tested on animals? Whether fellow human beings have been exploited in its production? Whether some harmful chemicals have been used? Whether lots of waste has been generated from its production and is being diverted into the seas and atmosphere? By being indifferent, are we not only allowing, but even encouraging businesses and industries in trashing our planet!
Taking a Proactive Dive
Every Muslim should be concerned not only about the end-product of what they consume but all aspects of production from start to finish. By this, we consider eco-friendly and sustainable consumerism as a vital aspect of faith. There are Prophetic traditions that suggest that we live with a light ‘footprint’, acquire only what we need and be on earth as travelers. We are all fully aware of the trends of the 21st century and how difficult it can be to wriggle ourselves out of consumerism. It is nevertheless expected of Muslims to keep in mind the need to reduce our wants and to start caring about issues of ethics in the day-to-day choices that we make. Doing our bit for the environment might seem a little too difficult initially, but doing so with the right intentions of pleasing Allah will never go unnoticed. So how do we as Muslims incorporate this G-N-H Guide as a vital aspect of our lives? Here are a few things to consider when making choices:
1. Natural and Organic
In most cases, this relates to food and cosmetics. This means that produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. It also extends to meat consumption; ensuring that animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not receive antibiotics or growth hormones.
2. Reusable or Recyclable
Ensure that products are packaged as efficiently as possible in material made of partially to 100 percent reusable or recycled substances and that they can be easily reused or recycled – ideally through stress-free take-back or trade-in programs offered by the manufacturers.
3. Fair Trade
Make sure that products purchased or consumed come from industries that have been certified to provide fair wages and safe working conditions for its workers. This includes the requirement that they have no history of any forced child, women, or any other inhumane labor.
4. Cruelty Free
This is a label for products or activities that do not harm or kill animals. Be certain that the products you purchase, as well as any of its ingredients, are not tested on animals.
5. Paraben and Phthalate Free
Parabens and phthalates are harmful chemicals present today in most cosmetic products. They have been proven to be harmful to human health, causing cancer as well as some reproductive issues. Muslims should be extra careful by checking out the contents of the products they purchase —as we would be questioned about our bodies and how we wore them out.
This is very important in the life of every Muslim. Conforming to halal standards entails ensuring that products are free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic Law. It also means that products are processed, manufactured and stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law. And finally, that products are free from contamination while being prepared or processed with anything considered najis (ritually impure).
7. Inquire and Double-check
Learn about the minimum ethical standards that a product or item should possess: fair trade, cruelty free, organic and other sensitive details. Do your own research on companies or industries that operate within these ethical guidelines and those that do not. Most of all, whenever you find yourself at yet another shopping mall and are just about to spend that cash or use that credit card, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
In the long run, insha’Allah, we will soon find that our lives become richer and more meaningful when we break free from consumerism and care more about those other creatures with which we share our planet.