Re-Territorializing Religiosity in Wholesome Muslim Praxis
2. Ingesting Purity, Encountering Pluralism, and Living Religious Identity
2.1. Lived Religion and Muslim Ecological Religiosity
Said and Funk associated problems in Muslim majority countries not with Islam, but rather with external impositions and hybrid social, political structures. Eliding with Lynn White Jr.’s thesis associating environmental problems with Christian tradition, these authors located the problem in multilayered Western imports.3Failure to protect the natural environment does not represent a shortcoming in essential Islamic precepts…Disregard for nature follows both from preoccupation with imported models of state, economy, and society and from an incongruity between long-established assumptions about the potential impact of human activities upon nature and the unprecedented power of modern technology.
2.2. Purity, Purism, and Extremism
2.3. Pluralistic Encounter and U.S. Muslims
- “energetic engagement with diversity,”
- beyond tolerance, an “active seeking of understanding across lines of difference,”
- not relativism, but rather an “encounter of commitments,”
- specific to the U.S., the First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, and clearly asserts the need for “no establishment” of a political-religious alliance that trumps the free exercise of religion, and
- dialogue-based, “both speaking and listening…common understandings and real differences…commitment to being at the table—with one’s commitments.”7
Pishdadi named economic reductionism as intentionally divisive, and in opposition to Qur’anic worldview, where specificity matters. Her interpretive lens remained God-centered, she said, referring to God and the Qur’an as primary sources of ethical salience. This placement of pluralistic intent gives it the highest value in her context as a Muslim. For her religiosity, problems derive from a false worldview, which ignores God, again invoking the meaning behind the project’s name Taqwa. The term taqwa can be defined as God-fearing or awe, mindfulness of God (Haleem  2008), or volition in accordance with God (Foltz 2006, p. 151). When moral authority, through secularism, derives from people, instead of God, Pishdadi explained that such power corrupts, enhancing a greed-centered materialism. Drawing the boundary for her pluralistic venture, secularism and corrupting power became equated and rejected in her view.The Qur’an says that God created us with different faiths, and that’s part of His will. If he wanted us to be all one religion, He would have made us all one religion. He created us in different colors and different languages, all to testify to His greatness. Just like there’s not only one flower or one animal, there’s diversity. So diversity is part of God’s greatness. So, He created us different so we can get to know each other, not to hate each other or think we’re better than each other or whatever.
2.4. Purity and Corruption in Muslim Worldviews and Ecological Religiosity
In this statement, Nasr promoted pluralism, but not relativism; he prioritized inherited traditions over what traditional authorities might deem inappropriate innovations or performative transformations. He titled a book on various religions’ views of nature, Religion and the Order of Nature, highlighting the importance of a God-centered, or otherwise religious worldview in steering people toward ecological renewal (Nasr 1996). Further, Nasr expressed a preference to be hated by a religious person over being accepted by a secular person, highlighting his high value for living in a God-centered, or other traditional religious worldview (Nasr 2007, pp. 3–20). Taqwa did not go so far as to invite hatred, but rather asserted a salient alternative vision against a maligning backdrop of the media-projected generalization of “terrorist Muslims.” Taqwa presented wholesome Muslim identity for local people to engage, caring not only for other people, but for animals, landscapes, and waterways.The doctrines of the other religions which are now available in the form of sacred scripture, open metaphysical exposition, theological formulation, or inspired literature of one kind or another, convey a metaphysical, theological, and religious significance which must be taken seriously by men and women of good faith.
2.5. Purity and Corruption in Agriculture
2.6. Ingesting Identity, Restoring Relationships
Rather than accepting reductionist, general categories of being for other-than-human animals, Kheel asserted the importance of direct interaction with specific animals, which in the case of Taqwa referred not to wild animals, but animals in agriculturally curated settings outdoors in family farms and indoors at the slaughterhouse.When nature ethicists underlined the importance of caring for nature, it is helpful to ask, who is the recipient of care? Are individual beings included in the concept of “nature,” or only larger wholes? Similarly, when people call for “saving tigers and lions,” do they mean individual beings, or only species? The philosopher Margaret Urban Walker also suggests that we evaluate moral values by asking “Who’s quiet?” and “What’s left out?” in the telling of lives. These are important questions for assessing our interactions with nature(Kheel 2008, p. 227) [emphasis mine]
2.7. Lived Religion, Religiosity, and Globalized Islam
3. Taqwa Eco-food Cooperative
3.1. History, Structure, and Leadership
3.2. Eco-Halal Meat in Chicago
The above statement clearly delineated the ethical concern for those bodies that eat, bodies being eaten, people working with the animals, and the landscapes supporting all of those human and animal bodies. By using terms like “restore” and “replace,” leaders envisioned the project as a return to an ideal, pre-industrial past with “respectful,” humane farming methods. Taqwa successfully educated the local Muslim community about hazards in industrial food production, while providing among the first sustainable alternatives available at that time. Taqwa’s statement of eco-religious intent located wholesome “Islamic ethics” at the forefront of the project, quite literally at the top of their website homepage, critiquing and improving on standard, industrial food norms and asserting a religiously inflected alternative.TAQWA Eco-Food Cooperative serves four communities: consumers, food production workers, animals, and Mother Earth. The cooperative aims to restore Islamic ethics in the raising of livestock and poultry. It does so by replacing inhumane farming practices with healthy and ecologically respectful techniques, thereby improving standards of food production.27
3.3. “The Grass Is Always Greener”: Agricultural Ideals from an Urban Lens
3.4. Tayyib, Wholesome
- Protecting consumer health by emphasizing sustainable agriculture methods,
- Questioning industrial farming methods when exploitative and destructive to land, water, animals, farmers, and farm workers;
- Supporting smaller-scale, local farms that raise animals with kindness and nourish the land’s regenerative capacity;
- Paying small farmers a living wage; and
- Living faithfully by acting wisely within God’s creation in accordance with divine law. (adapted from (Robinson 2014, p. 282))
The Whole Earth Meats nomenclature infers the first pillar of Islam, the wholeness or unicity of God, in addition to meat quality, plus potentials for food practice to influence “spiritual healings,” also found in Islamic mystical traditions.35We use the term “whole” to refer to the notion of being complete; something in its entirety. We also use the term “whole” to refer to the notion of wholesomeness, lusciousness, full of quality and substance. When we couple “whole” with “earth” we get the naming arrangement that conveys: the dynamic and good food establishment that prevents physical diseases and hopefully broadens the opportunity to embark on spiritual healings, improving the whole earth.34
3.5. Wholesome for Farmers and Workers
3.6. Wholesome for Animals
Pishdadi contended that agriculture held up a mirror to American society at large, showing a penchant for reductionist efficiency that dehumanizes people, denatures land, and treats animals unjustly. Instead of focusing entirely on the victims of industrial agriculture, as some animal rights activists might, she focused on who people are to perpetrate such acts. Again, Pishdadi asserted her critique of a secular, reductionist worldview that reduced farmers and workers to labor and animals to meat, ignoring moral responsibility to enact care ethics.Agriculture is our society…that our agriculture today is so industrialized is telling about our society and us as people, you know? It’s a factory—industrialized, highly destructive system—so we can look at our agriculture and this is us, this is a reflection of us, what is it saying about us?
3.7. Wholesome for Water and Land
Pishdadi drew connections between aspects of Islam not traditionally associated with defining halal meat, such as water pollution, offering fresh interpretation of traditional commitments.It’s not halal, it is haram to pollute water, it is explicitly haram to pollute water, so if the food we’re eating was raised in a way that pollutes water, is it halal?
4. Re-territorializing Religiosity in Community and in Place
4.1. Counteracting Exploitation, Restoring “Cosmic” Balance in the Real World
Muslim notions of ‘aql (intellect) and mizan (cosmic balance), both explained as deriving from God, support her focus on sustainable agriculture within Muslim worldview. Balance may be achieved through wise consideration and action to avoid corruption and false wisdom, and build on the wisdom visible in natural rhythms, again made by God, according to Pishdadi. Nature’s balance is visible particularly in the example of a steer’s longer life outdoors with a natural diet of grass, rather than short, confined, corn- and filth-fed, indoor existence in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs.In the Qur’an it tells us that the earth is abundant…the whole universe has created a balance, there’s justice, it’s a balance, right? The orbits, everything—everything is a balance and if we…were to use our God-given gifts of intellect and all the things we have to understand and to get real knowledge instead of trying to maintain a false system we’re living in, then we would be in balance with the earth, and therefore the earth would be abundant. If we’re living right, the earth will provide abundantly for us.(Pishdadi 2010, transcript ll. 195–205) (emphasis mine)
Just as Hassan’s participation and leadership in Taqwa comingled with Muslim principles, similarly working at Taqwa strengthened and developed his religiosity by practically integrating wholesomeness through food practice, community education, and service.41 A re-territorialized ecological religiosity in practical expression, through faithful work, contributed to his sense of “spiritual progression.”Hassan reflected on the spiritual dimension of his work with Taqwa:Looking at sustainable agriculture, looking at food access, food production, eating, living, healthy living. And so it’s definitely made my faith stronger. It makes me smile. It makes me think critically. It makes me sad sometimes. It might get me upset, but at the end of the day I always feel that my spiritual progression is that much better because of the work that I’ve done.
There are many things that we are given control over…and we have to answer for those things. One of them is walking on this earth, drinking from this earth, eating from this earth, breathing from this earth, excreting on this earth. You think that these things are just going to happen and you don’t have to answer for it? We should have some devotion to it [earth], some love, right, some love for what keeps us grounded, literally.
Pishdadi posed God as the answer to greed, critiquing secular materialism, and its exploitative expression for people, animals, land, and water in factory farming. Instead, she integrated religiosity with sustainable approaches to local animals, environments, and community. Beyond the logistical and educational support for local families to source high quality meat, Taqwa also involved opportunities for interfaith bridge-building and community zakat, donating food and volunteers for a local soup kitchen (Ostrow and Rockefeller 2008).You can’t build a society without a worldview. The foundation of everything is the worldview. So what’s our worldview? This is the seed we plant. We plant a worldview, and out of it society grows…It’s like a bird with two wings, so we are spiritual beings and…we’re earthly beings and we’re both. We’re not one or the other…and we have to maintain this balance, but we’re so unbalanced in this society, we’re highly materialistic.
Butterfield explained that personalizing a sense of place is directly related to ethical actions and interactions with that place, environment, or biosystem. I would extend this interpretation, as Taqwa concretely shows, to personal interactions with other people and with daily foods as potential locations for hierophany. Particularly necessary for accurate reflections on real people, places, and other-than-humans are personal, informed, care-based relations re-territorialized in local places and peoples. Similarly, Butterfield reflected on her overarching intent beyond her non-profit work, “I am utterly a religious pragmatist, my only question is: it is helpful?”…And then there are some further tests of course because helpful to do what? To commit global hegemony and slaughter people, then it’s not a good thing, you know, that’s bad!” (Butterfield 2010, transcript ll. 911–12, 914–16). Butterfield named a commitment to generating practical, material results from religious notions, expressing religious, ethical praxis. She steered the organization toward supporting re-territorialized religiosity, pluralistic understanding, and respectful interrelations among people, places, and other-than-human beings eaten as food. Her skillful combination of vision and pragmatism infused the interfaith non-profit Faith in Place, which sought leadership from within the Muslim community to both serve context-specific community needs and to endeavor to deflate distorted representations of her Muslim neighbors. Instead of accepting dominant narratives, she worked to empower people and co-create alternative narratives of local, Muslim wholesomeness.Love is specific, that’s what I tell students in seminary, you don’t love things in the abstract, you love specific things. So you need to know specifically where you are if you’re going to love it and take care of it.
4.2. De-Territorializing or Re-Territorializing Religiosity
Hassan named the parallels between a Do-It-Yourself or “DIY” approach to child education, food preparation, food production and processing, as well as interpretations of daily Muslim lived religiosity. Participants shaped local food systems, actively expressing values for greater wholesomeness. Taking education, food production, and religious meaning into their own hands, these families constructed a meaningfully renewed Muslim identity in contrast with myths of modern progress, the backdrop of industrial halal, and projections of terrorist others. Roy’s definition of religiosity reflected a parallel DIY sensibility. Further, Taqwa leaders’ systemic analysis and participatory social change aligned with a justice orientation in civic engagement, a crucial contribution to American civic life. (Westheimer and Kahne 2004)None of us really had a panacea for re-setting the food system as it relates to the Muslim community and the larger community. But there are a lot of, there is just an abundance of opportunity for us to explore, for us to unpack all those things, whether it’s sourcing raw milk or making your own bread. So it definitely got outside the whole aspect of tayyib [wholesome] meat, humane slaughtering practices, the Islamic method of animal sacrifice, and it allowed us to delve into other areas. For folks who are affiliated with Taqwa Eco-foods and who are Muslim, I think you find a similar type of self-development, culture development, social development, when you look at young families…young couples who are having children. There is home schooling happening, and the mom might stay at home or work part-time…the same value commitments that I think help inform that type of practice, we found did occur also with people who tried to—who wanted to be a part of Taqwa Eco-foods or at least what Taqwa Eco-foods espoused, it was the idea that Taqwa Eco-foods attempted to espouse.
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All subjects gave their informed consent for inclusion before they participated in the study. The study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, and the protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of Claremont Graduate University (#1363).
Empiricism is particularly crucial for discussing climate disruption in anthropogenic, or human-induced, terms. False equivalencies between climate scientists and climate change deniers become more clearly politically meaningful, rather than empirically accurate. For accurate scientific information on climate change, please see the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assembles data for policy makers worldwide. Available online: http://www.ipcc.ch/ (accessed on 22 June 2017).
Although innumerable voices have considered and responded to the Lynn White, Jr., thesis, a 2016 edited volume collects a variety of voices on the subject: (LeVasseur and Peterson 2016).
Many examples of questionably halal foods appear in the popular book from Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Green Deen.
A political example of purist formulations is oil-and-water civilizational discord, described in (Huntington 1996).
Although Eck addresses the scholarly study of religion, her work has been popularly available and instructive for those who study and practice religion. Eck’s definitions appear on the website for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, and derive their defining language from Diana Eck’s 2009 Gifford Lectures, “The Age of Pluralism.” (Eck 2006). The Pluralism Project website definition of pluralism omits the U.S.-based fourth factor, included here, which appears in Eck’s earlier work on the topic: (Eck 1997).
For further interest in dialogical means for developing ethical vision in comparative religious ethics, please see (Oh 2008).
Nevertheless, President Bush initiated a series of wars predicated on divisive rhetoric against Muslims as a homogenously extremist group, ushering in a period of perpetually normalized violence enacting aspects of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations (Huntington 1996).
This quotation appears at the top of the webpage explaining the work of the organization, showing its prominence in the perception of causes for environmental problems. Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (http://www.ifees.org.uk/about/).
A great deal of literature was produced in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the topic of globalization, usually spoken of in economic terms associated with global financial institutions: the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund. A few recommended resources on the topic appear among the References below. For an ongoing series in global scope, see the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World annual report book series, Washington: Island Press, 1984–2016. For the importance of globalization around the year 2000: See (Held et al. 1999; O’Meara and Krain 2000). For globalization in Islamic studies and religious studies, emphasizing ethical praxis: (Schaebler and Stenberg 2004; Peters 2004; Moe-Lobeda 2002; Ruether 2005; Brubaker et al. 2006; Brubaker 2007).
Although the term Western has its limitations, it has been indigenized as a crucial term among postcolonial Muslim writers to critique European and North American colonial and neocolonial powers, particularly exerted in neoliberal globalization and problematic development projects that serve external economic interests to the detriment of local concerns.
Similar to the clear requirements of humane slaughter detailed in the Qur’an indicating a need for animal welfare standards, the emphasis on zakat may also indicate pressing social needs during the time of the Prophet Muhammed.
Please see works of ecofeminism by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Heather Eaton, Marti Kheel, Catherine Keller, and myriad other writers. See also pivotal feminist theorists like psychologist Carol Gilligan.
In the following article, the authors present findings from a 700-article review of literature on religion and nature, concurring with Lynn White Jr.’s 1967 supposition that Christianity may be blameworthy, in light of environmental destruction under ostensibly Christian peoples, whereas the late 20th and early 21st century “greening of religion” argument has been less salient (Taylor et al. 2016). Popular media: Davis (2016).
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” (Brillat-Severin 1848).
Rachel Brown categorizes immigrant identity based on the typology of professor of psychiatry Salman Akhtar, M.D. Akhtar’s categories include ethnocentric, hyperassimilated, alienated, and bicultural identities. I would assert that further identity categories must be explored, such as virtual identities on social media, and the gradations of meaning in hybrids of any of these categories, depending on practical, self-asserted aspects of identity (food, religion, politics, clothing, language, interactions with nature, and more) (Akhtar 2011; Brown 2015).
The Movement for Black Lives, or Black Lives Matter (BLM), has coalesced to assert the value and dignity of African American or Black people, defining an intersectional 2010s social movement particularly in response to incidents in which police officers killed unarmed Black people. Islam intersects with the Black Power movement of the mid-20th century with the leadership of Malcolm X, mentioned in a 2016 publication on the BLM movement as a reference to Black American history. During the mid-20th century, a variety of Black Americans converted to Islam, though in the early 21st century, the majority of Muslim Americans are immigrants (Edwards and Harris 2016; Lipka 2017).
For further study of heterogenous identities and resulting intra-Muslim dynamics within this local community, please see (Robinson 2014).
Conversation with Elizabeth Drescher at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, USA, on 15 May 2017.
Problematics of elite travel become further confounded in virtual spaces of cross-cultural exchange. Nevertheless, resources for responsible scholarly endeavor across differences may assist, such as (Mohanty 2004).
Eco-halal appears in North America in a variety of farming and education projects, though Taqwa Eco-food Cooperative in Chicago was among the earliest of these projects. Interestingly, eco-halal has appeared as an identity marker in Russia, celebrated at the 7th Moscow International Exhibition Halal Expo in 2016. Available online: http://www.emergingearthcommunity.org/innerfeed?source_site=fore&page_title=Eco-halal+becomes+fashion+trend&article_id=2&feed_type=news&news_url=news/item/eco-halal-becomes-fashion-trend/ (accessed on 22 June 2017).
Although some scholars choose to italicize the term halal, due to its Arabic origin, the term continues in transliterated and translated usage for U.S. and other non-Muslim majority regions and contexts, including halal certification, halal markets, and halal processed foods. I do not italicize halal for this paper, reflecting terminological ingestion into hybrid spaces of meaning, both connected to its Arabic and Qur’anic designations and leaning into its extra-Islamic locations. Similarly, the term eco-halal appears without italicizing.
The first edition emerged in 1991, and the current online version sports 4000 entries, ranging from anti-perspirant to aspirin to soy sauce (Ahmed 2009); Muslim Consumer Group. Food Product List. (http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com/products_list.html).
Not unrelatedly, the author lists his former employer as Kraft Foods, an industrial producer of foods. Also see (Robinson 2014).
During my research visit, Butterfield, Pishdadi, and Hassan were no longer in contact with Khan, who had moved.
Taqwa Eco-food Cooperative website: http://taqwaecofood.org/moved/.
As mentioned above, despite a small Muslim vegetarian minority that object to slaughtering animals for food, the wide majority of Muslims eat meat. When in non-Muslim majority regions, many seek halal meats as an aspect of maintaining their religious practice and identity.
Although some mystical traditions locate the Prophet Muhammed in continuous fasting, Qur’an passages include some critique for his practice to visit the market and walk, eat, and drink as a common person would. (Hoffman 1995).
Although the term pre-modern appears here in order to describe agricultural methods prior to industrialization, this term should not be mistaken for an acceptance of an inevitable sense of progress from pre-modern to modern. Contemporarily, multifarious forms of agriculture are used, of which many are efficacious, productive, and grounded in local perspectives, priorities, and traditional ecological knowledge. Nevertheless, postmodernity depicts a variety of critiques of the modern, including reductionist approaches to life forms, such as monetizing pieces of animal flesh divorced from animals’ lives.
This human absence has been problematized particularly as the national park designation occurred alongside the removal of indigenous peoples from their home landscapes. Thus, the wilderness ideal translated into land use policies restrictive for indigenous North Americans, or First Nations peoples, and involving less visible management of “wild” lands.
Halalun and tayyaban are derivations or variants of the words halal and tayyib (Riaz and Chaudry 2004).
Taqwa Eco-Food Cooperative website: http://taqwaecofood.org/faqs/faqs_islamtwo.html.
Whole Earth Meats: http://wholeearthmeats.com/who-we-are/.
Qaid Hassan described his experiences in Mauritania with a Sufi Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj, which may serve to reinforce the notion that Hassan’s religiosity expressed through food has religious roots in Sufi Muslim religious asceticism and concern with questions of halal and haram, or unlawful. (Reynolds 2000)
Whole Earth Meats Website: http://www.wholeearthmeats.com/about-us/.
Coalition of Immokolee Workers Website. (http://www.ciw-online.org/).
This sentiment was thematic in all three interviews by the author with Shireen Pishdadi, Qaid Hassan, and Clare Butterfield.
As mentioned above, Islam scholar Kecia Ali offers a contemporary Muslim ethical stance against eating animals in (Ali 2015).
For further discussion of mutually reinforcing examples of agricultural religiosity, see (Robinson 2015).
© 2017 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Robinson-Bertoni, S. Re-Territorializing Religiosity in Wholesome Muslim Praxis. Religions 2017, 8, 132. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070132
Robinson-Bertoni S. Re-Territorializing Religiosity in Wholesome Muslim Praxis. Religions. 2017; 8(7):132. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070132Chicago/Turabian Style
Robinson-Bertoni, Sarah. 2017. "Re-Territorializing Religiosity in Wholesome Muslim Praxis" Religions 8, no. 7: 132. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070132