From Zaytuna Farm (AUS) to Zaytuna College (USA): America’s First Accredited Muslim Liberal Arts College Scheduled to Hold Its First Permaculture Design Certification Course

Rhamis Kent

Zaytuna College students at Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama.

Unknown to most, there has long been a very strong environmental & ecological consciousness that was central to the Abrahamic faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from their very inceptions– especially given their emergence within the context of a premodern world. There is constant reference made to nature and natural phenomena as the quintessential hallmark of proof for the existence of The Divine, serving as a means of remembrance and reflection for the human being. This view of nature was also borne from an understanding that emphasized the importance of living an ethical existence in which the truth of one’s quality of character was reflected in how it dealt with “the creation.” Unfortunately, this central aspect of religion has been largely forgotten, forsaken, or dismissed as no longer being of importance or relevance. All this is happening in the context of our world being reconfigured and shaped by an industrial consumerist cosmology made possible by a wholesale repurposing of the natural world to create — and sustain — its infrastructure and ability to function.

The tragic altering of these traditions has been, to put it bluntly, an unmitigated disaster on a variety of levels. Many familiar with the current crisis in Islam, particularly, would say that it is rooted in a profound ignorance of its epistemology and cosmology, a complete upheaval of its intellectual tradition resulting in something unrecognizable in light of the vast majority of its history.

Enter Zaytuna College

One of the central aims of Zaytuna College has been to revive the ethical tradition responsible for producing some of the greatest civilizational accomplishments in human history — of which a critical component was its well-documented systems of agriculture, land husbandry, and environmental ethics. Some of this history is covered in the book Reconstruction by Way of the Soilby Dr. G.T. Wrench, and the original manuscript sources collected and cited by the Filaha Texts Project. When reading about the strategies, techniques, and systems employed, they sound very similar in principle and practice to permaculture. There are, indeed, striking parallels.

Given the worsening environmental and ecological conditions seen globally with regard to expanding areas of land degradation and desertification, food & water insecurity, and regional armed conflict — especially in the “Muslim World” — there is a great deal of practical value in offering permaculture instruction at a place like Zaytuna College given the mission of the college.

“Zaytuna College sees itself as a pioneer in preserving the best of our past as the foundation for a better future. As part of that effort we are beginning courses in permaculture. Muslims have always endeavoured to be good stewards of the earth and pioneers in food production. Join us as we endeavour to revive that aspect of our glorious past.” — Imam Zaid Shakir

Instead of religion being used as a political tool or an ethno-cultural accessory, an opportunity is presented to return it to its authentic origins which are founded in an ethical praxis that is sorely needed. Additionally, there is a chance for something else to be accomplished with this effort. The American farmer, poet, and novelist Wendell Berry explains:

“…If we are concerned about land abuse, then we must see that this is an economic problem. Every economy is, by definition, a land-using economy. If we are using our land wrongly, then something is wrong with our economy. This is difficult. It becomes more difficult when we recognize that, in modern times, every one of us is a member of the economy of everybody else… Therefore, we need (among other things) soil-and-water-conserving ways of agriculture and forestry that are not dependent on monoculture, toxic chemicals, or the indifference and violence that always accompany big-scale industrial enterprises on the land. Therefore, we need diversified, small-scale land economies that are dependent on people. Therefore, we need people with the knowledge, skills, motives, and attitudes required by diversified, small-scale land economies. And all this is clear and comfortable enough, until we recognize the question we have come to: Where are the people?”

Zaytuna College students digging soil during a beautification project.

This dilemma applies to the Global Muslim community — especially the portion living within “First World” industrialised nations. Ibn Khaldun spoke of the danger of falling prey to the “pleasures of civilization” and the effects thereof in his book, The Muqaddimah, back in the 14th Century. Generally speaking, an overarching historical narrative can be pointed to, having much more application for our time given the realities of life within industrialised, consumer-based societies. There has been a collective failure to even begin to not only specifically identify industrialisation and consumerism as being profoundly flawed systems on a variety of levels — as opposed to being critical of certain aspects of the social and political structures which govern them — there has more importantly been an abject failure in specifying and demonstrating a more reasonable alternative consistent with the ethical sensibilities which supposedly define and guide Muslims.

Zaytuna College is to be applauded for recognizing the need to address this issue — and, more importantly, showing the commitment and resolve necessary to do something meaningful about it through the mobilization of its community towards taking effective action. If you’d like to learn more about the Permaculture Design Certification course being offered at Zaytuna College, here is a link providing details about the program.