Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

From Permissible to Wholesome: Situating Halal Organic Farms within the Sustainability Discourse

Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

From Permissible to Wholesome: Situating Halal Organic Farms within the Sustainability Discourse

Article excerpt

During the past two decades, in the wake of dire predictions by late twentieth century environmentalists of "futures not worth having" (1) caused by human-induced climate change, the discourse of sustainability has offered hope and energy for action. E. F. Schumacher's 1973 work Small is Beautiful has proved particularly inspiring for the sustainability movement; indeed, Chris Turner wrote in 2007 that "almost anywhere I found sustainable life on my cartographic travels, I was looking at an homage to Schumacher." (2) However, authors such as Donald Worster and Albert Bartlett have expressed reservations about the oxymoronic nature of "sustainable growth." (3) Worster suggests that the ambiguity of sustainability has the potential to be treacherous, as mainstream organizations employ the "magic word of consensus" to 'greenwash' their companies, while assuming that "sustainability can be achieved" with the "institutions of capitalism, socialism, and industrialism and their values intact." (4)

Schumacher's status within the sustainability movement emerges from his clear articulation of the foundational pitfalls of the discursive assumptions of progressive materialism. Among other aspects, Schumacher argued that in order to live sustainably, it is necessary to reject "an attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth--in short, materialism." Such a mode of being "contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited" and therefore it "does not fit into this world." (5) Furthermore, a "lifestyle designed for permanence," according to Schumacher, must be guided by "wisdom" rather than human cleverness, and be centered on "spiritual and moral truth." (6) "Wisdom," Schumacher wrote, "demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful." (7) He suggested that sound economics, social justice, and ecological integrity could result from following the "wisdom" based teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or "any other of the great Eastern traditions." As an example, Schumacher replaces "the meta-economic basis of western materialism" with the "teachings of Buddhism," to show how definitions of "economic" and "uneconomic" are fundamentally discursive. (8) To a certain extent, sustainability necessitates a spiritual view of the world, or at least opens a space for non-materialistic perspectives.

Halal organic food production exemplifies the convergence of multiple motivations. For people whose "life and worldview ... have been steeped in Islamic tradition," solutions to modern environmental crises cannot be secular concerns. (9) This "eco-halal revolution" (10) is spearheaded by initiatives such as Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York, (11) Willowbrook Farm near Oxford, UK, (12) Abraham Natural Produce in Somerset, UK, (13) Whole Earth Meats near Chicago, (14) Green Zabiha in Virginia, (15) Nature's Bounty in California, (16) and BlossomPure Organic in Toronto, (17) which are run by Muslims who strive towards sustainability by integrating religious values with ecological goals. Some of these organizations emphasize the dual organic and halal foci on their websites, while others cater to the broader organic market. An outstanding 2008 article about Norwich Meadows Farm in the food journal Gastronomica describes how this integration of halal and organic enables faith-based approaches to sustainable agriculture to "become an extended form of religious practice." (18)

Two main modes of interpreting religious sustainability feature prominently in environmentalist literature. The first emerges from a secular worldview, which tends to evaluate religion based on contemporary scientific principles. For example, in a study of the impact of education in inculcating ecocentric/"ecological" or anthropocentric/"spiritual" conceptions of nature, sociologist Gabriel Ignatow has argued that "the public adoption of an ecological worldview is predicated on modern, secular, Western-style mass education. …

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