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Studium Generale TU/e: "People, Planet, Profit"

Door: Nourdeen Wildeman
Datum: 16 mei 2012
Waar: Studium Generale TU/e

Op uitnodiging van de Technische Universiteit Eindhoven heb ik op woensdag 16 mei deelgenomen aan de Studium Generale met het onderwerp 'People, Planet, Profit'. Tijdens deze bijeenkomst werden genoemde perspectieven toegelicht vanuit het Christelijke en het Islamitische perspectief, waarbij ik als spreker die tweede rol op mij nam. Na de onderstaande korte lezing is er nog een open vragen ronde geweest met de ongeveer 45 aanwezigen (waarvan ongeveer 2 a 3 Moslim waren, de rest Christelijk, Atheïst of Agnost).

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,

My dear and respected guests, before anything else, I would like to thanks you and the organization of this gathering for inviting me to the TU/Eindhoven and allowing me to speak about the Islamic perspective on the topics People, Planet and Profit. To those of you whom are my brothers and sisters in faiths, I also greet you with the words 'asalamu alaikum wa'rahmatullahi wa'barakatuhu'.

With the limited time available, I will only introduce myself briefly. My name is Nourdeen Wildeman and I am a native Dutch and a convert to the beautiful religion of Islam. After accepting Islam more than four years ago, I have tried to serve the community by working as a volunteer for an organization known as 'Discover Islam'. I am a board member of the National Platform of New Muslims and involved in the organization, hosting and giving of lectures on Islam throughout the Netherlands and Belgium for both a Muslim and mixed audience.

Regarding the three topics of today's gathering - People, Planet and Profit - it is nearly impossible to suggest I could do these topics any justice within a 15minute speech. However, I will attempt to scratch the surface of the concept of these three area's of interests from an Islamic perspective.

To my opinion, the only way to approach the meaning of these three topics from an Islamic perspective is to first come to an understanding of the word Islam itself. In the broad discussion and political debates that we witness here in the western part of Europe we often see or hear that the word Islam is said to mean 'peace'.

However, when we look at the exact roots that are used to form the word and the meaning given to the word from an theological perspective, it would be more accurate to state that the meaning of the word Islam could be translated as a 'free and voluntary submission to God'. God has created the heavens and the earth and everything in it with a certain balance. Therefore, to be a Muslim - meaning 'to be a person who submits himself or herself to God - is to adhere in your deeds and actions to this natural disposition that God created you in, of which the outcome is peace. Peace within yourself, peace between you and the other people, peace between you and the environment, peace between you and the entire creation. Thus, discussing today's topics People, Planet and Profit from an Islamic perspective, we approach these topics from a perspective of balance.

When it comes to People, we immediately run into a major misunderstanding of Islam. First of all, Islam is not a 'party' where only Arabs are invited. In fact, out of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, the Arabs are a minority and only make up to 20% of this faith community. Islam is not a religion that is bound to any ethnicity, any skin color or any race. In fact, the target audience of Islam - so to speak - is not even limited to just those whom consider themselves to be Muslims. Even though often the Quran addresses Muslims in particular, for instance referring to their religious duties, it should be noted that over 200 verses in the Quran start with the words 'Oh Mankind', meaning these verses address all the people on this planet and not one single religious group in particular.

A commonly used verse that gives a clear indication of the Islamic perspective towards mankind as a whole is a verse 13 from chapter 49, of which the interpretation can be translated as: {"Oh Mankind! Indeed, We have created all of you from a single male and female..."} meaning all people are in fact part of one family, diverse as it may be. And then is goes on {"Moreover, we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know eachother. And indeed, the noblest of you, in the sight of God, is the most God-fearing of you"}.

This statement within the Qoran is repeated in another verse in chapter 30 verse 22, of which the interpretation can be translated as: {"And of His wondrous signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variety of your tongues and your colors. Indeed, in all of this there are sure signs for a people of knowledge"}

So, when it comes to 'people', it is clear to state that Islam teaches us that all people on earth are in fact part of the same family - meaning we are all brothers and sisters in mankind -, that there is a intended diversity between us, that this is even a sign of Gods wisdom and His creation and that we should be motivated and inspired to get to know each other and learn from one another. The Quran is motivating us to contemplate today's topic, 'People', as it is a sign for a people of knowledge.

Now, this second verse we just referred to also stated that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. If fact, when we dig deeper into that part of the verse we can make the transition of the second topic of today's gathering: Planet. And we can find in the Quran a striking link between the topic People and Planet, when we read the third verse from chapter 13, of which the interpretation can be translated as: {"Thus He is the One who stretched out the land, suiting it for habitation; and who made therein anchoring mountains to balance the earth as it spins; and who opened the rivers to water it, and placed therein something of every kind of fruit. He made all beings therein as mates, in pairs. He causes the night to enveil the day. Indeed, in all of this are sure signs of One Creator for a people who reflect on the wonder of creation"}

See how again - in this case the Planet - is being described as a sign of Gods wisdom and His creation. It is mentioned to be a sign for those who reflect. So again, the Quran is motivating us to contemplate today's topic, 'Planet', as it is a sign for a people of knowledge.

Also, the planet is being described as something which is created by God himself, for us to be used for habitation. This planet is therefore not only a beautiful gift to us, a source of food, but also the house in which we as mankind live. This comes with a certain responsibility to take good and proper care of this gift, of this source of food, of this house.

This is where we can go even one step further than our previous notion that Islam was sent to God not only for all Muslims or even all mankind. We can now state that Islam was sent for all creatures and creation as well, or as the Quran states in verse 107 from chapter 21, of which the interpretation can be translated as: {"And we have not sent you, Oh Mohammad, but as a mercy to the worlds"} or in another translation {"...to all that exists"}

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be unto him, has repeatedly taught his companions to be merciful and kind to all creatures they encountered, be it big or small. He is quoted to have said - what can be translated as: {"The merciful are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those on earth, and He Who is in heaven will show mercy unto you."} and this is collected in Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi.

Animals in general are not seen as some creatures of little importance but their importance and the importance of good behavior towards animals can be extracted from both the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be unto him. The Quran contains over two hundred verses that deal with animals and six of its chapters are named after animals.

A companion, Ibn Mas`ud said: {"Once we were traveling with the Prophet, peace and blessings be unto him, and he went to do something, meanwhile (we found a bird with its young ones) so we took them. The bird came and started flapping its wings continuously. Then the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, asked: 'Who has distressed this bird by taking its young? Return them to it at once.'"} and this is collected in Abu Dawud.

This hadith or testimony of what the Prophet Mohammad peace and blessings be unto him said and did shows that even though he was a religious and even political leader of a growing number of thousands and thousands of followers, he remained concerned for the wellbeing and even the suggested emotion of one little bird.

Besides animals, also trees and vegetation have been mentioned numerously by the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be unto him, who is reported to have said: {"Whenever Muslims plant a tree, they will earn the reward of charity because of the food that comes from it; and likewise what is stolen from it, what the wild beasts eat out of it, what the birds eat out of it, and what people take from it is charity for them."} which is collected by Muslim.

To furthermore stress the importance of being good to everything that lives, the Prophet related to his companions the story of a man who found a dog panting out of thirst. He narrated: {"The man went down into a well, filled his shoes with water and offered it to the dog to quench its thirst. The Prophet said, "Then Allah was grateful to him and forgave him his sins." The companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Is there a reward for us with relation to animals?" He replied, "There is a reward with (relation to) every living creature."} and this is collected in Bukhari.

The third and final topic of today, Profit, I will only refer to this briefly. During the last couple of years, many countries in the West have been facing an enormous economic and now also financial crisis. During this crisis, more and more people have begun to talk about Islam and the principles of Islamic Finance or Islamic Banking, a system that is not based on interest on debt. Because of all of these recent discussions, more and more information of this Islamic financial system have become available in English, also describing how it leads to a slower but more steadfast growth of wealth at much less risk. I do not aim to go into that matter during today's gathering but would invite anyone who wants to know more on this topic to refer to the extensive written material which is out there. I only want to briefly point out that Islam is not a religion where one is motivated to live the life of poverty and sobriety, in fact, Islam will motivate you to work hard and be successful, also from an financial perspective. Some of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad peace and blessings be unto him where successful businessmen. However, the means with which you achieve your fortune should not damage one of the earlier mentioned values or factors. Islam would, for instance, disapprove to make investments with the goal to make profit in the production of weapons (which kill people) or environmental unfriendly products (which kill animals or damage the environment).

I would like to conclude my contribution to this day's gathering with a statement given by the 4th Caliph of the Islamic state after the decease of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be unto him, Ali r.a., who said:

{"Be like a bee; anything he eats is clean,
anything he drops is sweet
and any branch he sits upon does not break."}