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HOW ISLAM AND SEKEM ARE CONNECTED

Concept of Natural State (fitra)

Allah's creation or the natural state (fitra) can be referred to as the natural equilibrium or balance (mizan) where full harmony of nature, people and the built environment are given. In the agricultural context it is obvious that there is a divine force that creates live. Growing plants or raising animals is more than just transforming inputs into outputs. Ibrahim Abouleish has often explained this approach to religious people who in the first place distrusted Sekem's approach to agriculture, he quoted the Qur'an:

006: 095 It is Allah Who causeth the seed-grain and the date-stone to split and sprout. He causeth the living to issue from the dead, and He is the one to cause the dead to issue from the living. That is Allah: then how are ye deluded away from the truth? (5)

Ibrahim Abouleish has explained how the millions of micro-organisms work in the earth and has intimated how the living earth was connected to the heavens.

Biodynamic farming with its composting process and its preparations is thereby adding vitality to the soil, acknowledging its context in the larger picture, and hence is related to a divine idea. Waiting for specific star constellations before planting can also be interpreted as being inspired by Allah to act correctly:

016: 012 He has made subject to you the Night and the Day; the sun and the moon; and the stars are in subjection by His Command: verily in this are Signs for men who are wise.

To read and understand Allah's signs in nature people need wisdom and knowledge.

Concept of Knowledge (ilm)

The first surah that Prophet Mohammed received from Allah started with the following imperative to all humans:

096: 001 Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created.

It underlines the value of knowledge in Islam. But according to Jayyousi (see also Chapter 21) (6) the English term "knowledge" falls short of expressing all the aspects of ilm. Knowledge in the Western world means processed information while ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education. Another surah also illustrates that God wants people to gain knowledge:

002: 269 He granteth wisdom to whom He pleaseth; and he to whom wisdom is granted receiveth indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.

Harmonizing human action to cosmic processes and recognizing that dealing with nature has a divine context is embedded in Sekem's approach to agriculture. To grasp this demands a high level of consciousness and human capacity. This is the reason why Sekem puts so much emphasis on education and cultural life in general. Dance movement or painting do not directly transfer specific knowledge content but make the human soul, for Abouleish, much more receptive and hence more open to nature and knowledge (ilm). The aim of conducting such artistic sessions with farmers and agricultural engineers and workers is – besides the positive effect on teamwork and group dynamics – to enable them to experience something new and to develop their sense for openness and curiosity. The objective is to transfer this experience to their work context and view their world in a different light. Islam refers to the process of consciousness development as a form of beauty and excellence (ihsan).

Concept of Beauty and Excellence (ihsan)

Ihsan means excellence and inner beauty in the form of conscious evolution of individuals, organizations and society (ummah). It also entails continuous development, and value and knowledge creation for all humanity.

This realization of beauty is embedded in the approach of Sekem that wants to develop individuals, organizations and societies at large. Nature provides great inspiration for that. In Sekem's vision statement it says:

In nature, every organism is independent and at the same time systemically inter-connected to other organisms. Inspired by ecological principles, representing the wisdom of nature and the universe, we continuously strive to gain and sustain a harmonious balance between (this polarity) and to integrate (it) into our development. (Revisions made by one of the authors, Ibrahim Abouleish)

The development model of Sekem is holistic and rooted in sustainable agriculture. Many challenges need to be overcome on the way towards excellence and to see the fruits of this work requires much time and many generations. Most of the people who first heard

about the ideas of Sekem before it bore fruit thought it was a mission impossible and that organic desert greening can never succeed. However, it did and it still does, but only because of people who believe in it. It is that inner transformation that has to come before the outer transformation, the ability to see a vision and the will to bring a holistic and divine idea "down to earth", that is into reality. The importance lies on the way towards that vision and not on the final achievement.

Concept of "Stewardship" of the Earth (khalifa)

The human is viewed as a trustee or steward (6) to ensure that all resources, physical and human, are utilized in a reasonable, equitable and sustainable manner to sustain and develop the natural state.

033: 072 We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;

The application of chemical fertilizer and pesticides is harming the environment and destroying the fragile balance of the ecosystem. It represents a mechanistic worldview that does not realize the bigger context in which agriculture takes place. The perverse large-scale and destructive forms of "modern" agricultural systems do not consider ecological and ethical values. That is one of the reasons why Sekem is convinced of its sustainable approach to organic and biodynamic agriculture that excludes chemical fertilizer and pesticides and the use of GMO.

Stewardship (khalifa), moreover, implies social equality and dignity of all human beings – regardless of skin colour, social status and so on – a cardinal element of the Islamic faith. Within such, the right attitude toward others is not "might is right", the struggle to serve one's own self-interest, or "the struggle to survive", but rather mutual co-operation, to develop the entire human potential. Secondly, resources are a trust (amanah), provided by Allah, whereby the human being is not the primary owner, but just a trustee (amin). So resources are for the benefit of all, for the wellbeing not just for oneself and one's family, but for the community at large. This includes the whole web of life, from soil organisms to insects to birds to wildlife to plant life. This is explained in the Qur'an as follows:

006: 038 There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have We omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.

Acting responsibly in the interest of communities implies also that resources should not be wasted. This is also made clear several times in the Qur'an, such as here:

007: 031 O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel At every time and place Of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, For God loveth not the wasters.

Waste recycling is the underlying principle of composting in general. At Sekem organic waste produced by all Sekem firms and some additional green waste that comes from

the surrounding farms is used to produce high quality compost that is applied to its own fields and also for sale to external customers. This and many other practices of organic and biodynamic agriculture represent responsible human action and justice towards nature and society. Because justice is such an important cornerstone in the Islamic belief system it is presented below even though it is strongly connected to the principle of khalifa.

Concept of Justice (adl)

Justice (adl) corresponds to cosmic, ecological and human justice as well as harmony with the universe. Therefore, ethical governance is the cornerstone for attaining and sustaining progress and thus a good life (hayat tayebah) or, in other words, sustainable development. Human brother- and sisterhood, regardless of faith, would be a hollow concept without socio-economic justice. There are no fewer than a hundred different expressions in the Qur'an embodying the notion of justice, placing justice nearest to piety.

004: 135. O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses To God, even as against Yourselves, or your parents, Or your kin, and whether It be (against) rich or poor: For God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye Swerve, and if ye Distort (justice) or decline To do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

The concept of adl has different dimensions and can have different meanings. Next to social justice, which basically means upholding the dignity and freedom of the individual, adl stands for economic justice that one can find in. for example, the fairtrade practice in the context of agriculture. Indeed, all Sekem operations are conducted according to fairtrade principles even though the official logo does not appear on every product because of the expensive accreditation that is done only based on customer demand. All supplying farmers from Sekem get a price premium on their organic or biodynamic products and have long-term contracts with regulated pricing mechanisms which constitute the basis for a fair relationship. In the Qur'an there are passages describing this:

004: 049 O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will: Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful!

There is also the principle of ecological justice, which refers back to the responsibility of humans towards the earth and nature. Islam teaches that species including plants and wildlife are in a state of prayer referring to the intrinsic value of nature and the ecosystem services. Praying in its wider meaning is about fulfilling a task in the bigger context of God's creation. Al-Jayyousi rightly pointed out that the harm of any species means that we are disrupting the symphony of life and silencing worshippers:

024: 041 Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praises all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise. And Allah knows well all that they do.

After appreciating Sekem's authentic grounding in local nature and culture, and its emergence through European culture – especially Germanic – and consciousness, altogether navigated through the role Sekem plays in Egyptian society and indeed the world, we now need to ask the question: How does Sekem, as an altogether integral polity so to speak, effect Egypt, if at all?

 
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