Climate change is not just an environmental problem for Muslims. it is a moral and ethical issue and has already affected many vulnerable communities globally.
When it comes to defending the Earth and its precious natural resources, Nana Firman is a green powerhouse. She is a real-life hero advocating for clean water and eco-friendly initiatives worldwide. Firman, a devout Muslim woman originally from Indonesia, has been involved in many projects both in the U.S. and abroad. She has actively contributed to developing an urban community garden in Southern California and encouraging the American Muslim community to practice eco-lifestyle, which led her to become a member of the Green Mosque Initiative for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
Background on Environmental Service
Firman's extensive background includes several years of service with the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia, where she spearheaded recovery efforts following earthquakes and tsunamis. Furthermore, she collaborated with Muslim leaders in Indonesia to formulate comprehensive climate resilience plans. Presently, she serves as the coordinator for Muslim outreach at OurVoices, a global faith and spiritual climate action network. Firman has nearly two decades of experience in urban sustainability advocacy and raising awareness on environmental degradation and the climate crisis. In 2015, she organized the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change and later cofounded the Global Muslim Climate Network, which calls all Muslim nations to transition from fossil fuel to clean energy. She is currently the Muslim outreach director for GreenFaith, a global multi-faith and spiritual environment and climate action network.
In 2015, Firman was honored as a White House "Champion of Change" by President Barack Obama. More recently, she received the Alfredo Sirkis Memorial Green Ring Award for climate activism excellence from the former Vice President Al Gore. She holds a bachelor's degree in industrial design from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and a master's degree in urban design from the Pratt Institute in New York. Firman is also a Bayan Islamic Graduate School Muslimah Changemaker scholar, pursuing an M.A. in Islamic Leadership. She currently resides in California.
As if her biography is not testament enough that all of us can be doing more to help the environment, we interviewed Nana Firman about her climate advocacy. She offered wonderful insights as to why everyone from youth to adult can and should become active caretakers of the Earth.
Q: Please tell us what sparked your interest in eco-lifestyle and climate resiliency.
I was born in Jambi (the eastern part of Sumatra) in Indonesia, but both of my parents are from the Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra. When I was about 9 months old, my parents moved to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, where I grew up until high school. I continued my higher education in the United States, and I returned home to Indonesia in 1998. I was working as an urban designer for several years in Indonesia and that is when I was exposed to environmental problems, from air pollution to flooding, to lack of green open space, and many others. When an earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean hit Aceh, the Northern tip of Sumatra, I would be called by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF-Indonesia) to conduct a scoping mission on the spatial planning and then continue to lead the Green Reconstruction Program to ensure the recovery efforts were done within sustainable guidelines.
Q: Water holds immense spiritual significance in various faiths, but particularly in Islam. How do you see the relationship between the blessing of water and the environmental challenges we face today?
It is true, that in many faith traditions, many rituals use water as a symbol of purification, including in Islamic tradition. And even further, Allah says in the Quran that every living thing is made from water. So, perhaps we can say that life and knowledge also originated from water, which is a Divine gift symbolizing profound wisdom, like a drink that quenches the thirst of the soul. If we explore deeper, roughly 60% of the human body contains water while 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water (mostly seas and oceans). Therefore, water is essential, especially for cleansing and purifying while also vital for agriculture, plants, animals, and other livelihoods.
Islam takes the issue of water and its conservation very seriously. Our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, even warned us not to waste water while performing wudu (ablution) in the running water. Unfortunately, today, water is a crucial concern for planet Earth and its inhabitants. And many of us are guilty of reckless use of water which threatens its sustainability for future generations while also polluting water from our everyday activities. Thus, we urgently need to change our mindset and habits to protect and conserve water in our daily lives, as well as within our community at large.
Q: Can you elaborate on the role Islamic centers play in promoting clean water initiatives and environmental awareness, especially for our youth?
I try to engage with the Muslim community with a reflection and reminder of our own tradition, meaning looking back to the Quran and Sunnah. The Quran has more than 700 verses related to nature and the universe, as our reflection on the Greatness of Allah. Thus, we do not lack reminders in this matter. On the other hand, our Prophetic sunnah is mindfulness, simplicity, and modesty. If Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, were alive today, we could have called his way of life a green/eco-lifestyle.
I encourage them to make the change starting from their personal habits and then include their family and/or friends to do it together – while also supporting and/or reminding each other. Then they can invite their communities to join them, like their mosques or school or workplace. The best time to initiate change is during the sacred month of Ramadan by making a pledge/commitment to greening our Ramadan at home, as well as in our mosques!
Q: Water pollution is a global concern. How can we make these issues tangible for people who might not directly witness the consequences of pollution in their everyday lives?
Water pollution is indeed a global issue that affects us all, regardless of whether we directly witness its consequences in our daily lives or not. To make these issues tangible for people who may not experience pollution firsthand, we can engage in various approaches. For Muslims, I would remind them that giving water to others is seen as an act of kindness or sadaqah. There are various teachings from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that emphasize the importance of helping those who are thirsty, whether they are humans or animals. One such example is a hadith that tells the story of a man who went to great lengths to assist a little dog by descending into a well, using his shoe as a container to fetch water, and offering it to the dog. This act of compassion earned the man Divine blessings. These stories are not only beautiful but also serve as a reminder for us to contemplate.
Indeed, water plays a significant role in facilitating our ability to reflect and express gratitude to our Creator. Thus, when water is polluted, it will impact all life, not only humans, but also the animals, vegetation, and the environment at large. Polluted waters may cause disease, especially when it is part of the drinking water. Thus, we need massive education and awareness about the impact of water pollution through public campaigns, or school programs, as well as via the media to help people understand the severity of the problem. Another strategy is local engagement, such as sharing the current water pollution issues that people are familiar with, like the water issue in Flint [Michigan] for the people living in the U.S.
Q: Engaging youth is crucial for the long-term success of environmental movements. What methods do you find most effective in inspiring young individuals to take an active role in advocating for clean water and a sustainable future?
As part of educating the young generation, whenever I give green talks, I often use a short film showing where their trash, like plastic water bottles, end up – most likely in the landfill or the ocean, where both will affect the water. Most of them probably have some knowledge about it, but the visual presentation and the story have a stronger impact on their consciousness. I often ask the youth to check out the tag on the clothing that they wear, what they are made of, and where it was made. Then we begin to draw on the world map the locations where the cotton for their t-shirts probably was grown, how the coloring process took place, where the stitching process happened, who were the workers, how t-shirts were tagged, packaged, and shipped, up to when t-shirts were at the store available to be purchased. By the time we finish, we have too many lines going around the world just to produce a t-shirt. In that case, I basically teach the youth about our ecological footprints, affected by our lifestyle, through diet, transportation, or energy use. And all those have impacted our planet's condition, and even more have resulted in global warming and climate change with all its consequences. But sadly, the most vulnerable among us, those least responsible for this global threat, suffer the most unfairly and unjustly. Therefore, we absolutely need to raise consciousness and start to live sustainably, starting from ourselves, and our households. This responsibility has become more urgent than ever before!
Q: Your work has been recognized on various platforms, including being named a White House "Champion of Change." What advice do you have for children and families who aspire to make a meaningful impact in the field of environmental advocacy?
One of my favorite verses in the Holy Quran is in Surah Al-Furqan, verse 63,
“The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk gently upon the earth…”
(Surah Al-Furqan, 25:63)
As Muslims, we are called by Allah to “walk gently upon the earth,” meaning that we are bound by a moral imperative to treat our shared common home with the care and respect it deserves. So, for me, the reality of climate change not only has grave implications for the future of our planet but also represents one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time that must drive us to respond with actions.
Through collective efforts and movements, we have started to create a global community of concern and practice in which we learn to put our beliefs into real actions in our own lifestyles and perhaps the space of our influences such as our communities, religious, and professional institutions, as well as the government. Up to this moment, we have also inspired each other, and we always look forward to inviting more individuals and engaging more communities to join this journey together – facing the challenges, helping each other, and celebrating together. And at the end of the day, I ask others to make this reflection to themselves: “We are merely temporary travelers on this Earth. Therefore, we should leave this earth better than we received it, by walking gently on earth – meaning that we don’t destroy nor pollute the land and the sea. So, we don’t bequeath it as a burden for future generations to come.”
Nana Firman believes that as stewards of this Earth, it is our Divine duty to serve as its caretakers or khalifah entrusted with a sacred responsibility. We are tasked by the Creator to fulfill this trust to the best of our abilities. Therefore, we should find ways we can fulfill this profound obligation and care for our planet. Even in a world free from ecological degradation and climate change, our obligation to safeguard and manage the environment remains unwavering, as it constitutes an integral aspect of our worship as Muslims. Taking up the mantle in the battle against the climate crisis, which profoundly affects our water sources and other essential resources, is not merely a choice but an imperative. It stands as a testament to our capacity to unite and address one of the most pressing humanitarian crises and moral dilemmas of our era. Like Firman, we too can be champions for change.
See Nana Firman in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9FUIDAxW7I
Note: The photo accompanying this article was taken from a 2020 TED video that showcased Nana Firman as one of the Climate Action Project’s future leaders.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media