It is not very often that the Qur’an gets good press. So, when I saw the curious headline on the BBC, “Koran saves turtles”, I was intrigued and, momentarily perplexed. Upon reading the article, I remembered that I had heard about this project a while ago.
CARE wanted to save the coral reefs and the sustenance of local fishermen in Misali and Pemba Islands of Zanzibar. These fishermen had been using guns, dynamite and deep nets to catch fish with disastrous results for the ancient coral reefs. A joint effort by the Zanzibari govt., CARE, EU and African Wildlife Foundation established the Misali Island Conservation Association to try and develop sustainable ways of fishing among the local communities.
Zanzibar is over 95% Muslim with heavy Arabic, Indian and Shirazi influences. Which has been the result of extensive migration and settlement from Arabs, Persians and Indian since, at least, the 13th century. In the 1860s it became a British protectorate and was lost to the world after independence in 1963. In recent years, it has opened up to tourism and other small industries. Trying to save the coral reef and the livelihood of the fishermen came out of the efforts to revive the local economies. Islam became the language through which environmental education was conducted. Led by Ali Khamis Thani, the Islamic Conservation Officer of CARE, and Ali Abdullah Mbarouk, of a Misali NGO, the Islamic Environmentalism Project entailed friday khutbas and madarasa workshops by trained ‘alims extolling the virtues of protecting the environment, of living in sync with nature, of respecting bio-diversity.
And, the project is a success. As the BBC piece showed, they are saving the reef, the turtles and increasing the catch, all because of an innovative and contextually sensible approach. Instead of blindly imposing reform, it helps to give respect to the beliefs and desires of those that you wish to help or educate. It reinforces my belief that there are much more nuanced and effective ways of combating jihadist than bombing Iraq.