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Home, Aging, and that darned mic!

By December 7, 2021 3 Comments

This reflection has been submitted to the Animal Ethics class I am about to complete as part of my doctoral program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. If you are confused about “Zach and his human” please read my previous blog post. It has been edited here for brevity –and a little sensibility.

I am not sure who first stated that the only certainty in life is change, but it must have come from a wise being. We are not the same person we were yesterday. (I am not even the same human I was a minute ago.) That was on my mind as I set off for my run this morning, along the same route I first encountered the comforting sight of Zack and his human back in the summer when climate change was not at the forefront of my thoughts. The sun does that, gifting me occasional amnesia and a (misplaced) sense of no urgency. It was also on my mind as I shared a coffee with an old friend from Jordan before sitting down to attempt to make sense of my old reflections to formulate my “new” ones. She asked me to tell her about my studies. I sighed. She understood that to mean I did not have anything to share, or perhaps worse I hated it all. She posed her question differently and asked me to tell her “one interesting thing I learned.” I paused, remembering Zack and his human. And change (read: growth). I told her the past few months have been an intensive experience of unlearning for me. I learned to unlearn everything I thought was a given truth. That includes who I thought I was, and who I think I am as we speak. I am in the heart of experiencing what it is to be a critical thinker (read: aspirant thinker), a concept I only read about in (private) school brochures. Turns out our education system has been graduating hundreds of thousands of critical thinkers while I was busy trying to figure out how to stop my dog from barking when she was happy. (The aspirant thinker in me wonders why our world continues to inflict unspeakable horrors on humans, non-humans, and nature alike while the numbers of said critical thinkers multiply.)

This best describes my response to how my perspectives on human-animal relationships have shifted over the past few months. It is not a shift but a deep grounding and liberating honouring of my lived experience that has begun to empower me to surrender to a new/old intuitive knowing that has always been my compass despite conscious and unconscious attempts to ignore it.

I told my hairdresser something to the same effect recently. My new, old self is struggling with a sense of misalignment with this deep knowingness. It does not feel right to hide my grey. I must own it I tell myself and the young talented stylist. She got to work right away, patiently holding one budding grey hair at a time to finish the job and “cut the cord” from the draining (and costly) insistence to deny aging. She promised me I would feel liberated. It has been two weeks. I don’t feel liberated. Cutting the cord abruptly is a painful experience. The change I see in the mirror is way ahead of the growth I feel in my heart. That beats slowly, deliberately, as it savors the scenic majesty along the route. And so here I am, sometimes breathless, often conflicted, but always grounded in that knowing.

I glimpsed Zach and his human the other day on a run I stole before the torrential storms that have displaced humans and non-humans and is currently cutting off towns across Canada from hospitals and food. He was slowly walking with his human toward his bench by the water. Two comrades enjoying one another as though nothing changes, except perhaps for a few new grey hairs and a stiffer hip. 

I tried to pull out themes from my initial reflection. It is obvious to me they haven’t changed. Grey hair, stiff hips –and storms encompass them all. My compass keeps pointing me in the direction of mortality/aging (read: life), humility/arrogance (read: humanity), and home: who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. It is not a coincidence that part of the process of unlearning in this journey has been learning about my motherline. I wonder why they call it a “line?” It is more of an erratic web, stretching across borders and cultures. It doesn’t break, no matter how hard it is pulled, stubborn like the roots of ancient trees, nourished by faith not taught in scripture but experienced and lived. We age, we die, but the web continues to stretch and grow. 

That is why I was fascinated to learn about Val Plumwood’s Ecological Animalism. She reminded me why the “critical thinkers” may be missing the mark. They are too blinded from their vantage points in their echo chambers, constricted by their “holier than thou-ism” attitudes. I saw this firsthand at the recent Planted Expo in Vancouver. There was serious preaching happening on the stage, sponsored by products to purchase salvation. 

The “grounding” I am experiencing could be dangerous if it does not acknowledge the web of our existence. This web not only connects us to our real and imagined ancestors, but it also encompasses all that is living. It has no hierarchy. And it most certainly has no sponsors. There have been times during the past few months when I felt I was “losing my religion.” Critical thinking is as painful as cutting the cord. It forces one to stare grey hair in the eye.

When I read Plumwood’s critique of (affluent) Christian burial practices, I was reminded that in Islam we bury our dead directly in the ground. We have no coffins to separate us from the dirt. We offer our bodies back to the earth, acknowledging that we humans are food too –in life and death. (As much as they may dislike the taste of our flesh, predatory animals will eat us too, which incidentally was in my thoughts not long ago as I fooled myself into believing I could enjoy a hike on a mountain called Bear Mountain of all names in torrential rains. I lived to tell the tale. No bear or human was hurt in the experience, but I did find out later that a cougar was sighted not far from the area days later.) Plumwood notes, 

“Upon death the human essence is seen as departing for a disembodied, non-earthly realm, rather than nurturing those earth others who have nurtured us. … Death becomes a site for apartness, domination and individual salvation, rather than for sharing and for nurturing a community of life. Being food for other animals shakes our image of human mastery.”[1]

I followed up, discovering a world of Islamic (critical) thinkers who are exploring our relationships with non-human animals and nature. In fact, there is an entire universe out there of scholarship on this topic. Islam does not have a dualistic outlook regarding humans and nature. We are all God’s creation. We are all equal. There is no mastery, no domination. This alone has been a reclamation of spirit for me. I finally “own” my vegan lifestyle, my “grey.” 

I may be not liberated yet, but I am very humbled. From my simple research, I was reminded that The Qur’an predicted fourteen centuries ago that human arrogance will destroy the earth. I have been reading this verse my entire life without truly absorbing its teaching –until now:

“Corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought. This is in order that we give them a taste of the consequences of their misdeeds that perhaps they will turn to the path of the right guidance.” (Qur’an 30:41)

I have not lost my religion after all. I have gained it, and thankfully let go of its misogynist men in beards and turbans. I am not surprised they never taught me about Ikhwan Al Safa (Brethren of Purity.) Ann Russo poses mind-shattering questions in Feminist Accountability

“Whose stories are being told and from whose perspective? Whom do the stories make into villains or into heroes? … What kind of relationships do the stories build within and across power lines? And within the stories, what issues are highlighted, and what issues are not addressed? Whose voices, experiences, and perspectives are missing?”[2]

The Case of the Animals Versus Man was written in the tenth century and could just as well have been written yesterday, or better still be the central argument for the recent climate summit in Glasgow. It is a timeless testament to the arrogant dominion of man over all beings. But hidden within are the values of compassion and kindness that are also the cornerstones of scriptures the patriarchy and capitalism want so badly to suppress.

I learned that the Brethren are famed for the encyclopedic work that addresses mathematics, physics, psychology, law, theology, and religion. In their second section on physics entitled “On the Generation of Animals and their Kinds,” they devote their writing to The Case of the Animals Versus Man. The presiding judge is the King of the Jinn (spiritual beings akin to genies). The King asks the speaker for humans to make the case as masters to their slave animals. The human starts with providing religious texts to support the master argument, quoting from The Qur’an, Torah, and Gospels. The human has plenty of scriptural “evidence” to support that view. He might as well have been a contemporary Islamic cleric, preoccupied with a woman’s hair and obedience to her husband, diving in disturbing detail into the mechanics of striking the wife if she is disobedient, while ignoring the horrors inflicted by the same Muslim man on both human and non-human animals. Speaking for the beasts is the mule: 

“The mule says that God created all through His divine word “Be!” “as a kindness and blessing for humankind. … God intended humans to live in posterity on earth to inhabit it, not to lay it to waste, to care for the animals and profit by them, but not to mistreat or oppress them and surely, continues the mule, verses from scriptural texts say nothing about humans as masters and animals as slaves, for they point only to the kindness and blessings showered by God upon humans.”[3]

In my research, I found others who ask, “what issues are highlighted, and what issues are not addressed? Whose voices, experiences, and perspectives are missing?”

“… would our Holy Prophet M[o]hammad have approved of the modern methods of intensive farming systems if he were alive today? His overwhelming concern for animal rights and their general welfare would certainly have condemned … those who practice such methods, in the same way as he condemned similar other cruelties in his day. He would have declared that there is no grace or blessing –neither in the consumption of such food nor in the profits from such trades.”[4]

The trial has a disappointing ending, echoing the above-quoted Qur’anic verse that predicts human arrogance and the resulting destruction it will incur on the planet. 

“All the animals were to be subject to the commands and prohibitions of the humans and were to be subservient to the humans and accept their direction contentedly and return in peace and security under God’s protection.”[5]

This ruling is a perfect example of “Olympic gymnastics” that Aysha Akhtar describes in her book A Symphony with Animals. The antidote she offers that I and by (my imaginative) extension Zack’s human experience is in our relationships with non-human animals. 

“When we are in relationships with animals, we are making emotional connections with creatures who don’t share human goals and aspirations. They draw us out of our self-absorptions. They enable us to gain an external perspective on those values we think are important. They motivate us to become less driven and obsessed with goals and more accepting of our own shortcomings and weaknesses. Animals bring us down to earth.”[6]

All the way down to a bench by the sea.

“Soulful interactions with animals restore within us a sense of balance and harmony. They help us feel connectedness and unity with all life. With that bond comes true empathy — the ability to recognize that even with our distinctions, we are not so different in the ways that count. Animals … remind us that we too are fragile beings. And that’s okay.”[7]

The sun-induced amnesia dissipated with the disappearing sun as I watched the “powerful” G20 leaders at the COP26 Climate Summit. The lessons I learned did not come from them but from inspiring examples of indigenous peoples who are making a tangible difference in their small/big corners of the world while those in power are exemplifying the colorless art of “performative allyship” parading on red carpets and private (space and earth) jets. Nothing epitomizes the disconnected, disempowering dualistic existence of modern Western society than a billionaire orbiting the earth for “perspective.” Perspective is around us, in us, and on us (see grey hair above.)

It was most sobering to listen to the opinions of indigenous leaders on the annual travesty of climate summits.

“Instead of having to educate others on the world stage, Tizya-Tramm said he’d rather be learning and leading in his home community, about 120 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. That stance comes from experience. Tizya-Tramm was one of the Indigenous chiefs on Canada’s delegation at COP25 in Madrid in 2019. What he found there was a tiny Indigenous pavilion far from the action — he called it “the reservation” — and rules against drumming and singing that didn’t apply to bagpipes.”

In the spirit of asking the “different” questions, I wonder can those who created the problem solve it?

I committed to an ethical praxis of “passing the mic” to my non-human friends at the start of my studies. It has been challenging. The cloud of a different storm in Jordan hung heavily over my commitment. In July of 2021, I sadly watched the “cancellation” of a woman I greatly admired. I was fortunate enough to get to know her as I contemplated pursuing this degree. Dr. Al-Khadra, a professor of English Literature, columnist, and advocate for women’s liberation is a fellow animal lover and a nature enthusiast. She wrote a Facebook post on Islamic sacrifice during the annual Festival of Sacrifice, calling for a re-thinking of this practice. The backlash against her frightens me. My commitment has been half-hearted and measured. Reclamation of Spirit is as uncomfortable as grey hair. The discomfort is the fire needed to create transformation. There must be a different mic and a more effective platform for me.

Home is who I am, where I come, and where I will go. Home is my mother web. It is my religion. I need to own my home as I own my grey hair and own my web. And so, with Shiva by my side and Zack by his human, we walk at the pace my heart sets, savouring the majesty around, trusting the guidance of my compass, and shedding the layers to find my voice –and the mic to pass on to others.


[1] Val Plumwood, “Animals and ecology: Towards a better integration” in Eye of the Crocodile, ed. Lorraine Shannon (Canberra, Australia: ANU E Press, 2012), 81.

[2] Ann Russo, Feminist Accountability, Disrupting Violence and Transforming Power (New York: New York University Press 2019), 219.

[3] Waldau, Paul, and Kimberley C Patton. A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 163.

[4] Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmad Masri, Animal Welfare in Islam (Leicestershire, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 2007), Kindle Edition, loc. 1013.

[5] Waldau and Patton, 167.

[6] Aysha Akhtar, Our Symphony with Animals (New York/London: Pegasus Books 2019), 97.

[7] Akhtar, 98.

3 Comments

  • Kholoud says:

    You always amaze me , humble great thinker beautiful Gigi

  • So well written.
    “Unlearning” is my word for this year alongside “Curate” as I have reached the age and stage of life to re-a quaint myself with who I am at my essence.. Ageing requires calibration, new meaning, observation and outlook and M.O.
    Thank you for corroborating Gigi and bringing so much else to the fore.

  • Jill. says:

    Very good luck with your Doctorate Khadija .’I am as Always surrounded by my many very beautiful Animal Souls 🤗

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