Monday, September 26, 2011
Published on Muslimness
Eco-Muslim: Dawud Wharnsby promotes a simpler lifestyle with his wife and children at his seasonal home in Pakistan
As the latest musical creation by Canadian singer-song writer Dawud Wharnsby is released – A Picnic of Poems: In Allah’s Green Garden, MUSLIMNESS Editor Zaufishan Iqbal talks to the talent behind the poetry to find out why we all need a dose of simpler living.
I’m a Muslim environmentalist at heart and absolutely love meeting activists who share that excitement for protecting the planet. Dawud Wharnsby is in our list of heroes for his decades of songs that unite people from all walks of life. This year, Dawud began writing his environment blog “Follow A Poet, Following Goats” from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he and his young family recycle and eat mangoes. My respect for the artist has just escalated.
As-salam`alaykum Dawud. I’m interested in what lead to the creation of Picnic of Poems? Is it a natural progression from your artistic performance work?
Dawud Wharnsby: Indeed, it was very much a natural progression in my work. As a writer and artist, it has always been my objective to work on projects that feel natural and honest to me. Many artists, particularly recording artists under contract to music companies or financial backers, must often produce music to meet public or commercial demands. For a man such as myself, that can be very stifling and restrictive to the creative process.
As an independent writer, I am free to use my expression more as a means of personal exploration. My work is a created from ~ and is a path of ~ reflection and assessment, while I am also releasing material I feel is lacking commercially in global music, literary or even education arenas.
I work very much like a potter or painter – just me in my home studio, uninterrupted and without pressure. I read, research, reflect, stew and ponder a long time on things long before the ideas start flowing while I am in my garden or hanging laundry.
And Picnic Of Poems? What inspired you to take us outside with you and back to our roots?
Dawud Wharnsby: As a father who is passionate about holistic learning and living, I was inspired a few years ago to create a series of poems and songs for children which reflect a very rudimentary approach to learning and the understandings of life and faith.
Edging toward middle age myself, these past few years of my life have been an exciting time of re-evaluating my own purpose, faith and understanding of myself in relation to my creator.
How did you yourself become an eco-warrior?
Dawud Wharnsby: As I mentioned in my first Blog post “I will arise and go now”: my life’s objective has always been to try and live simply, in balance with community and nature. But I got “off track” for a good decade or more – writing songs and inadvertently falling into the unnatural pigeon hole of a “nasheed singer“, singing more about Allah’s creation than actually cultivating it and learning from it. ‘Out Seeing The Fields’ was my way of politely saying “I’m leaving folks… you’ll find me under open sky.” Now, a “Picnic Of Poems” is where I am at: on a picnic, rediscovering Allah’s creation and my own faith.
At MUSLIMNESS, we introduced Picnic of Poems to appreciative school children. I wonder if the older generation will “get” your quaint poetry and scenic book. So, for whom is Picnic of Poems, In Allah’s Green Garden?
Dawud Wharnsby: In many ways, “A Picnic of Poems In Allah’s Green Garden” is as much about my own ongoing spiritual journey as it is about the growth and development of my children’s religious identities.
The collection, though marketed as a children’s book of poem and accompanying CD, still really picks up conceptually on the heels of my last adult focused album “Out Seeing The Fields”. The songs on that collection revolved around honesty of self, the quests for a more organic lifestyle and more organic approach to faith. It conjured up images of “leaving to find something better”, dealing with discontentment of self, career and dogma. And in fact the last song “Eight Years Old” explores the idea of seeking to regain faith and purpose by tapping into the childhood innocence within us.
“A Picnic of Poems” is the next step for us all – taking our children by the hand and getting out-doors together to experience creation – the ultimate Sign of Allah’s existence.
Now that you’re living what some might call an enviable greener deen, masha’Allah, how does life in Pakistan compare to Canada?
Dawud Wharnsby: My personal opinion is that, residing in semi-rural Pakistan lends itself to Simple Living far more than residing on my home turf of Canada, simply because Pakistan is so much less industrialized.
The Mennonite communities near my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, embrace a form of Simple Living. Yet, they will be the first to tell you that the challenges are many when your family and community are surrounded by – or split up by – rapid urban growth and the socially-expected adoption of commercialism to one’s life.
In places like North America, while independent farmers and truck drivers struggle to make ends meet, the wealthy elite buy up hobby-farm land, build 100% eco friendly mansions, purchase 100% organic fertilizers (and groceries if their crops fail) and even buy bulk at Costco because they know the excessive packaging can just be tossed in a recycle bin at week’s end.
To me, that is not “Simple Living”, it is decadence in the highest degree and a mockery of the true philosophical essence of Simple Living, which is more about working towards one’s happiness – not just “buying” it ready-made.
For me, trying to balance frugality, an ecologically friendly lifestyle and a socially responsible attitude toward my fellow humans who struggle financially is more easily accomplished in an environment where there is far less corporate presence and weaker social pressures to keep up with The Jones’.
Yes, my homeland of Canada, and my grandfather’s homeland of Britain, respect cultural and religious diversity, and yes their political systems are delightfully democratic (with greater social concern than other countries boasting “democracy”) – But at the end of the day, the philosophy governing their lifestyle is still rooted in capitalism. And so is the assumption that your security and happiness are determined by the capital you have – either through business profits or paid wages.
Mennonites communities back home in Canada opt out of governmental financial aid as well as military service, in an effort to maintain a deeper degree of self-substance. However, the ridged social structure of many Mennonite communities also means that they are “set apart” from others socially in many ways.
In Pakistan, corporate presence (and thus, commercialism) is growing – creating incredible chasms between the minority of wealthy elite and the majority of the country’s citizens who live on less than $2.00 US dollars per day. Though the humble majority might dream of more money and a better life, they are far more concerned with “living” than with keeping up to fashion trends.
From a personal perspective, I am able to live in Pakistan with very low expenses, meaning that more of the income to my international businesses can go to local charitable efforts here. It’s a win, win, win scenario.
Life, and the infrastructure where I live in Pakistan, are akin to life in rural America almost 80 years ago. Many common people keep chickens for their eggs, goats or cows for milk, and grow vegetables on whatever small spot of land they may have. Rain harvesting is a common practice and almost everything is recycled or reused – out of necessity and not because it is fashionable, trendy or municipally demanded to do so.
Socks are mended by needle and thread, cobblers still fix shoes with nails using recycled leather parts, plumbers still thread pipes with actual thread, school exercise books are still fashioned from recycled paper and many school children (including my own daughter) still use a slate on their lap to practice penmanship – as was done in the US over 100 years ago.
Life moves more slowly and though modern technology helps with communication (my family and I stay connected to the world by laptop and even local shepherds sit by their flocks and text message friends) generally speaking, people have not become slaves to it.
As you’re encouraging a lifestyle of ‘less’, less consumption, less waste, how is Picnic of Poems relevant to contemporary working Muslims?
Dawud Wharnsby: During the mid to late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s I was greatly inspired to write and record spiritually-centred songs for families, dealing with subject matter that was of direct relevance to English speaking muslims around the world. My work initially dealt with basic dogmatic aspects of faith (such as prayer and tradition) but as my audiences grew both in number and in age, and as my approach to faith continued to grow and mature, I began to write about heavier issues such as religious pluralism, child abuse, depression, hypocrisy and other issues affecting youth in this 21st century.
As the trend of “Islamic Nasheed” became more and more commercial, and as I felt I had less to say to the mosque-going minority of muslims around the world ~ I bowed out. A Picnic Of Poems ventures into different forms of music expression which are still spiritually rooted, but more socially conscious and lyrically introspective.
So, Canada or Pakistan – which country is it easier to live as an eco-Muslim?
Dawud Wharnsby: I Love Canada with all my heart, and wish deeply that I could secure land there in beautiful Southern Ontario near my parents, have a small farm and live as my own mental and physical stamina would allow. But sadly, land there is just too expensive to buy on cash and the rapid urban growth (leading to constantly changing by-laws surrounding zoning etc) as well as the social pressures of “fitting in” would simply be too much for me to handle.
I’d end up being a hermit, living in a bubble, and as my approach to Simple Living also recognizes the rich importance of community inter-dependency, I’d not be fulfilled either socially or ideologically.
Living among very simple and hard working people here in Pakistan seems to be the best option for my family and I at this stage in our lives – until perhaps, we are able to possibly purchase affordable land out on Canada’s East Coast in the future…?
Zaufishan: Insha’Allah! God willing, we’ll start a fund!
Your songs and poems have always promoted social equity and independent thinking. What messages should we, the avid social and eco-activists take from Picnic of Poems?
Dawud Wharnsby: As a man who writes primarily to sort out his own feelings, ideas and passions, I cannot claim to be an “educational writer” or that I am trying to “teach”. Releasing my work to the public is, and has always been, primarily rooted in a simple hope that others who may have asked the same questions about life as I have asked, felt the same joys or gone through the similar degrees of hardships I have gone through, may hear my work and realize that they are not alone.
The underlying message of all my songs – for eco-activits, parents, children, teachers and anyone else who lends an ear, can perhaps be summed up best by the lyrics to one of my new songs from “A Picnic of Poems”,
♫ “You and I, wonder at the sky,
Call God a different name.
As we try – learn and long to fly,
You and I are so differently the same
On this earth, we’re all of equal worth.”
Sneak peak… Do you have any other projects growing in the field of Wharnsby?
Dawud Wharnsby: I have actually started work on my next adult CD, due out in 2012. It will be called The Simplicitea Recipe. The journey continues.
God willing, you will enjoy “A Picnic of Poems” when it finds its way to you. It really is the most meaningful project I have ever done and I pray that it may have a warm home with many families for many, many years to come.
Your support means a great deal to me and I am very honoured that you are helping get my poems out to the world.
Zaufishan: Shukran, shukria, thank you Dawud for sharing your poems and activism with us. We look forward to your poetry and make dua Allah blesses your work and family.
A Picnic of Poems: In Allah’s Green Garden is available from Kube Publishing
Read Dawud Wharnsby’s eco-poet blog Follow A Poet, Following Goats.