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Reading the Quran in the Canyons

Before I take out the sacred text out from my backpack, I dip my hands in the cool rush of the creek that runs into the city below. Rinsing my hands I connect myself to the inhabitants the valley & all beings on this planet that this water may have cycled through. I’m in Big Cottonwood Canyon, a watershed that supplies drinking water to the Wasatch Front. Two hydroelectric plants are nestled among the thick of conifers. I push my hands into the water to feel the slipperiness of rocks soft as the vertebrate and underbellies of fish. Perfumed by algae, I am connected to the sea & brought closer to the scent of whales. Today I’ve brought The Quran with me. Precious care is given to The Quran as the most sacred of texts. Islamic tradition forbids the book to touch the floor and must always be held with clean hands. I rub my palms together to create friction and rub my fingers on my fleece parka. In this time of global uncertainty, it is vital to recognize the natural world as intrinsically valuable & fundamentally connected. I wonder: where is the place of a spiritual ecology in a movement that in order to gain traction must be constantly validated through being based in scientific empiricism? I unfurl the book from my Mother’s scarf that I wrapped it in to safeguard it from the elements, my water pack with a small leak & fig bars & take a seat among the landscape brushed by dark greens and the gray of an oncoming winter.

I carry my traditions with me in a backpack into wide-open spaces to in turn create my own home for these various threads of how to know sacred goodness and common divinity. My family is Muslim, we are culturally connected to Hinduism, and through the landscapes of Utah I am foraging my own spiritual trails. The lack of people of color in the environmental movement is a much-discussed topic of concern. Climate change disproportionality affects people of color of the Global South. Being an American part of the Indian and Pakistani diaspora, I often feel that I do not belong to either pole designed through human affairs. The more-than-human world is my refuge. Among these spaces I am liberated from a hungry identity that is anything but my own to forage and feed. Your identity among the wide, black-eyed communities of aspen & the cool seats of amphitheaters of red rock is one based on Earth citizenry. I am an Earthling in the silence & soil of the canyon; I am an Earthling in the shadow of oblong hoodoos. I am an Earthling today sitting in the canyon trying to read the Quran in English to cast my net further into the waters of my past and present.

Many religions are built on following a spiritual guide, someone who knows the trails and holds the best moral compass. Non-Muslims often do not associate The Prophet as someone who was ecologically- minded. After after he was born he was sent to live in the desert to reside with a Bedouin family because cultural custom thought that the landscape, away from the noise and pollution of civilization, would nourish the growing bodies and minds of babies. The young Prophet spent his childhood amongst rippling & coiling sand running on in every direction, similar to the landscape of red rock country down south. Later, he was reported to spend time talking to camels in markets, instructing for people to not idle on their backs if they were not using them for transport. Holding their oblong faces that dip down due to the gravity of their heavy necks, soothing them in his voice that has been described by Islamic tradition to be a hushed rustle. Once, when I was in Big Cottonwood Canyon I saw a female moose. Her stance paralleled mine and our eyes met in a shared moment of mammalian intimacy. I thought of our connection of having the same colored eyes. In that moment, in my distance and respect, I meditated on how both our bodies and lands are mistreated and we held each other in one another’s gaze, the same color of soil and sand that has shaped the world.

The sun sets & I get into my car & curl up in the trunk of my car with a blanket my Grandmother, my Nani stitched and for sleep for an hour under the Dog Star. I dream of clean air waifing through my lungs like a long cold drink of water, rivers without end that transform into vibrant oceans, & I hold my ear to the shell of past and present and listen to the voices that come through. I try not to imagine the smog of January as daunting as clouds eclipsing the top of mountains before a winter’s storm. In my galaxy of private epiphanies in Utah’s mountains and deserts, I have found a way to create an interconnected mesh of my heritage & my fierce love of this planet. I think of my heritage as my sharpest needle that I have been handed to both pierce and play on the music of resilience. For me, forward ecological thinking and movement forward takes root in grounding & consolidating all my various identities into one based in empathy, kindness and connectedness; teachings I have found time and time again in The Quran. I tuck away the book & find sleep under a gnarled lattice of pines that go on & on among the unknown reefs of eternity.


Jai Hamid Bashir's Voices Rising piece was picked up by Sierra Magazine!

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