“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him.” (Hadith: Bukhari)

Bene Youth is a weekend Madrassa run by Melbourne based not-for-profit Benevolence Australia which brings together 30 young Aussie Muslims from grades 8-12 each weekend for spiritual nourishment. Each Saturday the students spend time learning the Sunnah and they find nourishment in spiritual and personal development.

The students are also developing environmental consciousness, and in the spirit of cultivation and sustainability, the Bene Youth have literally taken things into their own hands by growing a community garden.

Jessica Swann spoke with Benevolence Australia’s Internal Program’s Manager Sumaya Asvat about the project:

Jessica Swann: It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Madrassa, the idea of growing a garden, where did this idea come from?

Sumaya Asvat: The whole idea was to get the Bene Youth cohort to engage with their environment as many young people haven’t had the responsibility of growing a community garden. Every small action that they do can and does make a difference, especially when climate change is so much a part of all of our lives now.

How do they participate in the garden?

We’ve had this garden sitting here for so many years and we haven’t really done anything with it. The whole idea was for them to see it as it was and to hopefully understand over the next few months how important it is to enrich the soil, plant new seedlings and to bear witness to the what happens when you plant seedlings and nurture them.  By doing this with their own hands, they will see and feel the results in different ways both environmentally and spiritually.

Bene Youth is a Madrassa, how does a community garden fit into the syllabus?

It’s the idea that everything is connected and holistic. It would be remiss if we were just to teach them rules and regulations and history without tying nature into their everyday lives. But more than that, working with the earth, they have a heightened sense of where they are, the physical space and the reality and beauty of the place of gardens in our Deen. Being able to watch a garden grow has so many connections into the teachings of Islam. For our acts of worship to their garden, it’s all connected.

What’s in the garden?

Our garden coordinator Rawan Zahran made sure we had fruit and vegetables. Bunnings donated everything for us, 30 bags of soil, 10 bags of compost and manure, gloves, tools literally everything as well as beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, herbs, passion fruit and even flowers.

Is there a long-term plan for the garden?

Our plan is to use the produce from the garden to cook with and possibly have a harvest day. We are also working with the Doncaster Church of Christ where they have a retired newly arrived migrant community and we are hoping they will come in as well and cook some of their food with us.

How forthcoming were the students to get into the garden?

At first, some were wondering what they were doing, they wondered if they were going to get gloves and how they would do it. Rawan was very clear in the instructions and explaining to them why and how they were in the garden, they quickly got on board and enjoyed themselves.

How do you feel when you look at the garden?

I hope it creates a sense of ownership for them, that they understand they have had a part in this. Pride as well, when I think of the garden it is so linked to the idea that everything we do can and does make a difference. In this era of social media, it’s hard when you’re that age to understand this idea because you see people doing these great feats but wonder how they make a difference. Literally, when they plant a seed, they can see what happens. It reinforces the idea that everything we do can make a difference.

We are all living close to gardens and also community gardens whether you’re in the hipster-ville inner city or whether you’re in a rural community, what would be your message across Australia when it comes to the importance of this kind of experience?

I think a lot of the time in life we tend to fall into the trap of immediacy, we look at the outcomes of things instead of the process.  We are not so good these days with sabr (patience).  We think, “I put in such a lot of effort but don’t see much reward or connection” so something like this creates slower more sustainable and meaningful energy and nourishes togetherness in partnership with each other and with the earth. The idea of just being with people in the space we are all sharing is about transferring something special, different, it’s something beautiful, timeless and nourishes the spirit of true sustainability of the mind, body and spirit.