Will The Water Bring Us Together?

A watershed is a system defined by the flow of water particular to a specific geographical location.  It accounts for how the continuous movement of water through a particular place affects the creatures and the resources belonging to that place. While people of faith are most often organized according to their religion or common belief systems, volunteers from the Shia Ismaili Muslim community and Episcopalian Christians in Atlanta, have started wondering about what it means for them to belong to the same watershed. 

Earlier this year, they discovered they not only share similar values, but also a common urgency to address the environmental challenges they are facing globally. As people of faith, the two communities believe that the work of learning how to care well for, and with one another, and alongside those most impacted by environmental destruction and resource extinction is crucial. 

The beginning of what they hope to be an ongoing partnership, the two communities partnered with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve to clean up a portion of the South Fork Peachtree Creek on September 26th. Not only is this “World Rivers Day,” but the date was chosen because it is the Global Ismaili CIVIC Day of service.

Water is an important symbol in many faiths, but it plays a different role in the meaning making system of each tradition. Initiation into the Christian faith, for example, is performed through water baptism. Recalling ancient cleansing rituals and historical accounts of God’s salvific power, baptism is the sign by water and the Holy Spirit, through which Christians participate in Jesus’s own death, and resurrection and are received into the family of God. In baptism, Christians make vows to live in loving and life giving relationships with all Creation. But, the ritual of baptism also calls upon Christians to repent from former ways of life, renouncing the powers that draw them away from God and from enfleshing God’s love in the world. As hurricanes, floods, and fires become more and more commonplace, revealing how much human activity has contributed to the environmental crisis, many Christians in the Episcopal Church are sensing a call to turn away from their former ways of life. At Church of the Epiphany, we are embracing this baptism into our watershed as an opportunity to leave behind environmentally destructive behaviors and to take on new responsibilities and new relationships in our local community.

“We have made from water every living thing,” (Holy Qur’an 21:30). Water is of significant importance in Islam. It represents purity, is considered a gift belonging to all, which has to be distributed with equity among all living things- humans, animals and plants. For Muslims, water is a social good and is regarded as a blessing from Allah that sustains all life. 

Today, we know that water covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the human population continues to grow, there are higher demands for access to water. The Holy Qur’an says that man is God’s noblest creation to whom He has entrusted the stewardship of all that is on earth. It asks believers not to be passive recipients of our Natural Habitat, but instead, to be faithful stewards of the divine creation. This means not merely conforming to the power of nature, but actively engaging with its challenges. 

For Shia Ismaili Muslims, this is a challenge that the Ismaili Imamat has taken upon itself, particularly through the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Ismaili CIVIC. The AKDN has prioritized its work in water management in physically difficult and fragile settings. The work has demonstrated that with public-private partnerships, populations can enhance and maintain freshwater in a manner that contributes effectively to their increased well-being in a sustainable way. In Islam, each generation is ethic bound to leave behind a wholesome, sustainable social and physical environment. Under Ismaili CIVIC, a global program in which the community has united around its tradition of serving humanity to improve the quality of life for all, volunteers engaged in a Global Ismaili CIVIC Day on September 26, under the theme of Environmental Stewardship. 

As faith communities, we hope to embrace our role as stewards of the environment and manage this precious natural resource carefully. We are committed to engaging in year-round earth-friendly acts and working together to address the environmental challenges in our local communities here in Georgia. We know the water will bring us together. 

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About the Authors:

Dr. Behnoosh Momin is a health scientist and serves in a voluntary capacity as the Member for Communications and Publications on the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern USA. The Shia Ismaili Muslims are a culturally diverse community living in over 25 countries, and are united by their spiritual leader, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49thhereditary Imam and direct descendent of Islam’s final prophet, Prophet Muhammad. They adhere to a 1,400-year tradition of Shi’a values that are expressed through a commitment to a search for knowledge for the betterment of self and society; embracing pluralism by building bridges of peace and understanding; and generously sharing of one’s time and knowledge to improve the quality of life of the community and those among whom they live. The Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States is the social governing body of the Ismaili Muslim community. To learn more about the Ismaili community, visit the.ismaili. 

The Rev. Nicole Lambelet is the Associate Priest for Family Ministry and Community Engagement at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Atlanta, GA.  Before becoming a priest, Nicole worked at the intersections of food production, justice organizing, and violence prevention. Currently her vocation in the Episcopal Church USA centers on the tasks of formation and discipleship, as she attempts to follow Jesus by creating spaces for healing, resiliency, and hope. The Episcopal Church USA is one branch of the multilingual and multinational communion of churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion. With common antecedents in the Church of England, today the Communion is represented in 165 countries across the globe and maintains their commitment to be in relationship with one another through common forms of gathering, worship, and governance.