In the light of recent events, Muslims from around the world are constantly being tagged as dangerous and unwanted because of the actions of a few who commit crimes against humanity and associate themselves with Islam, and meanwhile they not only ruin the lives of all Muslims in the areas controlled by them, but the lives of many Muslims from Western countries, who have to face extreme bigotry and even violence. But let’s not forget that not all of them are bad.
This is why in this post I am trying to portray the deeds of a community of Muslims from Pemba and Misali Island in Tanzania, who use Islamic environmental principles in order to protect the surrounding waters and its extremely rich biodiversity.
There are no permanent settlers on the Misali Island, except for the rangers who live there all year long and enforce the management plan laid out by Pemba Channel Conservation Association (PECCA). The island is also frequented by local fishermen who camp there for up to two weeks each month and practice fishing around the island.
In 1996, the community established the Misali Island Marine Conservation Project Area (MIMCA), a communal effort that allows sustainable fishing for both the coral reefs and the fishermen. Moreover, in 1998 they concluded dynamite fishing, which saves time for the fishermen but killed the corals, is illegal according to Islam and was banned later on. These people lack proper education, therefore they weren’t aware of the damages they are causing to the very biodiversity that supports their entire community. Explosions destroy the habitat in which fish live and also kill both the young and the mature fish, while more traditional methods of fishing allow the youngsters to escape easily because of their small sizes.
In 2008, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) launched something new in the Muslim world: an Islamic conservation guide, which was applied to Pemba Island in Tanzania, and therefore to the nearby Misali Island. The guide should be adopted by all Muslim communities from around the world because it uses principles from the Qur’an to underline the importance of protecting fishing grounds and how it can be done in a sustainable way.
Misali Island, apart from coral reefs and other fishing grounds, it also benefits from mangroves, which are known for supporting a rich biodiversity because of high levels of nutrients, sediment stabilization and carbon fixation. The physical properties of mangroves, such as pneumatophores and prop roots, serve as safety zones for many aquatic and terrestrial species, and a destruction of the mangrove forest would result in a dramatic decrease in species diversity. The conservation of such ecosystems is of utter importance because their health is directly linked to the survival of many animals, especially fish who use mangroves as feeding ground and nursery.
The people who rely heavily on the Misali Island have no other source of income other than fishing, therefore it was crucial to make them understand that their survival depends on the way they treat the life in the ocean around their small island.
There are still fishermen who don’t have a permit for fishing in the area and they collect decorative shells (Cypraea sp., Tridacna sp. etc.), sea cucumbers, octopi, and various species of fish, and when they’re caught they are warned to obtain a permit, else they face arrest. This is done in this way because the local imam, who is deeply involved in environmental protection, understands the condition of poor people who have no other choice but to fish in any way they can.