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Appreciating Nature

Reflections of an American in Morocco: Coming Home with the Cows

“Allah also gave me an opportunity to get away from it all. I don’t mean the five-star sort of getting away; rather, it was a chance to try this simple living thing that so many people pine for, though I had never.”

Recently I read an interview with Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, the author of ‘Green Deen,’ in which he lamented about how and why so many Muslims are out of touch with nature and therefore apathetic to environmental issues.

Seated 1200 feet above sea level in my mud house located in a mostly self-sustaining farming community in the High-Atlas Mountains, I was geographically so far away from Abdul-Matin in Brooklyn and living a much different lifestyle. Yet I embarrassedly felt that he spoke exactly about me.

Before moving to Morocco, I assumed that I would relocate there, creating my long-dreamed-of suburban family home, but with Arabic (or French) subtitles.

I don’t knock myself (or anyone else) for having such dreams.

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I wanted a big chunk of Allah’s glorious bounty: my own semi-private yard, a comfortable car, and enticingly displayed foods for sale within a short driving distance.

What He gave me was a lovely but teeny old French-style apartment with rusty pipes, cracking lead paint, and a mineral-depleted yard on a busy street in a trash-filled city under a heavily polluted sky that has caused high rates of respiratory-related ailments.

Allah also gave me an opportunity to get away from it all.

I don’t mean the five-star sort of getting away; rather, it was a chance to try this simple living thing that so many people pine for.

My husband and I hotly debated the opportunity to rent a ‘ram-packed earth’s house with internet access and electricity, but it was two hours down a windy road from the nearest (tiny) city.

Ultimately, the argument that we should “do it for the children” won.

A Healthy Lifestyle with a Different Rush Hour

Several days into our stay here in the valley, I became familiar with a new kind of rush hour.

Just before Mahgrib, the road outside our house would become crowded and noisy, filled with women, children, and their animals—sheep, cows, goats, and donkeys—returning home from grazing and working in their fields.

Reflections of an American in Morocco: Coming Home with the Cows - About Islam

I knew goats and sheep wandered about with those deeply contemplative shepherds, but I had always wondered about that adage, “When the cows come home.

Didn’t they stay in a corral next to the barn, like horses? Like a city girl out of cement, I was relearning Allah’s bounty with a different stride.

While I had preoccupied myself with the heady stuff of halal, zabiha, and organic wars online and in the Islamic community centre buffet lines, I never knew how much hands-on work it takes to care for these delicious creatures Allah gifted to us.

A few months further into our trip, my teen son and I exchanged glances while walking past homes with enormous, knee-deep piles of animal manure casually piled next to them.

Why?” our raised brows asked each other. It was inconceivable to us why anyone would want to live with that.

A week later, I laughed heartily at myself when I noticed men with manure-laden donkeys fertilising their fields. I’m not completely ignorant.

I knew that manure is used as fertiliser, but I also thought there must be some kind of (no doubt tidy) process to make manure into the more sterile-sounding stuff that is fertiliser.

I truly am one of those Muslims Abdul-Matin believes “are very disconnected from the natural world and the processes that create stuff.”

Like many Muslims, I was familiar with the biography of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

I was likely sipping my favourite fair-trade coffee and reclining on my chemically treated, stain-resistant sofa while reading the following passage from the “Sealed Nectar.

“It was the general custom of the Arabs living in towns to send their children away to Bedouin wet nurses so that they might grow up in the free and healthy surroundings of the desert, whereby they would develop a robust frame and acquire the pure speech and manners of the Bedouins, who were noted both for the chastity of their language and for being free from those vices which usually develop in sedentary societies.”

How idealised yet unattainable this sounded to me and to people I have since known to reference this tradition. You know, people do have to work, and children have to go to school. Maybe on holidays or for retirement, but never did I imagine I could provide my children with a similarly healthy lifestyle.

Right now, looking out the window to where my front yard would be if I were in a tract home, I see my neighbour baking hers and our daily bread in a traditional earthen oven.

A few children are casually lingering around, not at all shy about the fact that they are waiting to beg for a piece of one of her truly fresh and preservative-free loaves. She always happily gives them each a nearly too-hot-to-handle chunk.

While the bread bakes, taunting us all with a mouth-watering aroma as well as the sweetness of the flora fueling the oven, the children (and she and I) are surrounded by some of the most unspoiled and beautiful countryside I have ever seen in person.

Not a billboard, not a dwelling more than two stories high—nothing blights the view of Allah’s majestic creation.

We residents are minuscule on this rippled expanse of caramel-coloured mountains dotted green with pines, junipers, wild herbs, and a luscious grove of walnut, apple, and blossoming almond trees on the valley floor.

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About Brooke Benoit
Brooke Benoit is a creativity encourager, author, and editor for About Islam. She also loves cacti, vintage silver jewelry and photography. You may find her on