Grad works to build community while tending to the earth

A woman tends to a garden in a greenhouse.

Located in the scenic Hudson River Valley in New York is Stony Point Center. The conference and retreat center is also home to a multifaith community that provides opportunities for interfaith growth and spiritual reflection. The opportunity to learn the ins and outs of small‐scale farming through a farm apprenticeship, along with study sessions to further her Islamic knowledge, is what drew Amirah AbuLughod there in 2013.

Homeschooled through high school, AbuLughod’s first taste of public school was as a freshman at UWM at Washington County, where she excelled academically. Active on campus, she also provided computer support as a student worker in the Information Technology Department – a job that three of her siblings also held when they were students. After completing an associate degree in 2010, she transferred to UW‐Milwaukee, where she graduated with a degree in geography, in the environmental geography track.

The Farm the Land Grow the Spirit summer institute program at Stony Point Center was a perfect fit for AbuLughod, then a 23‐year-old Wisconsin native. For someone who cared about the environment and loved working with the earth, it was an easy decision.

The earth‐care program integrates study in the Jewish, Islamic and Christian traditions, with sustainable agriculture, social justice, nonviolence and intentional community living. Amirah spent five intensive weeks living in a multifaith community while working on Stony Point Center’s one‐acre farm.

Joining a community

After the experience of the summer institute, she stayed connected. In 2015, she returned as Stony Point Center’s first farm apprentice. She also became a member of the Community of Living Tradition, an intentional multifaith community of Muslims, Jews and Christians that work together to offer radical hospitality at Stony Point and participate in grassroots movements for justice and peace.

Since accepting a full-time position with Stony Point in 2018, Amirah has had the opportunity to meet and share ideas with other farmers, organizers and faith leaders from all over the country who are engaging earth‐care, sustainability, and food and land justice issues through a faith‐based lens.

“These connections are always inspiring and are one of the aspects of my work here that I truly appreciate — building community and coalitions across faith traditions with the land being central to our engagement together,” AbuLughod said.

Last fall, AbuLughod participated in the olive harvest delegation to Palestine and Israel. Sponsored by Interfaith Peacebuilders (now named Eyewitness Palestine), the purpose of this annual delegation is to “educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.”

Experiencing the land

As a person with Palestinian heritage, AbuLughod wanted to “experience a piece of the land that my family once called home.” As a farmer, she hoped to “connect, observe and tend to that land — not because it is contentious soil, but because it is earth,” she said.

Her participation sharpened her “ability to draw connections between illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and settler colonialism on indigenous lands in the United States,” she said.  The result was to “more deeply engage my work as a Muslim‐American working and living on land that is not my own,” she said.

As the rest of the delegation whizzed through passport control, AbuLughod was detained for more than 30 minutes. Questions by Israeli security, such as, “Why are you here?  Are you Muslim? Do you have family here?” were asked repeatedly.  The process was “nerve-racking and intrusive,” but left her even more determined to “stand up against power that says ‘you have no place here and we will do everything in our power to make you continually question yourself…’why am I here?’”

Rooted in faith

Referring to herself as “a person of faith and a person engaging with the land,” AbuLughod is clearly rooted in her faith and life mission. The Muslim Peace Fellowship at Stony Point Center allows her to engage with land and faith issues. This work also ties into the vision and mission of the fellowship, which is to have “peace, faith and justice central to the work I engage in as a Muslim.”

As she weaves together faith and farming, her goals are often “vast and wide — ecological and human health, a just and balanced distribution of food and land, basic human rights and dignity for all, specifically those who put the food on our tables,” she said.  Her goals can also be “moment to moment — seeding 35 trays of spinach so we have greens to eat mid-winter from our gardens, stopping my task of harvesting to take the time to actually watch the monarch butterfly I found emerge from its cocoon, and praying for rain as we sow the cover-crop seeds.”

Clearly rooted in her faith and life mission, AbuLughod’s goal is simply, “to always be growing — on the land and in my faith.”

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