We are delighted to feature Chantal Blake of @wayfaringgreensoul as our Woman of the Week! A Muslim New Yorker who currently lives in Oman, Chantal devotes her time to sustainable eating, women’s sexual reproductive health and promoting travel of all kinds. The Hikaayat team caught up with this dynamic woman to find out more about her work and vision!
H: You have a background in engineering, nursing and teaching. What made you focus your attention on sustainability, plant based eating and women’s reproductive and sexual health?
By nature, I’m a problem-solver, and I’m deeply concerned about sustainability on all fronts. While my various projects might seem unrelated, they are all rooted in my desire to promote holistic and lasting wellness within ourselves, our families, our communities, and our environment. I thought I had a clear direction of my path before becoming a mother but each of my births reoriented me and expanded my work in new ways.
H: Much of what you promote are projects and activities typically seen by Muslims as either “hippie” or things “white people do”. Your work is part of a growing movement that seeks to reclaim practices and a way of living that has always resonated with the core principles of Islam. How do we continue reclaiming what is a part of our heritage and unlearn bad habits that have been passed down – be it regarding unbalanced eating or taboos around women’s sexuality?
Change is not always easy. It requires a certain amount of humility about what you know and what you think you know. I think my spiritual journey prompted me to seek out better ways of being and led me to encounter people who embody Prophetic principles in very sincere, yet practical ways. Too often we are looking for a halal logo or Muslim face to endorse a product or project, but if we study our way of life deeply with people of knowledge, we’ll easily recognize points of compatibility and conflict. It’s up to us to see through the “hippie packaging” and look for congruency. And if there’s doubt, you can consult those who know.
I’ve grown accustomed to being seen as “going against the grain” and I’m comforted by this hadith: “Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers”. To move forward in a purposed path of change, we have to be affirmed and certain in our conviction and be prepared for people to not always support you. This is challenging but must be handled with compassion, grace, and a healthy amount of stubbornness. People feel judged when you chart a different course than their own, so realize that you might represent the changes they feel scared to make on their own. And some people will only be convinced when they see that your choices turned out for the better, which takes time to unfold and witness.
H: Is becoming a full-time vegan really reconcilable with being a Muslim – what about the animal sacrifice at Eid? Or the etiquette around eating what is offered to you by another Muslim?
Veganism as a philosophy might be a challenge because it believes that it is never ethical to consume animals and animal products. But many scholars express that plant-based diets are permissible as long as one does not unconditionally condemn meat consumption. Most people in the developed world have no clue who raises and slaughters the animals they consume, nor the conditions they lived in before their life ended. Industrial farming has been damaging to our planet, our health, and wildlife, and enables the overconsumption of meat and the commodification of animals, which strips away the sanctity and significance of slaughter. Primarily plant-based diets have the lowest carbon footprint and ecological impact, so some argue that this is the most responsible way to eat in consideration of the global climate crisis, deforestation for animal agriculture, and water conservation.
In the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), only the wealthy ate meat once a week, while the poorest only ate meat for Eid. I can see how the latter would look forward to the Eid slaughter, and I personally know vegans who donate funds for qurbani in developing countries to fulfill this aspect of the sunnah. In cases where my family chose to complete the rite of slaughter for Hajj or aqiqah for the births of our children, we distributed all of the meat to the poor and others. I do believe there is beauty in the sunnah, but it is important to contextualize our relative circumstances appropriately.
As for being offered food, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) left what he didn’t want to eat without being interrogated or shamed by others. We should extend the same etiquette to our guests, whether they refuse a date, a tomato, or a piece of meat.
H: Through your projects “Deeper Feminine” and “Honoured Womb”, you centralize the sacredness of the body of a woman and the perfection and majesty of the way Allah ta’ala has created our bodies. Why have so many modern Muslim women neglected to reflect on this and why is it that we do not honour ourselves the way we should?
In societies where motherhood and womanhood aren’t valued, women often need to be very masculine to be respected, protected, and heard. In following the very product-driven, static, inflexible manners that are associated with masculine energy, we suppress the feminine energetic principles of ‘appreciating the process’, being dynamic, and prioritizing connection. If womanhood is regarded as weakness, then who would want to honour their female design?
So, to keep up in a masculine-dominated way of living, it seems easier to suppress our periods, silence our bodies, and ignore the misunderstood superpowers of being a woman. Our wombs speak to us in very real ways and when you look at the high incidence of reproductive issues, it is apparent to me that we are not honouring our wombs, and they are shouting back at us to make their demands and needs heard. Compounded with cultural backgrounds that police women’s bodies or don’t value a woman’s right to pleasure or agency over her body, we see many women who deeply resent their bodies and see them as a very real physical and social burden.
H: As we begin the new year and the new decade, tell us what are you most hopeful about?
I am most hopeful about women reclaiming their feminine power, healing their wombs, and really embodying the fullness of their design. A very necessary, challenging, and rich conversation is brewing amongst Muslim women internationally, and I’m extremely excited about unifying our collective voices in the upcoming Sacred Sexuality Summit next month (February 2020)!
I am also really hopeful about everyone, from individuals and small, locally-owned businesses to investors and progressive companies, getting serious about our responsibility towards the planet and imagining a more ethical and sustainable way of living.
If we visited your native NYC, where would you take us to eat?
Caribbean Crown in Queens. They have the best vegan Caribbean food in the city!
Title of the last book you read?
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross.
Vegan apple pie or brownie with dairy-free ice cream on top!
Coffee or tea?
Tea, all day. No caffeine for these ovaries. ;)
What’s the country that’s at the top of your must-visit list?
On the top of my list for others: Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca & Medinah
On the top of my list for myself: Maldives