A Disorder Worthy to Correct

Nature-deficit disorder means that people who spend less time outdoors can suffer from a wide range of behavioral problems

By Noor Saadeh

May/June 2022

Americans love psychological disorders and their prescriptions. There seems to be a new one in the news every day. One of my recent favorites is prolonged grief disorder. A loved one dies, and you are still grieving after two weeks? Well, we have a pill for that! 

Yet this one caught my eye — nature-deficit disorder, meaning that humans are spending less time outdoors than they have in the past and thus are afflicted with a wide range of behavioral problems.

I recognized this one as legitimate, for it has resonated within me for a long time.

I love the great outdoors. My family found God in the natural world. A popular saying among hunters’ families is that there are no atheists in a duck blind. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, with only the sounds of animal and bird calls or the rustling of leaves or wind in the trees, gave my family an opportunity to tune out the city and into God’s finest creation, nature. Nature, unlike humanity, is obedient to God’s commands at all times.

With the advent of spring, I once again explore the many walkways and trails surrounding my home. I believe that God rewards these adventures, as I seek to connect with Him and the natural world. I have encountered the elusive and normally nocturnal armadillo, the possums and raccoons that visit my yard, along with every type of predatory, wading or songstress birds that inhabit the area around the creek running below my home. Coyotes and bobcats, both of whom have come calling, constantly remind us that we inhabit what was once their territory and therefore should be mindful and responsible caretakers of it.

During Covid-19’s restrictions, I found refuge in walking. This was not only beneficial spiritually, but also emotionally as well. As an added bonus, it’s a pleasant and simple form of dawah. Walkers, bikers and the like are a friendly and social bunch. Most approach with a smile or a friendly hello. 

As a covered woman, I am ready with a welcoming smile and greeting as we pass by. Those who seek nature comprise a community of like souls. We relish the outdoors for the sunshine and fresh air as a healthy escape from the media and the sedentary lifestyle that surrounds it. 

It’s an essential way to connect with God. Having recognized God through His creations in the outdoor world in my younger days, I found Him again in the many Quranic verses that focused the early Muslims’ attention on their Creator via the world so apparent around them. 

Before God laid down Islam’s basic creed, those early verses drew attention exclusively to the natural world. We need to revisit those verses and immerse ourselves in the outdoors now more than ever. 

Although human beings have been urbanizing and then moving indoors ever since the introduction of agriculture, the social and technological changes of the last three decades have accelerated our disconnect from the natural world. Among the reasons are the following: the proliferation of electronic communications, poor urban planning and disappearing open space, increased street traffic, diminished importance of the natural world in public and private education, as well as parental fear magnified by news and entertainment media. 

Since 2005, the number of studies of how nature impacts human development has grown from a handful to nearly one thousand. This expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, obesity and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. 

Research also suggests that this particular disorder weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity” and to a devaluing of independent play (http://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder).

The good news is that all of these ills can be reversed. As always, the Quran can lead humanity out of this morass. As Muslims, we hold the keys to the solutions if we exemplify them in our actions and words. If we take hold of our Book of Guidance and read it to learn, to adapt and grow, we can be the first who unplug from this sedentary and screen-obsessed lifestyle and plug back into nature once again. Rather than merely memorizing with little comprehension, the Quran’s ayat will speak to us, redirecting our thoughts toward the creation. 

• Have they not seen the birds above them, spreading and folding their wings? None holds them up except the Most Compassionate. Indeed, He is All-Seeing of everything (67:19). 

• With Him are the keys of the unseen — no one knows them except Him.  And He knows what is in the land and sea. Not even a leaf falls without His knowledge, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth or anything — green or dry — but is ˹written˺ in a perfect Record (6:59). 

• There is not an animal that lives on Earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. We have omitted nothing from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end (6:38). 

These are but a few of the verses that immediately draw our attention to the world around us and compel us to marvel at God’s magnificent creation and glorify Him.

Just as our predecessors who saw a Golden Age of Islam did, we have replaced struggle with ease. We are becoming lethargic and ill, lacking the energy to struggle physically or spiritually. Yet God relates, “Indeed, We have created humanity in struggle” (90:4). Muslims lost Islam when we became too affluent, too comfortable. We saw our empires fold, one after another, upon relinquishing these struggles. 

The best months are ahead of us. Spring, just like the resurrection, returns as a guarantee each year. The long days of summer quickly follow. It’s an excellent opportunity for all of us to get off the couch, shut off the electronics and head outdoors. Like any spring flower, we must bloom where we are planted. Google where to find a park, take a hike or merely head out to the backyard. Make sometime every day to experience life outdoors unplugged and marvel at God’s magnificent creation all around us! 

Noor Saadeh is production manager at Noorart, Inc. (www.noorart.com).

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