Witnessing God's Care: Bee Hives at the Zaytuna Garden
We met with Imam Dawood Yasin, director of student life and the Zaytuna Center for Ethical Living and Learning (ZCELL), to discuss the arrival of new life on campus: a population of honey-producing bees. The beehives are part of a greater initiative on campus—the Zaytuna garden—which introduces students (and, eventually, the community) to sustainable practices in the production of food from farm to table.
“If we think about educating the whole individual—the body, mind, and soul—the bees represent all three. There’s a physical aspect of caring for them; there’s knowledge one must acquire about them; and there’s the metaphysical understanding of their presence in the Qur’an,” notes Imam Dawood.
Visitors can find the bees in the southeast corner of the Upper Campus, by the orchard. Imam Dawood recommends some research before visiting—learning the different roles and functions of bees can help you understand what you might observe at the Zaytuna hives. “It’s powerful to see our relationship with the land and ourselves,” he says. “We care for it, and it cares for us, and, above all, it is Allah caring for us.”
Read the full interview with Imam Dawood below.
What was the inspiration behind having bees on campus?
Dawood Yasin: To understand that, we need to go back and talk about what the inspiration was for having a garden on campus. Allah talks in the Qur’an about gardens, which are promised for human beings—as you come to love the garden in this life, you yearn for what is promised in the next. Similarly, bees are mentioned in the Qur’an; they have their own chapter. Allah mentions what He loves in the Qur’an, thus the bees represent an opportunity for us to explore the deeper meanings of their functions and benefits.
How do the bee colonies fit into Zaytuna’s educational vision?
DY: If we think about educating the whole individual—the body, mind, and soul—the bees represent all three. There’s a physical aspect of caring for them; there’s knowledge one must acquire about them; and there’s the metaphysical understanding of their presence in the Qur’an. At Zaytuna, we want our students to grow in each of these dimensions, and we hope they instill what they learn into their own lives.
Will we be harvesting honey from the bees?
DY: We expect about six pounds of honey per frame. There are eight frames in a hive, so each hive can produce about sixty pounds of honey. Hopefully, our bees can produce two to three times a year. The honey will be used on campus for culinary purposes; there will be a commercial aspect as well and, with the generosity of our tradition, some gifting too.
How do you envision the garden looking and functioning in the next ten years?
DY: We’d like to expand the general footprint of the garden. There’s the public aspect: in the future we could see a farmer’s market happening on campus, accessible only by foot or bike which represents an attempt to return to a simpler way of living. I would love to engage some culinary talents. I’ve just spoken to an herbalist—we have chamomile, echinacea, and other herbs that we could use medicinally. We’d like to produce our own lavender essential oils. I see the garden as a place of learning. Perhaps there will be students interning, researching, connecting with other universities, and training in a summer program.
Can the public visit the bees if they want to see them in person?
DY: People can come up and see the bees—there is a fence around the hives that creates a nice barrier for protection—and you can see them doing work. They are located in the southeast corner of the property. I would suggest that before people come see them, they do a little bit of research to better understand what they’re seeing: which bees are flying in and out (worker bees), which are guarding the hives (guard bees), what are the functions of the drone bees, and more. I can envision that we’ll invite people to come witness the harvest. The entire system—the process from bees to honey—is amazing; being able to actually see it is even more remarkable.
What do you hope the greater community will take away from these bee colonies and Zaytuna’s garden?
DY: I hope people can broaden their understanding of what Islam means—that Islam guides us toward engaging all aspects of our lives. One of the crazy ideas that I’ve always had is that masjid should have chicken coops and distribute eggs after various congregational prayers throughout the day. I see these hives as connecting our faith to Allah’s creation. I also hope people will be inspired. When I was the assistant imam at the masjid in New Haven with Imam Zaid, there were two small garden beds on the edge of the parking lot; even with only these two small beds, the community was inspired. We had meals together with the collard greens we grew, and we watched our community grow with the garden. It’s powerful to see our relationship with the land and ourselves. We care for it, and it cares for us, and, above all, it is Allah caring for us. Through this, people can come to understand Allah as the Sustainer, how He constantly sustains us in manifold ways.