A centuries-old Islamic concept could be a modern solution to safeguard threatened ecosystems. Himas—or protected places—originated as a way for ancient tribal chiefs to reserve the best land for private use, reports Saudi Aramco World (Nov.-Dec. 2008). In the seventh century, the prophet Muhammad redefined himas as public assets, rich pieces of God’s natural world “in which all community members had a share and a stake.” This model thrived into the 1960s, when the emergence of the modern nation-state (and its attending bureaucracy) pushed the localized conservation model out of vogue.
Environmentalists working with the Beirut-based Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), however, saw the genius of a conservation model that encourages communities to become stewards of the natural world and in 2004 began working to reestablish himas in the Bekaa Valley and near the city of Ebel es-Saqi. These days, enthusiastic groups of citizens, local officials, farmers, and scientists meet regularly to monitor the status of their preserves. SPNL reports surges in biodiversity and the return of several endangered species. An all-around success, the himas have even attracted ecotourists, creating economic opportunities for local communities.