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The potential conflict between traditional perceptions and environmental behavior: compost use by Muslim farmers


Although traditional societies often have a deep understanding of ecological relationships, traditional or religious values might be in conflict with current environmental values. According to Islamic Law, some compost sources used for agricultural purposes are impure, especially human and pig excreta. This study examined how Muslim farmers perceive the issue of impurity of compost sources and the extent to which the conflict between traditional and modern values affects compost use. Questionnaires were distributed to 77 Muslim and 11 Christian farmers in Israel, examining their personal characteristics, attitudes toward compost use, awareness of its sources and advantages, and the influence of traditional perceptions on the tendency to use compost. Interviews were conducted with agricultural consultants and Muslim clergy. Although the use of compost was limited, a higher level of awareness was found among the younger and/or more educated Muslim farmers. Varied attitudes were expressed regarding the degree of purity/impurity; 52 % of the respondents expressed willingness to use compost if derived from pure materials. The agricultural consultants were acquainted with Muslim farmers who recoiled from the use of compost. The Muslim religious leaders stated that impure substances can be purified through biochemical reactions during the composting process and noted that the use of compost is preferable if chemical fertilizers are harmful to the environment. Although Muslim farmers expressed willingness to use compost if it was proved to be pure according to Islam, this paper addresses how, in practical terms, universal environmental policies may give rise to value conflicts in traditional communities.

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  1. Cronbach’s alpha is a measure of internal consistency, namely how closely related a set of items are as a group. A high value of Cronbach’s alpha may be used as evidence that the items measure an underlying construct. In fact, it is a common coefficient of reliability (or consistency). For more details see: SPSS FAQ,

  2. Muslims may be classified according to their level of knowledge and degree of adherence to religious precepts. The basic religion is based on The Five Pillars: (1) The Shahada (Islamic creed), (2) As-Salah (daily prayer), (3) Zakat—a certain percentage is taken from every kind of property to be given out to the poor, (4) As-Siyam, the fast of Ramadan, (5) The Hajj—The pilgrimage to Mecca. The religiously sanctioned position depends on the educated class of Muslim legal scholars engaged in the several fields of Islamic studies. In a broader sense, the term Ulema is used to describe the body of Muslim clergy who have completed several years of training and the study of Islamic sciences. The Islamic clergy lead the community in several ways: for example, they lead public prayers in mosques, deliver sermons or act as judges in Sharia courts (Weiss 2002 and Khamaisi, personal communication, 2012). In the current study, the three religious leaders interviewed were Muslim clergy. Please refer to Sect. 3.1 for details about the respondents to the questionnaires.

  3. Technocracy—a system of governance in which technically trained experts rule by virtue of their specialized knowledge and position in dominant political and economic institutions (Fischer 1990).


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Correspondence to Shlomit Paz.

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Paz, S., Ayalon, O. & Haj, A. The potential conflict between traditional perceptions and environmental behavior: compost use by Muslim farmers. Environ Dev Sustain 15, 967–978 (2013).

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  • Compost
  • Traditional perceptions
  • Islam
  • Purity and impurity