A clean and green Ramadan | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 13, 2024

This Ramadan, plastics will be absent from the meals of many Muslims breaking their fast in mosques across the globe.

Iftars—the after-sunset meal that unites Muslims together during the holy month that began on March 22, 2023—often involve the use of plastic knives, forks, and bottles of water.

To encourage Muslims to be more environmentally conscious during Ramadan, mosques are progressively discontinuing single-use products, with some outright prohibiting the use of plastics.

For Islamic historian Noorzehra Zaidi, this “greening” of Ramadan is perfectly consistent with the faith’s traditions, particularly the observation of Ramadan.

The month, during which observant Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset, is a time for believers to focus on purifying themselves as individuals against excess and materialism.

However, in recent years, Muslim groups around the world have used the occasion to mobilize around social awareness themes. This involves being aware of the dangers of wastefulness and accepting the connection between Ramadan and environmental concerns.

One example is the ban on plastics, which is supported by the Muslim Council of Britain as a method for Muslims to “be mindful of [God’s] creation and care for the environment.”

Other mosques and community centers discourage large or lavish evening feasts because such communal events often result in food waste, overconsumption, and the use of non-biodegradable cutlery, plates, and serving trays.

Quranic Environmentalism

While environmental awareness has grown in Muslim communities in recent years, the links between Islam and sustainability can be seen in the faith’s founding writings.

Scholars have traditionally stressed Quranic concepts emphasizing conservation, reverence for living creatures, and the diversity of living things as reminders of God’s creation. 

The Quran emphasizes the concept of “mizan,” or cosmic and ecological equilibrium, as well as humans’ roles as stewards and khalifa, or “viceregents,” on Earth—terms that also have an environmental interpretation.

Recently, Islamic environmental activists have emphasized the various hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that provide guidance to followers of the faith) that emphasize the importance of Muslims avoiding excess, respecting resources and living things, and consuming in moderation. 

Although present since the beginning of the faith, the links between Islam and environmentalism gained prominence with the works of Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, especially a series of lectures he presented at the University of Chicago in 1966. The lectures, as well as a subsequent book, Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man, cautioned that humans have severed their link with nature, putting them in dire ecological peril.

According to Nasr, Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, scientific tradition, arts, and literature, all emphasize nature’s spiritual significance.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scholars and activists expanded on Nasr’s work, including Fazlun Khalid, one of the world’s leading voices on Islam and environmentalism. Khalid established the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in 1994, an organization dedicated to preserving the world as a healthy environment for all living beings. Khalid and other Muslim environmentalists argue that Islam’s roughly 2 billion followers may contribute to environmental sustainability and equality by working within their own traditions, rather than through Western models and beliefs.

Going beyond an eco-Ramadan

Environmental disasters disproportionately afflict the world’s poorest populations, and researchers have emphasized the unique vulnerability of Muslim communities worldwide, such as those affected by catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in 2022.

Academics have demonstrated how Islam can serve as a paradigm for environmental stewardship by highlighting Islamic beliefs, policies, and community activities.

This effort for environmental awareness goes beyond Ramadan. In recent years, Muslims have attempted to incorporate green practices into Iraqi shrine cities during the Ashura and Arbaeen pilgrimage seasons.

This includes awareness programs encouraging Arbaeen’s 20 million pilgrims to limit the tons of trash they leave each year that clogs Iraq’s waterways. The Green Pilgrim movement recommends taking cloth bags and reusable water bottles, refusing plastic utensils, and establishing eco-friendly stalls along the walk, citing Shiite scholarship and community leaders.

Muslim-owned companies and NGOs are also participating. Haute Hijab founder Melanie Elturk often links faith, fashion, commerce, and environmentalism by emphasizing the brand’s sustainability and environmental effect. The Washington, D.C. group Green Muslims created the first “leftar”—a variation on “iftar”—using leftovers and reusable containers.

Muslim communities address environmental impacts in many ways, and the greening of Ramadan falls into a larger discussion about how often communities may address climate change on their own.

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