By Debra J. White –
Solar and wind power provide clean energy to thousands of homes in Arizona. New home construction in most Arizona cities does not allow grass lawns to save water consumption. Retailers such as Whole Foods’s and Sprouts offer five-cent rebates to shoppers who use their own bags. Why the push to go green? The world around us is changing. Last year, 2016, was the hottest on record. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities in the USA and around the world. There is withering drought in some parts of the world and epic floods in others. Acidification of the oceans stresses sea life.
A responsibility for the protection of the environment is a concept that has been permeating both public and private businesses and organizations including the local Muslim community.
Special times of the year allow for a more substantial push for environmental action. The community in Tempe capitalized on the spirit of Ramadan, and the increased traffic that Ramadan brought to the mosque, to raise awareness of the need to reduce waste and the value of doing so as a citizen of the world, and as a person of faith.
During the final week of Ramadan 2016, the Islamic Community Center in Tempe hosted “zero waste” iftars. Community members and guests were asked to bring their own water bottles or to drink from the fountain. Leftover food was composted by a local company. No Styrofoam cups were used. Water conservation signs were placed by the wudu stations. Plastic water bottles were recycled. The mosque hopes to replicate the zero waste iftars again this Ramadan, according to a member of the zero waste planning team.
Mosques go green around the county
ICC Tempe wasn’t alone. A mosque in the Washington, D.C., area also promotes the zero waste iftar. The ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) first introduced zero waste in 2015 because, according to Ann Raheems, a green team member, the mosque used at least 125,000 plastic water bottles during Ramadan in 2014. With 500 meals served nightly and congregants wanting a cool drink to end their fast, reducing plastic bottle usage was a challenge. In 2015, the mosque improvised by using water pitchers and coolers and selling reusable plastic bottles. During Ramadan 2016, the ADAMS Center went a step further and installed a water filtration system so congregants could refill their own water bottles. They eliminated Styrofoam completely. Plans are in the works to extend the zero waste initiative beyond Ramadan to other mosque events such as scout meetings, Qur’an lessons, interfaith gatherings and gatherings at the three other ADAMS satellite locations.
A green team at the River Oaks Islamic Center (ROIC) of Houston was recently formed to work on sustainability issues. To date, according to team member Katherine Nawaal Gratwick, 1,300 plastic bottles have been diverted from the local landfill. In 2016, they installed a modern water and cooling filtration system that further cuts down on plastic bottle usage. The green team designed reusable water bottles that were distributed to community members who fill them with fresh, clean water. ROIC also instituted a recycling program in 2015 and the City of Houston picks up their recyclables twice a month. The mosque plans a public relations campaign to communicate the broader issue about conserving water and cutting down on plastic bottle use. The mosque’s website offers information about recycling and sustainability. Its green team is made up of interested men and women committed to instituting sustainable projects at their mosque.
The Jefferson County Muslim Community in Jefferson City, Mo., is a small mosque in a large Midwestern state but according to Noaman Kayani, president, they encourage congregants to recycle, conserve water, and turn off appliances when not in use. The mosque installed LED lighting as well with dusk-to-dawn sensors outside.
The prospect of “going green,” though attractive, often presents the underlying concern of added expense before potential payoff. Going green, however, can be accomplished without draining resources from valuable programs. Take the Ash-Shaheed Islamic Center in Charlotte, N.C., as an example. According to assistant imam Jibril Muhaymin, they instituted a recycling program in 2010 and also eliminated Styrofoam from all events at the mosque. This action didn’t cost a prohibitive amount, but it advocated a change in the behavior of the community and an awareness that hadn’t been there in the past.
Going green can also mean working with community groups to divert excess rainwater from local waterways. Rainwater on roofs, streets, driveways, etc., can pick up pollutants before it is deposited into drains that empty into waterways. In the Puget Sound area, ECOSS (Environmental Coalition of South Seattle) works with other community groups to install rain gardens and cisterns. Specifically, ECOSS collaborated with Hope Academy, an Islamic school, and Al Noor Mosque in South Seattle to install two rain gardens (shallow depressions) and four cisterns (large tanks) in November 2015 to collect runoff from heavy downpours, which are common in the Pacific Northwest. Rainwater is then prevented from entering the local waterways and clogging the aging sewage system. Water from a cistern can be used to water plants or wash driveways thus reducing utility bills. The cisterns and rain gardens are also expected to reduce basement flooding at the mosque and school. Installation was done through Rain Wise, a project of the City of Seattle and King County. According to Frances Kuo, ECOSS program manager, Rain Wise works with community groups to install rain gardens and cisterns.
The religious commitment
Whether motivated by regulation or simply by a perceived moral obligation, the green movement is often rallied through community centers and workplaces where masses congregate, including religious community spaces like the mosques mentioned above. Religious centers advocate for environmentally responsible practices both on the basis of economic advantage and religious responsibility. The duality of the two paints a favorable trifecta: help the environment while practicing a key tenet of faith and save your community money. In short, the message rings clear, a community of environmentally minded individuals who create a sustainable mosque not only help to save the environment but to save the pocketbook. Likewise, lowering operating cost puts more funding into community programs.
The mosque, like a public school, plays a central role in the community and is widely used every day. Besides hosting a gathering for weekly Jummah services, many mosques offer Qur’an classes for youth and adults. Specialized programs welcome new converts. Some mosques even offer exercise or health discussion classes in an effort to advocate healthier life practices in another sense. Scouting groups meet at mosques. Additionally, guest lectures on topics relevant to the community are routine. Programs abound, and mosques are often strapped for resources. Mosques usually function with few paid staff members and rely heavily on volunteers. Operations are dependent on donations, so community members are often implored to attend fundraising events. But mosques can also improve their budgets through environmental stewardship, such as installing energy-saving appliances, using LED lighting, and lowering water consumption. Reducing waste may lower trash pickup fees as well.