Our Ramadan seems to be focused entirely on ourselves – our own exercise in self-control, our own spiritual growth, our effort in helping to alleviate the suffering and hunger of our own people. Our do good feel-good mentality stultifies at clothing, feeding, and providing education or healthcare. Once we’ve done our duty of doling out charity, we justify our gluttony and excess in this month of supposed austerity and simpli-city.
The ‘footprint’ of our deeds goes beyond generations, through time and space. ‘good deeds’ needs to include our concern for our environment and planet. Indeed the very concept of sadaqah-e-jariah in Islam is of a deed with positive ramifications of an eternal nature, outliving our own mortality. And planting a tree is one such recommended ‘act of goodness’ urged by the Prophet Muhammad.
The Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad set clear mandates for Muslims’ role in environmental stewardship. Over consumption being a key one that ironically applies to current Ramadan behaviour trends.
A number of initiatives worldwide now focus on this aspect of Muslim spirituality. Mosques across the world have begun including environmental awareness campaigns in their sermons. Chicago mosques, for instance, encourage their constituencies to plant vegetable gardens, use carpools to attend taraweeh prayers, and recycle waste.
Ramadan: Impetus for Behaviour Change
“Ramadan is the month where you change your lifestyle, so it makes a lot of sense to use the month to change our behavior in terms of consumption, environmental consciousness and stewardship,” said Zaher Sahloul, Chairman, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. They walk the talk: Sahloul’s Bridgeview Foundation recently opened an energy-efficient building that incorporates natural light, uses solar panels for heating water and carpeting made of recycled materials.
“What we’re asking will run counter to the cultural norm, but by framing it in the context of spirituality and faith we feel that we will reach more people,” the same Council’s executive director said.
Consume to Conserve Push
Among the most comprehensive, universally-applicable effort has been made by Lifemakers UK and the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences: a publication entitled Muslim Green Guide to Reducing Climate Change. A commendable effort, it provides practical suggestions on how Muslims can minimize their carbon footprint.
It identifies areas within the household where individuals can make efficient use of energy and resources – akin to a corporate ecoefficiency guide. Cooking, an integral part of Ramadan feasting, is more eco-friendly if fresh, local, organic produce is used. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are encou-raged so as to sustain local agriculture, as opposed to those grown in glasshouses or impor-ted, both of which contribute to global warming. Everyday items should be bought in bulk to avoid transportation and packaging costs. The guide even encourages the consumption of organic milk as it requires three times less energy to produce organic milk as compared to non-organic milk: a fact that needs to be highlighted more so in the face of local advertising propaganda. Not to mention that organic milk isn’t spilling with hormones detrime-ntal to human (and moo) health.
Similarly, efficient usage of electricity and minimum usage of artificial lighting is encouraged. Electrical appliances should be switched off rather than being put on standby- an extremely important step in Pakistan where voltage fluctuation is a bane to the sustainability of our gadgets.
Other suggestions include using energy saving bulbs, using single light fittings rather than multi-light fittings and maximizing the use of natural lighting. Of particular relevance to Pakistan is the issue of ‘light pollution’. Unnecessary illuminations of mosques and markets all night long should be banned at the government level especially considering the energy crisis we face.
Likewise, noise pollution during Ramadan nights and other religious festivals proceeds un-checked. The use of loudspeakers must be curtailed.
Waste management is another area which should be made part of awareness campaigns led by mosques. The idea that ‘waste reduction starts at the supermarket’ should be kept in mind as we indulge in shopping sprees spurred by constant advertising of ‘deals’ and ‘new varieties’. We should buy recyclable containers or plastic containers, glass jars and cloth bags, and products with minimalistic packaging as is part of our culture. In Pakistan, the ‘raddi-wala’ and ragpicking children are a boon for those who want to recycle waste paper, tetra packs, glass bottles, tins, etc. We need to make a little more effort in this regard and make their lives easier and our planet cleaner and cooler by sorting out waste before disposal, especially kitchen waste that can be made into garden compost. Of course, basic facilities such as designated areas for waste disposal are a dire need in Pakistan.
Water, another ‘scarcity’ in Pakistan, must be used efficiently. Water used for washing vege-tables, fruits and meat can be stored and reused for watering your own garden – indeed this reused water is rich in nutrients for our soil. Domestic staff and our children tend to run water taps unchecked – the former in particular can certainly help us stick to our household eco-efficiency guide. Who knows even share gas and water bill savings with so they are motivated to use your -and the planet’s- resources more prudently.
Of course, given the current lack of tolerance and unity of purpose in Pakistani society, such guidelines can only be implemented at individual levels. Till then, each mosque and market will continue to clamour and glitter for attention. The least we can do is curtail harmful emissions from our electrical appliance usage. Switch off that TV this Ramadan. Bond with our families. Invest in some really renewable sadaqah-e-jariah. Improve the prospects for our Hereafter.
Make ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ your motto this Ramadan – and sustain it!