Sustainability starts with small everyday choices, and is possible for any community. This is how Sarah, our founder Janice Masoud's daughter, practices sustainability in her local community - her mosque - during Ramadan. This is what going green looks like for Sarah.
It all started when Aamna Anwer and Erbab Majeed decided to bring their passion for environmental justice to their second home - their local mosque. For Muslims, the mosque is where you meet your first friends, go to Sunday School, pray, listen to sermons, and attend lectures and workshops. It’s also a place where leaders preach stewardship for the environment and God’s creation, but are not exactly sure how to execute it within the mosque. That’s where Aamna and Erbab came in. They recruited many interested community members, including my husband Adam, and I to begin an environmental initiative starting with a group called the Environmentals. This is where community members and mosque goers come together in the mosque library to listen to an environmental expert once a month, and discuss topics such as climate change, going zero waste, and sustainability. These discussion groups have been crucial in building education and understanding around environmental issues within the Muslim community.
This took place in precedence to the holy month of Ramadan arriving and we thought we could take the Environmentals to the next level. Ramadan is a month when Muslims all around the world abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk. Ramadan is about spirituality, discipline, and the realization of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and privileges. Ramadan is about the feeling you get at 4 pm, when you haven’t eaten or drank anything since 4 am, and you hear your stomach grumble…but you remember all that God has given you. It’s the feeling you get when someone cuts you off as you’re driving, and just when you’re about to curse, you feel the dryness in your parched mouth, and you remember to practice patience. It’s a month full of prayer, community, happiness, giving, and breaking bad habits – all while building good ones.
So, what does that have to do with the environment?
Well unfortunately with fasting, come large dinner parties that are also accompanied with a lot of waste. People use a lot of plastic to avoid doing large amounts of dishes, and that includes plates, cutlery, water bottles, and cups. The environmental team thought this would be a great way to incorporate good sustainable habits for one month, that we would hopefully see stick, long after Ramadan.
The first thing that needed to be done was working with the mosque to purchase bulk compostable kitchen ware, so that we weren’t wasting hundreds of plastic plates that would go straight to the landfill after a single use. These would be used for all mosque sponsored food events. The second thing was to convert our water fountains to water filling stations so that people would feel better about bringing their reusable water bottles knowing they would have a place to fill them. We’ve also encouraged community members to not donate crates of plastic water bottles, but to donate in another way. You can’t imagine how much water people drink after 16 hours of going without! Thankfully, the donations were able to go to installing the refilling water stations. This is how they turned out!
The last thing on our list in preparation for Ramadan was to purchase a month of commercial composting to have it picked up twice a week at the mosque. With hundreds of people breaking their fasts and having dinner at the mosque every day, we hoped this would prevent food waste. The volunteers gathered at the mosque the Wednesday before the first day of Ramadan to listen to the company representative tell us the rules of composting. We gave each other words of encouragement; unsure at how introducing this to our diverse community would turn out.
But...the first day of supervising composting went great!
Lots of great conversations were had around the differences between compost and recycling and what compost even is! People were very receptive, especially the kids! One little boy exclaimed, “Wow, we’re saving the earth and eating iftar (break-fast) all at the same time!” There were some hurdles with people throwing the wrong trash in the wrong bin when our backs were turned, but overall, it was a successful night in my book!
As Ramadan is coming to a close, and Aamna is coming up from the floor after performing her prayer, she looks around and sees a sea of reusable water bottles where she used to see plastic ones.
This has been a year in the making.
Communities CAN change, it just takes time, and you need to start small. Religious institutions have a huge part to play in encouraging their communities to enact change, and I for one am very excited to see where my mosque is headed.
What small steps are you taking towards sustainability in your local community?