Jun 18 12:00 PM

‘Green Ramadan’ begins as pope calls for fast action on climate

The pope's release of an encyclical on climate change coincides with the first day of Ramadan.
Hazir Reka / Reuters

The pope's historic encyclical, published Thursday, is calling attention to the impact of human-driven climate change on the planet and especially its effect on the world’s poor, prompting many Catholic faithful in America to weigh in for or against the Vatican's stand.

Meanwhile, American Muslims are being urged to observe a “Green Ramadan.”

The Washington, D.C.-area organization Green Ramadan wants Muslims to fulfill their religious duties by treating the environment better during the fasting month that begins Thursday. Kori Majeed, founder of the grassroots group, is just one of many activists trying to make the 30-day holiday kinder to nature.

In her third year of the campaign, the focus for 2015 is on using serving materials other than styrofoam; last year her big push was for "zero-trash iftar kits," which believers can re-use each evening while breaking the fast.

“Faith is a huge part of it,” said Majeed, a 39-year-old mother of five. “I take examples from the Quran for how to be a steward of the earth and use resources wisely.”

Majeed cited a planned push by the “Green Team” at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., which is aiming to go from using 125,000 disposable water bottles last year to none — ideally — this Ramadan at the capital region’s largest mosque.

“People need baby steps,” Majeed said. “So [in 2016] I’ll focus on something else to make people more aware and mindful. Hopefully those actions will become habits to use throughout the year.”

“Traditions are getting more in touch with [their] inherent greenness,” Majeed said, adding that she was fully supportive of the pope’s unprecedented efforts: “I’m down with that.”

While educating mosques about conservation, the activist describes herself as part of a larger pluralistic movement Interfaith Power & Light. The San Francisco-based umbrella organization brings together religious communities that are outspoken on climate change, ranging from Quakers and evangelical Christians to Sikhs and Buddhists.

But will the Green Ramadan concept really effect change in 2015?

Aside from eating with recyclable utensils that don't harm the planet, participants say an obvious way to observe Green Ramadan is not to waste as much food — especially during a time when so much is notoriously thrown out. One campaigner offers up Ramadan tips that emphasize eating local produce, shunning fast food, and littering less.

New York-based activist Ibrahim Abdul Matin, author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, is a pioneer in those circles. “There’s a growing movement to sight the moon locally, which causes more people to go outside of their comfort zone. That’s another layer of green Ramadan,” he said, referring to the traditional way of marking the beginning of the holy month. “Prayer [is] a tool to remember you’re part of the cosmos ... a powerful thing in terms of where you fit.”

Another DC-area group, Green Muslims, promotes webinars on “greening Ramadan.”

“The encyclical was not written just for Catholics but for the entire global community,” said Colin Christopher, director of Green Muslims. “The [environmental] cry for help comes from arguably the most influential human being on the planet. We recognize the parallels with Islamic values.”

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