The Blog

less money less problems?

if notorious was right, then we’re in for a ride, but the good kind. a national sobering up of sorts. don’t get me wrong- layoffs and second jobs are no joke. but maybe the silver lining of this economic (social?) shift is a re-discovered sense of priority, thrift, and values. and not just with money, either.

i find it frustrating that whenever people want to “hang out” it ends up with a movie ($) or eating out ($$). it’s not bothersome because it costs money so much as we tend to equate spending quality time with spending money- we give but we don’t get. no trickle down economics there, buddy. just a slow accumulation of emotional debt.

we’ve built our culture in such a way where we start to take as reality the ridiculous notions of commercials where clothes, credit cards, or cars equal happiness. mastercard uses reverse psychology to make itself out *not* to be a shark (priceless my foot), but it’s time to take a step back. it’s the jump scene in a horror movie- time to register the shock, delayed though the reaction may be.

happily, being “green” can help. i will share just one thing, one that i’ve enjoyed quizzing my saturday school students on until they know the exact number. did you know it’s sunnah to use approximately 24 ounces (that’s like, one really big glass) of water to make wudu? if anyone remembers that sesame street sketch where the fish’s pond starts losing water because of the child running the tap while brushing his teeth- that always resonated with me. it’s adab (manners, way of conducting yourself), it’s common sense, it’s closer to our fitra (natural disposition), and it might take practice but if we manage to make it into habit, we can lead simpler and more fulfilling lives.

lives, perhaps, where we can focus on our personal relationships and our closeness to God rather than our bank accounts.

Never Homeless

He is never homeless.
For the earth is his dwelling.

The sky is his ceiling.
The earth his floor.
Tired eyes are his windows.
Day and night his doors.

He is never homeless-
As long as the trees have the earth
And the birds have the sky.
This is where he lives; this is where we live.
Still we call him homeless.
Why?

-Starlette McNeill

In Washington DC’s Street Sense Newspaper
“Where the poor and homeless earn and give their two cents”
Dec. 10-23 2008 V.6, issue 3

what do chocolate and a synagogue have in common?

nothing really, but greater washington interfaith power and light (“gwipl” – i think part of dc culture is definitely its acronyms) had its 2008 awards ceremony on monday night in the form of a chocolate reception.  awesome.  i didn’t really have to read the subject line twice to know i was already there.  anyway, rabbi fred and mike tidwell gave us a tour of adat shalom, which i believe was built in 2000 with a lot of “green” practices.  if any DCGMs have pictures from the event, please comment so i can post them. 

the event was also a fundraiser, and it seems the interfaith community has caught wind of imam johari’s (an area imam) fundraising skills, and as imam johari has tendency to do, he assigned everyone homework.  each of us was asked to tell 5 people to donate to GWIPL.  here’s my proposition for you the reader: you should, if you’re able, donate to gwipl because it’s a local, effective, truly sincere organization.  it’s not some big organization where your money might go to red tape.  i realize a blog isn’t the most personal way to fundraise, but think of it like this- if you’ve got 10, 20, whatever bucks to spare (bring a lunch to work for a couple days instead of eating out), and you like this blog and the things dc green muslims supports, why not?  no big deal.  

part two

part of the reason people appreciate DCGM events/activities so much is because it’s such an open, non-judgemental atmosphere.  young muslims seem to especially appreciate this because perhaps their masjid isn’t the friendliest place, or they had a bad experience with muslim clubs on college campuses.  so even if they come more for the socialization and less for directly “green” things, it makes DCGM a good thing to be a part of.  i do have some (hopefully constructive) criticism, though, and it applies to the greater “green” movement as well as to us.  let’s call it greenvangelism (yes i googled it out of curiosity and yes i could probably link to something interesting, but you have fingers too!).  greenvangelism is sneaky because it appeals to our moral sensibility – “you don’t recycle?! what’s wrong with you??”  and while it certainly comes from good intentions it can definitely turn people off.  see, it’s kind of like religious proselytizing – no one really likes being talked down to.  it can be a little more insidious when the atmosphere is ripe with it to the point where differing views/practices aren’t even on the table for discussion.  people start experiencing mild anxiety over what kind of food to bring to an event, whether they’re “allowed” to drive to something, etc. – suddenly it’s not a love for environmentalism that drives their actions but a fear of social castigation.  

i don’t think DCGM has gone down that road, and for that i’m thankful.  but i personally would like to avoid it, and i hope this blog is one place to start that discussion in the hopes of maintaining that wonderful atmosphere that we are so known for. 

happy Friday!

Greentrification

This is an extended and edited version of my presentation

At the most basic level, a community space is somewhere that people live and work together. School, mosques, grocery stores and neighborhood are all community spaces in that people come together to create a place, and that space is defined by its individual component parts. For example, one can say that a neighborhood is defined by the sum of all the buildings, roads, parks and trees which it contains.

Remove any part of the equation and you have altered that community space to some degree. Altering is not always a negative thing and many communities need to be developed and changed in order to become more sustainable and livable. In the era of environmental degradation, ‘green’ discourse seems almost unchallengeable precisely because an alternative model is so badly needed.

Certainly, those who are not too fond of the environmental movement come up with their usual complaints, but internal criticism if rare, and where it is found, it has yet to pick up any steam. This is because planting trees, opening cafes, building walkways, using recycled bags to do our shopping, planting community gardens, installing solar panels on traffic lights, all these things are needed in order to develop a community space and make it sustainable.

But what often goes unnoticed and sometimes even ignored is the idea that no matter our intentions, the present green development paradigm has dramatic consequences on the urban poor. In order for the green movement to be successful in developing sustainable community spaces, the community which is most impacted and which defines the space MUST be at the forefront of all projects.

In Islam, our deeds are judged by our intentions. Good rarely comes from a bad intention.

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:

“Surely actions are by intentions and each will get that for which they intend”

But what if a good intention actually produces a negative consequence for some? Examples of this abound here in DC and in urban centers around the country where the dominant green discourse is said to clean up areas and promote sustainability while actually accelerating the process of gentrification. Communities may be developed but seldom do the current residents of these spaces benefit from such development.

The reason that the urban poor are often left out of the equation is because the development paradigm began not as a movement to make cities more sustainable, but rather, to stop the spread of and reverse the process of urban sprawl. This movement, almost from inception was led by the middle and upper class. Susana Almanza, in her article, Removing the Poor through Land Use and Planning published in Race, Poverty and the Environment, asserts:

People of color, the poor, and the working poor were not at the table and thus, the impacts on these communities did not receive meaningful consideration. Urban planners and developers began developing the urban core as if people of color were not living in them. New zoning codes and policies were adopted to make room for the new urbanisism. Communities of color throughout the United States began to see condos, lofts, McMansions, and live/work buildings pop up in low-income and people of color neighborhoods. A tidal wave of gentrification began to engulf people of color communities.

Columbia Heights is but one example.

B. Jesse Clarke, editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment admits to me that the current system is doing nothing more then “greenwashing and smart development at the expense of established poor communities.” The solution, according to Clarke, is to put political power in the hands of the poor and communities of color who have historically been disenfranchised. In short, “it takes political power to win social and economic rights for communities of color and low income people”, a power which often takes a backseat while we figure out the next project that will make us feel good about ourselves.

The fundamental issue is that the green movement is perceived as, and in many ways actually is, a movement of the elite, or rather, to be less critical, a movement that is, more often then not, led by those who have the ability and the time to care. If we are to move beyond just feeling good about ourselves because we recycle, reuse and reduce and towards developing communities, the urban poor, the residents of these neighborhoods MUST be at the forefront and we MUST work towards their political rights and their power. Unfortunately, the poor often don’t have the means or ends to participate, just as they do not have the means to shop at Trader Joe’s or buy organic products.

If the people most impacted by environmental degradation are not considered, then green projects ultimately fail in their goal of sustainability. We must make sure that our good intentions result in good deeds which benefit the poor rather then making their communities unlivable.

Reflecting On Our Personal Spaces

A survey was sent out before the Green Dinner #6 to gather an idea of how people perceive their space. During the dinner, we shared some of the responses with everyone for some of the questions. I think the most telling responses from this survey came from the question that asked to describe your favorite space using 3 adjectives. We compiled these words into a Wordle:

The more frequently a word was used, the larger it appears in the Wordle. We can see that the largest words are “reflective”, “comfortable”, “peaceful”, “happy”, and “safe”. When I saw this, I thought it was interesting that individuals in this group found the places most dear to them to be places where they could be reflective, comfortable, peaceful, etc. The question then arose, what does this say about us?
If we are a people of reflection, comfort, and inner peace, than our environment must simply be reflecting its inhabitants. In this way, our environment is directly affected by us. Our own behavior and character directly shapes the spaces we occupy. Similarly, it must be true that an environment can also affect the character and behavior of the individual. If you spend enough time in a certain place, it becomes a part of you.
I’d like to put forth an aphorism for all to reflect on, “Where you are, is who you are.” Our connection with the environment is stronger and more serious than most would like to believe. If we find that we need to make improvements in our lives, changing our environment should be one of the things we concern ourselves with. The reverse should also serve true. If we wish to make changes in our environment, we should start with changing ourselves, and this will resonate in the places around us.

Community spaces

A slightly edited version of my presentation from Saturday’s green dinner…

As we were going through the process of organizing this dinner, one of the most challenging things was: how do you define space? For the purposes of my discussion, I’m going to build on the idea that spaces and public places define communities; communities can either be limited by them or empowered by them.

So say you lived in a neighborhood where every other building had burned down? Because of a policy of divestment by banks and local developers, landlords in your neighbor found it more profitable to torch their buildings and collect insurance on it, rather than selling them.

In addition to these creepy, burned shells of buildings, what if you also had a sewage treatment plants that processed more than 40 percent of the entire city’s waste, four electric power plants, and thousands of diesel trucks coming through every day to service these facilities?

What sort of community spaces would this neighborhood have? Probably not many, with poor air quality caused by the power plants and toxic waste facilities, limited green space, and few economic opportunities.

The picture I just described is the Bronx in New York City but might be true of many inner-city urban areas. One of the recurring themes in our understanding of community space is the impact of environmental injustices. Some communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental problems and receive little environmental benefit. The South Bronx neighborhood that I described has suffered from many years of economic and environmental degradation, which has recently been brought to the attention of the environmental community by Majora Carter and the Sustainable South Bronx.

Through their work, which you can find out more about in detail at www.ssbx.org, the plan is to revitalize the neighborhood through a project to provide safe, walkable streets; green spaces – a park and access to the waterfront; better traffic management to redirect trucks away from the neighborhoods; small businesses opportunities; job training; and ecological restoration projects.

Before After

A little closer to home, many of us are familiar with the amazing work done by the folks at Washington Parks and People, our hosts for tonight. Washington Parks has worked to revitalize some of the most beautiful but long neglected areas of the city. Watts Branch or Marvin Gaye Park, which stretches through Ward 7 of the District, is located in one of the longest inhabited black communities in the country; some records indicate that there were black landowners as far back as the 1700s. In more recent history, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a rally in the park to get people to begin a sit-in at a downtown lunch counter. Local residents would gather for music, picnics, fishing, baptisms, and more in the park.

The park was originally established in the 1920s and 30s and managed through the Federal parks system up to the 1970s. Later when it was turned over to the District, the area fell into neglect because of internal squabbles within the government as to who was responsible for maintenance. The park became a haven for drug dealers and users; the stream, because of the trash, illegal dumping, and chemical run-off, was polluted and unsafe to drink from or swim in 100 percent of the time.

Despite the bad conditions, here was something about this place – this community space – that attracted people. What if that negative use could be transformed into something positive?

The folks at Washington Parks had the idea of taking the “marketplace” concept of the park and using it to start a small fruit and vegetable stand, supplied by a nearby community garden. This created a positive, safe place for people to come get fresh produce – which is normally several bus rides away.

As part of the park revitalization process, Washington Parks also brought in local school-aged children to discuss what they thought the park really needed. I’d like to highlight this as the second important theme in our discussion: you need participation to create the right kinds of public spaces for the community. Whether it’s a mosque, a park, or another type of public place, the space won’t serve the needs of the community unless it’s designed with input from the community.

So what did the kids want? They said, “trash cans.”

The coordinators thought, “What trash cans, that’s it??”

“Yes, because if you don’t have somewhere to throw your trash, you’ll just leave it on the ground and the park will end up dirty again.”

So with trash cans and a produce stand – small changes to start with – and input from the community, WPP with hundreds of volunteers have begun a comprehensive plan to change the community using the park as an entry point. To learn more about the parks history and future development, I encourage you to come when we have our next service day…you’ll learn a lot and feel more connected to the community you live in and the public spaces around us.

Niyyah of Space (Soliloquy from Green Dinner # 6)

The following are concluding remarks from the Green Dinner #6. So happy you all could join us.

Summary of evening:

The spatial experience allowed us to see that our spaces affect us and we have control over it. In the personal space portion of the program, we had you take a survey to see how your favorite spaces make you feel and the word that come up the most was reflective…so we learned that our spaces give us an opportunity to look within and reflect on our surroundings. Then we expanded to community level, discussing how there are some spaces that negatively affect our communities and need our help. That’s where you heard about the Green Muslims helping out at Marvin Gaye park.

So the big words of this evening are…intentions, reflection and connection to your environment.

For a moment, let’s think about the way DC was built. It was intentionally planned to emulate a European city design. Grand Boulevards, huge vistas like standing at the capitol and see the Washington monument in the far distance, these were are all intentional designs to make an announcement to the rest of the world that the US had arrived. The Roman style architecture of the buildings show a sense of power and government, making common people feel small in comparison. When you in fly into DC, nothing is taller than the monument and that is because there is a height restriction that doesn’t allow buildings to be taller, again, DC was meant to elicit a sense of history, tradition and power. So something as simple as DC’s built environment has so many intentions behind it, it wasn’t haphazardly constructed, there was a vision, whether or not you agree with it, there was an intention. So let’s reflect on that intention so we feel more connected to our environment.

As Muslims, we are expected to constantly reflect, praying 5 times a day …what we provided you today was another process to reflect and help you achieve a greater level of spiritual awareness. Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasir is a leading thinker in defining the relationship between the natural world and Islam. The theme in his writings is about man’s total disharmony with his environment. He sees the crisis as an externalization of an inner malaise that cannot be solved without internal reflection leading to a spiritual revival. The human destiny, Nasr says, entails fulfilling the role of God’s appointed protector of the natural world, thus bearing witness to the truth that the whole of nature speaks of God.

This can be transferred to living green, specifically by checking our intentions on why we are try to live a more green life… for example, why do you recycle a bottle? Is it for the 5 cents or is it because you recognize that this bottle will sit in some land fill for years because it doesn’t decompose. Why do you conserve water? Is it because you are concerned about limited clean water supply for future generations? Or are you trying to lower your water bill? Or is it both? Which is a valid point.

All I am saying here is that let’s reflect on our intentions…there are so many formulas out there on how to lower your carbon footprint…you can google it. You’ll find lists after lists telling you what you should be doing to live more green and sometimes it can be overwhelming…I am not going to provide you with another list. I am not going tell you what you should be doing. What I hope you walk away with today is recognizing the importance of our spaces, being more sensitive to how they affect us, being present in the moment so that we are position to see God work in our lives and finally, to look within and find ways to be better protectors of this earth in whatever capacity works for us. This process of self-reflection will hopefully motivate you to individual action… collectively this individual action means more than any list I could give you on living green. Your actions will come from a genuine place. And finally when we reflect on our spaces, hopefully we can become empowered to take ownership of our surroundings and shape our spaces in a way that best fit us and protect our planet.

Green Muslims Potluck…NUMBER SIX!

Green Dinner #6: Stand Outside Your Space
Saturday, December 6 @ 6:30pm
Josephine Butler Center
2437 15th Street NW, Washington, DC

Email info@dcgreenmuslims.org to RSVP

The spaces around us, whether the private spaces within our homes or community spaces provide us with opportunities for reflection. How do these spaces make you feel? Do they make you think of God’s bounty or make you feel suffocated as if in dank cubicle?

Reflecting on the spaces we inhabit can expand our understanding of living a ‘green’ life. With this expanded understanding, even small acts, like recycling or turning off the lights after leaving a room, can have a greater meaning, because they are founded in a worldview which appreciates, respects and protects both the natural and built environment.

On the 6th of December, join us for some food, fun, and reflection and be ready to experience a shift in your perspective on the spaces around us…This will not be your typical Green Dinner experience!

Please be punctual. Doors will close at 7:00PM to facilitate the “spatial experience.” If you are curious as to what this means, show up on time and you’ll find out. Trust us…it’s not anything scary 😉

Don’t forget to bring a yummy non-sticky/greasy treat to share! Something homemade is even better 🙂

from headlines into head cases

the Post. the Times. the other posts and times. heck- the black ink that’s left behind after you fold away the last page of that paper you just absorbed along with your morning coffee.

like the coffee, the news has an immediate as well as a long term effect (on our collective psyche). your thoughts might center on it furiously for a while, and the effects wear off as the day, week, month goes on- but like the caffeine, it’s still in your system. and like the coffee, it morphs into your daily routine- soon, it’s unacceptable not to ingest it: how would one function?

it’s not that bad. there are worse things. it’s not like my tv is always on. it’s not like i believe *everything* i read (just most). i know fact from fiction….right? i’m not *as* impressionable as the average american….right?

what i’m trying to get at here is mental health/balance. i feel that most of the things we worry about about on a daily basis- the economy, chemicals in our food, natural disasters, you name it– are absolutely not the point of our existence. i’m not advocating hermetic existence and a swearing off of coffee, but i am asking: why do i “need to know” again? because quite frankly, i don’t think i need to know most of the things i read/hear on a daily basis. perhaps they should change the saying to “what we think the people should know, from our own often convoluted opinions.”

and Allah knows better.