by Rizwaan Akhtar
I recently decided to start composting at my apartment in Washington, DC (via a service called Compost Cab) after Ibrahim Abdul-Matin at a Green Muslims Leftar brought up the idea of collective composting, to reduce cost and encourage others.
A few of us thought it was a great idea so we wanted to invite our community group (the Columbia Heights Halaqa) that gathers weekly at my home to compost with me. So, I wrote this letter (below) to our listserve.
Let me know what you think and if you might make use of it for any collective composting initiatives as well (feel free!).
A few months ago, a few of us, Ryan, Nada and I, decided to start composting at the Columbia Heights Halaqa to help reduce waste that harms the earth. It’s been awesome, and I want to personally invite you to join in the process! So, read on: (more…)
I have a well sustained reputation of being all thumbs in my garden and unfortunately, none of them are green! Despite this fact, we decided to invest in a backyard garden and give ourselves and our children the invaluable experience of growing our own food. Perhaps it was initiated by my husband who recently turned vegetarian or perhaps it was the beautiful spring weather in Northern California, or perhaps it was Michelle Obama’s White House garden that everyone is talking about, but whatever the impetus, the initiative is well under way.
When late spring rolled in with the fog from the bay, we began our humble garden. Like Arnold Lobel’s Toad, my littlest one would sing to the seeds waiting for them to germinate. My second son joked about hitting the jackpot once the beans he planted sprouted, while my eldest dutifully watered the garden and waited eagerly for the results. The budding plants reinvigorated my family as we began to see life emerge from the ground and my daughter let each flower be- as she now learned that this will be what she soon eats!
Environmentalists will tell us how we can reduce our carbon footprint by raising our own food, while the frugal shopper will tell us that it’s the cheapest food money can buy with a bountiful yield. Nutritionists will remind us how nutrient dense and tasty our home grown veggies and fruits will be, and doctors will agree that pesticide free, organic food will leave us healthier. What I want to highlight is how much my family has learned from the experience of gardening. From germination, pollination and a short, quick lesson on the birds and bees, to calculating the amount of water and fertilizer needed by a particular plant, to patience, responsibility, exercise, faith in God and gratitude- were invaluable lessons learned with ease while experiencing the most amazing cycle of life.
Now that my family has learned the values of healthy eating with fresh, delicious home grown food, they refuse to see it go to waste because they’ve seen it take so long to come to our plate. According to Ted Steinberg, author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn”, Americans spend between $30-$40 billion each year on maintaining their lawns. The US census bureau tells us the average American spends up to 60% of their weekend hours working on their lawns. Imagine all this time and money spent on greens that we cannot even eat! Now imagine fresh, crisp lettuce- without threat of salmonella, green herbs only as much as your need, blossoming flowers, vine ripened tomatoes you don’t have to pay an arm and leg for and sweet delicious fruits when you want them; all this for much less time and money. This is the outcome of changing our backyard to our green grocery store. Remember change always happens in the home- or in this case, the backyard. Large backyard gardens or potted patio plants, each of us can teach our little ones the pleasures of gardening with a bit of will, water and Wikipedia; so get growing!
Originally posted at Soulfulstudies.
For a brief few moments I was able to think beyond the work I was behind in, the emails I was yet to respond to and the general reality that I didn’t have time to sit here. I began to reflect on how essential it is that we, as the DC community, do our best to preserve that natural beauty and build a stronger relationship with it.
As part of Green Muslims, I would love to discuss topics of conversations that can range from things as simple as ways we can work to green our daily lives to things a bit more complicated like expanding the ways we get our daily supply of energy and how we can raise awareness about how to lower energy consumption. I feel that Green Muslims will be a great opportunity to establish an open dialogue on these issues and a great opportunity to grow in understanding as to the relationship we should be having as Muslims with the environment.
Faizan Tahir is in his second year of undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he is studying Political Science and Legal Studies.
As human beings living in almost every corner of the globe we have learned how to adapt to the differing climates and spaces that we inhabit. Because of our God-given ingenuity and expertise we have mastered much of the natural space around us, forging ahead through discovery and science and finding new ways to both tame Mother Nature and leave a lasting dominant impression on the land we inhabit. However this leads to new interconnected ideas that are somewhat at odds with each other. The first is that our expertise at adaptation and where and how we live leads us to live increasingly disconnected life from the natural world around us. The second is that through our living choices, which are ever-increasingly urban, we actually can have a drastically positive impact on our natural space.
For me it wasn’t until college when I fell in love with bicycling that I realized how disconnected from nature we really are. Starting my first semester at Michigan State University, I was heartbroken at the thought of having to walk or take a bus to class. My car’s transmission had failed one week before I was to make the 50 mile move, and I couldn’t be more upset. “My life was over,” I thought. How would I get to class, get groceries, hang out with friends? Without enough money to get a new one I instead decided to pack up my old bicycle to buzz around from class to class. But I was not happy about it.
Almost immediately though I realized how disconnected from my immediate surroundings I had been while driving. It wasn’t just my waistline that changed, but how I saw the world! Hearing passing peoples voices, feeling and seeing the street, experiencing the changing of the seasons. Bicycling connected me back to the outdoors in a way that I hadn’t experienced since I was a little kid.
While my transition to college propelled me to bicycling and fed my burgeoning interest in environmentalism, it’s something I never could have experienced in my hometown of Flint, MI, where traffic moves at 45mph and where public transit and alternative forms of transit are almost nonexistent. Now living in D.C., I see the same type of opportunity as when I first moved to Michigan State. Where before it was thousands of college students and buildings packed together that induced easy mobility, now it is density, a streetgrid system, and a city designed to accommodate alternative forms of transportation: metro, buses, zipcars, bicycles- all things which owe their existence to our density and the multitudes of people.
On the surface, living in an urban area may seem to inevitably decrease environmental awareness because of the disconnect from the natural world, yet there are many opportunities unique to an urban setting which allow individuals to decrease their impact on the natural world and live in a more harmonious way with it.
Ryan Strom is a DC resident and native of Flint, MI. He currently works with the DC Government as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in addition to being the Green Muslims Communication Manager. He can often be spotted darting in and out of traffic on his bicycle.
On a warm summer day in July on vacation, I had spent the early hours of the morning waiting in line to visit the Sistina Chapel, the famous ceiling mural painted by Michelangelo. Despite my enthusiasm to digest this beautiful artifact of history that holds religious significance to many around the world, I needed to quickly find a place to pray dhur. I was reminded of the prophet pbuh, who said, the entire Earth is a mosque, but at the moment, I wanted a dedicated and intentional space to connect with the Creator. I wanted familiarity in a foreign land where I could feel the presence of Muslims before and after me, who knelt to the ground and placed their mind on the same dedicated carpet and whispered the same intentional prayers. After asking locals, I found the Mosque of Rome a little outside of the center city. The structure was typically Roman with ornate pillars made of like travertino and cotto. But it wasn’t just the architecture that grabbed me; it was the proximity to the rest of the city that carved this experience as memorable. I was able to be a worshipper within the framework of my day, making it an organic part of my experience and reminding me that the way we design our cities and proximity to places of worship directly impact how we experience our faith.
Spaces can be sacred. Our external world has the power to elicit a spiritual connection with our creator when we are in an environment where we feel safe and open to seeing God’s signs around us. I am reminded of a park near my home, where I often walk to feel connected to a world outside my head, and end up feeling like I am walking in the verses of the Quran. God says, “We shall show them our signs within the furthest horizons and inside their own souls until it becomes clear to them that God is Truth.” [41:53] When I see the trees, the running streams, and wildlife, I see signs from God, just as the verses (ayah) of the Quran and souls of humanity are signs guiding us to His path.
In addition to the natural world, a well-designed building in a well-chosen part of town can also bring forth a feeling of connectedness to the Creator. The way a city is planned, and the relationship the different parts have to each other, such as the location of the school to our work place or our place of worship to our homes, directly influence our day to day. As an urban planner, I feel a heightened sense of awareness on the intentionality of how and why our spaces come to be. Aside from the practical planning process of bringing together various stakeholders in community meetings or collecting data, the resulting spaces reflect the values we hold dear and the thoughts that regularly cross our minds.
When I reflect on worsening environmental degradation and the continued disharmony of the built environment with the natural world, I ache for the spiritual turmoil within our collective hearts. Questions like these fill my mind: Why aren’t we better able to connect the built environment with the natural world? Who makes the decisions and what is their reasoning? Who is left out of the equation? How can we bring them to the table? Why is the environment not a priority to many of our leaders? How can we mitigate disproportionate environmental degradation in the most vulnerable populations? How can we ensure that children are growing up in affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?
As part of Green Muslims, I hope to create a space to have these conversations. Perhaps by becoming more intentional, we can demand a place in our community membrane that begs the question, “How can we embrace Islam if we can’t embrace the Earth that God bestowed as a covenant to us?”
Sarah Jawaid is an urban planner and artist originally from Southern California and now, residing in Washington, DC. She currently works on affordable housing advocacy issues.
Rain was falling faster and it was getting late as we both sought refuge under the shelter at the bus stop that evening. I was waiting for the S2/S4 there at the corner of 16th and U, just down the street from my apartment. He was probably just there to wait out the rain under the shelter, if not make it his apartment for the night. So I was in his apartment and he was at my neighborhood bus stop. We were both sharing each other’s space. In fact, we were sharing the same bench. I was on one side, he was on the other, and his overstuffed bag was in the middle.
The man, visibly drunk and in a talkative mood, was the first to say something. I was feeling quiet, but I responded. Then he asked me my name. My response changed everything. His response was to move his bag, from between the two of us to the other side of the bench. I wish it stopped there. Instead, he asked me what I was doing here?…
Whether I was going to blow him up? Why my people always blew things up? Why didn’t we go back to where we came from? What was I doing here, anyway? Was I going to blow him up?
Then he grabbed his bag and crossed the street, under the rain, to the bus stop at the opposite side of the street. Talking loudly to himself all the way there. I should note that at no time during this interaction, from sharing a bench with the man to listening him berate me about “my people,” did I feel threatened in any way. Though I hate to admit it, he – poor, drunk and homeless – simply was not in a position of power or dominance. I was recently asked to reflect on a time when I felt powerless, not dominant (i.e. subordinate) when interacting with someone. “What did it feel like?” they asked. This was my response:
JFK at the mouth of the jetway with the police officer holding my passport. Only my passport. “Randomly.” I felt small, short of breath, nervous, self conscious and myopic. I couldn’t think clearly, almost paralyzed, frozen in place. Just wanting for it to end. Biting my tongue, but wanting to scream and fight. Or simply just to walk away. To have the freedom to walk away. Or the freedom to have control over my own emotions. Not have someone else control them.
Tell me, which is scarier? An armed police officer trained to pick out my racial profile in a crowd or a homeless man with little to no vested interest in discriminating against me, but doing so anyway. Both these scenes speak volumes about how far we’ve let our fears (over)take us. As far as I’m concerned, the latter scene speaks much more clearly and more loudly. But what does this have to do with the environment? Nothing. And everything.
As intense as that exchange at the bus stop might sound, the homeless gentleman and I were only just scratching the surface. The questions that encounter raises, albeit implicitly, have more to do with race, gentrification, suburban sprawl, social services, poverty and health than anything else. These are all environmental issues. They are also social justice issues, without doubt. These very issues, if championed by American Muslims as I believe our faith impels us to do (and as the groups I linked to above are doing), could begin to address the sad reality of those scenes at the airport and the bus stop that I described above.
I believe in reframing false frames. The guru of how arguments are framed is George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley who wrote the book on cognitive framing. It’s called “Don’t think of an elephant!” Which, of course, is exactly what you think of when you hear or read that title, an elephant. Another Lakoff framing example is Richard Nixon’s classic line, “I am not a crook.” Sure, Dick, sure. Finally, and more to the point of this post, is the fact that Islam/Muslims/Muhammad and terror don’t belong together. Not even in that sentence.
The point is to focus on what we are or stand for, not what we’re against. The difference is subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world. I stand for a vision of the world that is peaceful, serene, loving, forgiving, merciful, understanding and whole. I’ve been there before and it is blissful. That is where I want to live. Not by myself, but with others. Not in a far off time and place, but here and now.
This past Sunday a group of the Green Muslims had the opportunity to get out of the city and participate in the traditional autumn activity of apple picking. Having grown up in the Midwest, I (Alhumdulilah) had the opportunity of going on family trips to the orchard and nearby farms to celebrate the season of harvest. One of my fond memories as a child is of spending an entire weekend in the process of apples. There was an orchard behind my grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin and I remember picking the apples in the morning with all my aunts, uncles and cousins and then spending the rest of the day peeling, and cutting and juicing and canning apples into many different delicious appley-end products.
I woke with little effort the morning of, even though it was an hour or so before I normally would have. I was motivated by the promise of Belgian waffles and a breakfast gathering of new and old friends alike. Earlier in the week I had sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to come along with me to an orchard in Virginia. After receiving an overwhelming response of over 22 people, the event basically planned itself. As we all crammed into Kevin and Munjed’s apartment and feasted on the potluck breakfast, we started off with introductions and I learned that over half the people there had never been apple picking before (I also learned what kind of animal they would want to be as that was the other icebreaker question).
As we’re gear up for our next Green Dinner on December 6th, I’d like to share this story from the Post — it follows Arlington resident Peter Owens from his office in DC to his home near Court House, almost a 6 mile/2 hour walk — which got me thinking about our discussion topic: space.
How different is our experience of surrounding spaces if it’s through a walk versus in a car?
I always forget how “small” DC is: from my apartment in Arlington, it’s a 4.3 mile walk to GWU. That sounds doable (walking seems so much less intimidating than biking for some reason). My commute to work (all in Arlington) would be a little more than 4 miles as well…doesn’t seem so bad, maybe I’ll try it come spring 🙂 Plus Google Maps now does walking directions!