Guest Blog: The University of Michigan MSA established and grew, beginning in fall 2012, the Green Muslims Initiative. The insightful reflections of two members of the group highlight both the inspiration and possibilities behind this action.
by Tesneem Alkiek and Layth Dahbour
The Green Muslims Initiative (GM) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is two-fold. Firstly, we hope to educate and implement environmentally sustainable habits that can be easily adopted by our campus community. Secondly, as we are a new initiative under the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), we want to create a clear connection between the importance of environmental conservatism and the faith of Islam. In our first year we already have made major changes in the way the MSA, as an organization, treats the environment, hosted events that educate our community of habits that they can adopt, discussed several connections between the protecting the environment and Islam, and provided college students with opportunities to get further involved with green activities on campus.
We hit the ground running and started our year off by inviting Chaplain Nuri Friedlander of Harvard to shed light on the Islamic importance of living green. One of our greatest investments has been using reusable plates, cups, and utensils at all of our MSA events! In addition, we have found a homeless shelter in our community that accepts all the extra food left over at the MSA events.
Our biggest event this year was the “Green Week” that happened in early February. Throughout this week, we put a green twist on MSA weekly events. We held a “Green” Mini-Qiyam where one of our community members who studies Environmental Science explained to us that our role as Muslims is to be stewards of the Earth that Allah (swt) has blessed us with. GM also hosted the MSA’s first ever “Brothers vs. Sisters Cook-off.” This event was meant to teach our community the importance of buying local, organic food, in order to minimize the impact we have on the environment.
Prior to the cook-off, we had a workshop on simple steps that we can incorporate into our daily lives, in order to protect the environment in general, and the University of Michigan campus more specifically. This is part of UM’s new Planet Blue Ambassador Program. To conclude the week, the Green Muslims Initiative influenced a “Green” Friday khutbah and also hosted a trip of volunteers at the local arboretum where we cut down invasive species from their natural habitats.
Looking forward, the Green Muslims Initiative hopes to continue providing the Muslim community and the overall campus community with opportunities to be more educated and involved in environmental sustainability. In the future we hope to implement regular services that encourage college students to be more conscious of how they treat the Earth. Strategies to do this include collaborating with campus offices and student organizations in Ann Arbor and elsewhere.
We also want to continually remind the members of our community that our faith emphasizes our role as stewards of the environment. It is through verses like the one below that drive the progress of GM:
“But waste not in excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (6:141), (7:31)
If you have questions or comments about the Green Muslims Initiative at the University of Michigan, please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Sarrah AbuLughod
“You’re going to what? and you’re taking what with you?” one of the attendee’s of the annual Green Muslims Zero-Trash Iftar narrated the confusion of her mother as she walked out of the house with a bag filled with a reusable plate, spoon, and cup.
She told the group that her mother insisted that she take some fresh fruit rather than any leftovers to the gathering. “Leftovers are stigmatized,” explained another participant in the evenings meal, “it’s not seen as proper to take something that was from another meal.”
Our very own holy book, the Quran, relates time and again that God does not favor the people who waste and yet when have we ever asked ourselves as a community what that really means? The discussion at the “leftar”, as it was coined, lead by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen, took us one step further. He challenged our community to think less about ourselves as consumers, and more about ourselves as directors in shaping the next movement.
“It’s not about just reduce, reuse, recycle any more. It’s about reduce, reuse, refuse!” Abdul-Matin encouraged our small community to look into other ways of making a difference. Whether it was starting to compost, refusing to buy products that are overly packaged, researching and beginning to use products that are made from whole materials, or even on an even simpler level, taking a reusable kit to every iftar in order to politely reduce the overwhelming Styrofoam mountain at the local mosque, one plate at a time. (more…)
This Ramadan, we launched a photo contest where we asked you to post photos of you “in the act” of reducing your Ramadan footprint. We received many photos posted to our Facebook page, and the winners were chosen based on # of Likes each received.
The 2nd place winner will receive a reusable Nalgene water bottle and coupons for free products at Saffron Road.
And the winners are…
Special thanks to all who posted and especially to our generous donors and partners: (more…)
Meridian Hill Park (Southeastern Corner)
Corner of 15th St and Florida Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009
Convietiently located four blocks from Columbia Heights Metro (on Green or Yellow line)
Are you planning a Super Bowl party this Sunday?
Plan ahead and avoid using any disposable plates or utensils by borrowing the Green Muslims’ Zero Trash Party Set!
The party set includes:
Order online for just a small donation that will support future Green Muslims’ programming. We value any contribution you can make to raising awareness and reducing waste.
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We welcome any questions or feedback!
While our own No Impact Iftar had to unfortunately be cancelled do to the Hurricane Irene, we wanted to share a similar model of community, food, and ecological stewardship. The following is from Green Muslims partner and friend, Joelle Novey, and Green Muslims is forever indebted to her for all the countless help she has offered. Here is her introduction to a ecologically friendly Shabbat dinner (excerpted from the book Empowered Judaism by Elie Kaunfer):
At Tikkun Leil Shabbat (whose name alludes to tikkun olam – repairing the world), more than 150 folks in their twenties and thirties gather regularly on Friday nights for a songful, soulful service featuring a teaching about a social justice issue—and just about all of them stick around afterwards to share a vegetarian potluck dinner.
For more than four years, Tikkun Leil Shabbat in Washington, DC has managed to establish a system for hosting collaborative Shabbat dinners without using disposable plates, cutlery, or napkins, while meeting the needs of people with varied practices of kashrut. People share the work of cleaning up while maintaining an atmosphere of oneg Shabbat (delight in Shabbat).
The “two-table” potluck system, which TLS borrowed from the independent minyan Kol Zimrah (Sound of Song) in New York (who claim it may have originated, in turn, back in DC) is designed to honor a variety of Jewish dietary practices. We have one table for vegetarian food and another table for vegetarian food which is also hekhshered or made in a hekhsher-only kitchen, each with its own sets of dishes and cutlery that are washed separately. This makes it possible for the maximum number of people both to eat and to contribute food. By saying “vegetarian” and “hekhshered,” rather than “not kosher” and “kosher,” we make clear that TLS is not taking any position on what it means to keep kosher, but is simply setting out a logistical arrangement so that we all can share the meal.
We’ve also sought to minimize waste from disposable tableware. On both potluck tables, we use lightweight reusable Preserve plates and cups from Recycline, made from recycled yogurt containers. We use a collection of previously loved forks purchased from Goodwill and donated by participants, and wash and reuse plastic cutlery and cups. We use a colorful collection of cloth napkins we procured on Craig’s List and through donations from participants—a volunteer launders them after each Tikkun Leil Shabbat. We recycle glass, plastic, and aluminum containers after TLS meals. (To keep the separateness of the hekhsher tableware simple, the “H-table” sports its own set of dishes, serving utensils, and sponges, all of a “lime-green” color, and its own dish bin that sits under the hekhsher table. When an “H” fork or plate finds its way into the wrong bin from time to time, it is retired.)
At least 30 people end up playing a role in washing all these dishes after dinner. We have developed an extensive online spreadsheet of a dozen volunteer roles at each TLS, including, for example, a “Food Monitor” who sets and refreshes the buffet tables, and two “Dish Captains,” one for each potluck table. The fifteen members of the Tomchei Tikkun (Supporters of the Minyan) coordinating team play a “spreadsheet role” pretty much every time. Additionally, a group of reliable volunteers, known as the “Tachlist,” gets an e-mail inviting them to sign up for these spreadsheet roles as well (a list of tasks for each role is included in the spreadsheet for those signing up for the first time).
Attendees are invited to volunteer for 10-minute dishwashing shifts by accepting a colorful lei necklace, which they wear while they’re helping, and can then bestow on someone else, until the dishes are all clean. (We like to joke that we are a “lei-led” Jewish community.) The volunteers circulating in the crowd collecting dishes with a Hawaiian necklace on add to a generally festive atmosphere, and some of the best conversations, new melodies, and personal connections at Tikkun Leil Shabbat happen around the kitchen during dishwashing.
On several different dimensions, Tikkun Leil Shabbat’s dinner system reflects our community’s core values:
- It is pluralistic, because it permits people with various practices of kashrut to eat and to contribute food.
- It is egalitarian, because everyone brings food to help create the meal, and just about everyone ends up helping to clean up, through a combination of roles signed up for in advance (like Dish Captain) or accepted in the moment (like a lei for 10 minutes of dishwashing).
- Just as important, by having named roles and physical markers of who is helping and how at a given meeting, we also help to clarify who is “off the hook” this week. Naming explicitly who has signed up for particular tasks helps prevent certain conscientious souls, or women more likely to have been socialized to help with dishes, from accidentally becoming the default cleaning crew week after week.
- It is socially conscious, by being mindful of minimizing our waste from disposables, and modeling a greener way of eating (vegetarian, and using reusable napkins and dishware).
- Finally, it is community-building. By involving so many people, even those newly arrived, in the act of helping to feed one another and then doing the dishes, we’ve created an atmosphere of hands-on participation and provided the context for many conversations and connections that arose around the sinks.
Someone wrote a satirical song about TLS last year, which included the line: “You just might get your wishes; meet your soul mate washing dishes . . .” While we have yet to report an incidence of true love arising from dishwashing at TLS, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that our dish system in all its glory is one of our community’s spiritual practices.
Joelle Novey directs Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, which supports faith communities from across the DC area in saving energy, going green, and responding to climate change. She helps to coordinate Tikkun Leil Shabbat, an independent Jewish community that gathers in Dupont Circle for songful, soulful Shabbat services featuring a teaching about a social justice issue and followed by a potluck vegetarian dinner.
Almost a year ago, I promised that I would slaughter an animal. I made this promise during last Ramadan when I attended a no-waste iftar, where I’m pretty sure only vegetarian dishes were served… Anyways, it hasn’t come true. Yet.
The promise came out after eating the various pot-lucked foods off of the plate that I brought from home. I sat down in the circle that was beginning to form around the guest speaker of the event, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet.
During our discussion, he urged us to re-cultivate our spiritual connection to the earth and relayed a story about how he killed a chicken for the first time in his life. Ibrahim reflected on how this was a profoundly deep experience in which one can finally comprehend, feel, and smell the reality of where our sustenance actually comes from.
And he shared his vision of how being green was really about waking up to this reality. It isn’t just a mission to track the size of your carbon foot-print or even an effort to save more water in your shower if you could just be a bit stingier about it. It’s about having a deep respect and love for God’s creation.
And it really hit me at that moment to ask myself: Am I someone who blindly takes from the earth? When I eat meat, am I thanking God and the animal for providing for me?
So I thought to myself about the relationship I had with the meat that I ate. Even recently, I was talking with a fellow Pakistani-American about how we hated on daal and other non-meat dishes in our childhood. Back then, meat needed to be in every dish for me; it was something I took for granted and still do.
I told the group during our discussion about how I probably wasn’t going to stop eating meat altogether, but that I actually wanted to have a similar experience so I could appreciate more the meat that I did eat. I wanted a deeper relationship with the livestock that I was consuming.
Since then, I haven’t taken on that challenge. The farthest I’ve gotten is having Is it local?-type moments from Portlandia, which don’t really work out all that well. But once again, I’d like to rectify my neglect of the lives that I’ve been taking by eating meat. By ignoring this sacrifice in my daily life, I have not been honoring this deeper relationship.
So, as I said almost one year ago, I want to challenge myself to slaughter an animal (or at least witness it), in order to start appreciating the cycle of what I’m involved in. As Green Muslims rejuvenates itself these days and provides us with more energy heading into the month of Ramadan, I write this blog post as a renewed promise to face what I’ve been neglecting, though regularly eating.
I also write it as an invitation to those daal-hating meat-eaters like me, to take part in this quest together by the end of Ramadan. And on the other hand, if you’re able to connect us to your farm and you welcome visitors, please contact me as well!
Rizwaan Akhtar is the Volunteer Manager for Green Muslims and works to organize volunteer and community engagement activities. He currently administers an exchange program that focuses on leadership development for Iraqi youth.
Originally from Chicago, IL, Rizwaan has now actually grown to love daal in its many different forms. He sends big thanks to his mom and dad for their wonderful daal.
Welcome to days 6&7 of No Impact Week, Sat & Sun Oct 24th & 25th! The last two days are all about how we interact with our community, friends and family.
Remember each day builds upon the previous one, so keep up what you have been doing today and previous days and add to it with what you do tomorrow as well.
Community and enjoining friends and neighbors to good are keystones of the Islamic faith. God speaks of knowing your neighbors, of serving others, of building a community together. These are basic tenants of our faith, and there are multiple hadith regarding how even our daily personal prayers can be heightened in reward by joining together with a fellow friend.
God speaks of the best of people being the ones who invite others to “all that is good.” In Surah Al‐Emraan this is seen clearly:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity.” (3:104)
We as Muslims are not asked to practice our faith in a vacuum. We clearly are told that what we do on a daily basis has effects on the larger society in which we live. There are countless chapters in the Quran that speak about helping others less fortunate than ourselves. These are clear calls to action to better the communities we are a part of.
Allah’s Messenger said, “The reward of the prayer offered by a person in congregation is twenty five times greater than that of the prayer offered in one’s house or in the market (alone).” ‐ Narrated by Abu Hurairah
“And worship God [alone], and do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him. And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbor from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess. Verily, God does not love any of those who, full of self‐conceit, act in a boastful manner” (4:36)
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity.” (3:104)