The Blog

A Letter to my Community Group about Composting

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!).

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Salaam all,

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…)

From Lawns to Greens: Changing the Suburban Landscape

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.

As long as my children can remember we have shopped at the farmer’s market for our weekly veggies and fruits and the time was ripe to begin our own garden. It’s not as if we hadn’t tried before, but the clay soil and the rocks holding up the hills we live on were not conducive to growing much and the deer usually enjoyed whatever little was able to sprout. This year, with a fence, a prepared garden bed, organic fertilizers and a host of little plants and seeds we were armed for the challenge. Best of all, I had an army of little soldiers ready to water, fertilize, weed, plant and harvest. I think their enthusiasm is what really took root.

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.

Introducing the Ramadan Tool-Kit!

Ramadan
Enhance your Ramadan experience this year, by following along with the Green Muslim’s as they practice “greener” habits. Each day we contemplate an inspirational ayah, quote, or hadith and incorporate the teachings of our tradition into our practice with a daily challenge and reflection. Follow along!

Whether as a community, a family or an individual, the Ramadan tool-kit is a powerful way to green your deen during this holy month. Join us and our friends and partners all over the world in incorporating the eco-conscious teachings of our tradition into our practice with a daily challenge and reflection.

Download the Toolkit Here!

Urban Environmentalism?

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3nMnr8ZirI

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.

Farm of Peace

Over Labor Day weekend, a group of Green Muslims drove up to south-central Pennsylvania to the Farm of Peace. The Farm of Peace is a Sufi-run free range farm that raises chickens, donkeys, and sheep, and keeps a small orchard. Its rolling pastures, tucked between cerulean tree covered hills, are a bucolic treasure. The visual gem of the farm reflects the ideology that drives it – all animals are raised halal. Nowhere is this more evident than with the chickens, who make up the part of the farm called Sumayah’s Peaceful Poultry. It is second

nature for us to block out where the drumstick at dinner or breakfast eggs come from, but most of the chicken we ingest, including chicken slaughtered according to Zabiha standards, comes from hormone-injected birds who often have their beaks removed and are kept in cages too cramped to move around or flap their wings. On the other end of the spectrum is Peaceful Poultry, where the chickens are true free range and given the opportunity to live and grow naturally. You can learn more about Peaceful Poultry and its philosophy at their website.
Sumayah herself is an inspirational character
who kept us captivated as she spoke about her efforts. She helped us look deeper into the ethics of where our food comes from, reminding us of the great privilege mankind is given to take another creature’s life, and the responsibility that comes with that. We rarely think of the dignity and God-given purpose that is so often robbed from creation to supply our own sustenance. Sumayah helped bring our place in nature’s order to focus.
She made sure we gave back to the land as well, and had us clean the manure from the donkey stalls and lay it on one of their pastures. Though a small effort, it felt good to reconnect with the land and take part in its natural renewal. DC can leave one wanting for a stronger connection to nature, and the work was therapeutic. It also made the potluck iftar with some members of the local Sufi community that much more satisfying.
At some point, it would be great to bring more members of Green Muslims to the Farm of Peace. They would greatly appreciate the help, and there is reward to be found in it by anyone. Sumayah would certainly be thrilled to meet more members of our group as well, and we all have much to learn from her insight and experiences.

Ecology of the Heart & Mind

I was born on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where I grew up playing on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. My father, a Syrian civil engineer, would take me to a resort town he was building on the western coast of the Peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

When I was eight, my family and I moved to America. There, on the East Coast, I played on the edges of eastern forests and grew entangled in an ecology that wove existing memories of a dry land and warm waters into seamless, intricate webs in my middle-childhood mind.

There is no gulf between the ecology and culture of East and West for a child whose heart and mind encompasses both.

They say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory. The first time I smelled diesel exhaust on the streets of Washington, DC – the City of Trees – it transported me to my mother’s native Damascus. In that city inhabited for over 4,000 years, the waft from diesel-powered engines that first entered my lungs and imprinted itself upon my memory unfortunately still fills the urban air.

Somewhere between DC and Damascus I learned that there need not be a gulf between the ecology and culture of city and nature for someone whose heart and mind could encompass both.

As an undergraduate student in biology and religion in Washington, DC, my mind started to lay the first intellectual strands of an ecology of science and spirituality that was already reflected in my heart. All this came together for me as a Student Conservation Associate in Tucson Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

There was something about the Sonoran Desert, so foreign yet so familiar, that spoke to me deeply. Perhaps it was the American West’s reflection of the dry Middle Eastern landscape that I carried within.

An ecology of the heart and mind, my own, was starting to reveal itself.

Beyond that first impression, I busied myself with acquiring the skills in botanical field research that our project (PDF) entailed. I was awash in statistics and scientific data collection, the object of which was the saguaro cactus. But to the Tohono O’odham, the native peoples of that part of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros are no mere object. They are ancestors.

One late afternoon, as the shadows grew long, another intern and I were walking ahead on the trail when we saw something that forced us stop. We were in the shadow of a giant saguaro. Much larger, much older and much grander than us, we stood in awe of this Tohono O’odham elder.

It was no different than many of the other saguaros we measured, plotted and photographed that day, yet no number, no picture and no words could capture what we saw. So we stood there in silence, enchanted and humbled by the elder’s presence.

How can there be a gulf between science and the spiritual for people whose hearts and minds encompass both?

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Wise County, VA

This write-up is about my two-day trip to Wise County, VA (the Appalachian mountain range) on June 23-24, 2008. Images > http://picasaweb.google.com/nadia.jay/BlackMountainWiseVA

Approximately ten cars full of mountain activists from cities all over the state of Virginia drove through what seemed like the only street in the town of Wise, up towards Black Mountain. We first stopped at a site which held the remnants of a house that once belonged to a small family. As Larry Bush, chairman of SAMS (Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards) narrated to the crowd, a young boy had been laying in his bed one night as a dislodged boulder from the coal-mining above plummeted straight through the bedroom wall and into his bed, killing him instantly. This happened about four years ago. No one did anything. Strip-mining operations continued at all hours of the day and night. They declared it an “act of God.”

Our caravan, consisting of multiple prii (pl. of prius), amongst other cars, moved on to a site of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) mining. To state it simply, MTR is a process which involves about ten workers who use heavy machinery to blast off the top layers of the mountain, dump it into the valley below, and shovel out the coal. They are expected to restore it to “the approximate original contours” after coal removal.

As we stepped out of our cars and leaned on the guardrail to look beyond at the destroyed mountain range, there were hushed reactions from the crowd. In the distance were tractors and bulldozers moving about like little displaced plastic Fisher-Price toys. Layers and layers of dark brown and black revealed themselves, stripped and bare, open wounds at one time, unsightly scars left behind. This was “approximate original contours?” I thought to myself out loud. No, this was utter perversion of a natural landscape. This was ecological decimation. “This was blasphemy,” as my friend Julie, from Immanuel Church on the Hill, turned to me and said.

A few of us continued on to take part in a guided hike of a different part of the mountain, Roaring Branch, filled with canopies of trees and biodiversity. It was just before dusk, the air was cooler and the only sounds were the occasional chatting and the crunch of leaves beneath our footsteps. Our local guide, Anna, stopped us every few minutes to share an interesting fact about a particular plant species, or to hand us an edible leaf to try. The sun was lowering in the sky, soaking the fingers of the trees in golden light. As I paused and looked up at the rays piercing through the treetops, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the hikes I took in the breathtaking rain forests of southern Costa Rica earlier this year. I also thought of the mountains I was surrounded by growing up in Western Maryland. “I will always be a mountain woman,” I thought to myself as I smiled at no one. I could never live among flatlands bereft of inconsistencies, of highs and lows … but what if I had to live through the mass deformation of the landscape I knew so well changing literally overnight?

An older man, Tim, who I had ridden in the car with earlier, was a local of Wise, and he had grown up here. He wore a t-shirt that said, “Who would Jesus bomb?” He was a maverick of a guy, sharing stories with everyone and lamenting over people’s apathy. He told us that growing up he never really paid attention to the strip mining that was happening in his hometown, that he thought “this was just the way we made our money.” Now that more people were seeing firsthand the adverse affects of mountaintop coal mining, churches and individuals in Southwest VA were mobilizing and becoming proactive about protesting against it.

Earlier a stranger had stopped me and exclaimed that I looked familiar and asked me which college I attended. I told her that she had probably never seen me before as I was from Northern Virginia. She revealed a mouth full of missing teeth as she smiled and said “Oh I know. I just wanted to talk to you and see where you were from.” We both laughed. I told her why I was there and she was taken aback by the fact that perfect strangers to the town of Wise had come to support the preservation of the Appalachian Mountains.

In my two days in Wise, VA I continued to meet locals and out-of-towners so eager and willing to share and exchange ideas and backgrounds and support one another. I was pleasantly surprised and truly humbled to see such a celebration of diversity in such a small town.

The following day about sixty of us gathered and donned our green bandanas in solidarity. In a few hours would start the hearing consisting of a panel of six members from the VA Citizen’s Air Pollution Control Board. The issue at hand was the approval of a permit for Dominion (VA’s producer and supplier of energy) to move forward with a coal-fired plant being constructed in St. Paul, a town very close to Wise.

The first speakers were politicians and delegates who attested that this would be the “cleanest coal-fired plant in the US” with “one of the best technologies out there today,” that “Wise County needs this power plant from an economic standpoint and we need to stop foreign dependency on oil.” Dominion employees and businessman stated “Dominion was in the people business. We keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer time. We’re not in the coal business; we’re in the people business.”

Turn by turn, individuals in opposition gave their three minute testimonies, stating how any level of mercury dumped into the air from MTR coal mining was not acceptable, how pollution would contaminate and affect both the environment and human health, contributing to global warming, that mountains were being destroyed and creeks filled up, that employment would actually decrease, not increase and it would only become more difficult for Virginians as electricity rates would increase. A young girl cleverly stated she decided to make a list of pros and cons about the building of the power plant, and she equally came up with pros for why we shouldn’t build the power plant, and cons for why we should build the power plant. Parents with children approached the podium and stated how building this plant two miles away from their child’s school was not something they wanted and they feared for the health of their children with the work of coal-mining and the power plant so close to them. People of various backgrounds stood up behind the lights and wires in front of that panel and spoke with heart: Wise county residents, citizens, scientists, nuns, engineers, young student activists, filmmakers, parents, non-profit board members, environmentalists, representatives from faith-based organizations, and the list goes on.

Giving my three-minute testimony (see below) was an absolute high, there’s no other way to say it. A little taste of activism for an issue that hit home so hard served to motivate me to continue involvement and activism, and a reminder that each person really, truly, can start to make a difference just by themselves.

“Hello. My name is Nadia Janjua. I am an artist and architect and I’ve come from Arlington, VA. I represent an organization called “Green Muslims.” We are a network of Muslims in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. proactively working together to implement sustainability and eco-conscious ways of living. As a Muslim, environmental stewardship is a vital part of my faith.

I am also an individual representing a generation of architects promoting and practicing sustainable design, construction and development. Although I am a relatively young architect, I have spent my working years in the affordable and low-income housing industry, and disaster relief housing. I traveled to Kashmir and Pakistan and led an operation working alongside army soldiers and local laborers in building alternative sustainable housing for victims of the earthquake. I have lived in underdeveloped areas and have worked and designed projects that are sustainable and sensitive to the environment while having less available resources and being in a community with less passion than what I’ve witnessed in this community here. Certainly, here, in this country we can come up with the creativity, the resources, the technology, the sensitivity, and the professionalism to be sustainable in our approach, to significantly lessen our environmental impact, to find ways of promoting jobs and a thriving economy without having to destroy the environment and dump out carcinogens that kill all forms of life around us in the process.

Seeing the devastation of the Appalachian mountain ranges has been shattering on a very personal level to me for another significant reason. I was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of Western Maryland, in the small town of Cumberland. My parents immigrated there from Pakistan in the 70’s, and still live there 30 plus years later. I cannot imagine how different my world view and upbringing would have been, had I not grown up and been surrounded by such a well-preserved natural landscape. Just a few weeks ago I was in Cumberland, hiking, and I wrote something in my journal which I’d like to share:

‘When you become quiet enough in nature to observe the vastness, you realize that vastness exists within yourself. If you go deep inside, you realize you don’t find something small, but something immense, something as vast as a mountain range.’

To continue with the building of this coal-fired plant, to continue mountain-top removal, to continue to destroy our mountain ranges, will be to continue to destroy ourselves ultimately. Please consider this in making your decision to pass or deny this permit. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.”

* Unfortunately the next day we found out that the permit had been passed for the coal-fired power plant to go online in 2012. (But that still gives us time and no effort is gone wasted!)

* For those of you in the area, please come to our Interfaith event on July 16th where others (and myself) will share more experiences like this one!

Gearing up for summer…

Check back soon for more information on our upcoming service day – May 24th – at Marvin Gaye Park and the next Green Dinner – sometime in June. Email us – info@dcgreenmuslims.org – if you’d like to help out or participate!

Until then, here are two recent articles on religion and the environment that mention DC Green Muslims:

Environmentalism meets religion
by Dianna Heitz
Mar 12, 2008
Medill News Service

Op-Ed: God is Green
Ayesha Mattu
Religion Dispatches

And when it stops raining, take a hike! Visit this site for a complete list of trails in the area (and here for a list of hiking clubs).

If you’re in Virginia, Potomac Overlook Park (North Arlington) has guided walks, suitable for children 8 year and older, every Saturday and Sunday at 2pm (reservations needed). Visit their website for information.

For those of you in Maryland, the MD National Parks and Planning Commission has a lot of fun things to do. Check their website for activities, sorted by keyword.

Any suggestions on your favorite hike or nature walk? Share it with us in the comments.

While checking out the awesome cherry blossoms…

A stop at the FDR Memorial revealed this:

Men and Nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men. - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

(c) T. Ahmad, 4/1/2008, Washington, DC.

REFLECTIONS

The following are written responses to the question, “What Will You Leaf Behind?” after group discussions from the Green Dinner on 2/8:

P

“an inspiration to engage in spiritual contemplation in the woods”

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“My legacy”

N

“Learn about water rights and organizations Insha’allah”

~

“Learn about the consequences of nuclear power”

“keep it simple~ man”

ƒ

“teach kids to play outside again!!! it’s good for them and they need to respect the earth, more than their X-Boxes”

E

“meditation and reflection”

:-p

“my smile ”

P

“take my kids to sit in the grass for a few hours”

Q

“plant a tree”

J

“to conserve water”

x

“to no longer be wasteful”

q

“to start recycling”

+

“to conserve all sources of energy- light, water”

b

“loss of ego”

ý