The Blog

How We Began a Green Movement at our Muslim Students Association

Guest BlogThe 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.

The Green Muslim Initiative’s Green Week schedule

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 greenmuslims@umich.edu.

A Jewish Approach to Ecological Dinners

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.

Reusable Dishes
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.

Blog Action Day: Homeless Muslims

As part of blog action day, I’d like briefly highlight the work of an amazing community organization — Muslimat Al-Nisaa — tackling both poverty AND homelessness within the Baltimore-DC area Muslim community. Lest you think that this is just a small, isolated problem, the Washington Post recently ran an article on homelessness among Muslim women. Some estimate that there are several hundred homeless Muslim women in the DC area. Driven out of their homes after losing their jobs or by abusive spouses, these women have few places to turn to for help. The services that Muslimat al-Nisaa provide are part of our communal obligation to support those in need and essential to building a healthy community. Donating our money or time is the least we can do to help them.

The organization, run by Sister Asma Hanif, recently opened the first Muslim Women’s Center (MWC) that has space for 15-25 women and provides training, counseling and medical services to homeless women and their children. “It is not just a place for them to sleep comfortably. Our goal is to get them prepared to stand up on their own feet,” said Sister Asma Hanif, in a recent interview with the Muslim Link. I had a chance to talk to Sister Asma at ISNA this year. She mentioned that they need about $5000 per month for BASIC shelter operations (with some additional food and donations), so even your $10-20 per month can make a big difference insha’Allah.

To donate, please send a check to the address below or visit the website to set-up a recurring donation.

Muslimat Al Nisaa
5115 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21207
phone (410) 466-8686
fax (410) 466-5949
www.mnisaa.org

And if you want further proof that your small donation can make a difference: with your help, DC Green Muslims ranked in the TOP FIVE organizations in the Capital Area Food Bank’s “Skip a Lunch, Feed a Bunch” program. THANK YOU to all who contributed!

Green Dinner #3: An Amazing Location!

We’re really fortunate – and very excited – to be holding our dinner this Friday at a landmark in Washington, DC, the Josephine Butler Parks Center. Here’s some information about this amazing woman, building and neighborhood:

Josephine Butler & the Parks Center
Meridian Hill (Malcom X) Park and Neighborhood

You’ll also find directions to the Parks Center at this same website. Just click on the “Directions to…” link. See you tomorrow, insha’Allah! 🙂