Islam and the Environment @ First Church of Berkeley
This Sunday, I had the chance to talk to Ameena Jandali form the Islamic Networks Group, as part of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley’s three-part series titled, “Interfaith Perspectives on the Environment.”
Jandali is a founding member of Islamic Networks Group (ING), a non-profit organization whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity, while building relations between American Muslims and other groups. Founded in 1993, ING achieves its mission through education and community engagement. In fact, Jandali has delivered hundreds of presentations in schools, colleges, universities, churches, and other venues on Islam and related subjects.
After Jandali gave a presentation to an audience of about thirty attendees, I had the chance to ask her some questions about how Islamic scriptures that encourage sustainability and condemn waste, are put into practice. Specifically, I wanted to know what Muslims are doing to “green” their rituals. I shared with Jandali my experience at a Ramadan event hosted by the Salam Center in Sacramento, Calif. I noticed that all the dishes were reusable, but the dinner was 90 percent meat. (Meat consumption is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable land practices.) I asked her if Muslims generally used reusable dishes and the importance of meat at the feast.
According to Jandali, while Islamic scripture clearly encourages environmentalism, Muslims have only recently considered incorporating environmental teachings into their practice. While the reusable dishes I saw at the event I attended were ideal, most of the time, Muslims use disposable dishes. Jandali talked about the growing awareness to compost and recycle disposable dishes and utensils used during Ramadan feasts. And when it comes to eating meat, it’s really just a matter of the variety of backgrounds that make up the American Muslim population. Although Muslims traditionally did not consume a lot of meat, many Muslims from certain areas of the world today feel that not serving large amounts of meat at the nightly Ramadan dinners is rude.
Given the terrible drought conditions in California now, I also wanted to know what Muslims are doing to conserve during water during Wudu — the practice of washing before prayer. Jandali admitted that most Muslims waste water during Wudu, but noted a growing awareness again to conserve and reduce. Islam is traditionally practiced in areas of the world with scarce water resources. She mentioned the idea of only using two cups of water to wash, or installing low-flow faucets.
Like everything, education is a key component to changing daily habits for the better. Muslims represent an incredibly diverse group of people. Big houses, oil production, and tables filled with meat, isn’t about being anti-environmental. Instead, for many Muslims, it’s a way to provide for the people — another religious tenant. Only through education, will people see the long-term harm these practices will bestow on vulnerable communities. And Jandali emphasizes that getting imams — like Imam Azeez of the Salam Center — and other Muslim leaders to be the voice for the environment, is critical.
If you’re interested in learning how different faiths incorporate environmental teachings into their rituals and practices, I would encourage you to attend the lectures about Christian environmentalism by Marilyn Matevia on July 27 and Jewish environmentalism by Rabbi Stephen Pearce on October 19 at the First Church of Berkeley. I’ll be there, so you can ask me some questions too!
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