A Jihad Against Pollution in Senegal

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Polluted beach near Dakar, Senegal (photo by jbdodane availble on Flickr)

In the small, west-African country of Senegal, a Muslim leader has called for a jihad, but not one of violence inspired by anger or fear. It is a jihad inspired by a love for his community, the natural beauty of his country, and people all over the world, as well as an increasing anxiety about the direction it’s headed.

Imam Youssoupha Sarr’s jihad is against plastic bags, waste, and pollution.

“This isn’t just a local problem, it’s a global issue. One the Muslim world is ignoring!” Imam Sarr, known as the “Green Imam,” passionately sermonized one Friday.

In the West, people often connect the word “jihad,” which means “struggle,” to acts of war, violence, and terror. But in the Qur’an, the word is frequently used to reference a spiritual struggle, a struggle that occurs within the spirit of Muslims as they encounter the desires, attachments, and complications of daily life. Imam Sarr is hoping he can inspire the Muslims in Senegal to engage in a struggle to protect the earth.

“Islam is clear [on the issue of the environment],” Imam Sarr told Al-Jazeera. “Any form of pollution or aggression towards the environment is a sin and clearly forbidden. People need to be reminded of this.”

Natural Beauty of Senegal in Jeopardy

Located on the western coast of Africa, the small country of Senegal possesses abundant natural beauty: large, sandy beaches give way to pristine forests teaming with exotic plants and animals. There are even pink lakes! But extreme poverty and government corruption has put these unique and invaluable natural treasures in jeopardy.

Along Senegal’s coast, the consequences of climate change are already tangible. According to government data, coastal erosion in the country ranges between one and two centimeters annually. By 2080, three-quarters of the coast will face “high risk of erosion” status due to rising sea levels. That’s up from around half of the coast now, and may be worse if sea-level rise continues to speed up.

Plastic bags and trash litter the neighborhoods surrounding Senegal’s capital city of Dakar and garbage piles lay untouched for weeks, growing at an impressive rate. Dakar’s local nature reserve is even cluttered with human debris.

Senegal’s government recently banned the use of plastic bags. Those who are found guilty of littering the streets or the environment with plastic bags face possible imprisonment of up to six months as well as a hefty fine. But people still use plastic bags because there are no alternatives.

An Imam Who Cares

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Imam Sarr speaks to reporters (Photo available on pressafrik.com)

But Muslims have a duty to find an alternative anyway, according to Imam Sarr.

The son of a fisherman from Sain-Louis, Imam Sarr is the only one in his family to escape the call of the sea. He considers it lucky that he was able to attend school and get a job as the National Education official, which allowed him to travel the country, before he became an imam. Now he is famous for mobilizing the community for moral causes: electricity and clean water for the poor, protection for Palestinians, and now protection for the environment.

“Protecting the environment is a moral calling; a message worth spreading,” he has said.

A Muslim Duty to Protect the Planet

In that belief, Imam Sarr is not alone. Others in the Muslim community, including Green Muslims, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, and more, are working to mobilize Muslims to take action on climate change, reduce waste, conserve water, and care about creation. Last year in Indonesia, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, issued its first ever fatwa against the Indonesia’s rampant black market for endangered species.

And leaders of other faiths, including Pope Francis who recently wrote an environmental encyclical denouncing the “pile of filth” we are creating on earth, are making the moral argument for environmentalism.

Will the Muslims in Senegal take up the jihad against pollution? It is not clear. But if Muslims, and religious people in general, are willing to discipline their diets and natural urges in the name of their faiths, they should also be willing to forego the plastic bag.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .