The Greening of Ramadan: Embracing Islamic Environmentalism

In the holy month of Ramadan, which started on March 22, 2023, Muslim communities worldwide are embracing environmentalism by reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainable practices. This movement, known as the “greening of Ramadan,” aligns with the core principles of Islam and demonstrates how faith can be an integral part of addressing environmental issues.

During Ramadan, Muslims gather for iftars, the meal after sunset that marks the end of the daily fast. These communal events often involve single-use plastics for utensils and water bottles, generating significant waste. To address this problem, mosques are banning plastics and discouraging extravagant evening meals, which tend to produce excessive food waste and rely on non-biodegradable materials.

This push for sustainability during Ramadan can be traced back to the fundamental teachings of Islam, which emphasize conservation, respect for living creatures, and the importance of maintaining the Earth’s natural balance. The Quran introduces the concept of “mizan,” a cosmic and natural balance, and emphasizes humans’ role as stewards and “khalifa,” or viceregents, on Earth. The hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, also encourage moderation, responsible resource use, and a respectful relationship with nature.

Islamic environmentalism gained prominence in the 1960s, with Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s lectures and book “Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man.” Nasr argued that modern Western science had caused a rupture between humans and nature, leading to ecological destruction. He posited that Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, and scientific tradition could restore this relationship by emphasizing the spiritual significance of nature.

Building on Nasr’s work, activists like Fazlun Khalid advanced Islamic environmentalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Khalid founded the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in 1994, promoting the planet’s wellbeing as a core tenet of Islam. He advocated for environmental sustainability and equity from an Islamic perspective, rather than relying on Western models.

In collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program, Khalid and other scholars created Al-Mizan, a global project that helps Muslim leaders engage with Islamic commitments to nature. As Khalid wrote in “Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity, and the Climate Crisis,” the Islamic ethos integrates belief with a code of conduct that respects the natural world.

This environmental consciousness extends beyond Ramadan, as demonstrated by initiatives like the Green Pilgrim movement, which encourages eco-friendly practices during pilgrimages to Iraq for Ashura and Arbaeen. Muslim-owned businesses and nonprofits also champion sustainable practices, like the hijab brand Haute Hijab’s focus on sustainability and the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Green Muslims’ “leftar” events, which utilize leftovers and reusable containers.

The greening of Ramadan illustrates how communities can tackle climate change within their cultural and religious frameworks. Islamic environmentalism draws on centuries-old teachings to address modern ecological challenges and empower Muslims to contribute to global sustainability efforts without compromising their faith.

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