JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — In the heart of Jakarta, the great Istiqlal Mosque was built with the idea of standing for a thousand years.
The mosque was conceived by Soekarno, the founding father of Indonesia, and was designed as an impressive symbol for the country’s independence. Its seven gates, representing the seven heavens of Islam, welcome visitors from all over the archipelago and the world to the high interior of the mosque.
But they don’t just see the light here. She feeds them.
A major renovation in 2019 installed more than 500 solar panels on the mosque’s expansive roof, now a major and clean source of Istiqlal’s electricity. And this Ramadan, the mosque has been encouraging an energy waqf — a type of donation in Islam that keeps paying off over time — to boost its capacity to produce renewable energy.
His Pramtama, deputy head of Istiqlal mosque’s Ri’ayah – or building management – division, hopes Islam’s holiest month, when worshipers flock to mosques in greater numbers, could give Istiqlal solar project momentum through donations.
The mosque’s climate push is just one example of several “Green Ramadan” initiatives in Indonesia and around the world promoting a variety of changes during the Muslim holy month, which has fasting and, in many cases, festive elements while people gather to break their fast.
In a month where moderation and charity are emphasized, recommendations may include using less water when performing the ritual washing before prayers, replacing plastic bottles and cutlery during community iftars with reusable ones and the reduction of food waste. Other suggestions include carpooling to mosques, using local produce, an emphasis on recycling, and using donations to fund clean energy projects.
For the world to limit the effects of climate change, which is already causing worsening droughts, floods and heat waves, the use of dirty fuels for electricity and transportation, petrochemicals to make products like plastics and emissions Food waste in landfills must all be drastically reduced, scientists say. While individual initiatives are only a small part of this transition, experts say the growing momentum behind climate goals can have an effect.
Groups that take an Islam-based approach often highlight environmental understanding of certain Quranic verses and Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and practices on land, water, and against waste.
Last year, at a meeting of the Muslim Congress for Sustainable Indonesia, the country’s vice president Ma’ruf Amin called on clerics and community leaders “to play an active role in conveying issues related to environmental damage” and called for concrete action on climate change including through donations to solar projects such as those of the Istiqlal Mosque.
Muhammad Ali Yusuf, board member of the Nahdlatul Ulama Religious Institute for Disaster Management and Climate Change in Indonesia, said spreading awareness about clean energy was a “shared responsibility” for Muslims, where panel installations solar panels from mosques can be catalysts towards greater transition.
In the United States and Canada, environmental groups that began springing up in Muslim communities in the mid-2000s independently of each other have formed “green Muslim understandings” within their religious traditions, according to Imam Saffet Catovic, an environmental activist in the US Muslim community.
“In some cases, mosques have been receptive,” he said. In others, she added, mosque leaders “have not fully understood” the push.
Ramadan offers an “ecological education opportunity that is unique to the Muslim community,” said Catovic. “Thirty days allow someone to change their habits.”
The Islamic Society of North America website calls on Muslims to be “an environmentally conscious community,” saying that caring for the environment is “based on the premise that Islam has ordained us to be the stewards and protectors of this planet”.
Some mosques and Muslims around the world are heeding such calls, one small step at a time.
Ahead of this year’s Ramadan, the Al Ma’hadul Islamic College mosque in Indonesia received solar panels through Islamic donations, providing enough power for the mosque’s entire needs. Electricity from solar panels also lights up nearby schools and streets.
The Nizamiye Mosque in Johannesburg, South Africa, with its towering minarets and spacious interior, has a roof dotted with domes and solar panels that help maintain electricity in the mosque and surrounding schools, clinic and bazaar.
The 143 panels cover more than a third of the complex’s energy consumption in a country that has struggled in recent years to provide enough electricity through its stretched grid.
In Edison, New Jersey, Masjid Al-Wali¸ a mosque and community center, has adopted changes such as selling reusable water bottles to members for a fee and installing more water coolers to discourage use of disposable plastic bottles, said council member Akil Mansuri.
“Preserving the environment is the Islamically right thing to do,” Mansuri said. “People are accepting the message, but adoption is increasingly slow.”
Several years ago, Masjid Al-Wali, whose businesses include an Islamic school and monthly community dinners, installed solar panels.
This Ramadan meals for the mosque community’s iftars so far come in prepackaged plastic boxes, Mansuri said. But mosque leaders are encouraging members to take leftovers and reuse the boxes, instead of throwing them away, he said, adding that he hopes alternatives can be found during the coming Ramadan.
In the UK, Projects Against Plastic, a Bristol-based charity, is campaigning for plastic-free Ramadan.
“I feel that as a Muslim, mosques are the hubs of communities and should take a little more leadership on sustainability and recycling,” said PAP founder Naseem Talukdar. “During the month of Ramadan, I really saw a ridiculous amount of plastic used and thrown away.”
Mosques are urged to raise awareness of plastic pollution and reduce reliance on single-use plastics. Seven mosques in Bristol participated in a pilot project last year, with mixed results, and a nationwide campaign was launched this year, with over 20 mosques participating.
Besides education, another challenge is when mosques don’t have enough funds to buy reusable cutlery, dishwashers and water fountains.
“We knew we were going to hit some hard walls and some pushbacks, but, to be honest, the engagement we’ve seen so far, has been a bit overwhelming,” Talukdar said. “Even if progress is slow, there is a real appetite for this kind of initiative within the mosque.”
Ummah for Earth, an alliance-led initiative that aims to empower Muslim communities coping with climate change, is urging people to commit to green practice during Ramadan. Options include asking an imam to address environmental issues, donating to environmental charities, and shopping sustainably.
“Many Muslims are unaware that there are environmental teachings in the Quran and Prophet’s sayings and that they have a role they can play to protect the planet,” said Nouhad Awwad, a Beirut-based activist and global outreach coordinator Ummah for Earth project at Greenpeace MENA.
As they work to raise awareness, activists often encounter the argument that climate change is “destined” and that “you can’t change God’s fate,” Awwad said.
“We’re trying to change the narrative,” he said. “We have things that we can do on an individual level, on a community level, and on a political level.”
Fam reported from Winter Park, Florida.
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