We are currently facing numerous challenges and crises such as climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, poverty and issues over food and energy security. Almost all of these challenges are related to our unsustainable lifestyles.
In Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. In addition to fasting, Muslims around the world aspire to come closer to Allah through increased prayers, helping others and many other good deeds. The question is: Is that enough? An important aspect is missing: Caring about the environment and embarking on the path of sustainable development.
Muslims believe that Man is the custodian of the Earth. He must care for it and refrain from causing any mischief or spoilage for the simple reason that he is its main beneficiary. If he causes harm to one or more of the environment’s components, he will be the one to suffer. The Quran says: “Now, behold! Your Lord said to the angels: I am placing upon the earth a human successor to steward it.” (Al Baqarah 2:30).
Ironically, the month of fasting becomes a month of overeating, feasts and festivals with a lot of food served and a lot of food wasted, too. Thus, one of the first and easy steps that every individual can follow is the concept of “green iftars”, which aims to make use of reusable or recyclable food and avoid anything going to trash.
In addition, one should take only what he/she can comfortably finish, eating moderately. So, a Muslim should try to follow the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) advice that one should only fill one-third of their stomach with food, with one-third reserved for liquid and the final one-third for air — minimising the amount they consume. Distribute the left-over food to the needy and homeless.
Stewards of the earth
What is the point of the physical act of fasting if our actions and words go unchanged? Ramadan is the month in which we change our lifestyles, so it makes a lot of sense to change our behaviour in terms of consumption, environmental consciousness and stewardship. People should be made to realise that conservation of the environment is a religious duty demanded by Allah.
The Quran says: “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess; Verily He loves not the excessive.” (Al A`raf 7:31)
“Be good, even as God has been good to you, and do not pursue corruption in the earth. Verily God does not love corrupters.” (Al Qasas 28:77)
“And do not follow the bidding of the excessive, who cause corruption in the earth and do not work good.” (Ash-Shu’araa’ 26:151, 152)
Muslims also should use Ramadan as a time to reduce their carbon footprint by recycling, using public transportation more often, reducing energy and water consumption and investing in clean energy.
In fact, the protection, conservation and sustainable development of the environment and natural resources are a religious duty to which every Muslim should be committed.
This commitment emanates from the individual’s responsibility before Allah to protect themselves and their community. It is Man’s mission to improve things or, in a worst-case scenario, to maintain things as they are. From an environmental perspective, this is the idea of quality of life.
In fact, we need to see many of our current practices from a sustainability point of view.
For instance, our consumption has to be green and that means doing something that protects and supports the environment and doing things that take into consideration the carrying capacity and ecological principles. That in turn means that natural resources should be able to support current as well as future generations.
Thus, Muslims should not only be fasting, but they should also be looking at Ramadan as a chance to address the broader implications of their responsibilities towards the earth and humanity.
Ramadan is a time for a green revolution against unsustainable activities, shifting towards a greener lifestyle and striving to incorporate sustainable practices.
Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environmental researcher.