In direct contrast to the media stereotype of Muslim women as feeble and oppressed, these eco-Muslimahs have shown that Muslim women are willing and able to shape a more sustainable future.
One of the most distressing aspects of climate change is that, rather unjustly, it is the poorest and the weakest that will be worst affected. It is developing nations who will have to deal with the worst impacts of climate change such as floods and droughts although they have contributed the least to global warming in terms of carbon emissions. And again, within these poorer societies it will be the most vulnerable members – the women and children – who will bear the brunt of a warming climate. Women will have to work harder to find clean water and sufficient food for their families and are more vulnerable to death and disease during natural disasters aggravated by climate change.
Consequently, women from across the world are working together to help highlight the dangers of climate change and are encouraging people to go green in a bid to stop climate chaos. Amongst these admirable women are Muslimahs, or eco-Muslimahs as I like to call them, who are not only trying to secure a bright future for the coming generations of women but are also tackling gender and faith stereotypes along the way.
A Saudi initiative – Naqa’a
Back in 2009, a small group of Muslim women from Saudi Arabia set up an organisation named Naqa’a (Purity in Arabic) with the aim of raising awareness about environmental issues and encouraging green practices in the nation. The women of Naqa’a work with youth in schools, various organisations and businesses to implement real change such as encouraging recycling and minimising waste. Norah Magraby, a founding member of Naqa’a, acknowledged that the people involved in their project tended to be women but insisted that the duty to protect the planet applies equally to Muslim women and Muslim men. “Many verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s r statements urge us all to save the earth, preserve our water resources and to reduce our general consumption,” she states.
A Bedouin villagers’ solar purpose
Also breaking barriers and challenging gender stereotypes in the name of the environment are two Muslim Bedouin women from the deserts of the Middle East. The two women were carefully elected by their village elders to embark on a six-month training course at the Barefoot College in India, where they picked up the necessary skills to help bring green energy to their villages in Jordan. Rafi’a Alhamid, a mother of four who lives in a tent without electricity and Saiha Alraja, a grandmother who never went to school, have both now graduated as solar engineers and hope that solar power will change their lives forever.
Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College who was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2010, noted the transformation of the Muslim women into confident advocates of solar power. “They came as shy grandmothers but they returned as different women – they’re open, independent and they realise the potential of solar power to improve their lives. They’ve also shown that women can achieve anything.”
So, in direct contrast to the media stereotype of Muslim women as feeble and oppressed, these eco-Muslimahs have shown that Muslim women are willing and able to shape a more sustainable future.
A Green Kristiane
Eco-Muslimahs have also been preaching the green message to the masses in a bid to challenge negative perceptions about Islam. Kristiane Backer, a Muslim convert who was once an MTV presenter, is part of the ‘Inspired by Muhammed’ public campaign in which explains that she adopted an environmentally friendly lifestyle to reflect her Islamic beliefs. “Green living and the preservation of our resources are essential principles of Islam. ‘Don’t be wasteful, for God does not like the wasters,’ the Qur’an tells us this,” she explains. Let’s hope Kristiane’s contribution challenges the shocking poll find in 2010 that just 6% of the British population believe that Islam promotes active measures to protect the environment!
Despite these sobering statistics, over the last couple of years there has been a marked rise in the number of eco-Muslimahs and Zaufishan Iqbal of the popular ‘Eco-Jihad’ blog has been leading the way. “Some Muslim women are natural writers, others designers, I am a natural environmentalist,” says Zaufishan who lives in the UK. “Although as one person, the larger scale environmental issues such as CO2 fumes, melting ice-caps, flooding and waste dumps seem too burdensome for me to significantly affect, if I can at the very least change my local environment (and I am!) inshaAllah that will count as my good deeds.”
Towards a greener Ramadhan and a greener future
Indeed, it is important to realise that although many see being ‘green’ or ‘eco’ as a lifestyle choice, the reality is that Allah I has made it our duty to care for this planet. In the Qur’an it states: ‘It is He who has appointed you guardians in the earth.” The question is how do we fulfil our role as guardians? Well, we need to move towards concrete and daily actions that will help preserve the earth as well as breaking bad habits that harm nature. According to Sanjana Ahmad, who is part of the Ramadhan Compact campaign that encourages Muslims to give up materialistic consumption during the holy month of fasting, Ramadhan is the perfect time to embrace green habits.
“Ramadhan is a time when we break out of normal routines and focus more on spiritual works,” explains Sanjana. “It is an opportunity to simplify and if you pledge not to buy anything new, you’ll reflect and think about what you really need and find new green ways to consume such as borrowing or buying used”. Raising our own awareness of the waste we create and actively trying to embrace greener ways such as recycling and buying second-hand are simple steps we can all take towards a greener future. And as Zaufishan reminds us, “just as the deen (path) of a Muslim is to show he/she is a believer in God, an eco-Muslimah shows through action that she is a believer in preserving Allah (SWT)’s planet.”
Thanks to Klaudia Khan and Nadia Tariq for compiling the works of these great individuals and organisations.
Arwa Aburawa caught up with Kristiane Backer to talk to her about why Islam’s green teachings are important to her.
Laura El Alam interviews Muslim families in Southern California who share several inspirational and eco-friendly tips.
Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist based in the UK who writes on the Middle East, the environment and various social issues. Arwa is also the eco-Islam affairs editor at Green Prophet, the leading news site on environmental issues in the Middle East.