Hajj is a time for embracing good habits and reconsidering moral behaviours, so it’s the ideal time to change our outlook on the environment.
– Dr. Husna Ahmed, Author of ‘Green Guide to Hajj’ and international speaker on climate change.
Being the sacred pilgrimage that all Muslims aspire to perform, Hajj is not to be taken lightly. In fact in many countries pilgrims will enroll in courses to help them prepare both emotionally, spiritually, and physically for what can be an arduous journey. However, one aspect of the pilgrimage that is commonly overlooked is its impact on the environment.
The mass exodus of people from all around the world to Makkah during Hajj and ‘Umrah takes its toll not only on the Holy city, but on the environment. During Hajj, tonnes of plastic bottles litter the streets, transport networks are stretched to their limits, and food is wasted on a huge scale on a daily basis. The solution? Well there are many simple ways pilgrims can make the journey a little easier on this blessed planet of ours. Indeed, a ‘Green Guide to Hajj’ has just been launched in Jakarta to help pilgrims perform a greener and more eco-friendly Hajj.
According to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the guide hopes to inspire the millions of pilgrims who go on Hajj every year to make “their pilgrimage, and their lives, a blessing to (rather than a burden on) the Earth.” Around 200,000 people travel from Indonesia each year to Hajj or Umrah and they make up just a tiny portion of the estimated 3 million people who perform the Hajj annually. In the foreword of the guide, Dr. K.H. Ma’aruf Amin, the chairman of the leading Indonesian Ulema Council states that Islam promotes environmental responsibility. “This Earth is the biggest blessing from Allah, and humans have been asked to cherish it and take care of it as a mandate,” he says. “Not only that, but humanity is also asked to do something better, and not to waste, or exceed the limits of the Earth’s provisions.”
Author of the guide book, Dr. Husna Ahmed explores the practical ways that Muslims can embrace a green Hajj and adopt more environmentally-friendly habits. Dr. Ahmed states that the main issues that need tackling are transport, waste, and consumption. A lot of pilgrims tend to fly to Makkah, or travel by private transport, and are careless about the energy they use and the waste they create, she says. “We want people to be cutting their waste, re-using items like water bottles and also thinking about what they can do beyond their Hajj,” says Dr. Ahmed. “Hajj is a time for embracing good habits and reconsidering moral behaviours, so it’s the ideal time to change our outlook on the environment,” she adds.
And it’s not just pilgrims that are looking to go green. The public transport that the city of Makkah offers is shifting towards environmentally-friendly options. The city recently launched the Makkah Metro, a high-speed train which can transport up to 500,000 passengers between the holy sites. As well as helping to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by around 30,000, this train will hopefully make Hajj a more stress and smoke-free experience for all. Dr. Ahmed is also keen to point out that Hajj is meant to be a once in a lifetime experience and states that those who have been on the pilgrimage several times need to think carefully about the impact of their travel.
Dr. Husna Ahmed has also authored a women-focused guide to conserving water in the Muslim community. Focusing on the example of Hajjar (RA), the Egyptian hand-maid and second wife of the Prophet Ibrahim (AS) who was stranded in the desert without water for her child, the guide sets out simple ways to save water at home, work and in the mosque. In fact, Hajj pilgrims walk as Hajjar (RA) did between two mountains in the Saudi Arabian wilderness known as Safa and Marwa to remember her search for water.
The ‘Green Guide to Hajj’ is part of the Muslim ‘Seven-Year Action Plan on Climate Change’ which was launched with the support of the HRH Prince Philip at Windsor Castle in 2009. As well as an English and Indonesian guide, there are plans to translate the work into Urdu, Malay, Hausa (for Nigeria) and Arabic- so keep an eye out for them.
Top Tips from ‘Green Guide To Hajj’
1. Be moderate
When you are performing the Hajj you will be living with only the most basic necessities so this is a time to reflect on your wants and what you really need to live a peaceful life on this earth.
2. Travel lightly
Travel to Makkah by sea or train instead of flying by plane which has a huge negative impact on the planet due to its emissions. If you do travel by air then consider supporting a local environmental charity or planting a tree to counter the carbon emissions.
3. Choose sustainability
There are lots of agencies that provide Hajj services and yet none are environmentally-friendly. You can change this by demanding more eco-friendly services in everything from the way you travel, the hotel you stay at, to the food you eat.
4. Do not purchase plastic
Whether it is bags or bottles, try to steer clear of plastic which does not biodegrade and pollutes the soil and water where it is dumped. In 2010, about 10 million plastic bottles were left in Makkah after Hajj which could have been easily avoided if people brought along their own water flasks.
Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist based in the UK with a special interest in environmental issues and the Muslim world. She is also the Eco-Islam editor at GreenProphet.com which is the leading news site on green issues in the Middle East. You can see more of her work at arwafreelance.com