“We have made you [believers] into a just community (a middle nation), so that you may bear witness [to the truth] before others and so that the Messenger may bear witness [to it] before you.” [2:143]
“We offered this Trust (of reason and moral responsibility) to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, yet they refused to undertake it and were afraid of it; mankind undertook it—they have always been inept and rash.” [33:72]
The former verse points to the lead believers are expected to take in the initiatives that are necessary for mankind. The latter highlights the concept of amanah, i.e. the trust Allah has bestowed human beings with, and the risks involved in not dealing with amanah in a just way.
Ramadan is over; but long live the Ramadan spirit!
Ramadan is always a special time for Muslims around the world and we make plans to change ourselves for the better every year in this month, for it is a time for reflection and self-inquiry. We resolve to be the best version of ourselves during this month of blessings. What better time to change for good? Ramadan is also a time for coming together and it presents us with different occasions where people from different walks of life come and break their fasts together. Be it mosque councils, Muslim student associations, government institutions, or community groups, there are many organisations that organise Iftar gatherings every year.
Ramadan can also be a time to examine and analyse our consumer behaviour, on an individual as well as on a community level, as we look at our dealings with nature and the environment. This is what a Ramadan campaign run by an organisation of German Muslims have shown us this past Ramadan.
NourEnergy is the first Muslim faith-based environmental protection group from Germany and has active members with roots in different countries of the world from Asia, Africa, and Europe! Their campaign #RamadanPlastikfasten campaign ran for the third time this Ramadan. The name ‘Plastikfasten’ comes from German and literally means ‘fasting from plastic’, hence aiming at a Ramadan free of plastic. The campaign name could be put out in English as #RamadanPlasticFree (But let’s be honest. The word ‘Plastikfasten’ sounds cooler).
The Plastikfasten in Ramadan campaign started by NourEnergy in 2017 has set into motion a movement that has helped spare would-be dump-loads of waste, particularly single-use plastic waste. It has got better with each passing year, starting off as a campaign on an individual level in 2017. And, now, during Ramadan 2019, the campaign got another feather in its cap—the publication of the Green Iftar Guide handbook in German (soon to be available in English as well), in cooperation with the Muslim Students Association Zurich (MSAZ).
The Green Iftar Guide helped community organisations and students’ groups to organise Iftar events in a holistic, sustainable, and fair way, be it at an individual, small group, or on a bigger scale. In addition to that, NourEnergy rolled out the nine #GreenIftarGoals (GIGs), both in German as well as English, which include to-the-point realistic and practical tips on how to plan and organise our Iftars sustainably. The GIGs aims to contribute towards tackling the burning environmental issues of our time like plastic pollution, food waste, water misuse, and resource abuse in general. These are all dire issues which are a common topic of discussion among the ecologically conscious—the plastic menace, water pollution and misuse, and unhealthy food patterns that are destroying our planet.
One can ask why the focus on plastic when the challenges and even the Green Iftar Goals are wide-ranging? This is because plastic is an easy entry point to start a discussion aimed at reflecting on our consumption patterns and consumerist behaviour. This is owing to the ubiquity of its use, the scale at which plastic pollution poses a challenge to our life-sustaining system, and the intensifying public opinion against plastic use in general.
The Green Iftar Goals concern not just plastic use, but rather on other aspects of the ubiquitous consumption patterns as well. For example, it calls for the use of regional and seasonal fruits and vegetables while preparing Iftars. Regional and seasonal foods are proven healthier and more climate-friendly, compared to the food items transported over long distances that lose vital nutrients during that process and contribute towards pollution during transportation.
Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem and the effects of plastic used in one country can also be seen in other countries across the world. As of 2015, only around 20% of the global plastic waste is recycled, with the per person plastic waste generation being much higher in developed countries. Plastic can also be a menacing problem in low-income and developing countries, where there is rarely any system in place for the post-processing of used plastic, especially in rural areas. On the other hand, the availability of non-plastic alternatives is scarce because they are either not yet introduced, or are unaffordable.
Recent findings have found that plastic does end up in our food chain and also affects the growth of agricultural plants. Add to that the plastic waste that is ‘exported’ to developing countries from developed countries for recycling. Remember the recent incident from Malaysia that went viral when the Malaysian environment minister and also other governments in south-east Asia decided to send back thousands of tonnes of waste back to their countries of origin, mainly the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany? This plastic first ends up in waste dumps before getting recycled, and hence poses a health risk, potentially polluting the water, soil, and air there.
The huge quantity of plastic that ends up in the seas and oceans badly affects the marine life (you might have often seen those videos online where marine creatures are entangled in or have swallowed up plastic, and died in the process). The RamadanPlastikfasten campaign mainly aimed at reducing the plastic waste at its source—in the West! And the numbers tell us that Muslims have an enormous role to play!
Last year around 20 mosques and community organisations in Germany took part in the campaign and some initiated their own mini-campaigns under this campaign, with Charity Week Germany as an example last year and Green Deen Germany this year. Charity Week Germany and Green Deen Germany took the #RamadanPlastikfasten campaign as inspiration and started a sub-campaign called ‘Taraweeh with my water bottle’, aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastic water bottles during the Taraweeh prayers. A single mosque in Frankfurt, Germany spared themselves 11,000 plastic cups in the month of Ramadan last year by switching to reusable dishes for Iftars. Imagine the amount of plastic Muslims living in developed countries can save if all the Iftars were organised in a similar way, hence contributing to making the ecological situation worldwide better!
The Muslim Students Association Zurich (MSAZ) set the bar high last year with a zero-waste Iftar. How meaningful would it be if all our community events, in Ramadan and otherwise, follow the plastic-free and zero-waste principles—upholding our moral responsibility as the caretakers of this Earth and setting a precedent for others to follow? Wouldn’t it be fitting to the Quran verses mentioned at the beginning of this article? For God doesn’t like the wasteful, and God doesn’t like the extravagant!
In Germany, the campaign this year was even bigger with 167 Green Iftars (sustainable fast-breaking events) with a total of 30,850 participants, 102,355 plastic items (cutlery, bottles, plates, cups) spared, and with at least 17 university groups and 11 mosque communities taking part in total. Cloth bags and reusable water bottles in hands of worshipers, regional and seasonal ingredients in the food, and a flood of photos and videos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: “This is how our #RamadanPlastikfasten comes off!” were shared everywhere during this Ramadan. The campaign was also featured on German TV and radio this year, in addition to the even higher number of individuals and organisations signing up for the campaign on social media.
The #RamadanPlastikfasten campaign wasn’t aimed at plastic reduction only in the month of Ramadan. Its aim was to avail the blessed month of Ramadan, which is the season of good deeds, as a starting point for something bigger and sustainable. This is the exact reason why NourEnergy selected this month to start this new movement. Ramadan, the month of abstinence, purification, and betterment, can be an ideal time for a change that is fundamental in nature. In this spirit, all these pleasant updates from Green Iftars all over social media in the form of photos and videos should not and must not be just a Ramadan Special. It should inspire us to follow these principles beyond Ramadan—living life in the spirit of Ramadan—and it should serve as a start towards more sustainability consciousness and environmental protection in our communities, for a healthier planet and for a healthier us!