Tuesday, September 30, 2008

moons(f)ighting and kayaking- linked?

Eid Mubarak!!

I know that some celebrated the end of Ramadan today and some intend on celebrating it tomorrow. For those who are confused as to why that may be- let's just say, it all boils down to the politics of moon sighting. Regardless, I hope everyone enjoys theirs and really tries to celebrate it. That can be difficult considering things like school and work go on, but whether you decide to take the day off to soak it up or even if you don't, try to at least spend a moment to reflect on your Ramadan and how it went- did you accomplish your goals?

I briefly spoke to a friend today; our discussion veered towards "moon fighting"- why some Muslims choose to follow the lead of others (Pakistan, Saudi, other Muslim countries) in determining Eid, some others choose to follow the calculation method, and still others wait for their community leaders to sight the moon themselves. But she brought up a great point for sighting the moon- it's one of the ways Muslims stay connected to nature. Traditionally, and before such things as globalization and lunar calculations became the norm, we had to rely on nature's signs in order to determine our schedules, our lives. And how as we let go of that tradition, perhaps we're also letting go of our connection to the natural world.

Me? Well, I agree and I disagree. Yes, it (calculations, in this case) *could* mean distancing ourselves from things more organic, but I don't think it has to be that way. I personally believe that human innovation is what makes us, well, human; there's no turning it off and there's no turning back. Adam and Eve chose to- well, they chose. And as you've probably read in countless books and watched in countless movies- we can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil. We also know most things aren't black and white- so let's just say that we can choose to do things that have mostly good in them, or we can choose to do things that have mostly evil in them. And for the record- I think that all the above outlined options for determining Eid can be argued to be valid. Ah, the beauty of Islamic law.

part two of the title- and no, i couldn't think of a clever way to link the two topics. tides, maybe? sure why not. dc green muslims are going kayaking this sunday! now i know many haven't been kayaking or don't have reason to believe it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if you want to rely on me as your sole source of opinion (though i don't recommend it and remove myself from all liability)- it is. kayaking is an activity native to the good old you 's' of eh, and most especially to the east coast. there are of course vast differences in the craft nowadays versus a few hundred years ago- kevlar, carbon fiberglass, personal flotation devices, all come to mind. (versus wood). but it's a great activity nonetheless, an even greater arm workout, and ya just can't get closer to the water without being in it, than from the seat of a kayak. i highly recommend you give it a try and let me know what you think. i recommend even more the thought of joining us this sunday in dc- feel free to e-mail me if you're interested.

-until next time :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

food (miles) for thought

sometimes in our statistic-infused daily lives, we latch onto certain numbers that "mean" something to us. 50% more likely to get 1/3 less of that stuff...(you get the point). some statistics gain popularity, others notoriety, and some just don't really get questioned. we are an information-loving creature, after all.

as a self-professed foodie (who hates the word foodie), and someone who's definitely interested in the process of food getting from the farm to the table, i found this article interesting.

the moral i get from this story is, seek truth over information.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

on the fence

i'm new around these parts so let me introduce myself. my name's yasmin, i'm a vt alum (go hokies!), i like blogging, and i would like to help in a small way with dc green muslims (even though i'm from the VA). please find it within yourself to forgive my habit of not capitalizing, using many many commas, and just generally being one of "those" bloggers.

let's get right to it then- why? i'm here to share my views, help make some of the people around me more conscious of the decisions they make (and why), and figure out *why* issues of sustainability are so important to me. why indeed. when it comes to my intentions, i try to be brief (perhaps for my own lack of mental organization), so forgive me for my brevity. on with it :)

does anyone else like driving as much as i do? i tend to get my best thoughts while driving, and find it very easy to engage in dhikr (remembrance of God). granted, of course, that the driving is easy (sooo, not so much in dc proper ;). anyway, i'm a fan of analogies and they seem to come together for me most while i'm driving. here's my latest...

i was thinking about what it means to be "green," and how it's been described in "shades"- darker, lighter. i think even i've used that imagery. sometimes i feel like there's this hidden competition to see who's greener- having a hybrid vs. riding a bike vs. walking vs....i don't know. eating at mcdonalds vs. eating only raw stuff vs...not eating? not to say we shouldn't reduce our ecological footprint on our beloved planet, but what is our end goal, anyway? if it's harmony we're looking for, i think it's safe to say i've met quite a few harmonious people who aren't your typical "greenies." and God knows better (allahu alam).

i feel like encouraging sustainable behaviors is more a sensibility and less an argument- a demonstration of adab (manners), perhaps. (don't worry, i'm getting to the analogy)* and how, perhaps instead of each person being a particular shade of green, each person's sensibilities is like a field. some fields are adjacent and some share no borders at all. each is tilled in its own way, grows its own things, and yes, they even affect each other (runoff, cross-pollination, etc.). now imagine fences between them (happy fences, if the thought disturbs you). well, i'm on the fence on most issues. the benefit being that i know that even if the grass looks greener on one side, the potential on the other side isn't diminished.** occasionally, i pick sides. but in the case of my philosphy on being green, i like knowing that fences can be jumped.

*perhaps you should know before reading the analogy: i studied agriculture in college. maybe that'll explain a little.
** in particular, i studied soil. yes- dirt. that lovely dark (sometimes red, if you're from my area) stuff. it's important :)

ps - oh, i forgot to mention. i try to keep my intentions short, but i tend to ramble on posts (you win some, you lose some).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrating Ramadan and Awaiting Autumn

The Ramadan crescent, Hayward Hills, Hayward, CA (September 2008)

As we wait for those crisp cool autumn mornings, DC Green Muslims are taking some time to recharge and reflect this Ramadan on our progress, both personally and as a group, since last year. Part of that reflection process is taking place on our sister-blog the Ramadan Compact, a "buy-nothing" experiment from one Ramadan to the next.

As Mohamad mentioned, things came together for us last Ramadan with an iftar and informal dinner discussion in Nadia J’s apartment. This was our first green dinner, with about 10-15 people, which has grown to dinners with 100-150 people centered around themes ranging from water to clothes to food, masha'Allah!

In addition to the dinners, we've also organized and participated many other activities, documented on this blog -- hikes, films, community projects, museum and farm visits, and national conventions. All this wouldn't possible without the ideas, the support and the tireless effort of everyone in our network, alhamdulillah -- thank you!

As the DC Green Muslim network continues to grow, we're taking some time to assess where we are, where we’re going, and who we are in the process. And also continuing to organize some fun activities for the next couple of months:
  • a horseback riding adventure (more info)
  • a talk on fair trade and sustainable coffee ("coffee talk," that is)
  • another walk in Marvin Gaye Park in October (stay tuned for exact date and details)
  • and Green Dinner (#6!) in November
Do let us know if you'd like to participate in any of these activities. Until then, Ramadan kareem!

Green Jobs Now!

Sept 27 - DC, Get Going, Go Green: Green Jobs Now

A National Day of Action to Build the New Economy

Activities will include:
* Clean-up Project: 9:00am – 11:30am
* Green-Collar Job Fair and Rally: 12:00pm – 4:00pm

When: Saturday, September 27, 2008
Where: Bethlehem Baptist Church at 2458 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave, SE; Washington, DC 20020. The church is two blocks from the Anacostia Metro Station.

About Green Jobs Now:

Green Jobs Now is a National Day of Action that will empower everyday people to stage hundreds of grassroots events throughout the country. We will have a special focus on low-income communities, communities of color and indigenous people. This will send a message to our leaders that, when it comes to creating green jobs for a more sustainable economy, PEOPLE ARE READY!

About the organizers:
The National Day of Action is being coordinated by our friend Ibrahim Abdul-Matin... check him out online at the Brooklyn Bedouin! The DC Green Jobs Now event advertized above is being organized by our friends at GWIPL and CCAN... check them out, as well!

Green Muslims in the District lend a hand!
Look for more information on the Google group soon, insha'Allah.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Niyyah

My name is Sarah and this is my niyyah: Being a Green Muslim, to me, means recognizing and reflecting on my presence in the moment and my direct impact on everything around me. Despite negative externalities, which may seek to unsettle my state of equilibrium, I take time to get lost in the simple miracles of nature, the streams, sycamores, pocket parks in an urban jungle and the like. This is where I feel at peace with myself. I am reminded of a Rumi poem:

"to enjoy this conversation…make everything in you an ear, each atom of your being, and you will hear at every moment what the Source is whispering to you, just to you and for you, without any need for my words or anyone else's. you are—we all are—the beloved of the Beloved, and in every moment, in every event of your life, the Beloved is whispering to you exactly what you need to hear and know. who can ever explain this miracle? it simply is. listen and you will discover it every passing moment. listen, and your whole life will become a conversation in thought and act between you and Him, directly, wordlessly, now and always. it was to enjoy this conversation that you and i were created."

For me, my presence in nature is a deep conversation between me and my Creator. I realize this feeling of general health/wellness that nature provides is often times a luxury and can be seen as intellectual elitism, a sentiment I do not share. Everyone should have the right to reach their greatest human potential and this is certainly true in our interactions with something as ubiquitous as the built environment and the natural world. Many of our urban centers are concrete sterile shells void of a meaningful exchange between the built environment and nature. We are unequivocally changed by our surroundings, public spaces can empower us or be a part of our detriment.

My involvement with Green Muslims stems from my desire to help others see the inequalities that exist between those who have access to affordable housing in safe neighborhoods, equitable transportation uses, healthy foods, and accessible green public space, and those who unfortunately do not. My hope is that we can foster greater opportunities for bottom-up community building, thereby directly addressing these inequalities. Simultaneously, engaging in dialogue with the other Green Muslims will help me grow into a more reflective person, in hopes of discovering sustainable ways to preserve the environment for future generations. In many ways, my interest in urban planning is motivated by these factors.

I am humbled to be in the presence of my Green Muslim peers. I have spent much of my academic profession, having to explain what I do to the older generation, qualifying it to careers comparable to those typical of South Asian second-generation Americans. To be in the presence of other Green Muslims, people who just get it, is a very empowering feeling. They have taken the initiative to demand change and I want to be a part of this movement.

Picture: Garden in Pasadena, CA

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Green Muslims Here and There

Green Muslims in the UK?

3 days ago, this green Muslim was in DC. Today, I’m in Dubai. Not the greenest place on earth, I know. The day before yesterday I was in Brighton, England. A pretty "green" town, I’d say... though all the international travel I’ve been doing isn’t!

I spent that surprisingly sunny day in Brighton with my friends Muzammal and Shumaisa. Muzammal helped start LINE, London’s first local Islamic Network for the Environment. Shumaisa, on the other hand, helped start Green Muslims.

Green Muslim History...
Let’s talk about that, the start of Green Muslims. Shumaisa, a PhD student in environmental justice, and a group of friends at UMich organized a conference on Islam and social justice in the spring of 2006. That conference sparked a number of conversations amongst like-minded Muslim environmental students and professionals, from Ann Arbor to Chicago to Boston to DC.

Green Muslims Go Local

This also encouraged Shumaisa to start a yahoo group – green_muslims@yahoogroups.com – to keep us all connected and informed. The yahoo group is still around (see below!) but for all the enthusiasm there was in that national conversation it didn’t easily translate into anything on the ground. It wasn’t until the spring of 2007 that a few of us in the DC area began to seriously consider organizing locally, and we did.

Green Muslims in the District
It started with a few visits to local mosques and schools, speaking on Islam and the environment. The national conversation quickly became a local one, between DC-area Muslims and people of faith working on environmental advocacy and activism. By Ramadan of 2007, a year ago now, we had what you could call a critical mass around what we called a “green” iftar. That was Green Dinner #1, and we’ve had 4 more since then.

Green Muslims @ ISNA
That, in part, is the story Sanjana told at our Green Muslims session at ISNA a few weeks ago. In addition to the history of the group and the dinners, she talked about our other activities (from hikes to museum visits to community engagement to interfaith film screenings) and our approach: start small, be local, stay relevant... and have fun!

I then presented on diversity in our work, where it was working and where it needed more work. Specifically, I highlighted our partnerships with local groups like Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GWIPL) and Washington Parks and People.

Tarek Elgawhary, a PhD student at Princeton University and former MSA National President, ended the panel up with a moving exposition of the Islamic idea of the balance of nature. Rabia Terri Harris, our moderator and founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, wrapped all this up in way that only someone with her experience and wisdom could.

Sister Rabia then broke the audience (100+ people at one point in the session) up into 3 smaller groups for dialogue. The energy and enthusiasm in the group I sat with, made up in large part of MSA and MYNA youth, was palpable... that's exciting and it'll inspire our future work, insha'Allah! As will the fact that ISNA 2009 will be a local event for us, to be held here in Washington, DC on July 4th weekend.

Green Muslims Now
Back to Green Muslims issues at present, the national conversation and the yahoo group. Our intention with the ISNA session was to convene and connect Muslims in North America working on or interested in environment and social justice. There must be more of us out there, unaware that we’re not the only ones with interests in and, indeed, a passion for people and for nature.

So we humbly invite all such people to connect on the Green Muslims yahoo group and to blog about their ideas, their inspiration and their work on Ecoislam.org ...see you there!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Niyyah

My love for the outdoors, and the natural world, is a classic case of nature vs. nurture. On one hand, I believe this deep connection is encouraged in Islam, and inside each and every one of us. On the other, my love for nature has been conditioned by my father, who also loved nature-and wanted to give his wife a break from their six kids. Perhaps he felt that the racket of a rambunctious family was muted (however momentarily) by the rustle of the soaring trees, or by the calming sound of water lapping against rocks. He gave us the gift of tranquility, teaching us to sit in stillness and awe of God's creation in all its vast scope and beauty. Today, nature is where I go to be still, when I need to re-center.

I am a Green Muslim because I want to be a part of the change I desire for my community and humanity at large. Spirituality for me is recognizing my connection to all creation, and translating all commandments of my faith in action. Islam challenges us to a higher consciousness, to reach for our highest self, and in that, we begin to see past ourselves and fulfill our duty as caretakers of all creation, including each other.

One of my favorite hadith/sayings of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is to "want for your brother/sister what you want for yourself". This blog, this group, and our intention is Inshaallah the beginning of many ways we, individually and collectively, personify this saying. Among other things, I want to help preserve the beauty and nature I associate with some of my best childhood memories, for future generations.

My intention in joining Green Muslims is to meet and work alongside people wanting to make a positive change in the community, and to share this experience with as many people as we can.

Ramadan Reflection: Consumption and Empathy

We fast during the month of Ramadan for a number of reasons: to cleanse our spirits, refocus our minds for the coming year, empathize with the poor and most importantly, to strengthen our faith. Despite the obvious benefits, it is often difficult to balance the mental exhaustion due to waning energy and the resulting physical experience. We may even feel disempowered to complete our daily tasks. We continue onward with this struggle in hopes of coming closer to our Creator, despite the mental and physical difficulty associated with not eating and drinking.

Come sunset, we escape this struggle. The moment our bodies are once again nourished with food and water; we instantly become more present in our lives, more aware of our surroundings and have more faith in our ability to realize our human potential. So what about those who cannot escape? How can we expect the most broken, beaten and down-trodden in society to pull themselves out of poverty when their most basic needs are not met? That is a ridiculous expectation, given that we know how difficult this feat is in our own lives. Not to say we have the wisdom behind Allah's gifts, but perhaps forcing us to see the plight of others through fasting is a very powerful gift, allowing us to be more aware of our own consumption patterns

This gift should be seen as a teaching mechanism, training us, through out 14 hours abstention from basic necessities. This fast, which is a commitment to God, acts as a shield. Come sunset, when this shield is taken away, it is important to remember our training throughout the day, paying special attention to what we consume. Being deprived for the day, our eyes will want to eat everything in sight; this same desire was locked up behind the shield of the fast. It would be ideal to take advantage of our training and consume that which is necessary. This level of self-restraint can be more broadly applied to our consumption of all material goods. Ramadan allows us to take an inventory of how we live and take the steps needed to become better versions of ourselves. Ramadan also creates ample opportunity for us to me more aware of our intake, our responsibilities in our communities and ultimately our carbon footprint. In the age of environmental awareness, Ramadan serves as a great impetus for Muslims to get involved in this process of reclaiming the environment and ourselves.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reflections on a Greener ISNA

It's been a couple weeks since our Green MUSLIM Movement session at the ISNA Convention in Columbus, Ohio, so it's time to reflect. Let me start by sharing a few thoughts and favorite moments from the convention here, and then follow up on the specifics of our session and next steps in the next post, insha'Allah.

I found myself stepping outside at ISNA often, to that little outdoor courtyard adjacent to the convention center's cafe. Sitting there in the shade of the young honey locust trees, I ate, caught up with old friends, made new ones and, of course, prepared for our session. Mostly, I was just coming out to breathe.

Not that it was stuffy in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, a new facility with high ceilings and much open space. Even though everything you'd need – food, drink, oxygen, lodging, convenience store, express shipping, etc. – is right there inside the building, it's hard to be inside for that long... sunshine and fresh air just can't be beat.

Speaking of air, the AC in the huge prayer hall kept the conditions in there refrigerator-like. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to notice that. It came up in conversation towards the end of the weekend when someone I was talking to noted that it's hard to have a "green" convention when the facility isn't. Very true.

I wonder what folks thought of praying on the corrugated cardboard rolled out there in that main hall? Perhaps praying on paper products indoors is the closest we can get to praying on plants outside? Does paper join us in tasbih and sujuud in a way that synthetic material doesn't?

Finally, the new moon and Ramadan... Muslims looking skywards, looking inwards. Some of us made our first taraweeh prayers of the month on those cardboard mats there in the main hall on Sunday evening, and fasted the next day. Some of us waited until Tuesday to start the blessed month. Regardless, Ramadan mubarak to all!

Friday, September 5, 2008

DC GM Mentions

From time to time, I come across websites that link to the DC Green Muslims blog. Three recent finds:

* MPAC-DC News & Views: Faith Goes Green

* USC Knight Chair in Media and Religion: The Next Big Thing (scroll down the page to the see the link)

* From the Green Party in England - Another Green World: Ramadan is Green (DC GM link and info about the London Islamic Network for the Environment's (LINE) Fast for the Planet - www.fastfortheplanet.net).

Also, make sure to check out MSA National's Link magazine - two short articles on "Connecting to Allah's Creation" (Spring/Summer) and "Putting your MSA on the Green Path" (Fall/Winter). (Thoughts or feedback to the author much appreciated! :)