Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keep going green

I hope this isn't preaching to the choir, since I know many of you are very aware. But in case it is helpful to any readers, I wanted to post a small list of tips to further help us make better use of our resources.

We've all heard the common "go green!" tips of changing your light bulbs and shopping local. Here are a few others for your consideration, most of which are based on our own Islamic principles which were given to us well before the start of the Green Movement. Insha'Allah they can be used to remind us of the things that really matter in this life, strengthen our connection to each other, the land, and ultimately our Creator. Lets reduce wasteful consumption, green our ibada and our everyday in the path of Allah, and maybe even save some money along the way! :)

1.) Don't leave the water running while you make wudhu
It only takes a quick second to turn off the faucet between strokes. Think of the impact if millions of Muslims used 1 cup's worth of water less...We all know that less than 1% of the world's water supply is fresh, and even less than that is readily available. If millions of Muslims use reduce their water consumption for wudhu 3-5 times a day, the impact is sure to be significant!

2.) Fast Mondays and Thursdays
You've already heard that it can earn you blessings to fast on these days. But it can also help reach out to our hungrier brothers and sisters, and lower food prices. Just think if 10% of the population in developed countries fasted 2 of every 7 days, consistently. Not convinced of that our fasting will significantly help alleviate the hunger and hardship of others? Try donating the money you would spend on your own food to world food organizations instead. If a minimum of 10% of the population practiced, this could add up to billions of dollars each year.

3.) Ditch the artificial llights for Salah
When you can, try keeping the artificial lights off when you pray on your own. Use whatever natural light you can instead: use moonlight or (beeswax) candles. Not only are you reducing electricity use, but enhancing your atmosphere with a soft light that reminds you of the intimacy that exists between Allah and His worshiper. Praying outside, directly on the grass also prevents the need for artificial lights, and gives you a direct connection with the nature that Allah keeps commanding us to contemplate in the Qur'an, and the earth from which we were created.

4.) Support Muslim businesses for craftsmanship you can see...
The next time you're visiting relatives oversees (or wherever), purchase clothes and items that you can see being made. Not only are you supporting a craftsman, you can be sure you are NOT supporting sweatshop labor. Have your clothes sewn, jewelry custom-made, 'atr prepared, etc...

5.) Reduce your meat consumption
Relax, I didn't say not to eat it at all! But reducing meat consumption has huge consequences for global land use, climate change, and indigenous communities who are food insecure. More acres of land (and food) are needed to keep up with world meat demand, which means more soil erosion, more methane, and less food available to humans. Even if you switch to fish from red meat, you should keep in mind that over-fishing is depleting fish supplies worldwide. So try the veggie wrap the next time you go to Roma's, its not that bad, promise...
"Do not make your stomach the graveyard of animals" is a common hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

6.) (Re-)connect with your source of food
The Qur'an asks repeatedly if we stop and ponder the miracle of growth and creation, and the blessing of rain that is necessary for crops to grow. Try to connect with a local community garden, farm, or orchard so that you can see where your food is coming from: get on your hands and knees to gather the bluberries, reach up high for the apples and cherries, blow off the dirt and shuck the corn yourself! This is especially important once you have children: they can see that food is grown from the land, not the sterile packages of the grocery store display counters. Harvesting the plants from the earth humbles us, and gives us a more realistic and aware appreciation for our source of nutrition and nourishment (as well as what it takes for all the elements to come together for the food to grow).

7.) Reconsider gifts
Generosity and hospitality are important characteristics of Islamic culture, regardless of region. However, they can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes, a good intention of kindness can nevertheless be lost in wasteful gifts. The next time you want to give a gift, consider what your friend actually needs. If what your female friend really needs is help setting up for a big party, offer cooking help instead of a bath set. If what your male friend really needs is Qur'an lessons, offer him tutoring lessons instead of a flashy gadget. Does the sick friend really need a teddy bear, or your grandmother's killer soup recipe, made by your own hands? Give of your time and experience before you have to turn to your wallet. A bottle of lotion or a new tool never strengthened a community the same way good companionship did!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Commuting on foot...

As we're gear up for our next Green Dinner on December 6th, I'd like to share this story from the Post -- it follows Arlington resident Peter Owens from his office in DC to his home near Court House, almost a 6 mile/2 hour walk -- which got me thinking about our discussion topic: space.

How different is our experience of surrounding spaces if it's through a walk versus in a car?

I always forget how "small" DC is: from my apartment in Arlington, it's a 4.3 mile walk to GWU. That sounds doable (walking seems so much less intimidating than biking for some reason). My commute to work (all in Arlington) would be a little more than 4 miles as well...doesn't seem so bad, maybe I'll try it come spring :) Plus Google Maps now does walking directions!

Solvitur ambulando.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Greening an American Muslim Agenda!

Plans post Thanksgiving???

Come to the MANA conference in Philly next weekend!

Look for the environment panel entitled:
"From the Farm to the Hood: How Muslims Go Green"
Saturday, November 29th from 5-6:30pm (Room 204B)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lanscapes of the heart : Tenessee, Kashan, Tehran, Maryland

Different things make you realize how fast time flies, how quickly we "grow up" (and that we never really do grow up). I have memories that remained with me as markers of places I have been, of feelings of wonder and contentment, and they involved the native plants and climate of the land.

In Tehran, most homes have a small courtyard garden: its the first thing you see when you walk through the heavy metal doors. There were roses there with a scent that could send you to heaven. I remember my great-uncle, Daii Asdollah watering his tiny garden in pajama pants, a button-up shirt and plastic sandles, a limp cigarette hanging from his mouth. My grandparents had a great big mulberry tree, and we would stand under it, holding our shirts to catch all the ripe berries and staining everything with their purply blood. Even in the busiest part of the polluted city, enormous trees lined the streets, standing so tall you had to tilt your head all the way back to see the green tops.

Outside the city, there are several lush escapes. Aabnik is one village, nestled between two mountains. In the early morning, you hear dogs barking and the jingle of goat bells. The smell of fresh bread and donkeys mingle, and when you stand at the top of the surrounding mountains and see the shadows of clouds on the ground below, you begin to comprehend how small you are.

To the north is an orange orchard where we played cow boy and cow girl games. We ran between trees while the adults strolled through citrus heaven. The villagers near-by went about their daily lives, helping their cows give birth, making cheese, harvesting. A three legged cat was a wonder to us city kids but just a humorous detail of the day to them. The simplest meal of white rice and beans was a feast to us there--with so much beauty, there was little else we needed.

Kashan is a desert city, and in the old days you satisfied your thirst with cool watermelon juice because the water was saline and chalky. Even in the baking heat, one particular garden offered cool spring water gushing out of the ground, like an oasis in a dream. Thousand year-old remains of villagers' homes line some roads. My great grandmother lived there in a home her husband had built till her death. Chickens ran around in her small courtyard.

More than an ocean over is another world: we drove through Virginia and West Virginia's mountains and hills to get to Granny's house in Tennessee. She had aloe vera plants hanging in kitchen windows--Granny used them to heal the chigger bites on our ankles when we ran through the grass. She decorated her front steps with red Geraniums, and always had a basket of eucalyptus by the bathroom hallway. At breakfast, there was almost always some type of home-made jam: fig, pepper relish, strawberries. There were always dark walnuts in the corners of the back yard like huge, black tennis balls. At Christmas time, there was the tree to decorate, and even though the real thing was replaced with a fake one for economic consideration, it was beautiful to behold! :D

When we first moved back to the States, there were grassy lawns everywhere for the first time. At the apartment complex in Virginia, there was a small thicket of trees, and when all the leaves fell and there were only trunks and scraggly branches, we'd make believe that we were running away into a mysterious forest. Our first pumpkin harvest was a blaze of big, orange Cinderella-coaches and fresh apple cider. When we got our first town house in Maryland, there was a small garden and tall evergreens in the front. There were little mossy patches here and there, pine needle havens that became a make believe forest for my dolls. There was juicy summer-time grass to run through, and at dusk lightening bugs twinkled here and there. My future husband and I climbed trails at Great Falls: the air was severely humid as it is right before a heavy summer thunderstorm. The night air was sweet, and anytime I remembered, I'd look up at the stars. My aunt, Ammeh Mitra told us once when we were kids, "the moon will be the messenger between us. When you miss us, look up at the full moon, and there you'll see our faces looking down at you."

Its the little things that make you remember where you were and who you are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


There are
pieces of me that stand
on mountains
that sparkle
in tidepools
that contemplate
in deserts
that glisten
in city lights
but the whole of me
lies everywhere
and nowhere
at once.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


carbon footprints and calculators got you stumped? check out ambreen's post and reflections on her carbon footprint and our outing to marvin gaye park last weekend!

thanks a ton ambreen! ;)

funky but fascinating...

"Green Team volunteers will assist the Green Festival in maximizing its sustainability goals, by diverting as much waste from the landfill as possible. Volunteers will ensure that attendees deposit their landfill waste/compost/recycling in the proper cans at the Resource Recovery Stations located throughout the event hall. Three bins are included at resource recovery stations (recycling, compost and landfill). Each bin is clearly labeled to ensure proper disposal of items and volunteers further ensure that items are places in the appropriate bins. Volunteers will be expected to educate attendees on the greening efforts at Green Festivals, and will explain to our attendees our use of bioware and why we use it. Some Green Team volunteers will also be in charge of Resource Recovery pickup, and the sorting of recyclable/compostable materials."

speaking of recycling (which i agree, can often seem like a big mystery)... i was at a place last weekend where there was a lot of recycling – or at least a few parts of the whole process – going on. the DC Green Festival!

i volunteered to be on their "Green Team"... the paragraph in fine print above explains what that means. basically, as a Green Team volunteer, you could do one of two things...

first, you could stand by the "resource recovery stations" and help people decide where to place their throwawayables... there's that blessed moment of indecision for many of us (captured beautifully in chip py's photo above) when confronted with 4 labeled containers to choose from, instead of just one big "garbage" bin.

why is this moment so blessed? b/c this front-loading of the proper separation of waste streams (i.e. separating recyclabes at the source, before they're thrown away) makes the rest of the recycling process that much easier. and cleaner...

which brings me to the second job on the Green Tream... the job i choose. separating waste streams (out back) after they've been thrown away... or "sorting," as the Green Fest folks called it. through the trash, basically. what a funky and fascinating process!

it's amazing how much more you learn about an event (or people, in general) from what's coming out as waste... but don't worry, this isn't about scatology. it's about how we collected all the bags from the resource station, took them out back, opened them up and picked out any recyclables (paper, plastic, metal...) or landfill waste from the compostables.

the compost (biodegradable utensils, plates and cups... wet or dirty napkins and paper... food, etc.) was all going to the USDA... even the "greywater" (the extra water, coffee and juice in the containers being recycled) was going to the USDA to sprinkle onto their compost pile.

i was really impressed by how much waste could be diverted – no... recovered resources! – from the landfill pile through the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers, at both the front and back-end of the process. but what really got me thinking was all the food in the compost...

entirely uneaten samosas... half-eaten plates of rice here and there... coffee and juice containers with a little or a lot of liquid left in them... i even found an unopened granola bar in the compost. so is it OK that it's all going to the compost – and right back into the earth – anway? or is this also a waste?

a waste of what?... energy? money? people's good time and effort? or the baraka (the blessing or spiritual sustenance) contained in that food? grown into that food... picked with that food... cooked into it.

al-hamdu liLlah for the food. and for the insight.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shady DC Recycling?

the rumor mill (which i'm unabashedly perpetuating here) in my office building has it that dc doesn't actually recycle. i imagine this is somewhat a sensational account with some certain truths in it. the official stats are that my building does recycle. but that the garbage guys perhaps don't. so now it comes down to a matter of trust- do i trust the dusty dc cogs and wheels to actually recycle the stuff i put out there? one office here certainly doesn't- an employee hauls their paper off personally in his car to his local recycle center. but i don't have a car and it's impractical to carry officeloads of junk (cough, i mean recyclables) through the various modes of transportation i use to commute.

i'm not a recycling junkie (whether i should be is another story). i love putting stuff through the shredder and opt for new pads of paper instead of reusing scrap. i also get annoyed at having to rinse out aluminum/plastic cans/bottles (admit it- you do too). i just think that offices use way too much paper and that it shouldn't have to take up ungodly amounts of space in landfills.

one more thing:
you know what use i don't mind seeing trees donate of their resources to? paper ballots. my county uses computers, and i think i speak for more than just myself when i say that it makes people uneasy for good reason. happy election day!