Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reflect... and Give Thanks


Originally uploaded by pakidude
It was a hot and humid morning on our 'Global Muslim Day Hike' the week before last. See all Waqar's great pics of the event here! In fact, without the trees overhead I'm not sure how we could've finished that hike. So we give thanks for the trees... and, indeed, for the breeze.

More than one person on the hike made mention of that cool breeze that seemed to come out of nowhere in the forest. You all remember that? It actually felt like a shaft of cool air as we stepped through it, more so than a breeze. Here's what one of the hikers had to say:

As the wind offered us some relief from the heat, I remembered the analogy made in The Vision of Islam between the wind and our spirits. I wondered how the wind feels when it is not doing its windy thing... does it feel like we do when our spirits feel low or empty? Then I thought what it would feel like if the wind was blowing all the time. Would its beauty be appreciated? I immediately gave thanks for the lows... and for where I am today, hamdillah.

So we all give thanks for the chance to reflect on nature... and to reflect on what it reflects. I give thanks for this friend who reflected on how the heat and humidity in the low points of our journies need to be there for us to feel the cool comfort of the high points on the path. So we give thanks for them both. alHamduliLlah.

(Written by Mohamad A. Chakaki)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gardening without getting your hands dirty

While I was reading "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss" (NY Times) last night, something just didn't sit right to me. Ok, so you want to be more conscious of where your food is coming from but just hiring someone to do the job for you?? If you have the financial resources and are limited on time, yes, I guess that's ok. But it just sounds like the whole carbon offset scheme to me, which I heard aptly described as, "paying someone else to stop smoking for you." Seems like Dot Earth's Andy Revkin had similar thoughts.

I thought back to what we discussed at the dinner on Sunday - that is, the three "themes" of this discussion about food: Relationships, Time, and Health. Ok, you have a garden in your backyard, but if someone else takes care of it, is that really creating the relationship between you and the source of your food? Do you know each plant and how it grows? Beyond this knowledge, the time you spend growing and preparing your food can be a a source of baraka (blessings). Moreover, gardening can have numerous health benefits, both on a physical (exercise) and spiritual level (reflecting on and taking care of Allah's creation). Is our modern-day environmentally-conscious individual one who pays someone to tend his garden but then drives down to the street to the health club to use energy consuming gym-equipment?

There are definitely positives to this trend - creating jobs, localizing food production and making it less environmentally destructive/energy intensive, eating in season, etc. Yet what's the benefit of encouraging people to do a specific thing (ex. eating local food) without understanding the larger purpose of the action (ex. connecting to the productive agricultural community around you)? Like Revkin mentioned, what about nature deficit disorder?

What are your reactions?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting ready for dinner #5...

Green Muslim Potluck Dinner

Location: The Josephine Butler Parks Center
2437 15th St, NW, Washington, DC

When: Sunday, July 20, 5:00PM

RSVP: info@dcgreenmuslims.org

One of the goals of this dinner is to get people to think about our relationship to food production and consumption -- part of the reason why we requested home-cooked meals for this dinner (and preferably non-greasy/sticky to make clean-up easier). Where are the ingredients in your dish coming from? How is it prepared? What are the nutritional elements? Is it connected to any family or cultural traditions?

Come ready to discuss, network, and have fun!

More on this dinner's theme here. Some suggestions on preparing for the dinner here. Check here for some brain nourishment. And more about the venue here.

See y'all on Sunday!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Muslim Global Day Hike; Saturday July 19th 9AM

Join us for a hike on Saturday morning, July 19th at Rock Creek Park! We'll be meeting at 9AM at the Friendship Heights metro station (on the red line - 5337 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC), and we'll carpool over to the Nature Center (5200 Glover Road NW) and begin our hike on the Western Ridge Trail inshaAllah.

The hike won't be more than 2 hrs; it'll be a beginning-intermediate level trail, and we'll take a break for some sustenance and reflection in between.

So put on a comfy & light pair of pants, your hiking boots/sneakers, bring along some snacks for yourself and/or others, a water bottle and an open mind (and heart!). It should be a good time :)

Please email me at nadia.jay@gmail.com if you're interested, or if you have any questions or concerns. I can also be contacted at 301.646.2846.

Looking forward to seeing you all inshaAllah!

"Renewal" Screening Pics; July 16, 2008

Salaam folks! We had such a great turn out at the screening and discussion of the film "Renewal," the first documentary to focus on the wide range of faith-based environmental movements being undertaken in America. More info about the film can be found here > http://www.renewalproject.net/film

Thanks to the Green Muslims that came out to show their support and learn! There were close to 65 individuals from all different faith backgrounds who attended!

Pics from the event can be viewed here > http://picasaweb.google.com/nadia.jay/RenewalInterfaithEvent






Friday, July 11, 2008

Organic Food for Thought

There's the everlong conflict: I want to buy organic food, it tastes better, and I know it can be better for me and the environment, but how do I reconcile that with its higher costs?

Here's a quasi-solution: do what you're comfortable with, and buy the organic foods that seem most beneficial for the price. I came across this article on about.com randomly, entitled "Top 12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Buy Organic." The guidelines the article uses are based just upon pesticide levels in non-organic produce. Of course, there are many other factors to consider, such as the ones Mohamad listed in the post below, and things like local production, transportation costs, farm conditions and practices, etc. We have to start somewhere, and our overall health - knowing what kinds of chemicals we put into our body - seems as good a place as any to me.

From the article:

The following list is based on information and studies by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Working Group.

1. Nectarines – 97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides.
2. Celery – 94.5% of celery sampled were found to contain pesticides.
3. Pears – 94.4% of pears sampled were found to contain pesticides.
4. Peaches – 93.7% of peaches sampled were found to contain pesticides.
5. Apples – 91% of apples sampled were found to contain pesticides.
6. Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
7. Strawberries – 90% of strawberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
8. Imported Grapes – 86% of imported grapes (i.e. Chile) sampled were found to contain pesticides.

9. Spinach – 83.4% of spinach sampled were found to contain pesticides.
10. Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
11. Bell Peppers – 68% of bell peppers sampled were found to contain pesticides.
12. Red Raspberries – 59% of red raspberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.


The full article can be found here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Grass-Fed, Organic, Local (Halal) Meat!

Why Organic-raised, Grass-fed, local?

1. Your health...
2. The taste...
3. Animals...
4. Environment...
5. Workers...
6. Rural Communities...

Need more details? See here!

Why Kosher/Halal?

Muslim scholars consider kosher slaughter to be Halal. This meat is slaughtered by a kosher ritual slaughterer using methods which are consistent with Halal standards including: proper blessing, no stunning (conscious killed), a sharp knife, no animal witnesses and quick blood draining.

Lovingly raised by Julie Bolton of Groff's Content Farm in Rocky Ridge, Maryland, or similar farms in southeastern Pennsylvania, the meat is organic, local and grass-fed and finished resulting in tasty, lean meat. No hormones or antibiotics are used.

For more information or to order contact Devora Kimelman-Block, of KOL Foods and Good Fork Foods, at (917) 864-7965 or devora@kolfoods.com.

Meet Devora in person at 2 of our upcoming events! The Renewal film screening and Green Dinner #5.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Wise County, VA

This write-up is about my two-day trip to Wise County, VA (the Appalachian mountain range) on June 23-24, 2008. Images > http://picasaweb.google.com/nadia.jay/BlackMountainWiseVA

Approximately ten cars full of mountain activists from cities all over the state of Virginia drove through what seemed like the only street in the town of Wise, up towards Black Mountain. We first stopped at a site which held the remnants of a house that once belonged to a small family. As Larry Bush, chairman of SAMS (Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards) narrated to the crowd, a young boy had been laying in his bed one night as a dislodged boulder from the coal-mining above plummeted straight through the bedroom wall and into his bed, killing him instantly. This happened about four years ago. No one did anything. Strip-mining operations continued at all hours of the day and night. They declared it an "act of God."

Our caravan, consisting of multiple prii (pl. of prius), amongst other cars, moved on to a site of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) mining. To state it simply, MTR is a process which involves about ten workers who use heavy machinery to blast off the top layers of the mountain, dump it into the valley below, and shovel out the coal. They are expected to restore it to "the approximate original contours" after coal removal.

As we stepped out of our cars and leaned on the guardrail to look beyond at the destroyed mountain range, there were hushed reactions from the crowd. In the distance were tractors and bulldozers moving about like little displaced plastic Fisher-Price toys. Layers and layers of dark brown and black revealed themselves, stripped and bare, open wounds at one time, unsightly scars left behind. This was "approximate original contours?" I thought to myself out loud. No, this was utter perversion of a natural landscape. This was ecological decimation. "This was blasphemy," as my friend Julie, from Immanuel Church on the Hill, turned to me and said.

A few of us continued on to take part in a guided hike of a different part of the mountain, Roaring Branch, filled with canopies of trees and biodiversity. It was just before dusk, the air was cooler and the only sounds were the occasional chatting and the crunch of leaves beneath our footsteps. Our local guide, Anna, stopped us every few minutes to share an interesting fact about a particular plant species, or to hand us an edible leaf to try. The sun was lowering in the sky, soaking the fingers of the trees in golden light. As I paused and looked up at the rays piercing through the treetops, I couldn't help but be reminded of the hikes I took in the breathtaking rain forests of southern Costa Rica earlier this year. I also thought of the mountains I was surrounded by growing up in Western Maryland. “I will always be a mountain woman,” I thought to myself as I smiled at no one. I could never live among flatlands bereft of inconsistencies, of highs and lows … but what if I had to live through the mass deformation of the landscape I knew so well changing literally overnight?

An older man, Tim, who I had ridden in the car with earlier, was a local of Wise, and he had grown up here. He wore a t-shirt that said, “Who would Jesus bomb?” He was a maverick of a guy, sharing stories with everyone and lamenting over people’s apathy. He told us that growing up he never really paid attention to the strip mining that was happening in his hometown, that he thought “this was just the way we made our money.” Now that more people were seeing firsthand the adverse affects of mountaintop coal mining, churches and individuals in Southwest VA were mobilizing and becoming proactive about protesting against it.

Earlier a stranger had stopped me and exclaimed that I looked familiar and asked me which college I attended. I told her that she had probably never seen me before as I was from Northern Virginia. She revealed a mouth full of missing teeth as she smiled and said “Oh I know. I just wanted to talk to you and see where you were from.” We both laughed. I told her why I was there and she was taken aback by the fact that perfect strangers to the town of Wise had come to support the preservation of the Appalachian Mountains.

In my two days in Wise, VA I continued to meet locals and out-of-towners so eager and willing to share and exchange ideas and backgrounds and support one another. I was pleasantly surprised and truly humbled to see such a celebration of diversity in such a small town.

The following day about sixty of us gathered and donned our green bandanas in solidarity. In a few hours would start the hearing consisting of a panel of six members from the VA Citizen's Air Pollution Control Board. The issue at hand was the approval of a permit for Dominion (VA’s producer and supplier of energy) to move forward with a coal-fired plant being constructed in St. Paul, a town very close to Wise.

The first speakers were politicians and delegates who attested that this would be the “cleanest coal-fired plant in the US” with “one of the best technologies out there today,” that “Wise County needs this power plant from an economic standpoint and we need to stop foreign dependency on oil.” Dominion employees and businessman stated “Dominion was in the people business. We keep you warm in t
he winter and cool in the summer time. We’re not in the coal business; we’re in the people business.”

Turn by turn, individuals in opposition gave their three minute testimonies, stating how any level of mercury dumped into the air from MTR coal mining was not acceptable, how pollution would contaminate and affect both the environment and human health, contributing to global warming, that mountains were being destroyed and creeks filled up, that employment would actually decrease, not increase and it would only become more difficult for Virginians as electricity rates would increase. A young girl cleverly stated she decided to make a list of pros and cons about the building of the power plant, and she equally came up with pros for why we shouldn’t build the power plant, and cons for why we should build the power plant. Parents with children approached the podium and stated how building this plant two miles away from their child’s school was not something they wanted and they feared for the health of their children with the work of coal-mining and the power plant so close to them. People of various backgrounds stood up behind the lights and wires in front of that panel and spoke with heart: Wise county residents, citizens, scientists, nuns, engineers, young student activists, filmmakers, parents, non-profit board members, environmentalists, representatives from faith-based organizations, and the list goes on.

Giving my three-minute testimony (see below) was an absolute high, there’s no other way to say it. A little taste of activism for an issue that hit home so hard served to motivate me to continue involvement and activism, and a reminder that each person really, truly, can start to make a difference just by themselves.

"Hello. My name is Nadia Janjua. I am an artist and architect and I've come from Arlington, VA. I represent an organization called "Green Muslims." We are a network of Muslims in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. proactively working together to implement sustainability and eco-conscious ways of living. As a Muslim, environmental stewardship is a vital part of my faith.

I am also an individual representing a generation of architects promoting and practicing sustainable design, construction and development. Although I am a relatively young architect, I have spent my working years in the affordable and low-income housing industry, and disaster relief housing. I traveled to Kashmir and Pakistan and led an operation working alongside army soldiers and local laborers in building alternative sustainable housing for victims of the earthquake. I have lived in underdeveloped areas and have worked and designed projects that are sustainable and sensitive to the environment while having less available resources and being in a community with less passion than what I've witnessed in this community here. Certainly, here, in this country we can come up with the creativity, the resources, the technology, the sensitivity, and the professionalism to be sustainable in our approach, to significantly lessen our environmental impact, to find ways of promoting jobs and a thriving economy without having to destroy the environment and dump out carcinogens that kill all forms of life around us in the process.

Seeing the devastation of the Appalachian mountain ranges has been shattering on a very personal level to me for another significant reason. I was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of Western Maryland, in the small town of Cumberland. My parents immigrated there from Pakistan in the 70's, and still live there 30 plus years later. I cannot imagine how different my world view and upbringing would have been, had I not grown up and been surrounded by such a well-preserved natural landscape. Just a few weeks ago I was in Cumberland, hiking, and I wrote something in my journal which I'd like to share:

'When you become quiet enough in nature to observe the vastness, you realize that vastness exists within yourself. If you go deep inside, you realize you don't find something small, but something immense, something as vast as a mountain range.'

To continue with the building of this coal-fired plant, to continue mountain-top removal, to continue to destroy our mountain ranges, will be to continue to destroy ourselves ultimately. Please consider this in making your decision to pass or deny this permit. Thank you for the opportunity to speak."

* Unfortunately the next day we found out that the permit had been passed for the coal-fired power plant to go online in 2012. (But that still gives us time and no effort is gone wasted!)

* For those of you in the area, please come to our Interfaith event on July 16th where others (and myself) will share more experiences like this one!