Environmentally Friendly Mosques

 ISNA has taken the initiative to create national awareness in making mosques environmentally friendly as part of the prophetic green mosque campaign 

Islamic Center of San Diego. Credit: GreenEnergy EPC Inc.

By ISNA Green Initiative Team

May/June 2022

Imagine the scene when after 22 days of a difficult journey, Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) reached the little town of Quba on the outskirts of Yathrib. He stated, as Jabir Abdullah al-Ansary narrates, “Earth has been made sacred and pure and a mosque for me…” (“Sahih al-Bukhari” and “Sahih Muslim”).

During his three-day stay, he began building the first mosque of the hijra period. Proceeding toward Yathrib, he performed the noon prayer in Ranuna valley, performed the Friday prayer with the Companions and started raising the second mosque. After reaching Yathrib, he set about erecting the third one. For Muslims, these three post-hijra projects signified the mosque’s importance and centrality in relation to God, space and community affairs. Therefore, an ideal mosque is a central place for activities that bind the congregation together and serve humanity at large. 

Climate change is an existential threat, and environmental degradation continues unabated. God states, “It is He (God) who has made you successors upon Earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees (of rank) that He may try you through what He has given you” (6:165). Therefore, both mosques and Islamic centers have a special responsibility to adopt and promote environmentally friendly practices. 

The U.S. now has 3,000+ mosques; more are being built. As they are more than just places in which to strengthen our faith, they must also develop programs that preserve and protect the environment. Educating everyone about the perils of climate change and adopting environmentally friendly practices is vital, for God disdains the wasteful (6:141).

Existing buildings cannot change their structure and other features; however, the people who use them can reduce their energy usage and adopt the following practices to help the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

Reduce, recycle, reuse and rethink. Don’t use bottled water during social activities, for 70% of them are not recycled. Moreover, these bottles are one of the worst environmental hazards; minimize the use of plastic items by replacing them with quickly degradable or paper products; stop using Styrofoam products, as they do not degrade for centuries; and minimize food wastage, especially during Ramadan or other social activities. 

Water conservation. Abdullah ibn Amr reported that the Prophet once saw Sa‘d performing ablution and asked him why he was being extravagant. When Sa‘d asked if such a thing were possible, the Prophet replied, “Even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.” 

Energy conservation. Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, insulation, LED bulbs, energy use regulators and smartphones can reduce energy consumption and save money. Installing solar panels can significantly reduce the carbon footprint and offer substantial reduction in energy costs.

Plant trees and establish vegetable and fruit gardens. As the Prophet said: “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds and then a bird or animal eats them, it is regarded as a charity.” 

New Mosques and Islamic Centers 

New facilities must be designed to be inclusive, aware of the communities’ changing needs, and conform to Green Building LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards (U.S. Green Building Council ). Being Green is cost effective over time, energy efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly. 

Incorporating solar panels is the best use of a God-given gift, for they produce clean energy, reduce the use of fossil fuels that are the most harmful to the environment and are cost effective over the period. As Quran 14:33 says: “And He subjected for you the Sun and Moon, continuous in orbit, and subjected for you the night and day.” 

Today, sustainability is a way of doing things in balance, and green is a tool to achieve balance. One of the greatest signs is the natural world, which is cyclical and contains no waste. In one cubic foot of soil, the waste of one is food for another. We are hurting, polluting and destroying God’s beautiful and efficient cyclical creation. 

Therefore, Muslims must try to see the systems and materials as affecting the community’s overall health and thereby reduce the mosque’s waste and carbon footprint, as well as the waste our community produces, and stop making our planet a landfill. Such a mosque will resonate the beauty of Islam. “And there is no creature on (or within) the earth or bird that flies with its wings except (that they are) communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered” (6:38). 

Today, LEED is the most well-known tool for measuring environmental efficiency in architecture. This green rating certification program evaluates a building on six categories: site, energy, water, indoor air quality, materials and innovation. Other programs are Green Globes (Green Building Initiative) and the Living Green Challenge , independent programs specific to those materials that promote recycling, reusing, refurbishing, renewing and reducing materials and system emissions, or the carbon footprint, for a new or an existing building. 

However, the goal isn’t to create a “model green mosque” as a one-size-fits-all solution. The site’s context and community’s inclusivity and social needs are vital to sustainable design. To be green, instead of seeing linear costs and systems, we need to see lifecycle costs and systems. Fundamentally, green design is called “common sense economical design.” 

A Green Mosque Is About Inclusivity 

As an umma, making a green and sustainable mosque should be instinctive. It should be a communal space that serves the community’s needs in harmony with the natural palette. Historically, mosques were always inclusive in both regards and also served religious, educational and social charitable needs, as well as contributed to economic growth. Across the centuries, planting trees and gardens were hallmarks of Islamic architecture. Today, many Muslim North American architects could lead by incorporating green mosque principles in their designs.

ISNA has taken the initiative to create national awareness in making mosques environmentally friendly as part of the prophetic green mosque campaign and appreciates Muslims who have been voicing and initiating green activism. You too can join the ISNA Green Masjid campaign and help fulfill this vision. The need for green sacred spaces is overdue and very needed. Let’s leave Earth a better place for its coming stewards.

ISNA Green Initiative Team members Huda Alkaff, Saffet Catovic, Nana Firman, Uzma Mirza and Saiyid Masroor Shah (chair)

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