Simple steps for a better record on Judgement Day
By Romy Sharieff
Prayers are sometimes answered in real time. I asked for inspiration on how to incorporate certain Islamic principles into my everyday life, and Quran 99:4 was my answer. Loosely translated, it says: “On that Day, Earth will declare her news.”
It instilled a sense of awakening. Had my thoughts and actions been kind toward Earth? Would it testify for or against me? What behaviors could I change to encourage a favorable testimony? Recycling seemed like an appropriate and easy first step. But as the bins filled up, the earth seemed to say, “Stop making waste.”
Our throwaway culture, known as a linear economy, has created an environmental crisis that impacts our most precious resources — soil, air and water. From the toxins produced in the manufacturing of packaging, such as plastics, to the 100 million trees destroyed annually for unread junk mail, to the non-degradable polystyrene that litters our communities and collects in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; from beginning to end, the consequences of a single use disposal lifestyle are already visible and detailed on the National Geographic’s website. One grim forecast is that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. While some suggest that a circular economy with innovative packaging are key elements of the solution, prevention is still better than cure (Woolven, J. . “The solution to the plastic pollution.” Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
For example, single-use materials such as disposal containers, utensils, latex balloons and straws make up the largest percent of debris found in coastal cleanup efforts according to Katie Register of Virginia Clean Waterways. She explains, “Yes, we have to recycle, but we can’t recycle our way out of this problem… If you walk into your bathroom and the bathtub is overflowing with water, the first thing you do is not grab a mop…you turn off the faucet, then you start cleaning up.”
So how do we as individual Muslims make a difference? In three simple steps:
• Refuse junk mail. For $2, DMAchoice.org allows a household to stop receiving most junk mail. To stop credit card offers for free, visit optoutprescreen.com. This once-and-done step takes less than 10 minutes and can save up to 41 lbs. of junk mail per household each year. Consult https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-stop-junk-mail.
• Bring your own reusable bag. Adopting a new pattern of behavior is worth the commitment. The website www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/ estimates that one person will use approximately 22,000 disposable plastic shopping bags in his/her lifetime. Some statistics estimate that only 1% is recycled. Using reusable bags, would keep the other 99% of disposable plastic bags out of landfills and waterways, thereby protecting wildlife.
• Install a faucet water filter. In addition to filtering industrial toxins, filling a reusable bottle when going out can save an average of 156 plastic bottles per person per year. If you must buy a drink, consider a can which has a higher recycling rate than plastic according to www.epa.gov.
Mosques and Islamic schools across the country can make a significant impact as well. Aliya Farooq (member, the Virginia Governor’s Council on Environmental Justice; chair, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light) says these are the top three priorities to lead our communities in sustainable practices:
• One khutba (at least) a year on environmental stewardship. Lack of environmental education and shifting priorities are additional obstacles in convincing Muslims to act in a more sustainable way. For example, the recent Afghani refugee crisis has been an important focus, but action can still move forward on other initiatives. “As leaders of the masjids, the imam can steer the administration [and community] in the right direction.” says Farooq. Email lists and organizational social media can also be leveraged to distribute Earth-friendly tips on a regular basis.
• Ban Styrofoam. “Unlike plastics, Styrofoam can’t be recycled and it’s known to be harmful to health,” she adds. The policy also needs to include private and sponsored functions at the facility.
• Create Green teams. Another challenge facing Muslim organizations is lack of continuity. “Each time the administration changes… the views of the person in charge filters in,” says Farooq. Establishing Green teams provides continuity and keeps the momentum going in waste reduction strategies. For example, prior to the pandemic, the Islamic Center of Virginia stopped providing single-use plastic water bottles, opting to sell refillable bottles at a minimal cost before Ramadan. At the same time, the masjid, updated the water fountain with a bottle filling station. This innovation reduced iftar expenses and significantly decreased the amount of plastic waste created by the facility. Farooq suggests that the team can implement other green policies such as sensor water faucets, LED lights, community gardens or planting trees.
But how do we convince individuals and communities to act? Islam asks us to act upon belief regardless of what others are doing. But change is hard: so what’s the incentive? “All the motivation in our religion is based on one thing, and that’s our Aakhira” says Farooq. “We have to answer to God. How are we going to answer? ‘I didn’t have time, I didn’t care, it wasn’t my problem?’ This world is a blessing for us, it’s a gift and we’re going to be held accountable for what we did with this world and how we left it.”
We sometimes underestimate the impact of one person’s actions both now and in the future. My prayer now is that everyone reading this adopts at least one of these changes so we can witness what that impact will be.
Romy Sharieff, a licensed midwife and former ambassador to Midwives For Haiti, is the founding contributor of the Bryan J. Westfield Scholarship.
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