Environment: A Different Kind of Green

April 15, 2010
By Kafil Yamin
Inter Press Service

BOGOR, Indonesia - The colour green has long been associated with Islam, but if some recent Muslim visitors here could have their way, it’s a link that could intensify some more in the future.

For three years now, representatives of Muslim communities across the globe have been holding an annual conference on climate change in an effort to stage a new kind of ‘Green Revolution’.

And while the meeting that was held here Apr. 9 to 10 failed to form an umbrella group that would take care primarily of coordinating Islamic green initiatives worldwide, it nevertheless produced the ‘Bogor Declaration’ that among others urges the influential Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to set up a special council on climate change.

Proponents of the annual gathering have pointed out that with Muslims making up one-fifth of the world’s population, coordinated action among them toward a greener planet could only have a profound impact on easing global warming woes.

They also say that Muslims should have a stronger voice in global discussions on climate change, and should take the initiative to implement environmentally sound policies in their own communities.

Mahmoud Akeef, one of the initiators of the Muslim Action on Climate Change, told IPS that a faith-based plan for the environment makes perfect sense. He pointed out, "We have examples of best practice of taking care of the environment in the past. The Koran and examples shown by Prophet Mohammad carry the strong message about the unavoidable need to keep nature balanced."

Last year’s conference, held in Istanbul, even resulted in a seven-year action plan that Indonesian environmental activist Fachrudin Mangunjaya says was inspired by "Joseph’s proposition to make preparation for the seven-year drought that he interpreted from the Pharaoh’s dream".

An international ‘waqf’ (alms) institution is supposed to be established to finance the implementation of that plan, which includes the ‘Green Hajj’ project that aims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, more environmentally friendly.

Research by Dr Mawli Izzidie, a senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, has found that around 100 million plastic bottles are left on the annual Hajj sites in Mecca every year, as well as in hotels and Hajj camps around the Ka’bah compound.

"The packaging of food consumed by three million pilgrims is carelessly discarded," noted Mawli, a key figure behind the seven-year action plan. "This has to change. Two years from now, we are determined to make Hajj pilgrimage free of plastic bottles."

The plan also calls for ‘environmental’ labelling of ‘halal’ goods. Explained Mawli: "This will categorise the environmental effects that goods have and each will be graded as to how green they are."

But while the participants at the meeting here were unable to flesh out the ‘Green Hajj’ some more, they did manage to declare Bogor as the latest among the so-called ‘Muslim Green Cities’.

Previously, Sala in Morocco, Darul Ifta in Egyt, and Medina in Saudi Arabia had also been named as such.

Being named a ‘Muslim Green City’ does not necessarily mean the place is already one, but refers more to what it can and should become.

While huge trees still grace Bogor, for example, this West Javanese city shows signs of pressure from an increasing population, unchecked industrial development, and poor urban planning.

Locals also dub Bogor as ‘kota seribu angkot’, which means "city with thousands of ‘angkot’," or minivans. These popular angkot clog Bogor’s streets and pollute the air with their fumes.

Those at the conference, though, seemed optimistic about Bogor’s chances of cleaning itself up. Akeef also said, "We will develop our own model of green city in Muslim countries -- a city that has low carbon dioxide emission, low carbon food, clean transportation that use clean energy."

Still, seven years may be too short for a Green Revolution to take place, since it is not easy change individuals’ daily behaviour.

Major Muslim-initiated environmental projects often have to look outside the Muslim world for support as well. The Muslim Action Plan for Climate Change itself has as its main supporters the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, Earth-Mate Dialogue Centre and Association of Religion and Conservation.

Here in Indonesia, an exemplary Muslim grassroots project that puts Islamic teaching on the environment into practice also won support not only from a Muslim organisation, but from the World Bank and some secular non- government groups.

In the last five years, the project has seen ‘pesantren’ or Muslim boarding schools getting involved in land rehabilitation, in cooperation with tens of thousands of villagers. The ‘pesantren’ have also incorporated into their curricula teachings that reflect human beings’ close relationship with the land, including agriculture and animal husbandry.

Local Muslim activist Amany Lubis, however, said that perhaps Muslims should just focus on the work itself.

"Why don’t we just do what we are supposed to do?" she asked. "When we start doing the good things, we don’t have to think who support us, where they come from, or why most Muslims have poor environmental awareness."

"Just do it," she said.