Ramadan is a blessed month of fasting for nearly two billion Muslims across the world. Much attention is focused on fasting from dawn to sunset, increasing attention to prayers, giving in charity, and performing good deeds. As we gear up for this very special time, it is also important to think not just about what you will be doing but how you will be doing it.
While Ramadan should be seen as a month of moderation, a look at food waste suggests otherwise. According to EcoMena, a not-for-profit group that raises environmental awareness in the Middle East, about one-fifth of the food purchased or prepared during Ramadan ends up in the waste bin. Unfortunately, the data suggests the amount of food waste is even slightly higher during the holy month. One can only guess that the root cause of this practice ranges from an inclination toward over-indulgence and lavishness at worst, and to a lack of attention and ignorance.
The Islamic faith is grounded in the principle that human beings have a personal responsibility and Amana or trust to be a vicegerent, to respect and care for every living thing on our planet. Allah warns us in the Holy Quran, “But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters” (Quran 7:31).
Our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, was an excellent role model in attending to these details. According to one Hadith, he said, “There is reward in doing good to every little thing.” (Bukhari, Muslim). In other words, even kindness to animals and other living beings like insects and plants is rewarded.
We know that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What we do matters and it has an impact in our world. This Ramadan, focus on the big and small details of your actions. Reducing waste is an important step forward here.
There are three specific areas of consumption that need attention in order to reduce waste: food, water, and energy. Thinking about these details before Ramadan begins provides the best chance of implementing changes from start to finish. Here are some suggestions about improvements that can be made in these three areas.
Cut Food Waste
- Don’t shop when you are hungry
- Reconsider the bulk purchase (especially if you haven’t tried the product).
- Buy less generally.
- Buy smart by avoiding purchases that contain excess packaging.
- Purchase more food locally (there are big energy savings here).
- Consider eating organic, fresh, and non-perishable foods (reduced chemical loads support healthier people and a healthier planet).
- If purchasing organic is cost-prohibitive, learn about the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list and purchase according to that.
- Look for fair trade-certified foods (these ensure proper wage and working conditions for those involved in picking and preparing them, and ensure that environmentally-friendly standards have been followed).
While preparing food:
- Plan ahead and plan for no waste.
- Use proper storage techniques to reduce spoilage.
- Eat the leftovers before preparing new food.
- Consider making meatless meals (meat is likely to be the most resource-intensive food on the table).
- Prepare recipes that use raw food (this increases both nutrition and reduces energy use).
- Compost food waste rather than tossing it in the trash can.
While serving and eating food:
- Reduce the use of paper products , particularly Styrofoam plates and cups.
- BYOD – Bring your own dishes and utensils if you are having Iftar outside your home.
- Put only what you can comfortably eat on your plate (it is better to go back for seconds than to take too much).
- Remember the one-third rule (it’s a Sunnah!) – reserve one-third of your stomach for food, one-third for water, and one-third for air.
- Save anything that is left over to eat later (if you attend iftar outside of your home, your own dish can come in handy here).
- Share leftovers with family or neighbors.
Cut Water Waste
- Consume your daily requirement to reach proper levels of hydration.
- Use your own cup or water bottle rather than purchasing bottled water.
- If you are drinking from water bottles, don’t throw any of that water away (and be sure to recycle the bottle to keep it out of the landfill).
- Consider installing or using a water filter.
For personal hygiene:
- Reduce water used for Wudu by using a cup rather than leaving the water running (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was extremely careful in this area and said, “Do not be wasteful when performing Wudu even if you were at a flowing river”).
- Do not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth.
- Reduce the amount of time spent in the shower.
- Use cold water rather than wasting water waiting for it to turn hot (if you have to run the tap, capture the excess and use it some other way, such as watering the plants).
- Don’t flush the toilet for every use. Just to get rid of waste that cannot be disposed of in a trash bin.
Around the house:
- Capture rain in a rain barrel for outdoor use.
- Don’t let the water run excessively if you are watering plants outside or washing your car.
Cut Energy Usage
Around your home:
- Make recycle, reduce, and reuse a family mantra (even assign someone to be in charge).
- Use cold water when doing the laundry.
- Turn lights off when you leave a room.
- Disconnect appliances when not in use (laptops and computers, too).
- Install energy efficient light bulbs (local power companies may provide support).
- Check into the use of solar power.
In the transportation area:
- Combine errands to reduce the number of trips necessary.
- Carpool or take public transportation when possible.
- Consider walking or riding a bike to get to your destination.
In your Masjid community and beyond:
- Establish a committee to look into reducing energy use.
- Schedule a town hall meeting to discuss concerns and identify action items.
- Adopt a mandatory recycling policy.
- Check out local programs that may be able to assist your Masjid in reducing waste and energy use.
- Look for partners that can be good role models and provide support.
- Join a community service project (or better yet organize a project for your community – a community clean-up is an excellent interfaith activity).
- Encourage youth in your community to actively participate.
- Advocate for change in local, state, and national laws that are friendly to the environment and address climate change.
We all have a role to play here. Imagine a world where Muslims as the vicegerents of God took the lead in protecting our environment. The lists above are long but not exhaustive. Change in any of these areas can make a difference in reducing food, water, and energy waste today and increasing the health of our planet into the future. Focus on what is manageable and sustainable for you and your family. And if we each do so, we can be better Muslims, better neighbors, and better global citizens. That would be a win-win-win for us all!
To learn more about the connection between Islam and the environment, check out Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet. Sound Vision interviewed Br. Ibrahim shortly after the book was published. It is also an inspiring read.