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Muslim leaders urge 'green' Ramadan
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/22/2009 12:01 AM

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Sermons at suburban mosques are highlighting some unusual themes this Ramadan urging worshippers to recycle, carpool and consume less red meat.

Starting today, the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims across the globe commence fasting from dawn until dusk for 30 days. At many suburban mosques, followers also are being encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint and become better environmental stewards during the month.

The message is part of a new "green Ramadan" initiative launched by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, a federation of more than 50 mosques representing almost 400,000 Muslims in the Chicago area.

"We want them to go beyond the fasting, go beyond just looking at Ramadan as something that is for Muslims and to really look at the broader implications of Muslim responsibilities toward humanity," said Junaid Afeef, the group's executive director.

Afeef said already five larger mosques in the Chicago area have committed to going green this Ramadan. He expects others will follow suit.

Mosques that sign on to this initiative must adopt these practices: curtail "iftar" or fast-breaking meals making them simpler and healthier; use Ramadan gatherings to educate Muslims about being eco-friendly; and to establish permanent "green" committees to further environmental efforts year round.

"I think this is an excellent opportunity for us," said Abdul Javid of Palatine, among the board of directors of the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs in Rolling Meadows.

"We do a lot of events and dinners. Everywhere we have ample scope to cut down on our carbon footprint," said Javid, who is heading up the mosque's new environmental task force.

Community leaders are urging worshippers to carpool to attend Friday prayers and nightly Quran recitations held at mosques during Ramadan.

Javid said volunteers at his mosque started a carpooling service for senior citizens last year during Ramadan and may expand that to more people this year.

Muslims are also being asked to eat less red meat and processed foods in favor of more organically and locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

Afeef said the key is to avoid "feasting" on food upon breaking the daily fast.

"It's not just spiritually antithetical to what Ramadan is supposed to be about; our overconsumption takes money away from those who are in greater need within our communities," he said.

Mosque leaders plan to use nightly "Taraweeh" prayers during Ramadan to spread such messages that would be a tough sell any other time of the year.

"What we're asking will run counter to the cultural norm, but by framing it in the context of spirituality and faith we feel that we will reach more people," Afeef said.

Community leaders say the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad set clear mandates for Muslims about their role in environmental stewardship.

"Ramadan is the month where you change your lifestyle, so it makes a lot of sense to use the month to change our behavior in terms of consumption, environmental consciousness and stewardship," said Zaher Sahloul, Bridgeview Mosque Foundation president and chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

The Mosque Foundation, one of the larger suburban mosques, is a leader in the green movement. The foundation recently opened an energy-efficient building that incorporates natural light, uses solar panels for heating water and carpeting made of recycled materials. It's also promoting recycling.

"These concepts are relatively new in the Muslim community," Sahloul said. "I think we need to have more education. We as Muslims are supposed to protect the environment and creation. We should take personal responsibility."

Ramadan 101

Ramadan, a month of obligatory daily fasting in Islam begins today. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Fasting is one of the five Pillars of Islam prescribed in the Quran as a means for self-purification.

Muslims begin the daily fast at dawn after having a pre-dawn meal known as "suhur." Fasting ends at sunset with a special evening meal known as "iftar."

During daylight hours, Muslims also are required to abstain from sex, smoking and other sensual pleasures.

In special nightly prayers called "Taraweeh," the entire Quran is recited in mosques over the course of the month.

Ramadan ends this year on approximately Sept. 20 (depending on the moon sighting) with a daylong celebration known as Eid ul-Fitr.

Eid ul-Fitr begins with a special morning prayer attended by men, women and children in their best clothes. A special donation, known as Zakat ul-Fitr, is given out before the morning prayer to feed the poor. The day is marked by feasting, visiting relatives and friends, and giving gifts.

Source: Daily Herald research