By Muaz Nasir
As the blessed month of Ramadan draws near, Muslim Student Associations (MSA) on university and college campuses across North America are preparing for the nightly iftar; the evening meal when Muslims break their fast. Some use this as an opportunity to build interfaith relations with other student organizations by breaking the fast together with a communal meal. Others organize Fast-a-thon events to raise awareness about global hunger and to fundraise for local food banks. No matter what campaign your MSA may be involved with this Ramadan, the campus iftar is the perfect occasion to establish green habits that can carry on throughout the year.
Last Ramadan Princeton University established their own Green Iftars which were hosted through the Muslim Life Program. Faraz Khan from Think as Green sat down with Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Chaplain at Princeton University and Arshe Ahmed to discuss the success of the Green Ramadan Initiative and to share some of the lessons learned.
The Green Ramadan Initiative was guided by three simple principles aimed at reducing waste and fostering community participation. The goal was to adopt meaningful habits that the students could easily take ownership of in their daily lives. These included:
1. Avoid taking more than you can eat.
2. Exercise patience and think of others when taking your servings.
3. Take ownership by turning off lights and AC when not in use.
To reduce the amount disposable waste generated, an agreement was made with the residential colleges to provide plates, glasses and cutlery from the resident dining halls. Reusable stainless steel pitchers were also ordered to eliminate plastic bottle waste. Overall, the total amount of garbage produced were 10 bags over the course of the month, compared to 60 the previous Ramadan.
What made these iftars a success was the community involvement in the preparation and takedown, which made it easy to adopt green values. Many students were willing to help, not only to make the campaign a success but because they felt they were part of a larger global movement. It also created an inclusive environment for members of the outside community who joined in the meal. Several policies were adopted to ensure the iftar ran smoothly and the tasks were evenly distributed. These included:
1. Students were asked to arrive early to set-up tables and chairs.
2. Individuals were responsible for cleaning-up their eating area after they were done.
3. All the plates and utensils were rinsed in the sink.
4. Leftover food was stored in the communal fridge.
Many of the participants felt that the values learned at the iftars translated to actions that were also carried over at home and incorporated into their daily routines; such as using less water and disposable items. The Green Ramadan Initiative demonstrates that with a little bit of preparation and teamwork, it is possible to host successful green iftars on your campus.
* Muaz Nasir is a Muslim Canadian environmentalist and Publisher of the online environmental website,www.Khaleafa.com. He holds a Masters degree in Environmental Studies specializing in Business and Environmental Relations from York University and the Schulich School of Business; he aims to raise the profile of environmental issues within the Canadian Muslim community.