Worldwide, climate change disproportionately affects the Muslim world, with recent increases in heat waves, floods, droughts, and extreme weather events. In addition to the added benefits of saving money on water and power bills, Muslims have a variety of reasons to address climate change—not least among them a religious mandate. Addressing the resources and bounty of the Earth, the Holy Quran states, “And do not waste, for God does not love the wasteful, ” [Quran 6:141] meaning members of the Muslim community have a direct order by God to take a proactive approach to climate change. Islam puts great importance on environmental protection and conservation of natural resources, therefore the waste of water and fossil fuels violates the tenets of the faith. The existence of water conservation mechanisms and renewable energy solutions makes this religious obligation all the more pressing. Moreover, mosques are arguably the most important social institution in the Middle East, and the application of green technologies in these spaces presents a vast opportunity throughout the Middle East to address climate change. Reshaping greener mosques is exactly what Muslims have begun to do.
Take, for example, Jordan, where Muslims have already begun the endeavor of conservation. Jordan—already burdened by being exceedingly dry—is host to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, further straining the water and energy system. Jordan has been proactive in addressing these challenges, installing the world’s largest solar plant for refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp. This plant saves $5.5 million USD in energy costs every year, equivalent to 30,000 barrels of oil, and reduces CO2 emissions by 13,000 tons per year. The plant will provide 12-14 hours of electricity per day for the refugees, in stark contrast to the power shortages many refugees coming from Syria have had to endure. The Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs have launched a conservation project to address water needs as well, which aims to improve water practices for Jordanians by appealing to their religious value systems and beliefs. The project has trained imams and religious scholars across Jordan as water ambassadors, charged with educating their local Muslim community on best water practices.The same materials have been produced for leaders of Christian communities as well. These religious materials are meant for near-universal use, from local mosques to schools and universities across Jordan.
The Jordanian government has also made targeted efforts to improve water practices in mosques. According to a government spokesman, water consumption can reach 20-50 meters-cubed per day at some mosques, largely due to the always-present tap left running after performing ablutions. In 2015, three mosques were equipped with rainwater harvesting techniques, greywater recyclers, and water-saving devices to make this water use sustainable. The long-term goal of this movement is to substantially reduce the 2 million Jordanian dinar water bill that Jordan’s mosques pay each year. To begin with, the water-saving fixtures will lead to at least a 30% reduction in water use. This, coupled with the fact that 90% of water produced by mosques is easily-recycled greywater which can be used for irrigation purposes, means that mosques have significant potential to transform the Jordanian water supply. Abu Dhabi is also joining Jordan to make mosques greener, installing highly efficient automatic valves in ablution spaces and advising worshippers on how to better conserve water.
Green, community-centered masjids (mosques) represent their future in the Arab world. Just outside of Amman, in the city of Az-Zarqa, Jordan, the Al Arab Mosque has been renovated into a community space, with science classes, dental exam rooms, a doctor’s clinic, a minor surgery room, rooftop solar panels, as well as a large space for prayer. Largely through community efforts, Imam Ahmed Zoubi raised $194,000 in a few months to transform his mosque from one only used for prayer services and closed to the umma (Muslim community) to an important community fixture. The dynamic change brought about in Az-Zarqa is powered by the most abundant resource in Jordan, the sun, as part of a push by Muslim clergy to reinvigorate and modernize the mosques of the past. By coupling community involvement and green initiatives, leaders of the global Muslim umma, like Imam Zoubi, can vitally change the spaces they inhabit.
Inside Amman itself and all over Jordan, a green energy transformation is taking place, spearheaded by the religious sphere. Amman has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. In order to reach this milestone, the city must offset all the emissions it releases with the carbon it captures. This can be done through various methods, including the scrubbing of power plant exhaust gases with chemicals, the literal capture of carbon from natural gas plants, and the planting of trees. According to a green consultancy firm in Jordan, almost all mosques in Jordan—nearly 6000 countrywide—get 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources. Though the number of structures going green cannot yet counter the pollution produced in Amman, these initiatives kickstart the societal changes that are critical to maintaining Mother Nature for future generations.
On top of the religious obligation to conserve resources, mosques in Jordan have economically benefited from sustainable practices, saving money on power bills and even selling power back to the national grid at a rate of 125 Jordanian fils per kilowatt-hour (kWh). This model has also been implemented in the mosques of Malaysia, where they can sell renewable energy back to the grid at a fixed rate for 21 years, promoting a sustainable green mosque approach.
When the Ministry of Religious Affairs first moved to turn all Jordanian mosques green in 2014, imported natural gas made up almost 97% of the country’s energy mix and constituted more than 40% of its national budget. The move to solarize all mosques is both a practical and symbolic first step in introducing renewables into Jordanian society, and its implications are felt beyond Jordan’s borders. Projects all over the region are using Jordanian expertise to guide the use of solar power in harsh, sunny climates. Moreover, other refugee camps have started to show interest in solar power, such as the Kakuma Refugee Camp’s recent installation of solar power systems.
In Jordan, and across the Middle East and the world, the incentive to stop global warming is obvious, as temperatures soar ever-higher year by year. Fostering a green Muslim future starts with the actions of nations like Jordan and Malaysia with the formation of the world’s first green Islamic bond and the hosting of green Muslim banking conferences every year. Muslim leadership in Jordan is simply fulfilling its religious mandate to protect the planet; now the hope is the rest of the Muslim world will follow in its footsteps.
Photo: “Inside the Kocatepe”