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Climate Justice and the Faithful

Climate Justice and the Faithful

In my previous article, I described an initiative to promote environmentally conscious habits amongst pilgrims to holy sites in Iraq, especially during the Arbaeen.

But environmental activism among young Muslims is not just limited to the Green Pilgrims initiative. In fact, young people in Karachi have been working on the “Who is Hussain” (WiH) campaign.

WiH is an international organization inspired by Imam Hussain (A.S.). The passionate volunteers represent diverse communities from around the world. Slogans like “Hussain Inspires me to work for my society”, “Hussain inspires me to strive for social justice” and “Hussain Inspires me to take care of my environment” have been just a few of the popular calls to action from this campaign.

Already in Karachi, each year, large plantation drives are hosted where hundreds of volunteers plant trees inspired by their devotion to Imam Hussain (A.S.) in public spaces. Recently, 100 trees were planted at the Christ the King Seminary, a seminar more than 60 years old, in Gulshan e Iqbal.

WiH Karachi actively took to social media campaigning during the recent Global Climate Strike, emphasizing that they are inspired by Imam Hussain (A.S.) to strive for climate justice and to care for our planet Earth. Social media resources were shared by volunteers which included messages like “I stand for plastic ban”, “ #HussainInspires to plant trees” and “ #HussainInspires to act for climate justice”. The campaign is being taken forward in the upcoming Arbaeen Procession scheduled for the 20th of October 2019.

Iraqi volunteers at Karbala take part in the removal of plastic waste during the Arbaeen walk

The organization distributed food which had plastic packaging earlier but their future goals are very green!

One of the driving forces behind this campaign is Ideas 9. Be it interfaith unity, social justice or environmental solutions, Ideas 9 is dedicated to address it all. Run by a team of young volunteers from diverse schools of thought, their grand interfaith Iftar dinner is hosted at Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque each year – in which the Shia and Sunni community members take turns to serve each other the Iftar dinner. This year they have gone an extra mile, as they are revolutionizing the definition of tabarruk after the Muharram Majalis.

#PlantforHussain(A) evolved around the idea that the interfaith majalis should also go green this Muharram. Hundreds of trees were distributed and social media lavished praise on the initiative. Many people immediately joined the movement across the country and started replacing tabarruk (that is usually an edible item) with a tree planted in the name of Imam Hussain (A.S.)

Muhammadi Darbar planting first tree out side the holy Shrine.

100,000 Trees for Najaf and Karbala

Speaking about tree plantations for Imam Hussain (A.S.), a prominent senior Bohra community businessman, got in touch with the Iraqi government and showed interest in planting trees in Najaf and Karbala especially on the deserted highways where millions of people march during Arbaeen. Inspired by Imam Hussain (A.S.), he has signed a contract for donating 100,000 trees and personally supervising the project. It will take several months to be completed but the plantation has begun. Presently, a selection of trees that are native to Iraq and Pakistan mutually are being grown at a farm in Karachi and also in Iraq. The plan also involves planting trees around the Holy Shrines in Iraq – which will be a historic moment.

Earlier, the Bohra community dedicatedly started planting trees and plants in general after Syedna Sahib’s encouraged the community to set a mutual goal to take care of the environment.

Besides these green initiatives that sprung up this Muharram, a very refreshing campaign was started by Dr Sarwat Askari, a famous TV presenter and religious scholar, called #PlantYourEidi some two years back. The name was suggested by Fatima Asad, another inspirational soul and holistic therapist. Members of Crops in Pots  participated in the campaign and exchanged hundreds of saplings as Eidi!

The Shia Muslim community in Pakistan and around the globe are very quickly adopting green ways, especially because they feel Imam Hussain(A.S.)’s great sacrifice was for justice. Be it social or environmental, it was for doing what is right and using all that you have for the betterment of society. The inspiration of planting trees also comes from the Prophet (S.A.W.), Imam Ali (A.S.) and Lady Fatima (A.S.) who planted thousands of trees in the Garden of Fidak and donated their produce to the poor.

The community collectively sees environmental activism as the most spiritual practice and a way of following Sunnah. It is fascinating how faith-based movements for environmental justice are already leading to real change on the ground!

Activities to come

Sabeels are stalls set up on the roadside that offer free water and refreshing drinks to general public and the participants of Muharram processions. Both Shia and Sunni communities actively participate and spend millions in organizing sabeels in the name of Imam Hussain (A.S.) across the world. Large containers or coolers are filled with cold or hot beverages. A large number of community members volunteer to fill up reusable glasses with beverages and water for people.

I feel this traditional setup of sabeel is inherently eco-friendly and also encourages volunteerism. It horrifies me to imagine number of plastic cups or bottles that would be needed if people did not volunteer for Sabeel-e-Imam Hussain(A.S.)!

But a lot more can be done to go green during Muharram. Here are some ways in which the average individual and faith leaders can help:

  1. Carry your reusable bottle to lectures and processions
  2. Carry a cloth bag for tabarruk
  3. Distribute tabarruk in paper or cloth bags
  4. Consider diversifying tabarruk – look into things like books, plants, fresh fruit, seeds, cloth bags, reusable bottles, etc.
  5. Compost all the beautiful flowers that are used for decorating Imambargahs and Alams
  6. Arrange for water coolers or Sabeel and discourage plastic bottles
  7. Practice carpooling while going to attend a lecture
  8. Use donations collected in Imambargahs to plant trees
  9. Discuss our environmental impact from the pulpit
  10. Practice and use hashtags to spread the message!

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. This piece was published by The Friday Times.

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Success Stories

The Green Pilgrim

People around the world are campaigning to transform the world’s largest religious gathering, the Arbaeen of Imam Hussain (A.S.), into a green event this year.

In less than a month, the world’s largest human gathering is about to take place in Karbala, Iraq. This, inevitably means a flood of plastic waste will follow! To raise awareness and to encourage pilgrims to carry reuseable bottles, The Green Pilgrim movement was initiated last January.

The Plastic Threat

Iraq, besides being historically and culturally valuable as the site of some of the earliest civilizations, is of particular significance for Muslims worldwide. It hosts the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali (A.S.) in Najaf and that of Imam Hussain (A.S.) in Karbala.

Both Najaf and Karbala are some of the world’s biggest religious tour attractions. The cities lie beside the great river Euphrates – where some of world’s first civilizations lived.

I was there in January 2019 and I saw how plastic waste is taking over the rivers, fields and even the historic sites themselves. The River Euphrates has suffered greatly during Iraq’s recent years of horrific warfare, when thousands of people were brutally murdered and the bodies floated in the rivers. Military waste was dumped, alongside other dangerous chemicals. But besides all this, plastic waste, the fourth largest pollutant, is continuing to afflict the river so much that the farmers are relocating their farms. Villages around the river are suffering greatly. Last year, much of the fish in the river were found dead, floating on the surface mysteriously.

A large amount of plastic trash currently comes from the cups offered to pilgrims.

I started collecting some facts and figures.

“We disposed off thousands of plastic cups each day,” says Sabah, an employee of the Holy Shrine of  Hazrat Abbas (A.S.). “During the Makhsoosi, or important days when the number of pilgrims increase, we use more than 30,000 plastics cups from this one Shrine.’’

The environmental impact of one pilgrim during their 10-day stay in Iraq is significant, if measured in plastic alone.

Plastic cups used: 100

Plastic spoons used: 40

Paper cups used: 40

Each week 3 million pilgrims visit Karbala and Najaf in Iraq. During their stay they are offered water in sealed water cups and on average more than 2,400,000 plastic cups are consumed weekly. More than 60 million pilgrims from 40 countries and 25 cities of Iraq visit Karbala and Najaf each year and waste more than 48,000,000 plastic cups. The number is rising each year.

I spoke to a religious tour operator, Masoom Ali, who was leading a group of 50 pilgrims from Karachi and asked how many plastic cups, paper cups for tea and plastic spoons does he use during his trip. He displayed his collection on the table and shared, “It is our fourth day here and so far we have consumed 1,000 plastic cups and spoons around 600 paper cups for tea.”

Once the video got viral the Holy Shrines got in touch with me and invited me to send a proposal. I shared my research and alternate solutions that I thought they can adopt and promote.

The proposal was accepted and people have started implementing some changes already. sex in zürich – sexpromo.ch

“When I reach the Shrine every morning, I drink water from the cooler and keep that glass in my pocket. It stays with me all day. My colleagues also make fun of me – that there are so many glasses and yet you carry this one glass!” shares Hassan from the media department of the Imam Hussain Shrine, “I reply to them that we are accountable for everything that we use unnecessarily.”

It was heartwarming to see how the media department of the Imam Hussain Shrine not only shared detailed information and made their team available for further documentation, but also committed to starting a series of initiatives to educate the local community on this.

Meanwhile, here in Pakistan, volunteers took responsibility for printing posters and reaching out to tour operators, educating them about the environmental aspect and getting pledges signed. Religious tour groups also included a segment in their pre-tour lectures about The Green Pilgrim Movement.

Iraqi volunteers at Karbala take part in the removal of plastic waste during the Arbaeen walk

The Green Solution

I understand that there are many stakeholders involved. Dialogue is in progress with all of them including the Holy Shrines themselves.

It is an immense task to turn the world’s largest pilgrimage green. But we hope that this initiative can eventually be realized once people begin seeing it as a service to Imam Hussain (A.S.).

And we believe it can begin with each pilgrim carrying 1 reusable bottle, 1 metal spoon and 1 reusable teacup.

It has been a great start already and it is heartwarming to see more and more individuals becoming eco-activists in this regard.

Fawad Rizvi, a passionate volunteer, made the effort to personally meet many tourism agencies to raise awareness.

Berak Hussain, an International Student Counsellor at Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, and Asad Raza, a young community leader from London, UK, joined us. They hope to spread the message in their respective cities while activists around Pakistan volunteer to make a difference.

“We are trying our best to be eco-friendly during our inter-faith tours during Muharram.” shares Hunain Zaidi from Ideas 9 Lahore.

“The message is very important needs to be discussed from the pulpit.” notes Molana Nusrat Bukhari, a spiritual speaker based in Qom, Iran, and visiting Pakistan for Muharram.

“I talked about our role in being plastic free during pilgrimage from the pulpit this year,” shares Subeika Rizvi, senior lecturer at DHA Suffa University and public speaker.

“It is the jihad of the present age. The problem is huge. But we must keep trying!” adds Shuja Rizvi.

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. This piece was published by The Friday Times.

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Success Stories

Lead By Example

Our team member, Zaynab Marchant, interviewed brother Shuja Rizvi, who is a prominent laminate reciter, social worker, and pilgrimage group leader, from Karachi, Pakistan. We are honored to have him as a passionate volunteer at The Green Pilgrim.

Q1: As a ziarat group leader, why did you feel that it is important to have an eco-friendly pilgrimage? 

Shuja Rizvi: The awareness video touched my heart, and made me ask, ‘What is my responsibility?’. When you go to Imam Hussain (as) you must purify your heart and pledge to improve yourself. If you return without any self-improvement, you wasted your time. Other people are talking about a plastic-free lifestyle, but this is specifically about Karbala. What do we do when we go to Karbala? This is a crucial matter. 

Q2: How did you start your journey towards being a green pilgrim and a guide?

Shuja Rizvi: In my opinion, a great man is someone who not only grows himself but tries to nurture others too. Therefore, I decided that I will talk about this to the extent that I can, and I will try my best to eliminate plastic use reduced, and use alternates. 

Q3: Do you think removing plastic from our pilgrimage is doable?

Shuja Rizvi: The issue is that there is so much plastic in Iraq, that you may be able to control yourself and your group, but how would you reduce the plastic consumption by locals? However, it’s wrong to think that if we can’t change others, we shouldn’t change ourselves either. We need to fulfill our responsibility. We must at least try, Allah may make it successful. We shouldn’t give up. 

Q4: What has your overall experience been? Was it easy to convince people? 

Shuja Rizvi: Someone said to Imam Jafar (as), “I’m going for tableegh, please give me some advice.” Imam replied, “Try so that you don’t have to say anything.” More than preaching, the main thing is to apply it yourself. Although, we try to educate people and provide alternates, mostly they forget to carry the bottles we give them. Collectively we need to make an effort to cut plastic use out of our lives. This is because it is extremely harmful, and it doesn’t disappear– it takes some 16 generations to decompose. The main thing, therefore, is to lead by action. 

” The Prophet (s) ‘s task was not easy to make-believe in a God that is not visible. He achieved this by leading by example and becoming Sadiq and Ameen by being trustworthy for 40 years, after which people believed him. ” – Shuja Rizvi

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Success Stories

A Woman Who Made a Difference

Ideologies take some time to root in people’s minds, and even more, time to become a culture. Zaheen Fatima, 39, a mother and a group leader from Karachi, is making the culture of eco-friendly pilgrimage common. As a woman group leader, she has been organizing private pilgrimage groups for Iraq, since 2017. Presently, her group usually consists of 100 pilgrims.

‘ When I watched that viral video that talked about the plastic threat in Karbala, I immediately decided to do something about it. I used the funds to offer reusable cutlery and bottles for all my pilgrims. Which they carried. I did to send blessings to my parent’s souls.’, shares Zaheen Fatima.

Initially, she tried to raise funds for practicing the green pilgrimage concept, and everyone shunned the idea away as being ‘the impossible whims of a woman.’ Zaheen, however, continued to tirelessly work while ignoring the rejection. She visited wholesale markets, searching for plastic alternates online, and learning about eco-friendly travel ideas on the internet. 

She did not stop until she had acquired for every person on the caravan, a cup, plate, and spoons which could be washed and reused to reduce the use of plastic. And, due to limited funds, she, with the help of her mother, cut and sewed green scarves to be distributed amongst her caravan as a substitute for tags or plastic bags, scarves which could be reused and were multipurpose as they made all her pilgrims stand out in the crowd.  Refillable bottles too were provided to all the pilgrims, all these changes were made because as Zaheen says,

 ‘One should have a preserving attitude, rather than a disposing one, for, with every use of a pollutant, you are disposing away Karbala as well, and while there may be substitutes to plastic, there is no substitute for Haram-e-Imam Hussein,’ adds Zaheen.


She also believes that Arbaeen is a perfect opportunity to highlight this cause. 

 ‘Mashi-e-Arbaeen is the best time for planning for the reappearance of imam-e-Zamana,’ for the imam will bring a system of justice, both amongst the people and the environment, and since Arbaeen, with its global magnetism attracts everyone, irrespective of social backgrounds and is the best time to form the foundation of for the revolution of imam Mehdi, by following the teachings of the Ahlulbait (a), which greatly include the care of our eco-system,’, she concludes.

Even if one person is determined to affect change, they succeed, the example being ‘green pilgrims’ itself that works on the idea of one woman who set out to change the world, her ideology inspiring many, Zaheen Fatima being one of them, and you, dear reader if you have reached this far, become a part of this revolution as well, your Imam(ATF) once again calls for you, this time to form a resolution to heed the plea of our environment.

 

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