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.