Are you ready?
Sighted the moon? (Or calculated its birth?) Check! (Or check!)
Picked up (or downloaded) a prayer schedule? Check!
Populated your calendar with dinner engagements for the next month? Check!
Stocked up on dates? Groceries for sahoor and iftar ? Check and check!
We’re about 1/3 of the way into Ramadan and the ecstasy & joy over experiencing another opportunity to draw nearer to God still remain with enough passion to sustain you thru the rest of the month, right? Great!
So now is a good time to take a moment to reflect on how to take your Ramadan up a notch to an experience that’s holistic in nature, addressing not just the spiritual aspects of the month but the stewardship aspects of our faith as well. This is a time to remember and reflect on our responsibilities to care for the Earth which, by God’s Grace, provides us with nourishment throughout our lives — especially important to keep in mind while we spend a month abstaining daily from food and drink.
Here are fifteen tips for not only a green Ramadan, but also a holistic one — one that emphasizes living in harmony with Creation in ways that you can continue to practice beyond this month. After all, why should the positive changes end when Ramadan ends?
1. Eat slow food
Two things: eat slowly and eat slow food.
Eating slowly has been shown to help you eat less and eat more mindfully. This is turn can help gives you a chance to ponder your food — its origins, how it got to you, and so on. Slow food is food that is good (tasty, seasonal, local, & fresh), clean (preserves biodiversity, sustains the environment, is non-GMO, and ensures animal welfare), and fair (affordable by all, with fair trade from farm to fork).
We’re an outdoors-y Scouting family so we each have our own mess kits, plus a couple of extras. What’s a mess kit, you ask? A mess kit is a reusable set of cooking or eating utensils used especially by folks out in the field — campers, Scouts, and so on. I’m sure you’ve noticed the many trash bags full of paper (or even worse, styrofoam!) plates & cups, plastic utensils, and paper napkins gathered at the end of every evening during Ramadan. Sure, some of those items are recyclable (does your community recycle them?) but there’s something even better than recycling: reducing. Start bringing a reusable bag (you know, the kind you take with you to the farmers market) and Bring Your Own Mess Kit. Use your mess kit for dinner — then pack it all back up in your bag, take it home, and wash it. There are lots of great options for mess kits here, ranging from stainless steel to BPA-free, and everything in between.
3. Clean cleanly
So what does that even mean? No doubt with all the extra time spent socializing, you’ve been keeping your home a little more squeaky clean than normal. And most communities give their facilities a little extra elbow grease right before Ramadan begins. Do you read the ingredients in the cleaners you use? If not, I’ll make it easy for you — that stuff isn’t good for you on so many levels. Still not concerned? Read the warnings on the labels. What you’ll want to start doing is using *clean* cleaners — those that won’t harm you, the air you breathe, the fish in your local streams, or your water supply. The solution? Make your own cleaners — it’s REALLY easy. All you need is a couple of spray bottles and you can make your own window cleaner (1 1/2 cups vinegar, 1/2 cup distilled water, 8 drops of lemon or orange essential oils), wood furniture & floor polisher (1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, 10 drops of lemon or orange essential oils), and disinfecting cleaner (2 cups warm water, 2 T coconut oil, 3 drops of OnGuard protective oil blend, 3 drops of lemon essential oil, 2 T OnGuard protective foaming hand wash). And BAM! — just like that, you have your own easy green cleaners that are good for you, good for the environment, and light on the pocketbook!
4. Turn off the lights
Power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution in the U.S. Their emissions harm our health and pollute our air. With Ramadan being a highly social time of the year, and with it being during long summer days, there are too many opportunities to forget to turn off the lights. Simple light switch covers like this one, which we put up all over our home a few years ago and which were created by Interfaith Power & Light, can help you remember:
5. Turn down the faucet
Or, better yet, don’t turn it up so high to begin with. Did you know that we can only use less than 1% of all the water on Earth? The rest is saltwater or is permanently frozen and therefore inaccessible. We need to take greater care in our use of this finite resource. In our family, when we approach a faucet, we turn it on slowly, to the smallest possible stream that will still get the job done, then proceed with washing. If you’re the type of person that turns the water faucet on full blast, you can benefit from this experiment (kids can do it, too!) –> Place a large container in your sink, under your faucet. Turn the water on and wash as you normally would, catching the water in the container. When you’re finished, use a measuring cup to measure the water in the container. Write down how many cups you used. Now ask a helper to very slowly pour no more than three cups of water over your hands (over the sink) while you wash as your normally would. Challenge yourself to get it all done before the water runs out. I’ll bet you can do it easily! From now on, turn your sink on only as high as the stream of water your helper poured for you.
6. Recycle, recycle, recycle
It should go without saying — recycle all those plastic items that would otherwise end up headed for the landfill in those big ugly trash bags at the end of each evening.
Better yet, avoid having to recycle your plastic water bottle — simply Bring Your Own Water Bottle from home with you. Imagine how much money your community would save by being able to buy less bottled water for the huge crowds. Now imagine that many fewer plastic bottles headed for recycling or, even worse, the landfill in the absence of recycling programs. In our family, the last thing we each grab on our way out the door is our water bottles — year-round. Our kiddos like stainless steel bottles, which you can find here. Hubby and I prefer glass bottles, which you can find here. Whatever you do, *don’t* buy aluminum — I’ll tell you why here. And you can see how we clean and store our bottles at home so that they’re easier to keep organized when we’re home and easier to quickly reach for on our way out.
8. Take what you eat, eat what you take
You can always go back for seconds — but if you overload your plate to begin with and have leftovers, chances are those will end up in the trash.
9. Share the blessing of nourishment
So everyone’s eating and you still have trays of food left. What does our family do? As long as it’s been kept at the appropriate safe temperature and is still unopened, we leftover food to nearby shelters and food pantries. We’ve also taken it local police stations and fire stations — career staff and volunteers are there 24/7/365, quite often for several nights at a time, so you can always find someone there. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at our local fire station (back when they still had poles!) because my uncles and grandfather were volunteer firefighters. one of the things I remember most vividly is that we were always gathering around food!
And if you’ve got leftover dates at the end of Ramadan — well, that’s no problem! We eat dates year-round. Use them to make my favorite Apple Cinnamon smoothie in your blender: 1 entire apple, 2 t of cinnamon, 2 T of chia seeds, 3 jumbo medjool dates (pitted), 2 cups of Lacinato kale (although any variety of kale works!), 1 cup of coconut water. Or, for a real treat, make these easy and delicious chocolate coconut almond date balls, recipe courtesy of my dear sister-in-law Samia: 1 lb jumbo medjool dates (pitted), 1/2c shredded sweetened coconut, and about 3/4 of a bag of dark chocolate chips. Mix the dates and coconut together by hand and then roll into balls. Stick them in the freezer for a few minutes, then dip them in melted chocolate. If you like, you can sprinkle some seat salt on them. Then keep them in the fridge — if they’ll make it that far! Don’t they look yummy?
10. Compost food waste
Do you or does your mosque have a garden? Great! Instead of throwing away leftover food, compost it! When individuals are headed to the trash can to toss their plates (not you, of course, you brought your own mess kit!) designate a bin for compostable foods. You may need to put a sign up (and make an announcement?) instructing folks on what they can place in there: coffee grounds, tea bags, veggies, fruits, and breads. Foods that should *not* go into the compost bin include meats, milk & other dairy products, mayonnaise & salad dressings, bones, oils, and any cooked foods. Imagine how nourished your garden will be — no dangerous chemical fertilizers required!
11. Reach out to your neighbors
Host an iftar open house at your home. Give your neighbors treat tins filled with dates, cookies, baklawa. Organize an iftar open house at your mosque — make sure you invite the building’s neighbors, local first responders, and government officials.
12. Volunteer at a local pantry or soup kitchen
Every Ramadan for the past ten years, our family has volunteered to assist a local shelter and food pantry with its weekly distribution of food staples to local families in need. It’s important to be reminded year round of the many blessings in our lives, but most especially during Ramadan. You can see our family volunteering locally in this video/article and here, too. (Hint: Anyone with the last name ‘Jaka’ is mine. 🙂 ) If you’re unconvinced as to the value of volunteering to help those in need, watch the video and keep an eye out for my son Mikaeel’s comments, starting at the 1:58 mark. <3
Parking problems? ‘Nuff said. Now do what you should be doing anyway to conserve fossil fuels and reduce pollution: carpool to prayers.
14. Conduct a food audit
Created by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public health, The Good Food Toolkit “assists congregations of all faith traditions in adopting policies and practices that better promote good food.” The step-by-step food audit included in the toolkit helps communities identify best areas for improvement and develop a plan for sustainable food policies and practices. These folks explain our obligation as a people of faith perfectly: “Eating is an environmental and a moral act. Whether we live in big cities or rural towns, on a farm or in an apartment, our most profound and intimate connection to the earth – and frequently to each other – is through the food we eat. We don’t often think of our meals in environmental terms or as having much to do with peace and justice, but every time we put food into our mouths, we connect ourselves to other people and other species, and most importantly, to the Creator.”