Among faith groups, a ground swell of environmental concern has been building. This includes within the Muslim community, which begins Ramadan – their sacred month of fasting – today.
In Milwaukee, a group called the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin has been at work for a decade. It will be honored next week by a national interfaith environmental group, GreenFaith, for its programs.
WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence visited with two people instrumental in the Islamic group’s green initiatives.
Nabil Salous says the Qur’an stresses the importance of caring for the earth. He serves on the board of directors for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, or ISM.
And, Huda Alkaff created the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin. She says its efforts boil down to tying awareness and action to spirituality.
Alkaff works with mosques in Madison and the Fox Valley, but most of her energy is spent in Milwaukee. Every month, she promotes a different environmental theme - from energy consumption to urban farming.
ISM's South 13th Street location holds classrooms for middle and high school students as well as a mosque. A number of green projects have been spearheaded there, including a green roof and special faucets to help cut water consumption.
Nabil Salous is especially proud of the green roof; he says, "the students will be able to see what it’s all about, so it’s a good educational experience for them."
Five blocks east, a large stormwater control system has been installed in the building that serves as ISM's community center and elementary school.
"We have a large parking lot, so we built bioswales," Salous says. "...When rainwater comes, it will naturally flows to those swales and that will do filtration and get cleaned up. It has been very successful."
Inside the women’s bathroom, Huda Alkaff says faucets have been installed especially designed for ritual washing before prayer. "It’s called ablution station. So, we have to wash, make ourselves pure before praying," she says.
Alkaff says the sensor-activated faucet serves as a reminder that conservation folds into faith. "There is a saying by the Prophet Mohammed (to) conserve water even if you are on the banks of a flowing river. Only use what you need," she says.
Alkaff says that this dedication to conservation of all kinds, water and energy, is built into the foundation of the Islamic faith. "There are more than 500 verses in the Qur'an that have environmental aspects," she says. "...That's our mission really is to bring out what's already there and tie it with things we can do."
A green space and playground equipment outside of the elementary school replaced a huge parking lot.
"If there is a hard surface we don't need, we just get rid of it," Nabil Salous says. Alkaff adds that projects that benefit children and their health are of utmost importance to the community.
Alkaff says consensus building and education have led to the Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s buildings greener and more sustainable, but much work remains.
"We need to do a lot more, we have a long way to go...but we celebrate everything that we have done...we know that we have to do more," she says. Salous chimes in, "Our water bills substantially went down...so it’s also good for business as well. It's not only doing the right thing to do morally, but financially I've seen a difference."
Today as fasting begins, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee joins more than two dozen mosques around the country embracing “Greening Ramadan.”