Being kind to the environment is an act of faith, in line with the example set by Allah’s Prophets
NEW JERSEY – When Saffet Abid Catovic decided to embark on hajj with his family, he wanted to make sure it was a green journey that follows the footsteps of the Prophets of God, peace be upon them.
“We need to follow in the footsteps of their eco-conscious practices — although they weren’t called that at the time — so that their experiences performing the rituals and interacting with the natural world might make for an accepted, blessed and complete Hajj,” Catovic told Sojourners.
“The rocks, the plants — they are for the service of God, and we are here for the service of God. The entire earth is a place of prayer. We keep it clean. We keep it non-polluted. That service cannot be done by harming God’s house of worship.”
Catovic, 53, is an American Muslim of Bosnian-Anglo descent who lives in New Jersey and serves as the senior Islamic advisor to GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for environmental issues.
He believes the responsibility of fighting climate change begins with the individual but stresses that the Green Hajj is “not just about the more privileged parts of the Western World. I am just one person who is making this commitment. There are many other millions of people who are doing this too.”
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Earlier this month, more than 2 million pilgrims concluded the rituals of the annual hajj.
Catovic believes that many of those pilgrims, with a huge number coming from Asia, have a firsthand experience of climate change, as uncommonly heavy rains deluged Makkah during the Hajj’s early days, raising the the fear flooding.
“Temperatures are rising, and I’m a believer in the scientific facts that demonstrate climate change is real,” Catovic said.
“It is critical that we address these challenges directly, especially in the Middle East and in those lands that center around the Equator, many of which are Muslim majority lands, and many of which are already facing the most intense effects of climate change.”
Believing that the responsibility of fighting climate change begins with the individual, Catovic stresses that the Green Hajj is “not just about the more privileged parts of the Western World.”
“I am just one person who is making this commitment. There are many other millions of people who are doing this too.”
Catovic said he was inspired by meeting with a family who came from Afghanistan, traveling overland by donkey, then by boat, and finally walking.
“Whether they are traveling in these ways by choice or by necessity, they certainly have a lower carbon footprint than my family,” he said.
“In some ways, they are getting it right and following the example of the Prophet Mohammad — blessings be upon him — more closely.”
But Catovic, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law made a serious effort to shrink their carbon footprint during this trip.
As it is hard to lower the toll of airline travel, especially flying from the United States to Saudi Arabia, they offset it by donating to a project in Panama that replants trees and promotes fair wages within the lumber industry.
Once in Makkah, they walked as much as possible.
“A lot of the rites that must be done can be done by walking,” he said.
“Even when the Prophet Mohammad [pbuh] had the opportunity to ride a camel, he would choose to walk. So we are choosing to walk whenever we are able.”
They also abandoned the hotel buffet for a diet consisting mostly of dates. Dates are locally grown and require no processing, refrigeration or long-distance shipping. Also, aside from the pits, they create no waste.
“Medina is known as ‘The City of Dates’ and has about 20–30 different varieties of dates that have been grown in this region for thousands of years,” Catovic said.
“Ramadan is traditionally broken by eating dates, and Muslims around the world know that the Prophet ate dates. This is another practice that connects the different acts of worship.”
In terms of the Wudu, the ritual purification with water three times per day, “we use no more than what amounts to two cups of water,” he said.
“This is something that needs to be reinforced here, especially for folks who are staying at the nice hotels that do not limit any amount of water you can consume. These folks should think about the model of the Prophet Mohammad, and that means consuming less water.”
Catovic believes that the systematic implementation of the Green Hajj idea, “is not yet there.”
“The general principles and guidelines are available around the world, but there is still a lot of work that has to be done,” he said.
“Individuals are part of the problem, but we are also part of the solutions.”