Muslim women push Chicago community to join green Ramadan: 'We are the caretakers of the Earth'

Adriana Pérez, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

CHICAGO — On a recent Sunday evening, a group of Muslim women huddled around a hot beverage dispenser. They watched as one woman mixed cardamom tea, anise seed, cinnamon, ginger and different kinds of milk.

It would be easier to offer hot water and tea bags, Sam Bawamia said as she stirred the warm beverage. But she had recently read that tea bags contain countless microplastic particles and, horrified, had decided to prepare the drink from scratch.

“We have to go green. You have to tell people — no plastics! Look at all these plastic bottles,” she said as she pointed to some shelves in the back of the kitchen stocked with single-use water bottles. “You have to say: ‘No, no, no.'”

The Muslim Community Center where Bawamia champions green initiatives has mosques in Chicago and Morton Grove, two of many across the world that face an environmental challenge particular to the month of Ramadan. Providing a meal and water to hundreds of people who haven’t had anything to eat or drink all day requires straightforward, replicable solutions — usually in the shape of disposable plastic plates, utensils and cups — and can often result in food waste.

“In our faith, in the Islamic faith, we are taught that we are the caretakers of the Earth,” Bawamia said, taking the podium for a short speech before sundown. “We humans use its resources, but we must maintain a balance. In the Quran … it says that (there’s) a delicate balance with which this world was set in motion. But our job is to correct our overuse of resources and address the injustices and effects of selfish change in the Earth.”

Efforts toward a “Green Ramadan” in the Muslim Community Center began last year, Bawamia said, years after she first noticed the waste produced was “not in the spirit” of the holy month and its emphasis on self-restraint.


“I think it’s ironic that we sacrifice hugely all day but then fill so many bins with plastic that is used once,” she said.

Bawamia’s co-chair of the center’s Green Team committee, Anjum Ali, said in an earlier conversation with the Tribune that the women couldn’t sleep at night thinking about the waste produced in a single night of hosting dinner for hundreds of people during Ramadan.

In the basement of the Morton Grove mosque, an inconspicuous box of paper cups stood by the kitchen door. A word had been scribbled on it upside down: “iftar,” the breaking of the fast.

As the clock struck 7 p.m., families reached for plates of dates and glasses of water, ending their daily fast. On both sides of the room, long serving tables were mostly empty, awaiting dinnertime, which would commence after the sunset prayer. Paper plates, napkins and compostable utensils bookended the tables.


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