A fraternal project: one Common Home to protect

The Islamic community is increasingly committed to environmental protection. Many initiatives have been launched to prevent the world from turning into a huge wastebasket: from campaigns to raise awareness about the fragility of the environment, to organizing a Green Mosque Day when volunteers of different faiths clean up streets, prune trees, and re-organize common spaces to make them livable for the entire community. Imam Nader Akkad: we must all contribute to the restoration of the planet.

By Cecilia Seppia

After celebrating an eco-friendly Ramadan by joining the "Plastic-free" campaign launched by activists in London banning single-use plastic during communal evening meals, and devising a plan to reduce water waste with smart fountains, and after signing an energy pact with the Pontifical Antonianum University for the production and distribution of clean energy from solar panels, the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy again held "The Green Mosque, surrounded by greenery" Day in 2023.

More than 100 volunteers, including Muslims, Catholics and people of other faiths, rolled up their sleeves and with brooms and rakes, from morning to evening, tidied up and cleaned the entire area around the Great Mosque of Rome, from the Campi Sportivi stop to the Monte Antenne stop on the Rome-Viterbo regional train line that passes through the city’s Parioli district. More than 12 cubic meters of waste of all kinds were collected.

Under a scorching sun, volunteers mowed down brambles and cleared shrubs that impeded pedestrian passage on sidewalks, removed weeds, brushwood and garbage of various kinds, and pruned and planted trees. The garbage and debris were then enclosed in plastic bags and picked up by the city’s ecological waste collectors at the end of the day-long campaign.

Abandoned waste near the Mosque
Abandoned waste near the Mosque

An urban renewal initiative

"It is collaboration on a common project, cooperation in fraternity and friendship and with a common goal, that of caring for the environment. The whole neighborhood, residents but also simple passers-by, have welcomed this initiative and have given us great encouragement. We found abandoned refrigerators, furniture, sofas thrown on the side of the street; images that hurt the heart, not just the eyes. So, we committed ourselves to this work of urban renewal and redevelopment of the green area outside the Mosque," the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Rome Nader Akkad tells Vatican News and L'Osservatore Romano.

"At the end of the day," says the imam who also teaches Integral Ecology at the Antonianum, "we were all tired but we had created a little piece of paradise on earth to enjoy and so everyone joined in a great celebration. The care of the Common Home is very close to our hearts.  It is not only a duty to the environment but to ourselves, to mankind in general - who by soiling and defacing the home in which we live - the only one given to us - does not realize that he is also soiling his soul.

For several years now we have been on an innovative path to contribute to this 'restoration' of the planet in many ways: we do it through careful and systematic differentiated waste collection; we do it through the reduction of food waste and consumption and especially in what concerns water. The Grand Mosque of Rome is putting in place plans to rehabilitate the fountains and the various water source routes for the recovery and recycling of water as well. Fountains are beautiful, but they often mean wasting this precious commodity – something that we cannot afford to do. In addition, during Ramadan this year we also took steps to avoid the use of plastic."

Volunteers, together with staff from Rome’s environmental waste collection service also trimmed trees
Volunteers, together with staff from Rome’s environmental waste collection service also trimmed trees

An environmentally-friendly plastic-free campaign

During Ramadan, after the sunset prayer, the faithful break their fast in the celebration of Iftar, an evening meal often shared together in mosques. Given the large numbers of people gathered to eat, plastic plates, forks and knives, water bottles and other disposable products have been the norm in the past. But imams in mosques caring for the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims have been urging their communities to use less plastic, and their appeals have been decidedly effective in terms of reducing waste volumes.

As we know, plastics are extremely complex to dispose of (barely 10 percent are recycled). The plastic problem is particularly acute in Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nigeria.  An article recently published in the journal Plos One reminds us that 171 trillion plastic fragments weighing 2.3 million tons, a number that without international enforcement measures is set to triple by 2040, now float in the Earth's seas.

Moreover, this plastic often enters the oceans through ten major rivers, most located in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Other data recount that at the end of the 2022 Ramadan in Malaysia, the capital city of Kuala Lumpur alone collected 40 thousand tons of waste (8 thousand more than in 2021), mostly consisting of plastic disposables and food waste.

Ecological conversion, a cultural revolution

"The urgency that His Holiness Francis talks about in the Encyclical Laudato si' - we feel it on our skin; we see it in our polluted seas, in our cities," Imam Nader Akkad continues, "so there is also a need for a cultural revolution. During the month of Ramadan there is definitely more influx of worshippers in the mosques, much more participation, so we’ve taken advantage of this massive presence also to raise awareness, to talk, to establish a dialogue, to call to responsibility, to understand how to act together as a community by taking care of each other and the environment.

Bringing your own water bottle from home or your own cutlery may seem like a small gesture but it is not. And especially if everyone does it, we can save the fish and the waters of our seas. Being active, concrete people and not people who just talk and think about the environment from behind desks, that's what the Planet needs. Being builders, edifiers, citizens in action, that helps a lot. Through Friday sermons and Ramadan evening meals, we have been very insistent on the need for recycling, for reducing waste, for daily attitudes that are harbingers of ecological conversion. But nothing saves the environment more than sweat, toil, the work of our hands, setting an example: what the Pope and our religious leaders give us every day."

An aerial view of the Grand Mosque in Rome.  Solar panels have been installed on the roof
An aerial view of the Grand Mosque in Rome. Solar panels have been installed on the roof

An energy pact between Catholics and Muslims

The Islamic Cultural Center of Italy's commitment is also strong on the clean energy front. On the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, the Center together with the Pontifical Antonianum University, signed an energy pact: an agreement to create a "renewable energy community and for peace" through the production and distribution of clean energy through solar panels to be installed on the roofs of the university, the General Curia of the Friars Minor and the Great Mosque of Rome.

"Work on the construction of this first interreligious energy community," the imam explains, "has already begun. With this landmark agreement we have succeeded in putting into practice the ideals imparted to us by our religious leaders, especially in the document on Human Fraternity signed on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al Tayyeb, the teachings of Laudato si' and also those of Fratelli Tutti.

With this accord, we have transformed our usually paper dialogue into an embodied dialogue, into a path with a common commitment to create an energy community, to produce energy and donate it. Because today, donating energy is also very important. 

This agreement can be a model and inspiration for other communities, nationally but also globally. Making energy for peace as well as donating energy.  Today, the culture of giving must necessarily be changed; we cannot think simply of almsgiving - especially with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine - but also about cleaning the city together, Christians and Muslims. 

These are all actions that do good and strengthen friendship and brotherhood between people of different beliefs. The Pope and Al Tayyeb gave us the example: two religious leaders who embraced each other and one called the other 'brother' but then they told us to put this fraternity into action and we are walking in this direction for the good of humanity."

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01 August 2023, 12:56