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Local Journalism Initiative

Young Muslims host green conference, plan curriculum

The young founders of Green Ummah had big plans for 2020, including a major push in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to get Ontario’s mosques and other Islamic institutions to think more about sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic thwarted much of the newly formed non-profit’s ambition, prompting the law students and other young people involved to shift focus as they seek to build the green movement within Canada’s Muslim communities, which number around one million people. “For us now, it’s about uplifting our youth, youth of colour, Muslim youth, youth that haven’t always fit the narrative when it comes to the environmental movement,” said Aadil Nathani, a co-founder of Green Ummah (ummah is the Arabic word for community, and typically describes the global Muslim community). Environmentalism has long been dominated by mostly white conservationists, and the broader movement has only recently begun to directly engage with more marginalized communities, which are often most acutely impacted by climate change. “We’re trying to get Muslim kids of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and cultures outside and connecting with nature, because at the end of the day, if you have a connection with nature, you’re going to be more inclined to act in a sustainable way and (an) environmentally friendly way,” said Nathani, who grew up in Toronto and last year graduated from law school at the University of Windsor. Green Ummah is being aided in that effort by Nature Canada, one of the country’s oldest nature conservation charities, which has in recent years turned its focus to a similar goal. “We are really trying to amplify the voices that are in the spaces already,” said Camille Koon, the organizer for Nature Canada’s NatureHood program, which works with Green Ummah and more than a dozen other groups across the country to help young people and their families in urban environments connect with nature. “Our organization is trying very hard to make sure that we are building towards a holistic and inclusive movement for climate justice,” Nathani said. To that end, Green Ummah will this weekend host what it is calling Canada’s first Muslim-led environmental conference, a digital event bringing together a range of scholars, experts and green practitioners sparking conversation about how Islam relates to the environment. The event, running from noon until 3: 30 p.m. on March 6 and 7, is a pay-what-you-can affair that will feature U.S. imam Saffet Catovic, who contributed to the drafting in 2019 of a fatwa, or Islamic legal opinion, by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) on fossil fuel divestment. Around 80 people have so far registered to join, including people from the United States, South Africa, and Australia. Saturday’s panels and speakers will address Muslims directly on how to integrate green principles into their daily lives and the religious backing for environmental protection. “It’s a responsibility, according to the Qur’an, that God gave us to look after the planet, and to me, that’s also a huge burden and one that we’ve lost track of, we haven’t stayed on top of, but tides are hopefully changing,” Nathani said. On Sunday, the focus will turn to making sure the green movement makes space for marginalized voices and opportunities for Muslim/Indigenous solidarity. “It’s very important not to lose touch with the fact that we don’t only have these principles from Islamic traditions, we can also try to build bridges between Muslim groups in Canada and Indigenous people in Canada who have been taking care of Turtle Island for longer than we’ve been here,” Nathani said, noting the similarity between the Indigenous seven generations principle and exhortations in Islam for its adherents to act as khalifa, or guardians, of the planet. Mosques, as the central hub of a devout Muslim’s social life, can have an outsized influence on their congregation’s behaviour, Nathani said. “We need the mosques to really be more eco-friendly, and to really start pushing the environmental message, the green message,” he said. “If we can show that there is a religious backing, and we can get everyone to know their religious responsibilities, then Muslim people will be more inclined to act,” he said. Nathani said specific steps the community can take to lessen its environmental impact could be as simple as encouraging worshippers to use less water during the cleansing process conducted prior to praying, which observant Muslims do five times a day. Community leaders can also go further by, for example, creating community gardens or installing bike racks so those who live beyond walking distance from the mosque don’t have to drive, as well as including climate education in sermons, lectures and informal conversations. “The time to act is now, the time to act was actually yesterday, but it’s never too late to start changing your own habits, to start influencing your family and their habits and your wider community and their habits.” Green Ummah is also putting the finishing touches on a four-module curriculum it expects to test out in a handful of Islamic schools across the province starting in September. The courses provide an introduction to climate science and how to be more green, a deeper dive in the connection between Islam and the environment, a critique of environmental racism, and the relationship between Islamic and Indigenous green principles and the law. Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

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