Far more that unites us than divides us | WWF South Africa

Far more that unites us than divides us

Posted on 10 February 2015
Muslim Eco-Justice students at a SAFCEI workshop
© Heather Dugmore
When you see young Muslims and Christians working, praying, socialising and growing together at the multi-faith environmental leadership camps and training workshops, it renews your faith in the possibility of a united world.
“There is far more that unites us than divides us,” says Imam Rashied Omar of the Claremont Main Road Mosque, representing the Cape Town Muslim community.
Top of the list is the shared vision to stop the destruction of the unique creation we call Earth, he explains. When leaders of all faiths join hands, they can make a massive impact on conserving the natural environment and reversing the escalating divisions we are witnessing amongst the worlds faiths.
Recognising the power of faith-based conservation, the WWF-Nedbank Green Trust is funding the groundbreaking “Muslims and Christian for Eco-Justice Project”.
“We are constantly seeking out new ways in which human beings and nature can thrive together and this project fits perfectly with our vision of a world where we are in harmony with the environment.  We can no longer deny that the well-being of our planet is inextricably tied to the well-being of humanity and working in partnership with faith based communities means that our impacts will reach even larger numbers of South Africans transforming their lives and creating sustainable co-existence with their ecosystems.  This investment by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust  has given the faith based communities the funds to truly focus on nurturing  and developing the leaders who will mobilise their members into creating long term and tangible changes for the good of people and the planet,” says Augustine Morkel, Executive Manager of Operations at WWF-SA. 
Anglicans and Muslims coming together
As part of this, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Claremont Main Road Mosque are partnering with the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) to develop and promote environmental leadership programmes and faith-based environmental learning materials.
“All faith communities have an extremely important role to play in environmental conservation in this time of pandemic environmental degradation and climate change,” says Reverend Dr Rachel Mash, the environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern African, who initiated this multi-faith project.
A positive approach
“Climate change is a huge threat, and even if you are a climate denialist and you don’t believe in climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that our planet is in an extremely bad way and we need to change this. In response, we have decided to take a positive approach through this project. We want to inspire people to aspire to environmental justice; to a world where everyone has clean air, clean rivers and a healthy environment.’
‘Environmental justice is part of our mosque’s mission and we see it as integral to what it means to be a conscientious Muslim,’ adds project leader Mariam Baderoon, a teacher, board member and environmental justice portfolio holder of the Claremont Main Road Mosque.
‘We believe that we need to play a proactive role in environmental conservation and justice, and not just leave it up to environmental experts and public officials.’
The project is now in its second year and the project leaders, assisted by graduate interns, are achieving an astonishing amount.
‘Each year a number of graduate interns are selected to participate in the programme,’ Baderoon explains. ‘They attend a series of environmental training workshops, including at SAFCEI and Soil for Life in Cape Town, and at the Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa (WESSA) in Howick.’
Water audits at the mosques
For example, SAFCEI trained the interns to conduct water audits, which they did at ten of the biggest mosques in Cape Town in 2014. Their audits took place during Friday congregational prayers when vast quantities of water are used for body cleansing or “wudu” ahead of the prayers.
The interns made practical recommendations as to how to reduce the water consumption at all mosques and to promote water saving measures so that all Muslims become conscious of not wasting water.
‘Our inspiration is the Prophet Muhammad who used only two-thirds of a litre of water when performing wudu,’ Baderoon adds.
Food security in Africa
Food security is another focus of the Eco-Justice Project.
In October 2014 Mash attended the three-day “Alliance for Religions and Conservation Workshop” in Uganda. ‘It focused on food security in Africa and it was so exciting to experience the bond and collaborative relationships between the imams, pastors and priests, from a range of different countries, languages, faiths and cultures,’ she says.
The food security programme, known as “God’s Way of Farming” is already making headway in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, with more countries coming on board. It focuses on encouraging people of all faiths to look after the land, to help the land to become fertile and productive again and to grow organic vegetable gardens, no matter how large or small, as part of their worship.
‘Sustainable farming and planting goes back thousands of years in all religions and is the most powerful, tangible method of experiencing creation, as well as combating climate change,’ says Mash.
Eco Bishops from all over the world
To play their role in making sure that environmental conservation and climate change is high on the agenda for the world, the Anglican Church has identified a growing group of Anglican Eco Bishops from all over the world that are directly impacted by climate change.
‘From New York, Fiji, the Philippines, Zambia, Harare, Swaziland, Namibia, Hong Kong, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, South Africa…our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba invited sixteen Eco Bishops from these regions to a four-day conference in Hermanus in February 2015,’ says Mash. ‘Our aim is to join congregational forces around the world to collectively work out practical ways of combining our efforts to combat climate change and promote active environmental conservation.’
Mash is highly encouraged by the growing number of clergy and congregations identifying with the Green Anglicans Movement.
Environmental conservation at the centre of faith
‘We are encouraging people to think more broadly about what faith means and how environmental conservation is at the centre of our faith as it includes the whole of God’s creation,’ she explains. ‘From cleaning up our rivers, to ensuring our natural environments are not destroyed, to saving the rhino to being more conscious about the carbon footprint of the businesses we run or the imported foods we might buy, it is all part of our bigger responsibility.’
Mash and Baderooon, assisted by their interns, have developed inspirational environmental learning publications and lessons for young learners.
Ryan the Rhino
One of the publications is called “Ryan the Rhino” that explains about the beautiful planet God made, how humans have messed it up and how we can all help to make it better again. It is available as a free download on
‘For the madrasa or Muslim school learners we first conducted research as to what Muslim-focused environmental material is available worldwide so that we didn’t repeat resources,’ says Baderoon. ‘The result was pretty dismal. Environmental awareness is not being taught to most Madrasa learners and therefore we recognised a great need to develop a curriculum for the 7-12-year-olds.’
In 2014 Baderoon and her interns developed a series of eight lessons about the environment in Islam, with practical activities to nurture a love of the environment in young Muslims, and to help them to make the connection between God, the environment and their faith.
Children need to learn from concrete to abstract
‘Children need to learn from concrete to abstract, so you can’t start them off with concepts. They need to physically plant seeds and watch them grow or physically measure how much water they use when they do their ablutions for prayers,’ she explains.
In June they held workshops to present the material to madrasa teachers.
They started teaching the lessons from the beginning of this year and will adjust and edit the material according to their feedback.
Another highlight of the Muslim Eco-Justice programme in 2014 was a seminar held in Cape Town for the heads of Muslim schools, imams and teachers on the importance of the environment in Islam. It was co-hosted with the Islamic Peace College of South Africa in Cape Town. One of the speakers was Dr Najma Mohammed who did her PhD thesis on childhood education about the environment in Islam.
Eco Junior MasterChef
A camp in Cape Town was also organised for 13-to-16-year-olds. Activities, such as the Eco Junior MasterChef got the teenagers inspired.
‘We created a food store with a range of produce from which they could cook; some organic, some imported, some homegrown and all labeled,’ Baderoon explains. ‘They had to choose the products that were least damaging to the environment and with the lowest carbon footprint.
‘They were judged exactly like the participants on MasterChef and afterwards we discussed a range of food-related issues, such as the carbon footprint of imported or out of season food purchases, the importance of reading labels and, for example, the importance of choosing environmentally-friendly products, such as badger-friendly honey.’
Tips for a Greener Ramadan
To extend green food consciousness to the wider community, Baderoon and her team published “Tips for a Greener Ramadan” in the national South African newspapers, and made fridge magnets of the same, which were incredibly well received. Tips four and six read:
‘Make your own compost heap by adding your fruit and vegetable peels, crushed eggshells and tea bags as nutrients to your garden soil. Use your free time during Ramadan to do some gardening or plant a tree, and teach your children how to care for it.’
An eco-documentary has also been made and first flighted on SABC3 in January 2015, which shows children at the madrasa learning about organic gardening and then going home and helping their parents do the same.
Another eco-documentary called “The Green Mosque”, filmed by the World Council of Churches, is about Muslim people who are involved in teaching and caring for the environment. As part of this, they filmed Baderoon over several days.
The many different aspects of the Muslims and Christians for Eco-Justice Project, of which but a few have been mentioned in this feature, are achieving huge impact.
Critical mass outreach
As Mash says: ‘We have over 1000 Anglican congregations in South Africa, and between us and our Muslim colleagues we can reach hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa alone.’
Extend this worldwide, as they are doing, and that’s critical mass outreach, which is growing all the time.
Muslim Eco-Justice students at a SAFCEI workshop
© Heather Dugmore Enlarge