How ecofriendly is your masjid? Is your congregation contributing to the devastation of the watersheds? Are the plants in your community centers landscaping natives that attract and feed local wildlife and birds? Does your board have a dedicated team that looks in to Green issues? These were some of the questions raised and answered with resources at the 3rd annual "Interfaith Workshop: Greening Our Sacred Grounds" at the International Cultural Center in Rockville, MD.
Paul Hlavinka of the Muddy Branch Alliance introduced and moderated the event which addressed the sacred responsibility to what God loves.
The Islamic perspective was presented by Munjed Murad, a graduate of Yale University and a local Green Muslim, who spoke about the environment as an educational tool. “The Earth is a living sign of Allah,” he said as he spoke about the how verses of the Quran also refer to natural phenomena.
Jodi Rose of the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake presented a thought provoking talk titled ‘God Makes the Rain, We Make the Runoff’. “Water connects us. How we treat water is a reflection of how we treat each other,” said Rose.
The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, a body of water formed where freshwater from rivers and streams flows into the ocean, mixing with seawater. Fifty major rivers and streams pour into the bay each day. That is a 64,000 sq. mile watershed covered with forests, farms, and wildlife habitat; cities and suburbs; wastewater treatment plants and heavy industry. It is a watershed that starts in New York and runs through six states and the District of Columbia on its way to the ocean.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urban and suburban storm water is the source of about 15 percent of the total nitrogen entering the Bay, and is the only source that is still increasing. Storm water carrying bacteria has resulted in serious illnesses.
“As water flows off of our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, it picks up all kinds of pollutants like pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids. If it does not evaporate or soak into the ground—nature's "green filter"—and if untreated or poorly treated, the contaminated runoff adversely affects water quality and aquatic life in local streams, the rivers into which they feed, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay,” state activists. As more houses, roads, and shopping centers are built, more of this polluted storm water or runoff makes its way through gutters and storm drains to the nearest stream.
Rose displayed the kind of resources that are available for congregations to help do their part. In 2012, Maryland House Bill 987 was passed to create funding sources which will be used for engineering solutions for polluted runoff. They can earn up to $10,000 rebates for nonresidential storm water management projects on their grounds.
IPC Blue Water Baltimore provides assistance in Baltimore City as a credit on their stormwater utility fees, as does River Wise in Anne Arundel County which offers places of worship professionally designed and installed storm water management improvements and train congregants to become Watershed Stewards. Funds are available to assist congregations in removing impermeable surfaces (blacktop or concrete, etc.) to encourage infiltration of surface water rather than runoff. She shared how the 10, 000 Trees program through Interfaith Partners of the Chesapeake helped a synagogue develop a bio retention system through a grant from the Alliance of the Chesapeake Bay.
Naomi Edelson of the National Wildlife Federation unveiled a program customized for people of faith through which religious institutions can make their sacred grounds wildlife friendly and earn Communities of Faith certification.
In one session some of the barriers in environmental work in a congregation were discussed. Audience members stated lack of interest, complexity of making changes, church politics, and resistance to change. The speaker suggested establishing one Green effort with a committed Green champion and work on that one effort.
Joelle Novey, Interfaith Power & Light, also had an informative session on what congregations could do make their places of worship save energy, go green, and respond to climate change. She shared that IPL can help religious institutions with re-bidding their electricity contracts, purchasing clean power, and shifting other aspects of their institutional purchasing and practices to minimize environmental impact.
The evening closed with a Master Gardner, Merikay Smith, showing how churches in her area were slowly replacing acres of turf that ‘do nothing for the environment but do much harm’ with native shrubs and bushes.
Muslims who are stewards of Allah on this Earth must reflect on the contributions our places of worship are making to this world and make use of the resources available to help green our sacred spaces.