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Muslims green up world's biggest pilgrimage

Green Guide for Hajj

There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, and environmental degradation and climate change is already affecting them. Muslims believe that man has been given a responsibility to care for the world by Allah, and this belief must be lived out through sustainable action. One way that Muslims are beginning to acknowledge this and make a change is through the greening of the Hajj.

To this day, the Hajj journey to the holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia remains the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. Due to restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of Hajj will only increase. It has been discovered that over 42,000 tonnes of waste in the form of plastic bottles, food and clothing is produced at each Hajj. This contradicts the belief in Islam that 'The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it.'

Huge challenge: The Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is an obligation for every Muslim if they are healthy enough and can afford to make the journey to Saudi Arabia. Nearly three million take part each year, with enormous environmental consequences Picture: Adil Wahid/Pixabay

Dr Husna Ahmed, the founder of Global One, has begun to raise awareness on sustainability under the legacy of Islam, and produced the first guide to green pilgrimage during Hajj in 2009. Within the guide are recommendations on transport, waste management, and carbon consumption in order to allow individuals to reduce their own carbon footprint during the pilgrimage.

For example, in the section on Food and Drink, the following recommendations are given:

  • Eat and drink sustainably and ethically (buy local and organic)

  • Minimise water use

  • Dispose of rubbish and pick up after others

  • Recycle where there are facilities

  • Consider eating less meat in your diet

  • Buy locally produced fruit and vegetables – or better, grow your own

  • Use a composter for food waste

Teachings warn against corrupting the earth

In the foreword to the Guide, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Goma'a, reminded Muslims that Islamic teachings on the environment are 'extremely rich'. He quoted the Qur'a n (7:85): ' not cause corruption on the earth after it has been set in order; this is better for you, if you are believers.'

The Grand Mufti told Muslims: 'It is a religious duty to safeguard our environment and advocate the importance of preserving it. Humankind is not free to consume or pollute carelessly.'

‘It is a religious duty to safeguard our environment and advocate the importance of preserving it. Humankind is not free to consume or pollute carelessly' – Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Goma'a

The Green Hajj initiative spread at first among individual Muslims but has been adopted in part by the Saudi authorities, the hosts of the huge pilgrimage. By 2019, 30 encampments at the pilgrims' tent city of Mina had adopted waste management programmes. Pilgrims are urged to separate waste into organic and solid, to enable recycling. Proceeds are given to charity.

Other organisations and media have also taken up the challenge of greening the Hajj, whihc is a battle far from won. Regional sustainability group EcoMENA is just one to note the enormous environmental footprint of the Hajj – on waste, water use, transport, pollution and health.

'Unfortunately, majority of the pilgrims are not aware of the innate nature of environmentalism within Islam and obligations of protecting the environment,' notes EcoMENA, but continues more hopefully: 'According to the Qur'an, humans are entrusted to be the maintainers of the earth, its ecology and environment. The Hajj can be sustainable if the pilgrims behave in an environmentally friendly manner and avoid different types of pollution.'

For Saudi Arabia, the initiatives are now part of a wider agenda, announced in March 2021, to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 60%. Programmes called Saudi Green and Middle East Green envisage the world's biggest aforestation project, to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia and 40 billion in neighbouring countries.

The full guide: Green Guide for Hajj


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