Building a Sustainable Ramadan
By: Muhammad Al-Hakim bin Abdul Razak
Ramadan and fasting have rarely been discussed separately. In Surah Al-Baqarah verse 185 Allah s.w.t mentioned:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلْقُرْءَانُ هُدًۭى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْهُدَىٰ وَٱلْفُرْقَانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ
Translation: ‘The month of Ramadan in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So, whoever sights (the new moon of) the month, he should fast.’
From this verse, it could be understood that Allah has decreed for Muslims to fast in the month of Ramadan. However, why should Muslims fast and abstain themselves from worldly pleasures during this month? The question is answered in Surah Al-Baqarah verse 183 where Allah s.w.t said:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
Translation: ‘O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you so that you may become righteous.’
In this verse, Allah uses the word “لعل” which can be translated to ‘so that’, ‘hopefully’, and ‘perhaps’. There are effects from the usage of this word. Firstly, it shows that the purpose of fasting is to make us become righteous people. Secondly, it shows that Allah decreed fasting on us during this month, in hopes that we will attain righteousness. Thirdly, it can be translated as ‘perhaps’. We are ordered to fast, and perhaps from that fast we will attain righteousness. It means that just because we are fasting, it does not mean we will automatically attain righteousness by default. There is a hope that we will attain righteousness by way of fasting, but it is not a guarantee.
In short, the goal at the end of Ramadan is to attain righteousness. A righteous person is cautious and careful with where they tread out of fear of stepping into what Allah s.w.t has prohibited. Thus, the next question that we should ask is whether in performing good deeds during this blessed month, do we unconsciously step into what Allah has prohibited?
In Sahih Al-Bukhari, it is mentioned:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ “ يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ الصَّوْمُ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ يَدَعُ شَهْوَتَهُ وَأَكْلَهُ وَشُرْبَهُ مِنْ أَجْلِي، وَالصَّوْمُ جُنَّةٌ، وَلِلصَّائِمِ فَرْحَتَانِ فَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يُفْطِرُ وَفَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يَلْقَى رَبَّهُ، وَلَخَلُوفُ فَمِ الصَّائِمِ أَطْيَبُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ رِيحِ الْمِسْكِ ”.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah said: The Fast is for Me and I will give the reward for it, as he (the one who observes the fast) leaves his sexual desire, food and drink for My Sake. Fasting is a screen (from Hell) and there are two pleasures for a fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord. And the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better in Allah’s Sight than the smell of musk.” (See Hadith No. 128, Vol. 3).
There are two types of pleasures for people who fast. The first pleasure is at the time he breaks his fast. The second pleasure is when he meets his Lord. While it is undeniable that there is pleasure in breaking the fast, do we enjoy such pleasure in ways that Allah loves, or is there transgression in the way we break our fast after a day of abstaining from His prohibitions?
According to World Food Programme, around 828 million people worldwide go to bed hungry every night. In Malaysia, SWCorp Malaysia reported Malaysia generated 17,007 tonnes of food waste daily in 2021, and 24% of the food waste was leftovers that can still be consumed. These 4,046 tonnes of edible food could feed 3 million people 3 times daily.
For 2023, SWCorp expected a 15% increase in food waste daily during Ramadan compared to normal days. 19,228 tonnes of food wastage per day are expected, making addition of 2,508 tonnes daily during the month when Muslims are supposed to abstain themselves. SWCorp studies found that on average, 44% of 38,000 tonnes of waste daily are food waste. Unfortunately, the constant trend every festive season is there will be an increase in food waste between 15% to 20%.
Why should Muslims waste such amount of food in a month where they are supposed to abstain themselves from following their desire? In Surah Al-Isra verse 27 Allah s.w.t mentions:
إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَـٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا
Translation: ‘Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.’
Allah expressly says and makes an example of those who love to waste are the brothers of devils. Thus, why do we see an increment in food waste during the month when the devil is supposedly locked up?
In addition, Allah mentioned in Surah Al-A’raf verse 31:
يَـٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ خُذُوا۟ زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍۢ وَكُلُوا۟ وَٱشْرَبُوا۟ وَلَا تُسْرِفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُسْرِفِينَ
Translation: ‘O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.’
Whilst it is compulsory for us to eat and drink to sustain life, Allah expressly prohibits excessiveness in such matters. Thus, Muslims who commit wasteful actions during Ramadan are straying further from the path of righteousness.
Several factors lead to this increment in food waste. Firstly, failure to abstain from the desire to buy foods at the Ramadan bazaar. Secondly, bazaar sellers overestimated the number of customers which leads to lots of unsold goods and foods going to waste. Thirdly, uncoordinated sponsor of iftar foods leads to more donated food compared to the recipients in that area. Fourthly, failure to store unfinished foods suitably. Lastly, failure to create a coordinated donation to the needy from sellers who failed to sell their food and from unfinished foods at the iftar buffet.
Another issue that should not happen during Ramadan but unfortunately happens are the increasing consumption of energy. Before Ramadan, most mosques only turned their electrical usage for the five daily prayers and religious classes. During Ramadan, most mosques are open until late at night if not 24/7. This leads to an increase in energy consumption, especially in mosques that have lots of artificial lights and air conditioners installed. Although such energy consumption is justifiable to provide a conducive environment for worshippers, it should be practised with caution and care.
For example, if during the afternoon there is only one person who stayed at the mosque to perform his I’tikaf, that person should be mindful not to turn on all the air conditioners in the mosque just for himself. If the mosque has an air conditioner, the congregations should be mindful not to let the door be wide open throughout the duration because the air conditioner will need to consume more power to lower the temperature in that room.
Another part of energy consumption that we should pay attention to is fuel consumption. The bitter truth is the congregations in the mosque outside of Ramadan are not as much as during Ramadan. The number of cars in the mosques compound during Ramadan is much more than outside Ramadan. This proportionally means the amount of fuel used in Ramadan is greatly different compared to within Ramadan.
To better improve this condition and help create a sustainable Ramadan, mosques should encourage those who live within the same compound to carpool on their way to the mosque. Congregations who live within walking distance of the mosque should walk to the mosque. Walking to the mosque is a practice that is highly encouraged by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w as mentioned in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim:
وعن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “صلاة الرجل في جماعة تزيد على صلاته في سوقه وبيته بضعاً وعشرين درجه وذلك أن أحدهم إذا توضأ فأحسن الوضوء ثم أتى المسجد لا يريد إلا الصلاة، لا ينهزه إلا الصلاة، لم يخط خطوة إلا رفع له بها درجة، وحط عنه بها خطيئة حتى يدخل المسجد، فإذا دخل المسجد كان في الصلاة ما كانت الصلاة هى تحبسه، والملائكة يصلون على أحدكم ما دام في مجلسه الذى صلى فيه، ما لم يحدث فيه” ((متفق عليه، وهذا لفظ مسلم)).’
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The reward for Salat performed by a person in congregation is more than 20 times greater than that of the Salat performed in one’s house or shop. When one performs Wudu’ perfectly and then proceeds to the mosque with the sole intention of performing Salat, then for every step he takes towards the mosque, he is upgraded one degree in reward and one of his sins is eliminated until he enters the mosque, and when he enters the mosque, he is considered as performing Salat as long as it is the Salat which prevents him (from leaving the mosque); and the angels keep on supplicating Allah for him as long as he remains in his place of prayer. They say: ‘O Allah! Have mercy on him; O Allah! Forgive his sins; O Allah! Accept his repentance’. This will carry on as long as he does not pass wind”. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Another way where we can create a more sustainable Ramadan is by reducing the usage of plastic, especially single-use plastic. Selangor Princess, and founder of the #sayno2plastic campaign, Tengku Zatashah binti Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has recently launched the first sustainability-driven Ramadan bazaar at Pengkalan Batu Public Park, Klang. This initiative aims to help foster environmental awareness among citizens. Tengku Zatashah wishes to see more consumers bring their own containers and cups while buying food and beverages at the bazaar.
This initiative is supported by Landasan Lumayan Sdn Bhd, the company responsible for cleaning Sungai Klang because throughout the cleaning process in Sungai Klang, there are lots of plastics in the river and through this initiative, they hope that there will be increasing awareness among locals and leads to less plastic waste in the river.
The last part of creating a sustainable Ramadan is by conserving water. Everything we use, wear, buy, sell, and eat takes water to make. The water footprint measures the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use. It can be measured for a single process, such as growing rice, for a product, such as a pair of jeans, for the fuel we put in our car, or for an entire multi-national company. The water footprint can also tell us how much water is being consumed by a particular country – or globally – in a specific river basin or from an aquifer.
According to Water Footprint Network, the water footprint per capita in Malaysia is 5,800 litres/day. In Indonesia, the water footprint per capita is 3,100 litres/day. In Thailand, it is 3,900 litres/day. Malaysian water footprint per capita is much higher than the UK which is 3,400 litre/day and China which recorded 2,900 litre/day.
Although water is abundant in Malaysia, it should never be forgotten that water scarcity affects over 2.7 billion people for at least one month each year. As Muslims, we should not waste water, especially while performing ablution and cleaning ourselves. Prophet Muhammad has warned us with his words:
إِنَّهُ سَيَكُونُ فِى هَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ قَوْمٌ يَعْتَدُونَ فِى الطَّهُورِ وَالدُّعَاءِ
Translation: There will be among my ummah those who will transgress in cleaning themselves and in praying.
In another hadis, it was stated:
وَعَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: مَرَّ بِسَعْدٍ وَهُوَ يَتَوَضَّأُ فَقَالَ: «مَا هَذَا السَّرَفُ يَا سَعْدُ» . قَالَ: أَفِي الْوُضُوءِ سَرَفٌ؟ قَالَ: «نَعَمْ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ عَلَى نَهْرٍ جَارٍ» . رَوَاهُ أَحْمد وَابْن مَاجَه
‘Abdallah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As said that the Prophet came upon Sa’d when he was performing ablution and asked, “What is the meaning of this extravagance, Sa’d?” He replied, “Is there extravagance in ablution?” He said, “Yes, even if you are beside a flowing river.’’
This tradition shows that even when in a river where water is abundant, the Prophet reminded us to conserve water and use water properly.