By Anna-Maria Ramzy
A new call will soon be issuing from minarets in Norderstedt: the whirring of wind turbines, summoning Germany’s Muslims joining the ranks in the war against global warming. The first of its kind, the Norderstedt mosque will feature two 22-metre-high minarets each housing a turbine, which will not only cover a third of the mosque’s energy needs, but will include glass rotor blades in each tower which, reflecting sunlight at certain times of the day, will create a wind-powered light display. As if the plans weren’t eye catching enough!
The 200-strong congregation, part of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs has plans to renovate its current 100-year-old property into a brand new, eco-friendly complex. Local authorities have approved the designs which cover 1,300 square metres and not only include a mosque but also a social complex comprising shops, travel agents, a café, hairdressers and offices.
Pioneering as these plans for Germany are, the eco-friendly wave has in fact already lapped at the shores of other continents too, with Singapore opening its first eco-friendly mosque in 2009. Students in Abu Dhabi have also claimed to have come up with a template for ‘mosques of the future’ in the UAE which tap no electricity from the grid, and there is even talk of an environmental movement amongst Imams in Palestine.
Though turbine-light-show minarets may yet be a little too adventurous for Britain, cities here have been sewing the seeds for a green mosque revolution of their own. In 2008 eco-fever blossomed in the community of Levenshulme in Manchester, who funded the building of an environmentally friendly mosque, equipped with solar panels, under-floor heating and was built from wood from renewable sources and reclaimed stone. Whilst Levenshulme’s mosque is not entirely free of a carbon footprint, plans are now underway to build Manchester’s first fully green ‘EcoMosque’ to be based in Salford University.
Cambridge too has set foot on the eco-scene. With award-winning architects Marks Barfield on board, the firm behind the London Eye and Kew Treetop Walkway, land has been purchased and plans are in place to establish the City’s first ever purpose-built mosque. The committee have set their sights on a carbon footprint of ‘almost zero’, planning to use the latest ground source heat pumps, conservation technology and skylights to minimise energy usage.
As in Levenshulme, Cambridge’s mosque plans also include provisions such as a café, community garden, teaching area and meeting rooms available for use by all locals, Muslim or otherwise, making it both environmentally and community friendly, two qualities both intrinsic to the ethos of any mosque.
Patching up the ozone layer will leave a hole in the Muslim community’s finances, both in Norderstedt and Cambridge costing an estimated £2.2 million and £13 million respectively, but this is a cost it seems the communities are happy to bear if it means the Earth is not paying the price for their energy usage.
Whilst in the past much emphasis has been placed on the exterior appearance of sacred places and standards of cleanliness within them, it seems the Muslim community is only just awakening to the fact that it is not just what goes into a mosque that should be pure, but what comes out of it should be clean too. Consumption of non-renewable energy sources is undoubtedly polluting the environment, effectively soiling our atmosphere. Mosques, as spatial manifestations of the Muslim community, should be at the forefront of movements to promote and preserve the purity not just of the human race but also of our planet.
Reaching back to the precedent of early mosques, which were very much eco-friendly and sourced from local materials, Eco-Mosques, by combining a concern for the sacred, the social and the ecological, are championing the true spirit of Islam by emphasising man’s duty as stewards, rather than mere guests, here on Earth.
It is very rare for a Muslim to be able to use the word ‘jihad’ without setting off alarm bells, but in the context of the environment, there has never been more need for a concerted effort (the real meaning of ‘jihad’) to join forces and fight the war on global warming. And what better place to start than in our own communities, with the hope that the eco-awareness which cities like Cambridge and Manchester are promoting might blossom elsewhere. The ‘Eco Spring’ slowly creeping through the land may be in its early stages and needs a great deal of nurturing, but British voices are slowly being added to the whirring cries from Norderstedt’s minarets: ‘Viva la Green Revolution!’
Anna-Maria Ramzy is Spirituality Sub-Editor of the Platform and Co-Director of the Oxford Muslim Women’s Association. A keen writer with a penchant for poetry, she is currently studying for her undergraduate degree in Oriental Studies (Arabic, Persian and Islamic Studies) at Oxford University.
Artwork by Rukia Begum, exclusively for The Platform
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