Recently Khaleafa.com had the opportunity to the interview Kori Majeed, the founder of the Green Ramadan Switch, an innovative initiative aimed at increasing awareness about waste during the month of Ramadan. She shares with us her inspiration and motivation for going green and highlights the importance of being aware of the environmental consequences of our actions.
1) Briefly share with our readers a little bit about yourself. How did you become interested in the environmental field?
I'm a "military brat" -- in the best sense of the word -- so although I was born in Alabama, I rarely lived in a place for more than 4 years until I got married. I graduated from Spelman College with a B.S. in Computer Science and afterwards was commissioned as an officer in the US Air Force. I worked at the Pentagon for 4 years, during which I got married, went on Hajj, and then transitioned into web development for a DC non-profit. I stopped working after I had our first child. I couldn't bring myself to give her to someone else for 8-10 hours out of the day. I did freelance web work for a while and got my Masters from Johns Hopkins University after having my second child. My husband and I decided to move to Amman, Jordan to study Arabic at Qasid Institute. While there, I had my third child. We came back to the States for a bit, then headed to central Turkey where my husband taught ESL at a private high school while I homeschooled our girls and we enjoyed the amazing hospitality, culture and food of the Turks. You might have guessed that I had our fourth child while in Turkey. We returned to the States and eventually settled down in the DC area. My husband works in Network Security, while I continue to homeschool our gaggle of four girls and blog about it. I'm also a serial small-time entrepreneur and Girl Scout Troop Advisor with Troop 3480 at Prince George's Muslim Association in Lanham, Maryland. My husband and I are also working to create Good Tree Village, the first Muslim cohousing community in the DC-area, inshaAllah.
My interest in environmental issues began to blossom when I had children. No, probably when they were in utero. In trying to provide the best for our children, I think parents start to question everything: Is the hospital the best place to give birth? What is in those vaccines? What was used to grow that food? That meat has WHAT in it? Did we check for lead paint? Can I teach my children better than the local school system? Our children are a trust to us, on loan from Allah. Am I doing my best with this beautiful loan? I'm just my thankful that my husband always supported me or at least heard me out and gave my "crunchy" ideas a go.
2) What is the Green Ramadan Switch? What motivated you to create this campaign and what are the goals?
Last year I became saddened & disgusted by all the trash we Muslims create at community iftars during Ramadan, both at the masjid and in private homes. The bags of trash didn’t correspond with the blessings of eating in community during this sacred month. So, I decided to try to curb the impact of my own family. I researched reusable dinnerware that would add to the significance of the occasion while being sustainable, stylish and affordable. I always got positive feedback after people questioned why my family was the only one eating off of "prison-style" food trays. In early February of this year, I decided to try to share my version of a Green Ramadan and help others make the Green Ramadan Switch from disposable styrofoam, plastic and paper products to a smart, reusable and sustainable Zero-Trash Iftar Kit.
Sometimes it is challenging and slow to effect change at a masjid, so I see Green Ramadan's Zero-Trash Iftar Kit as a way for individuals to make a positive impact on the sustainability of their Ramadan. InshaAllah masajids will catch on and, in preparation for Ramadan, make an initial investment in reusable dinnerware instead of wasting money on huge boxes of styrofoam plates, plastic cutlery and paper napkins every year -- in effect, preparing to create a whole lot of trash.
It's my goal to help 1000 Muslims green their Ramadan this year by doing a simple, thoughtful, easy good deed: reducing the amount of waste we create at iftars. No more single-use water bottles. No more non-biodegradable styrofoam plates, bowls & cups. No more plastic cutlery. I'm helping Muslims make the Green Ramadan Switch to a stainless-steel food tray, BPA-free tumbler, bamboo cutlery and cloth napkin: all of which are reusable, sustainable and pretty cool-looking. Plus, there is a reusable bag to carry it all in.
3) Briefly explain what is the Zero-Trash Iftar Kit. How did you come up with this idea and what has been the response?
I have children, so I wanted the Kit to be washable, reusable, durable and cool. Some people bring out special decorations and dish sets for Ramadan. Our tradition is to bring our Zero-Trash Iftar Kits to community iftars.
Every item in a Green Ramadan Zero-Trash Iftar Kit is either reusable, responsibly-made, sustainable, or all of the above. The Kit includes a stainless steel divided food tray (my kids don't like their food to touch); a bamboo fork, knife and spoon (there is so much noise when bamboo comes in contact with stainless steel); a BPA-free tumbler with straw that's pretty close to spill-proof; a cloth napkin (a touch of class); and a reusable bag in which to carry it all.
The environmental benefit of Zero-Trash Iftar Kits is that it replaces disposable (and sometimes even toxic) styrofoam, plastic and paper plates, cups, straws, cutlery, napkins & paper towels, and plastic water bottles with a Kit that we can use over and over again every Ramadan, inshaAllah.
4) During Ramadan there often is a lot of waste and excess. What are some lessons you would like to share with the Muslim community when it comes to making their Ramadan more environmentally-friendly?
Simple, small deeds can make a huge impact for our local community and for the world. A Green Ramadan is a return to mindfulness in our actions and we can take the habits we cultivate in Ramadan and use them throughout the year. A Green Ramadan is a return to the Sunnah. We can turn the water to a trickle when making wudu. We can eliminate waste by using reusable dinnerware at home and in community. We can eat modest portions of food. We can eat meat only on weekends or eat vegetarian at least once a week. We can carpool. We can plant something.
5) How has the Muslim community responded to this project? How do you plan on building on the campaign in the future?
The response has been amazing, alhamdullilah! Green Muslims are coming out of the bamboo woodworks. I've gotten lots of positive feedback, constructive criticism and requests for customization. Green Ramadan has been on facebook for less than a month and already has over 120 likes. One woman decided she would make a better, greener, longer-lasting impact by investing in Zero-Trash Iftar Kits for her masjid rather than sponsoring an iftar. Right now Green Ramadan's focus is eliminating waste at iftars, however in the future I'd like to focus on other areas including water conservation, recycling, composting, portion control & reducing food waste, gardening & permaculture, and eating less meat.