When you think about Ramadan, what comes to mind?
If you don’t celebrate Islam’s holy month (or maybe even if you do), then you probably think about fasting: observant Muslims don’t eat from sunup to sundown during Ramadan. But while fasting is an important part of the observance, its meaning goes much deeper than simply denying oneself food and water.
“For me, it’s exciting. It’s a time to reconnect to my faith,” says Mississauga, Ontario, mom Kenda Al Yakobi. “I see it as a reminder that I need to be mindful.”
For Kenda, 35, mindfulness means thinking carefully about her impact on the earth. As a certified holistic nutritionist, she first began thinking hard about things like minimalism and reducing waste in a course called Nutrition and the Environment. “I began noticing where I could reduce the number of toxins in my food, which extended to reducing packaging. I watched The Story of Stuff, and began to try buying less.”
Today, Kenda — currently a full-time mom to her kids — describes herself as “on the path to minimalism and conscious living,” focusing on a life filled with fun and adventure, but not so much stuff. That path includes things like carrying a reusable water bottles and coffee cups, buying groceries in bulk to minimize packaging, becoming vegetarian, and trying to borrow or buy used rather than new items — including clothes and toys for her daughter, Aayah, who just started first grade, and a son, Deen, three.
She’s been married to Arsalaan, who works in capital markets, for a decade. He supports her efforts, she says, even if he lets the occasional plastic water bottle creep into their lives. But Arsalaan clearly pays attention to his wife’s priorities: for their 10th anniversary, he surprised her with the gift of a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica — at an eco-friendly resort. “It was the best thing that anyone has ever done for me,” she says, laughing. “But it ruined me a bit for coming back to the realities of everyday life.”
There are bumps along Kenda’s low-waste journey, including handling awkward conversations with friends or family members who don’t see things in quite the same way. “We were at a festival a little while ago, and they were handing out some kind of plastic-foam toy to the kids, and my mother-in-law kept asking why I wouldn’t let my kids have them. And I kept having to explain it to her, and to talk to my daughter about ‘how we try not to hurt the animals because of how things are made in the world.’ Or people don’t understand why I don’t buy my kids gifts for Eid [the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan]. It gets awkward.”
Fortunately, Kenda — who was born in Syria and moved with her family to the Toronto suburb of North York when she was nine — has found a like-minded community online, where she’s a member of minimalism groups on Facebook, and part of Instagram’s #lowwaste movement.
“Social media is such a good platform to express your views. If I’m at a kids’ birthday party or a gathering where perhaps they’re using paper plates or bottled water, I might not be comfortable saying something, but I know I have an online platform to express my views without being confrontational or calling people out.”
Kenda’s also using social media to create links between her religious community and her passion for sustainable living. “My religion preaches about being mindful of how we treat the environment, how we treat animals,” she says. The prophet Mohammed, she explained in an Instagram post about Ramadan, tells Muslims they are stewards of the world, which is “a green and pleasant thing.” She gave several suggestions for making Ramadan more sustainable, including buying local produce for the iftar meal that breaks the fast each day, being mindful of food waste, and urging local mosques to use reusable plates and cups rather than disposable Styrofoam or plastic.
And while the gap between her faith and her focus on the environment sometimes seems wide, there are signs it’s narrowing. Last Ramadan, Kenda and her family attended a Mosque that made a conscious effort to serve the iftar meal on washable plates, no disposable water bottles in sight.
“People are definitely becoming more aware, and that’s encouraging,” says Kenda. “For me, the purpose of the holiday — the purpose of our religion — is to find a way for everyone to live in a harmonious world where no one suffers because of our wants.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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