Areej Riaz says the largest-ever multi-faith day of climate action on Thursday is a chance for people to see how being an environmental steward is a common theme across all the world’s major religions.
Riaz is the manager of climate programs for EnviroMuslims, a community group founded in the Toronto area that aims to increase climate action within the Canadian Muslim community and embrace sustainability in daily life.
The group is one of many across Canada taking part in Sacred People, Sacred Earth, a global day of action on March 11 in 38 countries, backed by over 200 religious leaders and scholars.
“Community leaders, whether that’s a mosque imam, or a priest, or a rabbi, they are respected, they are revered, and they are listened to,” said Riaz.
“So for these people to come together and say, ‘This is an important day, this is an important conversation to have and to take to heart for the rest of the year,’ is much-needed, but also well-appreciated, by groups like us that work on sustainability.”
Sacred People, Sacred Earth’s message is that the many teachings from across religions and spiritual philosophies all make it clear that the Earth and living beings and species are sacred and that it is important to take care of Creation.
A list of 10 demands from the global organizer, New York-based GreenFaith International Network, calls for 100 per cent renewable energy, net-zero carbon pollution by 2030, and policies for welcoming climate migrants and on other issues like sustainable finance.
Events are being planned for eight cities across Canada. In Vancouver, for example, a COVID-safe, multi-faith prayer circle is expected to hold a vigil asking for Canada to end all fossil fuel subsidies and to return Indigenous lands. In other cities, there will be ceremonies or virtual gatherings to mark the occasion.
Faith and the Common Good, a national inter-faith charitable network based in Toronto, is one of the founding partners of the GreenFaith International Network. Executive director Michelle Singh said Sacred People, Sacred Earth was an opportunity for governments and financial institutions to hear the united voices of millions of people motivated by their faith towards climate action.
“For faith communities, they can feel somewhat isolated in the work that they’re doing, not getting a lot of national or even local coverage,” said Singh.
“This is a way to amplify what everyone around the world is doing. A lot of these initiatives are grassroots people committed to changing things in their own community. Putting it within this context gives everyone a better understanding of the level of impact that’s possible.”
Riaz said the day was key for the Canadian Muslim community in particular due to the fact that a portion is made up of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, for whom she said the issue of sustainability “is not even in the top-five priorities in their lives — it’s food, shelter, income, education for their kids.”
“So to be able to continue to drive that point home that this is part and parcel of our faith, what we need to do every day, how we need to think and act — and it’s not something additional that people have to work around ... and to be able to show that this is a common goal and aim for all faith groups and all community leaders is amazing,” said Riaz.
Faith and the Common Good works with faith communities and environmental organizations across Canada, hosting programs related to energy efficiency, clean energy, clean water, active transportation and the repurposing of surplus places of worship.
It has partnered with a United Church initiative called Faithful Footprints, which helps congregations cut their carbon pollution through grants and other tools.
EnviroMuslims has been undertaking projects focused on social media engagement, like the Eco-Ramadan Challenge, a calendar with one small action per day that people could take, and a collaboration on a green Ramadan journal for people to record their days and experiences with the fast.
The group also has a Green Ambassadors campaign where they celebrate individuals in the Canadian Muslim population who are working on sustainable issues, giving them a badge and featuring their profile on social media. Riaz said the group hopes to highlight Muslim representation in the sustainability world, something they have found can be lacking in Canada.
In Toronto, EnviroMuslims is hoping to take the opportunity of Sacred People, Sacred Earth to highlight another program called Greening Canadian Mosques that it is undertaking in partnership with Faith and the Common Good.
That effort is hoping Canadian mosques boost their energy and water conservation and make their waste management more efficient, as well as bring awareness to mosque-goers about sustainable lifestyles.
Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer