Hello folks, its been a while since the last entry. Nevertheless I’d like to take this timely opportunity during the month of Dhul al-Hijjah to share with you two pieces related to the fifth pillar of Islam- the Hajj.

Beyond the spiritual aspects of the Hajj, these articles highlight issues related to how this fifth pillar has been practiced by Muslims, and more importantly dealing with contemporary issues that have surfaced over the years.

A Green Hajj? by Najma Mohammed on Islam Online, 8 Nov 2009

Ensuring Good Health during the Hajj in a Time of the H1N1 Pandemic by Sofiah Jamil & Julie Balen, NTS Alert Special Edition, Nov 2009

Here’s wishing all a Happy Eid al Adha! Kul a’am wa antum bekhair! 🙂

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So its finally happening! An event not only to commemorate International Day of Climate Action, but also to kickstart a process of reflection and action amongst Muslims on issues relating to the environment.

When? 1.30pm – 4 pm on 24 October 2009. Where? Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) Auditorium , 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4, Singapore. Why? Because being green is not just a fad. Its a way of life.

Put simply, the environment is accorded reverence and respect in Islam. It’s among Allah’s marvelous master pieces. About 750 verses in the Holy Quran alluded to the many tangible and intangible benefits Man derives from it. Thus Man has a moral obligation to, not only appreciate, and sustain Allah’s blessings.

However, Muslim circles have not paid sufficient attention to environmental issues – especially in light of pertinent contemporary challenges such as climate change, and water, food and energy security.Environmental awareness amongst Muslims is low and while there may be various Muslim individuals that care for the environment, there seemsto be a lack of concerted efforts by Muslims as a community.

There is hence a need advocate for a greater sense of environmental awareness and action amongst Muslims – to complement and parallel national and global efforts as well as provide a basis of understanding Islam holistically amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This event seeks to bring together Islamic scholars, environmentalists and the wider public to further understand the various facets of environmental issues and thereby motivate them to take action – no matter how big or small – for a more sustainable future. The event will feature a panel discussion with the following speakers:

  • “The Environment in Islam” by Ustaz Firdaus Yahya Vice President, PERGAS & Director, Darul Huffaz
  • “Muslim Environmental Groups at Work” by Ms. Siobhan Irving, Anthropologist
  • “Championing Environmentalism” by Ms Nur Amira Abdul Karim, ECO-Singapore Representative at COP15.

This will be followed by a video conference with  Mr Wilson Ang, President of ECO-Singapore. Wilson will be joining us from Sweden, while he participates in other 350-related events there, and give us his thoughts on the way forward for the environmental movement in Singapore and globally.

Finally, we end off with some light refreshments (no red meat so as to reduce our consumption of natural resources) with the use of biodegradable utensils kindly sponsored by Olive Green.

We look forward to seeing you there. Kindly do RSVP to Shereen at shereen@amp.org.sg or visit our Facebook event page. And bring a friend or two, while you’re at it! 🙂

We would also like to encourage our participants to wear Blue or Green for the event.

This event is organised by the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) in Singapore with the cooperation and support of ECO-Singapore and Olive Green.

Click HERE  to view our flyer in pdf format. For directions to AMP @ Pasir Ris, click HERE to view a map in jpeg format.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Singapore prides itself for being a highly cosmopolitan and globalised city, with a plethora of well-known international brands and MNCs on the little concrete island. Ion Orchard is the latest development in the heart of the city and is set to be a playground for predominantly the ultra rich and high society folk.

A monstrosity in the City
A monstrosity in the City

But seriously, whats so great about Ion Orchard? Yeah its glitzy, yeah its got all the big labels under one roof… and hell yeah its seems to exude a rather pretentious and socially stratifying environment. The higher up you go in the mall, the higher the prices in the stores.

Few will remember (and perhaps even less) appreciate what existed before Ion Orchard – the lush greenery, which provided some inkling of peace and sanity in the midst of all the concrete in Orchard Road. It was also often a place where many congregated for picnics – especially the migrant Filipino community on the weekend. Indeed, the common public space seemed to cater much more to the layman on the street back then.

But to developers, that green space did not make “economic sense” and was a waste not to be “utilized”. The idea of it being a hang out for migrant workers also perhaps didn’t gel well with the “globalised consumer” image of the surrounding area. The solution: more shops! more malls! buy! buy! buy!

Consumption is rammed into our psyche yet again. But seriously, what proportion of Singaporeans could afford this lavish lifestyle? I know I can’t, being the struggling research analyst and masters student that I am. The point here is not about being a sour plum and criticize those who are economically more well-off, but rather to raise the following concern: How much of the development in Singapore is really catered for Singaporeans?

My cynicism for Ion Orchard (and extreme opulence) has become more apparent after a recent incident, which only served to highlight the stark economic inequalities in Singapore. Yes, there are poor people in Singapore.

Close friends will know how I’ve found this Ramadan to be a lot tougher than previous years – a lot more tired, sleepy, and falling sick for a few days. But my situation is of course nothing compared to that of two people that approached me, as I was walking past Ion Orchard yesterday.

Singaporean #1: An man in his 40s or 50s, who wanted to know how to walk to Ang Mo Kio from Orchard Road. He only had 50cents left in his pocket but wanted to go to church in Ang Mo Kio – a suburb way too far for a walk. He also mentioned later ” two guys I asked just now didn’t help me”.

Singaporean #2: An elderly woman selling pens so that she could “buy some rice to eat”. Looking sad and even tugging on my arm at one point to buy the pens, because other people she asked would not stop to entertain her.

I could not help but think this situation was rather surreal. Nevertheless, the words of my late grandmother kept playing in my head “If someone asks for alms, just give.” as I handed them some money.  Some self-reflection was inevitable as I walked down Orchard Road after the two incidents – Was God testing me/giving me the opportunity to do good on this last day of Ramadan? Although I have seen people asking for help in one way or another along Orchard Road, the odds of having two of them ask within a span of 10 minutes and approximately 50 metres apart would seem rather rare. Are the urban poor of Singapore more obvious now just because of the financial downturn? And moreover, why was it so hard for them to seek help? Are we becoming consumers to the point that we forget to be samaritans? Why is it so hard to exercise that simple universal principle of compassion? 

Food for thought indeed. It has nevertheless made Ramadan for me much more fulfilling.

Eid Mubarak to one and all. 🙂

On 16th October, tWorld Food Day 2009he UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization commemorates the annual World Food Day  as a reminder to us that while some of us have the luxury of pizza/fast food deliveries, drive-thrus, grocery stores just across the street, massive buffet spreads and the high society culture that accompanies gastronomical culture, there are others in the world that barely have a meal a day, are dependent on food aid (which is much less during the economic recession as donor countries give less), and are still praying for rainfall to grow their crops (most of which is not for their own consumption, but for export).

The theme for this year’s World Food Day is “Achieving Food Security in times of Crisis”. It was not too long ago when much of the world faced massive inflation on basic food necessities, such as rice and wheat. The reasons for the sudden food insecurity have been well cited in various media and research institute/think tank resources (click here for a commentary on food insecurity in Southeast Asia).

So what does all this media coverage on food insecurity mean for us?

Perhaps for some, it’s merely a reaction on the lines of “Oh my, these poor people are not having much to eat”  and then hitting the town for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Others have voiced their concerns of how the 2008 food crisis has apparently impacted them. When Thailand banned its rice exports in a bid to secure its own food security, chicken rice lovers in Singapore voiced their dissatisfaction with chicken rice cooked with rice imports from Vietnam, as being of  lower quality rice.

Clearly, many of us in the developed world have given very little thought of where our food comes from. Clearly, it hasn’t sunk into our minds that much of what we consume, comes from the limited resources and hardwork of farmers in developing countries. And clearly, since all this seems so far from where we are, we prefer to continue with our comfortable lifestyles and demand more and more.

That said, it is also apparent that hunger and poverty still persist as we speak. Clearly,we haven’t bothered to take notice of the poor around us – less fortunate consumers that  really do feel the pinch of higher food prices in the markets and producers that feel the pinch of increasing production costs (eg. rising fuel and fertilizer costs).

What can we do about it?

The issue of food security can’t just be left to governments to deal with it, as they have hardly the means of mitigating the forces of demand and supply. Its a complex issue, but lets not discount the power of small deeds, such as:-

  1. Buying local produce, where possible.
  2. Avoiding lavish spreads and consuming what you need. I have come to the conclusion that Ramadan buffets are an oxymoron.
  3. “Simplicity is the best policy”.
  4. Contributing to charities – financially. There are many out there. Though, this initiative in the US – Skip a Lunch, Feed a Bunch –  I find is particularly interesting, especially for Muslims during the fasting month.
  5. Contributing to charities – with the human touch. In this day and age, people don’t talk to other people enough. Knowing the recipients that appreciate your generosity would only spur you to do more. 4PM’s Ramadan on Wheels is one such initiative that has garnered support since 2000.

With less than 10 days left of  Ramadan – a time of reflection, thinking about the needy, and reducing our own consumption – let’s make the holy month all the more worthwhile as a new beginning for gradually minimizing our overall consumption and reducing negative impacts on others and Mother Nature.

I can’t drive. Its been something that I’ve been putting off for the past 3 years. Nevertheless, there are lessons to learn from this.

Lesson #1: It’s natural for me to feel like a loser, since there’s a Toyota Rav 4 in the carpark that I could use at my disposal, if I felt like it. Convenient for weekend drives to Johor or late nights in Clarke Quay.

Lesson #2: It’s natural that I would be sweating buckets, as I take the 10 minute walk out to the train station under the sweltering sun, on days when I don’t have a ride out.

Lesson #3: It’s natural that I would be jumping into a taxi, because I felt lazy or was late for an appointment.

Lesson #4: It’s natural that I would be annoyed with taxi companies and their extra peak hour surcharges… especially that $3 CBD charge…. urgh!

Lesson #5: It’s natural to be waking up earlier only to be squeezing on buses and trains and trying to avoid being in the line of projection of someone who lets out a huge “AAHH CHOOO!”

Lesson #6: Despite it all, it’s natural for me to be optimistic about my situation…

I’m saving money.

I’m getting more exercise from walking than I normally would.

And most of all, I’m minimising my carbon footprint.

Had I driven, I guess I would be contributing to this.

What’s your carbon footprint  like? Find out here.

How often do you get to meet someone who you’ve only admired and known about through books and the media? 28th August 2009 was one such day for me. I met Professor Emil Salim of Indonesia.

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With Prof Emil Salim

Though an unassuming man in his late 70s, Pak Emil’s vast experience as an Indonesian policy maker and international advisor is larger than life. My colleagues and I were delighted that he was able to accept our invitation for our Conference on Climate Insecurities, Human Security and Social Resillience. I was all the more ecstatic as I had the chance to conduct a brief interview with him after the Conference.

All eyes and ears were peeled as Pak Emil delivered his presentation on Sustainable development  full of passion, sincere frankness and a good dose of wit. I was inspired by Pak Emil’s visionary thinking as he reiterated phrases such as “this is the future” when discussing the prospects of renewable energy and other sustainable development measures.

Several points raised by Pak Emil resonated with themes that I had picked up during my study trip on the United States Institute on the Environment (USIE).* Firstly, he noted the need for greater inter-disciplinary studies, discussion and action so as to address complex issues on the environment in a holistic manner.

Secondly, he emphasized the role of those with technical backgrounds – in particular economists and engineers – as drivers and translators for effective sustainable development. “Getting the price right” and having a strong scientific foundation are essential to see the process through.

Thirdly, Pak Emil noted the power of ideas and critical importance of engaging the right people who can catalyse the process and thereby materialise these ideas.

Finally, a point that was clearly driven during the short interview I had with him, was his belief in the youth as being drivers of change for the future. His words of encouragement were indeed inspiring, and clearly highlighted the momentum available to sustain change in the Asian region, despite existing skepticism. Change can happen with the support of a sense of optimism and perseverance.

To play on the words of Alexander Wendt, “Change is what states and communities make of it”.

*To view my report on USIE in pdf format, please click here

So whats the big deal with reducing consumption? Why should I reduce my consumption and jepoardise my comfortable lifestyle? Why should it matter to me?

The following two videos provide light on these questions. (both with super cute animation! 🙂 )

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  1. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, provides a concise look at consumption patterns and is one of the most well recieved video clips on the environment, with more than 7 million views.
  2. The second video (as seen below) describes Japan’s food production and consumption patterns, but nevertheless has important lessons for other countries.