Photo: Cmglee, via Wikimedia Commons | Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

How does the Green Mosque work?

The mosque is more than a place of prayer, even though this is its most important purpose. Since the Islamic way of life is characterised by adherence to the way of life of the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim community, exemplified in Medina, this same timeless model, as well as the later Islamic tradition, is present in the life and thought of a Muslim in a way that in a sense cancels out the physical temporal distance of hundreds of years.

Photo: Cmglee, via Wikimedia Commons | Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

The centrality of prayer to a Muslim’s practice of faith is exemplified by the following saying of the Prophet: “Between a man and kufr (covering the truth) is the omission of prayer.” The five daily prayer times are based on the position of the sun. The weekly Friday prayer must be performed in community.

According to a tradition, for the Muslim, in principle, the whole earth is a mosque; that is, a place of worship of God. The place of prayer should be clean of impure substances, and the orientation towards the holy mosque in Mecca must be observed, as far as this can be determined. However, the mosque has a special role in that the communal area is considered more meritorious.

It is important to know that a mosque, unlike a Christian church for example, is not a consecrated or “sanctified” place, but a building used for the performance of communal prayer. However, this includes keeping the floor clean (usually it is covered with carpets or mats), and there are certain rules of conduct (arab. adab) for the mosque.

If we enumerate the elements of the first mosque, we can see the transformative function of its programme. That practice, or the ‘Amal, reflects knowledge translated into action as a holistic way of life. Aesthetic considerations of architectural language – geometry, proportion and material – are unimportant until their role is understood. Architectural beauty unfolds from its purpose.

The mosques and prayer rooms in Western countries are also predominantly built or prepared by Muslims themselves. A hadith says: “Whoever builds a mosque for the sake of Allah, Allah will have a house built for him in Paradise.” The mosque that became the model for countless later ones was built in Medina, the city to which the Prophet Muhammad had emigrated from Mecca with the early Muslims and where the first Muslim polity was established.

Lessons about urban planning can be found in the spatial organisation of small mosque complexes in neighbourhoods. These are known today as Külliye – from the Arabic kull (the whole, everything). They fit perfectly into the urban fabric, often not visible from the streets. An urban microcosm that not only gives space for prayer, but additionally space for education, commerce and charitable activities.

Guru Necipoglu, leading Sinan expert of our days, explained that Külliye is actually modern. He prefers to use the term Imaret, as Sinan and the Ottoman court of the time did. Its meaning is illuminating: the word comes from the Arabic ‘Imara and semantically stands for improvement through cultivation, building, inhabiting and civilising.

Issues of ecological sustainability, renewable energy and the avoidance of resource waste and pollution have long since reached the theory and practice of mosques around the world. One example is the Abu Ghuweilah Mosque in the Jordanian capital Amman. The neighbourhood mosque was recently expanded to accommodate 650 worshippers. It is a cornerstone of the neighbourhood. Until a few years ago, the congregation had to pay up to 1,400 US dollars a month for electricity. That has now changed. Thanks to a solar system on its roof, the cost factor is zero.

This modernisation is part of a Jordanian government initiative to equip mosques throughout the country with a photovoltaic system (to convert sunlight into electrical energy). It is operated by the Jordanian Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund (JREEEF). This was established in 2020 as a department of the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

It operates through direct funding allocations from the government. Each participating mosque submits a proposal for an installation – based on average electricity consumption over the last 12 months. Implementing contractors, all of whom must be Jordanian, source the necessary components on the open market.

One quarter of the cost is borne by JREEEF and one quarter by the Ministry of Auqaf, which disburses the subsidies. The rest has to be covered by the mosque community itself – usually through donations from its members. “People give all the time,” reports Youssef al-Shayeb of the Abu Ghuweilah Mosque. “Even before that, people donated significant sums for renovation and expansion. Then we prioritised the solar system because of the high monthly bills. People gave immediately.”

Such initiatives are not limited to Jordan. In the Arab world, the Kingdom of Morocco is considered a pioneer in renewable energy. “Morocco already has the legal and institutional framework and action plans. It has implemented many large projects,” reports Lina al-Mobaideen from JREEEF.

In 2016, the Moroccan Ministry of Auqaf and Islamic Affairs started a project to install solar panels, LED lighting and solar water heating in those 15,000 mosques that receive government funding. The Moroccans are receiving technical assistance from the German Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Government funds cover up to 70 per cent of the purchase costs.

Part of the programme is training imams and other scholars in issues around renewable energy and sustainable technologies so they can carry the message to their communities and neighbourhoods. “We want to inform people,” said Said Mouline back in 2016. He is director of the Moroccan Agency for Development and Energy Efficiency.

In 2016, Marrakech’s 12th-century Jami’a al-Kutubiyah became one of the first mosques in Morocco to be equipped with a solar system. The mosque is a landmark of the city. The solar panels are visible hidden on the roof, while a digital display on the street reminds passers-by how much energy has been generated and how many CO2 emissions have been saved.

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim majority population, is also on board. In 2011, the MUI, the Islamic Council of Scholars, the largest body of its kind in the country, launched the ecoMasjid initiative. This aims to put Indonesia’s 800,000 mosques at the centre of public efforts for the environment.

“It started with the realisation that ecological degradation is not a technical or technological issue, but a moral one,” says Hayu Prabowo, who heads MUI’s environmental department in the capital Jakarta. “The government turned to us to complement their approach to the public. We are closer to the people because we meet in mosques every day – and Islam has a rich teaching on environmental issues.”

Hayu, who developed and oversees the programme, lists the criteria the MUI uses to rank each mosque. Issues include: the appropriateness of the site, energy efficiency, education, recycling and effective management. For him, mosques are nothing less than drivers of agency. “Empowerment is not just about economics,” says Prabawo. “It’s about protecting people’s health and livelihoods. It’s a complex issue. We can’t do it alone, neither can the government. This is about translating the language of an ecological activism into more practical aspects of everyday life.”

One of the largest examples of a purpose-built building opened in Cambridge, England, in 2019. Here, Europe’s first ecomosque designed as such was built. Majority constructed from sustainably grown Scandinavian spruce. It is one of the few buildings in the world to use cross-laminated timber on a scale otherwise only achievable with steel. A forest of 16 spanning tree-like columns creates a connected dome over the prayer room, which is designed for 1,000 worshippers. It is reminiscent of Gothic designs in England’s medieval church architecture.

They support a roof covered with a flowering evergreen. This promotes biodiversity and improves insulation. The ecomosque’s photovoltaic system covers a third of its energy needs. Storage tanks collect rainwater for ablutions. The grey water produced is used in the toilets and gardens. In addition, a heat pump uses the differences between indoor and outdoor air to heat the building comfortably.

“We are showing that religion is part of the solution to the world’s big problems,” said Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, the passionate doyen of the Cambridge Eco-Mosque. The mosque makes an important point that religion opposes waste while expressing our gratitude for the blessings of creation.

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