Allah says in the Quran: “Fulfil the pilgrimage and make the visitation for Allah. If you are prevented, then whatever offering that may be easy.” (Surat Al Baqarah, 196).
Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims, which must be carried out at least once in the lifetime by every adult Muslim who is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey.
From an environmental point of view, there are many environmental concerns and hazards associated with the pilgrimage and only by good governance of these environmental issues will the Haj will become a win-win situation for everyone, that is, the host country (Saudi Arabia), the pilgrims and the rest of the world where pilgrims come from.
One of the biggest environmental issues associated with Haj is “waste”. During the Haj season, huge quantities of waste are generated, which need to be well managed. Other impacts related to the pilgrimage include wasteful water usage and wastewater generation and treatment. Also, air pollution, caused by the transport vehicles, is another serious environmental problem which affects the pilgrims’ health.
In fact, a large number of pilgrims are not aware of the importance of protecting the environment that is recognised in the Islamic teachings. To achieve a green Haj and reduce the environmental footprint, the pilgrims need to behave in a more environmentally friendly way. The environment is in man’s custody. He must care for it and refrain from causing any damage to it or spoiling it for the simple reason that he is its main beneficiary. If his activities harm one or more aspects of the environment, he will be the one who suffers. This logic is very clear during Haj. That is, slight pollution can have a very serious negative environmental effects and a huge impact on the health of pilgrims.
Thus, Muslims must translate the great teachings of Islam, especially during Haj, as a Muslim cannot perform a religious duty and at the same time pollute and cause harm to the environment and others. Environmental stewardship during the Haj is a must for the correctness of the Haj’s religious rites.
Thus, on the one hand, it is worth raising the environmental awareness of pilgrims to encourage them to make their Hajj more sustainable by the following tips:
n Green purchasing; that is, buying not only what is required but also environmentally–friendly products.
n In addition, it is of the utmost importance to rationalise water consumption by using the minimum quantities required for ablution, taking baths as well as other personal needs. Re-using water bottles and minimising electricity usage is crucial.
n It is very important to avoid littering and pilgrims must dispose waste at designated locations.
n The use of cloth bags, instead of plastic bags, as well as the use of public transportation as much as possible is advisable.
Saudi authorities such as the Municipality of Makkah strive to make the Haj season sustainable. For instance, the municipality has introduced a number of technologies regarding waste management to provide the best environment for the pilgrims. In addition, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, represented by the central administration of the projects, developed an integrated plan to operate the Sacred Areas’ Train in 2015. The train’s operational process includes identifying pilgrim camp sites, trails and their access to stations in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah.
At the end of this year (in December 2016), pilgrims will be able to use the Haramain High speed Railway, which connects the two holy cities in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, the Makkah Metro is the first metro line in Saudi Arabia built to serve pilgrims. Four more lines are scheduled to begin construction in 2016. The Makkah Metro is critical to helping ease the heavy congestion during Haj, as it handles crowds of around 90,000 people per hour. There is no doubt that, using public transportations and trains will help reduce air pollution and traffic congestion
In fact, the protection, conservation and sustainable development of the environment and natural resources are a religious duty to which every Muslim should be committed. Thus, the Haj can represent a unique example of sustainability if the pilgrims behave in an environmentally-friendly manner and avoid different types of pollution and overconsumption.
Dr. Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environment researcher.