Recently, Muslims all over the world started their month-long fast for Ramadan. It is a time when many Muslims traditionally refrain from food, drink, smoking, and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. While there is a particular religious imperative attached to Ramadan fasting, fasting can be universally appreciated as an act of virtue in the process of self improvement for the benefit of the individual and society.
A fast refers to abstinence from something, usually food, but it implies a small sacrifice in exchange for something of greater value. Fasting is associated with atonement of sins in the Jewish faith, enlightenment in Buddhism, and the cultivation of conscience in Islam. In today’s consumption-oriented culture, fasting is a concept that is scarcely seen or heard.
But when it comes to our environment, we see collective actions that resemble something of a fast. Earlier this year, several major cities participated in an Earth Hour by turning off lights in some buildings. This act of restricting energy usage is just one of several themed events that encourage self-control and discipline, such as Buy Nothing Day, TV-Turnoff Week and World Carfree Day.
Whether the focus is on energy consumption or consumption in general, these actions provide opportunities for reflection on our consumption habits. Yet these campaigns could be strengthened if they focused on empowering the very consumers who could participate in such events.
Refraining from using one’s car or TV for the planet is indeed a conscious, selfless act, one that offers benefits other than energy savings. For example, TV-Turnoff Week can bring families closer together as they reacquaint themselves with each other rather than their television set. But how could these fasts better empower people and unify them—just as Ramadan increases cohesiveness of Muslim communities? One example is Take Back Your Time Day,which–as part fast from work, (a great idea) and part protest of Americans’ long working hours–is now engaging with 350.org in order to use that day (October 24th) to mobilize millions of Americans to demonstrate the importance of restoring quality time along with aggressive climate action. Part fast, part consciousness raiser, part community builder, Take Back Your Time Day is a powerful example of a fast that can help build a movement.
But the opportunities are endless. An Earth Day could turn into an Earth week or Earth month. And such a time period for reflection and action could reinforce behaviors that are both socially engaging and ecologically conscious, helping shape a new ethic of human responsibility for the environment through mindful action.
Muslims are fasting this month. Will we join them and take part in a fast of our own?