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Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009

Expert calls for a 'greener' Hajj

Dr Mawil Izzi Dien describes a number of ways muslims can make celebrating Hajj greener

An Islamic expert is calling on Muslims to reduce the environmental impact of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Dr Mawil Izzidien of the University of Wales, Lampeter, says the event is beset by wasted and misused resources.

He has called on Muslims to avoid air travel to Saudi Arabia where possible and stay in less luxury while there.

The Muslim Council of Wales said avoiding air travel and good hotels was unrealistic but agreed "a practical look" at the event's future was needed.

Between 25-30 November around two million Muslims will converge on Mecca - the holiest place in Islam - to take part in an event which combines piety and passion.

One of the pillars of the Islamic faith, every adult Muslim must undertake Hajj at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able.

Dr Mawil Izzi Dien
There is a lot of wastage and there is a lot of misuse of the resources that are available to people while performing Hajj
Dr Mawil Izzidien

Many Muslims save for years in order to perform the pilgrimage, often having to travel thousands of miles to do so.

Dr Izzidien, a reader in Islamic Studies who has written about the environmental dimensions of the pilgrimage, said the main green issue surrounding Hajj was "to encourage Muslims to reduce the number of trips towards Mecca if they can."

He said: "Rather than travelling twice, or performing Hajj twice, if they have done the first one then there is no need to do the second one."

Funds to be used for a second Hajj would be better used helping other Muslims make the journey, or to tackle poverty in the world, he suggested.

Dr Izzidien also focused on the luxurious way in which he said many Muslims travel to, and stay in, Saudi Arabia.

"They travel by first class airplanes and when they arrive in Mecca they live like they are living in a five star hotel, and they pay lots of money to do that," he said.

"Hajj is really all about travelling with difficulty. It is encouraged within Islam that the best Hajj is that which is performed with difficulty. The more difficulty a person has, the more reward he will have.

"Of course we are not saying that to travel from Africa or from Europe to Mecca on foot, but to reduce the amount of cost and carbon footprint is in many ways important.

People need to be there for 10 days and if they spend two or three of these days travelling then that is a big problem
Saleem Qidwai, Muslim Council of Wales

"Maybe groups of pilgrims can perform Hajj by travelling by sea rather than by travelling by air. If they use a ship in order to travel from their location to Mecca, or to Jeddah and then to Mecca, that would reduce the environmental cost of Hajj."

The amount of food wasted during Hajj, and the wastage of meat from sacrificed sheep are other issues which need addressing, Dr Izzidien said, though he added that the local organisers were to be commended for their efforts so far to make the event more environmentally friendly.


Saleem Qidwai, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Wales, said he agreed with many of Dr Izzidien's views but a practical view had to be taken on how Muslim pilgrims could lessen their carbon footprint.

"We have to be realistic," he said. "Time is short for everybody.

"People need to be there for 10 days and if they spend two or three of these days travelling then that is a big problem. Also, avoiding good hotels in Saudi Arabia is not always practical."

However Mr Qidwai said he agreed with other environmental concerns raised by Dr Izzidien.

"There is a lot of wastage at Hajj, particularly with regard to leftover plastic bags and bottles," he said.

"But let's look from a practical point of view at what we can do now to change things in the future."

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