Ecological activists see duty as ‘sacred’

Rasha Elass

// A growing trend in the US to combine religion and environmental
activism has aroused interest in the UAE following the screening of a
documentary about the concept here.

Last week, a private
screening of The Renewal Project was held for a select group of
invitees to gauge local interest in the idea.

The documentary produced by Martin Ostrow, an American writer,
director and producer of environmental films, features stories of a
church in Vermont that has installed solar panels, a Jewish summer camp
that helps children appreciate nature, a Buddhist tree preservation
campaign in California and a Muslim business that is breaking new
ground by selling organic halal meat and poultry.

What these and
many similar projects by people of different faiths have in common is
that their backers see environmentalism not just as a moral commitment
but as a “sacred” duty.

Rama Chakaki, organiser of the event and co-founder of Baraka, a
Dubai company that invests in socially responsible new businesses, said
audience members reacted strongly to the stories.

“There was a
lot of interest in the audience,” she said. “They got excited and
talked about how they can do similar projects here.”

She now plans to show The Renewal Project in public venues around the city once the rights have been negotiated.

Brennan Berry,
who works in business development for a Dubai hotel and was one of the
dozen or so guests at the screening, said the film showed how taking
small steps could make a big difference.

“Especially living in a
city like Dubai, which has some of the highest water consumption and
energy use in the world, it’s important for us residents to be
conscious of our daily impact on the local environment,” he said.

The movement behind the film, Green Zabiha, was founded in
Washington, DC, by Yasir Syeed and his wife Karima Shamma. Among its
projects is the promotion and distribution of halal meat and poultry
raised on organic and so-called compassionate farms.

For Mr
Syeed and his wife, this is about more than a wholesome lifestyle.
“It’s about restoring sacredness to food,” he said in a telephone

Before making The Renewal Project, Mr Ostrow had nagging questions
about how industrialised countries treated the environment. He was
frustrated with the available documentaries, which, he said, tended to
explore the struggles of one particular species – say a type of owl –
from a “techno-science perspective”.

“But what is our deep
connection to all of that? What is our sacred bond to all of that?” he
said, also in a telephone interview.

He said that when he met some like-minded people at conferences that discussed world religions and ecology, it sparked an idea.

thought, ‘Could I make a film of this?’ How would we make such a film?
Would we just get theologians talking and then cut to a scene of
nature?” he said.

His research and collaboration with other
filmmakers led him to uncover many examples of a fledgling movement of
religion and environmental activism.

“And we found it is a global story, but if we wanted to film around
the world we never would have found the funding,” he said. “So we
decided to focus on the US.”

The Muslim story in The Renewal
Project features a now-defunct company similar to Green Zabiha. Zabiha
is Arabic for halal slaughter.

Mr Syeed noted there were many non-Muslims among his customers, including secular people.

the past decade, the role of Isl