As one of the fastest-growing faiths in the world, Islam could be a powerful force if Muslims were stirred to environmental action, climate activists say.
Which is where Cambridge Central Mosque steps in. Located in the British university city, the mosque opened this month. It is adorned with latticed columns, clad in solar panels and surrounded by crab apples, with space for 1000 and a mission to become a force for climate good.
“The mosque symbolises the spiritual heart of the Muslim community; it’s the central locus where the worshipper connects to God,” said mosque trust patron and musician Cat Stevens who became Muslim in the 1970s and is known as Yusuf Islam.
“It (the mosque) is part of the re-education process, digging deeper into the true nature of Islam to reveal its harmony with the balance of the universe,” said Islam.
With recycled rainwater to irrigate the gardens and energy-harvesting heat pumps, the mosque says it produces close to zero carbon emissions and boasts better green credentials than the thousands of other mosques in Europe.
“The Qur’an emphasises the beauty and harmony of the natural world as a sign of God’s creative power and wisdom,” said mosque trust chairman and Cambridge University professor Dr Timothy Winter, now known as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad.
“The struggle against climate change and the mass extinction of species is not only a practical question of human survival, but is a battle to respect and protect God’s gifts.”
Skylights illuminate the main prayer hall, so no artificial lights are needed by day. The rooftop is dressed in panels that turn sun to power.
The mosque follows broad Islamic principles that favour environmental protection, say Muslim climate experts, be it the stewardship of God’s Earth or sacred teachings on preserving water, planting trees and protecting animals.
“Muslims could be a powerful force that can be mobilised against climate change,” said Shanza Ali, co-founder of Muslim Climate Action, a British advocacy group.
“However, this would require us to go back to Islamic teachings and back to valuing the skills, ideas and respect that communities would give the environment,” she said.
For Ali, a fixed eco-message would not work for the world’s diverse 1.8billion Muslims; a pluralistic approach could better “revive the connection” between Islam and the environment.
In 2015, Islamic faith leaders came together to urge Muslims to play a more active role in combating climate change in a declaration that was welcomed by the UN.
The declaration lamented the “corruption” that humans had caused and called for lower emissions, an end to deforestation and greater commitment to renewable energy sources.
Religious leaders from Pope Francis to the Dali Lama have preached similar eco-messages, warning their faithful of the dangers of growing climate change.
According to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation charity, the world’s big faiths could galvanise about five billion people into climate action, 85% of the world’s population.
Cambridge is home to about 6000 Muslims, born as far afield as Indonesia and Italy, many of them students or professionals.
The mosque was designed with Islamic and local architectural traditions in mind, said architect Julia Barfield. The building “lifts spirits”, she said, marrying ornate Islamic geometry with indigenous English materials.
The central timber lattice echoed the Gothic vaulting at nearby King’s College Chapel, she said, while the golden dome punctuated the skyline of lean university spires.