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Ablution: green mosque architecture is addressing excessive water and energy usage. (photo: )
Ablution: green mosque architecture is addressing excessive water and energy usage.
07.04.2014, 08:31

Call to Duty: Green Mosques as Catalysts for the Integration of Sustainable Ideas within Popular Culture

Architecture, Regulars

As the governments of the Gulf introduce new regulations to ensure sustainable practices are adopted in operating facilities, Associate Professor of Architecture in the American University of Sharjah (AUS), Dr. Ahmed Mokhtar, argues mosques (and green mosques in particular) have a vital function to perform.

As the governments of the Gulf introduce new regulations to ensure sustainable practices are adopted in operating facilities, Associate Professor of Architecture in the American University of Sharjah (AUS), Dr. Ahmed Mokhtar, argues mosques (and green mosques in particular) have a vital function to perform.

 

In contrast to many regions of the world where public opinion provides the impetus for environmental initiatives, in the GCC, it is governments that are seeking to develop a culture of sustainability through regulation.

There are certainly advantages to regulatory approaches since they speed up implementation and build relevant capabilities quickly. On the other hand, if current initiatives are to succeed fully, greater public awareness of the need for sustainability will be required.

Indeed, the most effective policies are always those that command widespread support and encourage governments to adapt measures to the needs of local populations and businesses. And this is achieved only through public education.

 

Implementing sustainability

For any facility to operate in a truly sustainable manner, three preconditions must be met:

Availability of effective technology that is relevant to the building’s application: in many facilities only technology can overcome physical impediments to better management of resources (including poor design and energy-hungry HVAC systems);

Availability of best practice guidelines, standards and regulations: for example, guidelines governing the detection of leakage in water closets, or ones that provide metrics against which future energy or water savings may be benchmarked; and

A high degree of public education: when building occupants or users have little or no awareness of how their behaviour can impact on the sustainability of a facility, even the most sophisticated resource management strategies and building control technologies will have little, if any impact.

In the Gulf region public awareness of environmental issues remains weak and effort is therefore needed to improve education by integrating sustainability into local culture.

 

Few can question the status of the mosque as the cornerstone institution in Islamic society; and even fewer, its pervading influence on all areas of human activity.

 

The mosque as a catalyst for promoting sustainable practices

Few can question the status of the mosque as the cornerstone institution in Islamic society; and even fewer, its pervading influence on all areas of human activity.

The educational rôle of mosques is important for sustainability because their reach extends to all ages and strata of society.

As madrasah (buildings used for the teaching of Islamic theology and law) they guide the beliefs of future generations of citizens and the teachings of future clerics (Imams); and as places of worship, they are the sites at which Imams deliver guidance and religious mandates to a majority of the region’s population in Friday sermons.

Islam requires Moslems to follow all religious prescriptions. And since natural resource conservation has always been part of Islamic theology, if they are presented as religious mandates, sustainability initiatives are likely to receive widespread acceptance.

 

Sustainability as a religious duty

Islam makes many references to conservation of resources; and water in particular. The religion also prohibits excessive consumption, more generally.

One of the most quoted Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) is: “The Prophet (PBUH) passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution [ritual washing] and asked: “What is this? You are wasting water”. Sa‘d replied by asking: “Can there be wastefulness while taking the ablutions?” To which God’s Messenger replied: “Yes, even if you take them on the bank of a rushing river”.

The Qur’an also states (at Al-A’raf, 31): “But waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters ...”

Clearly, similar concerns govern the modern concept of sustainable development which is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

 

Green mosques

A green (or eco-) mosque may be defined as one that has been designed to be a sustainable building. Within the context of Islamic prayer practice, mosques become sustainable when they address two key areas of resource wastage:

(a) Water consumption in ablution

A single worshipper will use up to 10 litres of water in ritual cleansing prior to a prayer session; a volume that can reach astronomical proportions when it is multiplied (capacity at the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca is currently being expanded to 1.5 million worshippers).

(b) Energy consumption

The second issue is designing prayer spaces to minimise energy (HVAC and lighting) consumption.

Historically, architects have based the size of the main prayer hall in mosques on projected attendance figures for group prayer meetings on Fridays; rather than for other days of the week (when fewer numbers of worshippers will usually attend).

A related concern that is often addressed in green mosque design is poor indoor air quality (IAQ) resulting from excessive water usage and the installation of HVAC systems in ablution spaces.

Because the air handling units of HVAC systems recycle rising water vapour throughout a building, they can contribute to the growth of mould (especially in corner spaces of rooms used for ablution).

 

Architects have been innovative in working with their clients and other built environment professionals to address consumption issues. They have introduced water recycling technologies, partitioned prayer spaces and redesigned air conditioning systems or replaced them with ceiling-mounted fans...

 

Green mosque architecture

Architects have been innovative in working with their clients and other built environment professionals to address consumption issues. They have introduced water recycling technologies, partitioned prayer spaces and redesigned air conditioning systems or replaced them with ceiling-mounted fans (which are less energy intensive and also eliminate potential problems with mould spores).

And, more recently, they have incorporated photovoltaic (solar) technology into the design of mosques that have been designed to be “green” from the outset.

Yet the impact of all these measures will only be limited if there is poor public understanding of why they have been introduced. Educating the public

As buildings that are open to the general public, green mosques present unique opportunities for demonstrating the practical deployment of environmental processes and technologies in their design; and for explaining how it relates to traditional Islamic teachings.

Mosques are simple buildings that make it possible to demonstrate the application of sustainable building principles or incorporation of resource-efficient materials in their construction.

Furthermore, in the GCC, mosques are ubiquitous and by virtue of being public buildings, accessible to the majority of the population who use them regularly. Multimedia presentations

In the 21st century, screen and web/smartphone multimedia presentations are widely used to communicating information to the general public. And to ensure the widest audience, screen-based presentations might be installed at mosque entrances; with content also made available for download via the web.

In addition to highlighting green architectural features, screen-based presentations might be used to re-enforce prescriptive passages from the Qur’an relating to sustainability; and to encourage worshippers to consider using greener technologies in their homes or work spaces.

 

Extending the role of the Imam

Imams are influential figures who are in an unique position to remind mosque-goers of the religious requirement within Islam for resource conservation and to re-enforce the message that practical measures may be taken to ensure buildings are operated in a more sustainable manner by demonstrating how the design of mosques conforms with religious mandates.

The region’s governments are to be applauded for their leadership in introducing the regulatory frameworks that are necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the built environment.

With construction underway of Dubai’s Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation-funded green mosque (the first to be built in the Gulf), new opportunities for integrating the principles of sustainability into local culture and the daily behavior of people will surely arise.

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