“It’s not just enough to realize it is our hands that have created the ecological disaster our world faces, but it is also our responsibility to address it.”

John McCarten/NYC Council

A resident drops off food scraps at a compost collection site in 2021.

Yesterday, under the orange haze of wildfire smoke from hundreds of miles away, the New York City Council passed Intro 244, creating the largest residential composting program in the country.

This landmark legislation codifies the mayor’s expansion of our residential composting program, offering nearly 8 million New Yorkers a quick and easy way to reduce their carbon footprint. Considering that nearly a third of all of our city’s waste is organic materials that could be composted, this program will ensure New York City is doing its part to fight climate change.

We celebrate this incredible legislative achievement as New Yorkers have been asked to stay indoors for nearly two days as our city experiences some of the worst air quality in the world. The irony of this moment is not lost on either of us and strengthens not just our political but religious commitment to building a greener and more sustainable future.

New York City is home to so many vibrant expressions of Islam, with nearly a million Muslims calling our city home and a uniting ecological imperative embedded in our faith. Islam has many basic ethical principles that guide how we interact with one another and the natural world. These principles require that plants, animals, and people are preserved, nurtured, and able to thrive.

This is, in essence, a display of gratitude for the gifts and blessings of clean water, clean air, and all the bounty we too often take for granted. But much like the 7 million other New Yorkers in the five boroughs, Muslim New Yorkers have not always adhered to our religious tenets of environmental stewardship. We over-consume and create toxicity in ourselves, in the soil, the air, and the sea, disrupting the climate while we all stand by and watch. As we have so painfully seen over these past few days, this isn’t good for the planet, and it’s not good for our faith. 

“In Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” we read: “…one of the great lies of our age is that ‘things’ give us value…things do not define us.” Our society has plundered the world for its resources, decimated animal populations, and disregarded indigenous teachings of living in harmony with the land.

In Islam, a “deen” are actions that we as Muslims carry to demonstrate our faith in God, and so the “Green Deen” interweaves our spiritual commitments and our ecological ones. The example of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is to leave people and places better than we found them; this means not just in a social or emotional setting but an ecological one as well. It’s not just enough to realize it is our hands that have created the ecological disaster our world faces, but it is also our responsibility to address it.

But this is something we must do together, not alone. When our mayor expanded the city’s residential composting program to the five boroughs earlier this year, it was a necessary step forward but not enough. Environmental stewardship is a collective commitment, and what was critically left out of this expansion was a mandate. Frankly, some individuals will not want to change their behavior, and so we have to make the adoption of composting, a choice that is clearly in the best interests of the City, irresistible.

Intro 244 leverages the power of law to make composting easy to adopt and mandatory to participate in for buildings across the city. By passing this legislation, we as a city are doing so much more than offering people a choice in the stewardship of our planet; we’re creating a robust public program that allows everyone to take care of the earth. Together, we are all fulfilling our spiritual duty as stewards of the natural world and investing in programs that transform how we manage our waste.

For years, New York City led the world in filling landfills. Both Muslims and non-Muslims alike in our city skirted our stewardship duties and continued to harm the natural world. But with this legislation’s passage, we celebrate a true victory for our city and our planet. The new mandatory composting program that will be rolled over the next few years will give every New Yorker a quick and easy way to contribute to positive environmental stewardship in our city. This program will reduce our city’s carbon foot by at least a third, create thousands of good-paying green union jobs, and create rich fertile soil that farmers can use up and down the eastern seaboard to grow food for our communities near and far.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. As the Green Deen teaches us, stewardship is not just a passive activity but a real commitment to living the Prophetic vision of leaving the world a better place than we found it. Mandating a residential composting program across our city is an incredible first step toward addressing the climate crisis and providing opportunities for stewardship, but we cannot stop here.

The climate crisis is not some far-off future; it’s here, and it’s happening. Once in a generation storms are happening more than once in a generation. Wildfires burning across the globe are blanketing our skies in an orange tone. And every day our city, state, and nation stalls on climate progress is another day we miss an opportunity to safeguard our future.

As we recover from the environmental trauma of these past few days, we emerge with new mandates from our city to address waste and collectively renew our commitment, as Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to winning a greener future for all.

Shahana Hanif represents the 39th Council District, which includes parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and the Columbia Waterfront.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the author of “The Green Deen: What Islam Teaches Us About Protecting The Planet.”