Visitors and worshipers at the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) in Istanbul.
Above the thick patterned carpets and below the soaring domes of many mosques, circles of small hanging lights spiral overhead, illuminating often dim interiors with a star-like glow. Beautiful as they are, though, when multiplied by Turkey's 80,013 mosques, these small lights add up to be big energy users -- and, when, replaced with eco-friendly versions, big energy savers.Last year, the country's Religious Affairs Directorate recently announced, some 961,427 mosque lights were replaced with 895,390 energy-saving versions, resulting in a 65 percent reduction in electricity costs at Turkey's main places of worship. According to the local newspaper Today's Zaman, the directorate plans to build on this success by encouraging the widespread use of energy-efficient bulbs around the country this year.
The directorate has also established environmental policies for mosques that set out additional ways to save energy on heating, cooling, and lighting -- such as by keeping thermostats below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter and switching from fuel oil to natural gas for heating -- as well as ways to conserve water.
Green Mosques Around the Globe
Turkey, of course, isn't the only place where mosque leaders -- like their counterparts at churches and synagogues -- are making an effort to go green. Here are just a few examples:
- Architecture students in the United Arab Emirates are designing what they hope will be a "template for mosques of the future," a building that uses no electricity from the grid, relying instead on solar panels, geothermal cooling, shading devices, wind turbines, and natural ventilation.
- In Manchester, the new Al-Markaz Al-Najmi mosque maximizes natural light and incorporates solar panels, underfloor heating, sustainably sourced wood, and low-energy light-bulbs.
- The first eco-friendly mosque in Singapore has a green roof, lots of natural light, and low-flow water taps.
- Chicago-area mosques are participating in a Green Ramadan initiative to reduce their impact during the holiday and throughout the year.
- A mosque under construction in Mumbai will have dual-layered walls to keep room temperatures naturally cool and will harvest the area's plentiful rainwater.
As influential members of their communities, religious institutions do more than just save water and energy at their own facilities when they decide to go green -- ideally, they also set an example for others to do likewise.
Turkish Schools to Save Energy, Water Too
Turkey's schools, with their 15 million students and 680,000 teachers, are already starting to follow in the mosques' footsteps. After advising the religious directorate, Prof. Mustafa Öztürk, the deputy chairman of the country's parliamentary Environment Commission, has written a report for the Education Ministry with eco-friendly suggestions.
"The report outlined steps that would cut down water consumption in schools by as much as 40 percent," Today's Zaman reported, adding that some 1.8 million lights in the country's primary schools have already been swapped out for eco-friendly ones at a cost of 11.5 million Turkish Liras (about $7.7 million) -- an amount made up for in energy savings in just 101 days.
More about religion and the environment:
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Understanding the Sacred Value of Water: Day 5 at the World Water Forum
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Let's Help Push Climate Change Up Religion's Agenda
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