Interview with Naqa’a: Saudi Women Fighting For The Environment

Members of Naqa’a: Norah Magraby, Mona Othman, Muna Alamer, Elham Uthman, Reem Oudah, Amal Aljuhani, Wafaa Aljuhani and Shaima’a Alhajj.

For over five years, a small group of young Muslim women have been hard at work in Saudi Arabia helping to fight climate change. Naqa’a, the environmental enterprise, was setup with the aim of introducing environmental practices to organizations and spreading  Islam’s green message to the masses. The founders of the group were even selected by the White House to participate in the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. Arwa caught up with Norah Magraby, a full-time nurse who manages the organisation in her spare time, to find out more about their work, the biggest issues facing Saudi Arabia and the role that all Muslims must play in protecting the environment.

How did Naqa’a coming into being?

The idea of Naqa’a, or I must say the passion for improving our environmen, started 5 years ago and it was shared between myself, Mona Othman and Muna Abdulkadir. We were inspired by environmental concerns during our undergraduate studies and as a result we established the first Green Society on campus to offer us an outlet for our passion. However, we have always wanted to have our own environmental business or project that would promote a greater positive change in our community as a whole so over a year ago (July 2009), we founded Naqa’a.

What are the main aims of the organisation?

Our main target is to involve our community youth in the great mission of preserving our planet and promoting greenery. We want to be a living example of how young people can be the drivers of change in a country like Saudi Arabia. We also want to transfer our community to a whole new level of eco-friendliness across all age groups and sectors by providing practical environmental solutions combined with awareness.

What work and projects have you been involved in so far?

We have successfully initiated and are currently managing the recycling system in Dar Al-Hekma College, and now we are planning to transfer the whole campus into a green one. We also helped to organizs many green events in the city of Jeddah such as the Gulf Environmental Forum 2009 and the Jeddah Environmental Forum 2008. Moreover, we have delivered environmental workshops in schools settings aiming to deliver our message to the younger generation. And last but not least, we are now implementing various green practices in different organizations and companies within Saudi Arabia in an effort to help them to be green.

What have reaction been to the organisation? Where you surprised by these reactions?

We always receive positive reactions to our environmental projects and are appreciated by other organizations and by the media. Many people approach us offering their help because they appreciate the idea and most importantly because they are aware of the environmental situation in Saudi Arabia and want to be part of the change for the better. We find this really encouraging.

What are the major environmental issues that you feel Saudi Arabia is facing?

Mainly it can be summarize by the major lack of water resources, the generation of a massive amounts of waste, the faulty disposition of general waste, massive materialistic consumption and pollution.

What inspires you, personally, to be more eco?

At first, it was noticing and realizing the major need for such attention in Saudi Arabia that caught my interest and encouraged me to become more eco. However, what got me personally interested is the fact that this is an Islamic duty that I have to carry out since I came to know that knowledge.

So does Islam play a big role in your environmental awareness?

Yes sure, it is actually a vital part of our mission statement as well. Many Muslim scholars have addressed many verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet PBUH statements that urge us all to save the earth, preserve our water resources and to reduce our general consumptions. Concepts that have been recently adopted around the world have been in our Islamic teachings over 1400 years ago. We are really proud of our Islamic teachings and spreading it in the best way possible is one of our major awareness goals.

From what I can tell, Naqa’a is led by women. What role do you feel that women, especially Muslim women, can play in protecting the environment?

Naqa’a was first founded by 3 women; and then 5 more have joined us in the main team. We also have many male and female volunteers helping us in our events and activities. So yes, our core team consists of females only and unlike what most people think, it is not because it is a rule we adopted. It just happened that the most people who are interested in our cause are females. Which is in a way supports the theory of ‘Ecofeminism’. However, we truly believe that preserving our environment is a duty for every Muslim man and woman. Unfortunately, a lot of Muslims neglect that fact and go on with their lives messing our one and only planet. Also, our initiative is very small compared to the amount of effort needed in the Muslim world to promote the ‘Green Muslim’ concept.

If you could get people in Saudi Arabia to do one thing for the planet what would it be?

Cut the usage of plastic bags! I truly believe that the consumption of plastic bags in Saudi is the highest in the world.

And finally, what changes do you hope to see in Saudi Arabian community in the next 25 years with regards to environmental awareness?

We would like for environmental awareness to start with the new generations at school. Moreover, having an environmental center for the community would be a great step to highlight the importance of environmental conservation. And last but not least, to have all institutions across Saudi Arabia perform recycling as a duty enforced from the government.

Just a quick thanks to Norah for taking time out of her hectic life to answer these questions!

::For More on Islam and Environment see:

Eid Al-Adha: The Muslim Festival of Meat?

Mekkah Metro” Marks A Green Hajj For Pilgrims

How Islam Could Help Fight Water Scarcity

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  17. Arwa says:

    Thanks for your comment Shala- couldn’t agree more.

    @Maurice: To rephrase Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, ‘just because you’ve read Oliver Twist doesn’t mean that you know what it feels like to be an orphan.’


  18. Maurice Picow says:

    Hi all,

    I admit my comments are from watching news programs and documentaries about how women are treated in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and even in the Emirates. I also recall the docos on Carmin Bin Ladin, ex-wife of Osama’s brother, who wrote two very descriptive books on the how life was for her in the Kingdom.

    What more can I say,ladies?

  19. Shahla says:

    Maurice Picow – I’m guessing you wrote that comment based on pure inaccurate stereotypes. Unless you actually live in Saudi Arabia and have experienced the life style here, you have no right to such assumptions. I’ve lived my whole life in the same city these ladies live in and what you said can’t be further from the truth. And would people stop with “women can’t drive” line already? Huge portion of the population here have private drivers (not to mention more women than men own cars)! I’m not saying it’s perfect, but seriously? It’s Not that big of a deal!! Get over it -_-

  20. Arwa says:

    I’d like to think that this article is proof that women in Saudi CAN stand up for what they believe and that they even praised for it…

  21. Maurice Picow says:

    It seems that these ladies are taking a hell of a risk in a society that does not even let women show their faces in public, much less drive a car. Even going to the supermarket has to be in the company of a male relative.

    1. Maybe you are perpetuating a stereotype?

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