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Published on August 26th, 2015 | by Robyn Purchia


Faith And Sustainability In The UAE: Green Economy Also Supports Religious Stewardship

August 26th, 2015 by  

Originally published on Eden Keeper.

5270955656_bc7c5373b5_zThe United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country known for the extravagance and luxury its oil exports have funded. It is also a country known for the strong Muslim faith of its people and the government’s, sometimes scary, adherence to Islamic traditions. And now this oil-rich, traditional country is becoming a place where new green, technology can flourish.

An Economy Pumped From Desert Wells

The UAE has come a long way from the days when it was a desert inhabited by nomadic Bedouin tribes, fishing villages, and date farms. After the first commercially viable oil field was identified in October 27, 1960, government revenues from oil production grew rapidly and Abu Dhabi rapidly developed from a small kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula to the booming center of tourism and commerce that it is now.

Technology has always been a key driver of the UAE’s economic success. The introduction of a “smart” field system allowed for individual wells to be controlled by computer from a head office. And initiatives, such as the pilot scheme for carbon-dioxide injection in the Rumaitha field, have been developed to increase total production and allow for a greater percentage of the reserves to be recovered.

Shifting to a New, Green Economy

Despite the success of its oil fields, the UAE has maintained an economy that is not solely reliant on oil and gas revenues. Trade, tourism, real estate, and construction are large sectors of the UAE’s economy, most notably in Dubai. And the UAE is also shifting itself to a new, green economy.

In January 2012, the UAE Green Growth Strategy was launched by the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Strategy provides national and emirate-level plans for transforming the national economy to a greener economy and calls for a 30 percent energy reduction by 2030. Both public and private initiatives are growing in support of the Strategy and significant progress is being made to green the UAE.

Islamic Support of Green Measures

Islam is official religion of the UAE — the religion of its people and its government. The UAE’s judicial system is derived from elements of Sharia law, which make it legal to flog people who violate religious tenets such as premarital sex, alcohol consumption, and even kissing in public. Apostasy is a crime punishable by death. And during Ramadan, it is illegal for Muslims and non-Muslims to pubicly eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset.

Although, the UAE is committed to upholding traditional Islamic values, the country’s Muslims are also very environmental. Environmental teachings in the Qur’an emphasize respect for all living things. And Muhammad lived a frugal life, conserved water, and expressed his delight in creation. There is no apparent conflict for Muslims in the UAE between the tradition associated with their faith and the progress of the green economy.

With more than 5,000 mosques in the UAE, developing technology to conserve energy and protect the environment, while maintaining the comfort of worshippers is growing quickly. Dubai premiered a new eco-mosque last year and mosques and prayer sites are set to receive energy retrofits as part of a “green mosque” project underway in the UAE.

Honeywell Is Helping Mosques Become Sustainable

The company, Honeywell, only serves as the most recent example of how pivate technology companies are capitalizing on the connection between faith and sustainability in the UAE. Noticing that mosques often have large, open interior spaces and are difficult to cool, especially in the summer, Honeywell wanted to design a thermostat that would ensure a comfortable and energy-efficient environment five times a day during prayer time.

To address the challenge, Honeywell customized the VisionPRO 8000 Mosque Thermostat to keep temperatures in mosques at optimal levels. The thermostats automatically lower the temperature of the mosque during prayer times using a feature called “auto-azan,” which detects what time it is according to the mosque’s location. The mosque is cool when its crowded, and saves energy when the building is less occupied.

“Having an automated thermostat [that] maintains different temperatures during different times of the day, or [that] turns on or off at prescribed times, is not new,” said Dilip Sinha, regional manager of Environmental & Combustion Controls for Honeywell Middle East. “Having that technology programmed to automatically calculate prayer time year-round is new and very different — especially when it can raise and lower temperatures to mirror the footfall of worshippers coming in to pray.”

Earlier this year, the government of Dubai officially accredited Honeywell as a key energy service company with the necessary expertise and technology required to support the UAE’s ambitions of becoming a green economy world leader through advanced energy efficiency solutions.

The UAE Doesn’t Fear the Future

If one thing is clear from the UAE’s rapid success, it’s that its government does not fear the future. Yes, oil and gas production is a big part of its economy. Yes, religious tradition is important to its people. But, yes, the new, green economy makes money and promotes religious stewardship.

As an American, its hard not to compare the UAE’s forward-thinking economic agenda with our desperate clinging to an old, fossil fuel-based economy. As conservative politicians in the United States continue to make the argument that things that are good for the environment are bad for people and profits, you have to wonder what evidence they have. Do they see what’s happening in the UAE? What does the UAE have that the United States doesn’t?

Perhaps an illogical fear of the future.

Image: Asim Bharwani on Flickr.

Reprinted with permission. 
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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, field work, and most recently writing. Check out my weekly columns in the San Francisco Examiner. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

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