By Dr. Husna Ahmad [*]
[This Keynote speech was delivered at CILE 7th Annual International Conference - Doha, Qatar - March 23, 2019]
BISMILLAHIR RAHMANIR RAHEEM
Dear Dr Fethi, Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters,
As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
In my ethical review of the global environment status, I will be discussing the theological Islamic perspective on climate change and environment, and then touching upon what has been done recently in terms of tackling environmental degradation and climate change from the Muslim and faith communities. Also the linkages to ethics and environment in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. These were introduced in 2015 and are 17 goals focused on ending global poverty and on economics, environment and sustainability.
I will give some examples from my own organization’s work – Global One. Then I will conclude with some recommendations moving forward for the Muslim communities worldwide.
Why are we here speaking about ethics and environment? In the recent past environment was simply in the domain of the scientists. Greta Thunberg has said to the UN “Change is coming whether you [world leaders] like it or not”. Green economic renewal is popular today according to David Powell of the New Economics Foundation. I agree with him that there is also a profound intergenerational injustice.
I have just come from Buenos Aires where there was a high-level meeting on South-South Cooperation. It was the BAPA+40 – 40 years since the last Action plan on South-South, cooperation was put forward. What have we seen in this time? It is looking at constructs, which move away from the industrialized North giving donations to the poor South. We have moved a long way from this model but still not enough to bring dignity and mutual respect to the South countries. The main story in BAPA+40 for me is about solidarity and mutual respect. It is about justice and tackling inequality by supporting the countries of the South to build their own destinies whilst avoiding the repetition of the mistakes of the North.
For me ethics is about moving away from greed and self-interest but the irony of it is that we are facing the greatest catastrophe today – climate change because of a lack of ethical behavior. As a Muslim I am taught that humans are stewards of this planet – it is a trust given to us by Allah and we have the responsibility of preserving the natural order on earth and maintaining its balance and must strive to ensure the fair allocation of resources.
I believe the Muslim communities all over the world can approach the mission of the SDGs. We must be, at the individual as well as the collective level, aware and conscious of our limited resources, which we share with not only billions of other people on this planet but all of creation, and driven to preserve and utilise them sustainably.
My organisation Global One is tackling many of the SDGs, and it was founded on the basis and belief that there is a need for more Muslim women to emerge as leaders and change-makers, inspired by their faith teachings, and not blocked but encouraged and supported by their faith communities. It holds this ambition equally for women everywhere and thus integrates the participation, equal opportunities and leadership of women in all of its projects.
Islam and environment
Environmental degradation and climate change have been identified as the greatest challenges of all time as well as increasingly becoming one of the ‘world’s greatest injustices’. According to Islamic belief, humans are the caretakers and stewards of God’s earth and creation, in the Qur’an He tells us: “I am going to place in the earth a khalifa (steward)” [Quran 2:30].
The Holy Quran reminds us of the beauty of our precious planet “Who has created the seven heavens one above another; you can see no fault in the creations of the Most Beneficent. Then look again: Can you see any rifts? Then look again and yet again, your sight will return to you in a state of humiliation and worn out.” (67:3-4)
Surah Al-Ahzab states “We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth, and the Mountains but they refused to undertake it Being afraid thereof But man undertook it: He was indeed unjust and foolish” [Quran 33:72] This Trust includes the responsibility for and custody of the environment.
In Islam, Muslims believe that man has been given a responsibility by Allah on this earth and that man will be accountable to Allah for his actions and the trust placed in him. The Quran itself mentions the environment over 700 times.
The blessed Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] did not like excess in anything, he liked balance – mizan. He would want us:
- to plant trees: Anas bin Malik narrated: Allah's Apostle [PBUH] said, "There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift (Sahih Bukhari). By planting trees, we can tackle climate change.
- grow tayyib food which was free from pesticides and chemicals. By engaging in Islamic farming, we can ensure that there is an alignment between this world and the Hereafter. Even the west is now recognising the value of conservation agriculture, which is at the heart of Islamic agriculture.
- feed ourselves with only what our bodies needed: Our beloved Prophet Muhammad [SAW] said: “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (1381), Ibn Majah (3349);
- look out for our neighbours’ needs: With the danger of food and water insecurity looming over us we need to give a thought to our neighbours who may be struggling to feed their families. According to a report given by Muslim from Anas, the Prophet (PBUH) said: "By the One in Whose hand is my soul, no servant truly believes until he likes for his neighbor (or he said: his brother) what he likes for himself.”
The solution to global food insecurity and tackling climate change lies in following the Sunnah of the Prophet and heeding Allah’s command. Let me remind you that every person is sent to this Earth with their rizq assigned at their birth.
Muslim and faith initiatives to tackle climate change
I would like to give a brief outline of some of the initiatives that have been undertaken towards tackling climate change from the Muslim and faith perspective.
In 2009, there was the Muslim 7 year plan, which was part of the 7 Year plans of the different religions for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.
In Istanbul in July 2009, more than 50 religious scholars from across the Muslim world endorsed this long-term plan for action on climate change. Dr Youssef Al Qaradawi, the President of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, led this support.
It was also supported, among others, by the Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Jumma, the Mufti of Palestine, Dr Ekrama Sabri, Dr Salman Alouda, a prominent Saudi Arabian scholar and Said Ali Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah, the Lebanese Shiah scholar as well as by ISESCO, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Al Fatih University in Turkey and representatives of Ministries of Environment and Awqaf of Islamic countries from Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Indonesia, Senegal and Turkey.
The plan has been drawn up by Earth Mates Dialogue Centre, EMDC, a non-profit NGO based in the UK, in co-operation with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.
An initial workshop to draw up the plan was held in Kuwait city in October 2008. 22 participants from Islamic NGO’s, academics, government figures and Muslim environmental activists and environmental specialists from 14 Muslim countries and Muslim communities met to share their experiences and contribute to the plan for Islamic action on the environment. They agreed on the vision and mission of the Muslim 7 year Action Plan and on practical recommendations.
- Create a Wakf in 1 year in order to implement the Climate Change plan
- Establish Islamic labels for different products. This would be an Islamic environmental labelling system with strict authenticity standards
- Work towards a ‘Green Hajj’ with the Saudi Minister of the Hajj. Aim to have the Hajj free of plastic bottles after 2 years and introduce environmentally friendly initiatives over the next 5-10 years to transform the Hajj into a recognised environmentally friendly pilgrimage. Vision is that pilgrims on the Hajj will take back an understanding of care of creation as an act of faithfulness
- Pilot the construction of a ‘green mosque’ to showcase best practice in heating, light, design etc. Plan to use this as a model for building other mosques worldwide.
- Develop 2-3 Muslim cities as a green- city, which can act as a role model for greening other Islamic cities. Select 10 cities in the Muslim world to be greened post the success of first phase.
- Focus on education on the environment.
- Make more material on the conservation of the environment available to places of Islamic learning focusing on the training of imams and in schools.
- Develop guidebooks for teachers in primary, middle and secondary schools over the next three years. Develop educational materials for non-formal education in the next three years
- Prepare guidelines and train imams on environmental conservation and climate change issues
- Sponsor 10 postgraduate students to work on Islam and climate change over the next 5 years. Establish a chair for professorship in dealing with climate change
- Develop a best practice environment guide for businesses
- Apply environmental principles in the publication of the Quran. Work towards printing a Green Quran on paper that comes from sustainable wood supplies.
- Re-introduce Islamic rituals from an environmental perspective. Use the Hajj season to distribute these Ideas and the Friday Khotbas
- Establish a special TV channel for Islam and the Environment to be broadcast in different languages
- Develop an international Prize for research related to Environmental Conservation
Unfortunately, due to a lack of commitment from many of those who initiated this Plan we have not seen MACCA take any shape and it just disappeared. However, a number of the ideas that came out of this Plan have in fact come into fruition and we see our first European Sustainable Environmental Mosque in Cambridge, UK under the leadership of our dear Br Abdul Hakeem Murad, opening recently.
We cannot ignore the fact that the major faith traditions share our concern for our precious earth. The faith traditions rich in their diversity and wisdom have the goals of the UN SDGs and tackling climate change as part of their DNA already – in fact even before the UN was created the faith communities had been endeavouring to alleviate poverty and distress from the world’s population quietly and consistently over centuries as it is an integral part of our religious responsibility.
All faith traditions agree that:
- We are profoundly interconnected with Nature, on which we depend for our existence.
- We must respect and care for Nature and all life.
- We uphold the dignity and rights of every human being.
- We must provide for the needs and well-being of all people.
- We must act with love and compassion, and for justice and fairness.
- We are morally responsible for our chosen actions.
- We have duties to future generations, who will bear the consequences of our action or inaction.
In 2015, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium. Islamic leaders called on the world's Muslims to play an active role in combatting climate change. The next major commitment by the faith communities to tackling climate change came just prior to the launch of the UN SDGs in 2015.
The Bristol Commitments were offers presented to the UN Conference on Faith in the Future, which took place a couple of months before the SDGs launch in the UK under the auspices of the UNDP and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.
The ten-year plans within the Bristol commitments from the major faith traditions also touch upon health, WASH, education, gender equality, eradication of poverty and conservation.
All of the major faiths emphasize the importance of charity and working collectively for the common good. They teach us our humanity – they teach us to care for each other, nurture our young, and protect our vulnerable.
With so much hatred and strife in the world today it is more imperative than ever that we can showcase positive models of working where the faith communities are working to combat food and water insecurity and tackle climate change.
Faith is a powerful global tool that can be used to inspire, mobilise and gain commitment from communities to act together to alleviate extreme poverty and achieve the sustainable development goals.
However, in order to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and create an environment of cohesion, it is important that all faith communities and their contribution towards human civilization is recognized, appreciated and celebrated.
At the end of 2018 in the USA, Congresswoman Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez has presented a Green New Deal, which would implement sweeping reforms in the US including dramatically reducing US carbon emissions, and investing in the US infrastructure and creating millions of new jobs. This New Green Deal is to save the world from the threat of climate change. It is a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the US according to the congresswoman. The deal is a framework for action to dramatically restructure the economy of the US. There is of course a cost – over the next decade it will cost the taxpayer $93 trillion.
One of the appeals of the US GND is that it puts poverty reduction and decent work at the heart of the agenda. Research by the Equality Trust – The Spirit level 2009 shows that societies that are already more equal have higher levels of trust and civic mindedness and therefore we must redouble our efforts to make our societies more equal and demand that radical, redistributive policies are implemented to produce the most conducive social and political environment possible for the GND programme.
By 2100 according to some estimates, climate change could lead to a $500 billion in lost of output. In 2018, the UN warned of world only having 12 years to keep the global temperature at 1.5 degrees centigrade before climate catastrophe.
Vulnerable communities feel the impact of climate change first. The New Green Deal states that ‘climate change, pollution and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental and economic injustices.
The Paris Agreement was a defining moment for all of us when we all believed there was actually a chance we could stop climate change and save our planet. Unfortunately with COP 24 being the opportunity to prepare the rulebook following on from Paris we are seeing that things have slowed down. COP 24 in 2018 was held in Katowice Poland and one delegate described it as a four dimensional spaghetti of conflicting priorities. This says it all.
Just at the beginning of this month the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) took place from 11-15 March 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya, at the UN Offices at Nairobi (UNON), organized on the theme of “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production.”
SDGs and Islam
Whilst SDG 13 deals with climate action, we need to understand that climate change is at the core of the SDGs. If we take care of our oceans and land, be careful about food consumption, if we protect our biodiversity and promote clean energy – all of these are tackling climate change.
As the SDGs are a universal call to action, it is important that all faiths work together to address the pressing concern globally that impact on all human life. The necessity of protecting the planet is the theme behind the SDGs but also a common theme in all religions to preserve our world, therefore cooperating to sustain our planet should be in the common interest.
I believe that every single SDG is based on Islamic traditions and teachings.
SDG 17 demonstrates the importance of collaboration in the pursuit of sustainable development, recognising that a strong commitment to global partnership and cooperation is required to achieve the completion of the other SDGs. By embracing universal values and including them into national development strategies, our approaches can be more culturally and faith sensitive and therefore more successful.
Did you know that Muslim majority countries are disproportionately affected by climate change and yet have been among the lowest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions? With more than 50 independent Muslim countries and a worldwide population of nearly 2 billion Muslims, the effects of environmental degradation and climate change are already adversely affecting the Muslim communities. As I have discussed here - there is still however insufficient awareness and action in the Muslim communities on the environmental agenda despite Islam clearly promoting the duties of Muslims to protect and conserve the environment.
The key UN buzzwords for achieving the SDGs are scale up global support, community of common destiny and leave no one behind.
How can you scale up global support if you do not recognize the changing demographics taking place due to the impact of climate change, civil unrest and wars? The refugee crisis in Europe is just one example. How can you have a community of common destiny if there is violence, genocide and insecurity resulting in displaced people all over the world?
Leave no one behind – how can we ensure that this happens.
Funding is also a reason why there is a crisis of commitment to environmental sustainability in many parts of the world. The priority for many Muslim families is ensuring a roof over their heads and food on the table.
But we cannot give up,
I believe in the goodness of humanity I commend the UN for its visionary leadership in the fight against global poverty and pray that together we succeed to achieve the SDGs by 2030. What I want to see like many Muslims and other faith communities is to have a life of simplicity and dignity away from consumerism and greed; where we have food that is tayyib- pure and organic, air that is clean and a chance for our children to enjoy the natural pleasures of our planet without fear for our survival.
I have been asked to review the global ethics of environment and climate change – I think what is clear is that if we truly take up the baton and push to accomplish the SDGs by 2030 then we can align ethics and environment. What is important is that everyone gets involved in pushing for the achievement of the SDGs. You are all aware of the history of colonialism and the industrial revolution, the injustices of that period of history are still apparent today; we need to ensure that in the name of environmental mitigation the same powers do not try and take advantage of the southern nations again. We need to push for adaptation based on cooperation and local knowledge.
For example, my organisation Global One is a unique Muslim women led international NGO with a focus on WASH, Islamic Farming and global health. We believe very much in faith action to find sustainable local solutions. Our projects in Kenya, Nigeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Bangladesh are taking a holistic approach, which combines resources, training and infrastructure.
Now more than ever we need to create ethical models of sustained growth, which encompasses all the great faith traditions, and yet bring balance to the planet. As a women’s International NGO we are very conscious of the support our sisters, mothers and daughters need to survive each day – especially if they are refugees, widows or new mothers. We look at sustainable projects through a gender lens. We have developed manuals on Public Health and Islam and a Menstrual Hygiene management and Islam toolkit, and an Islamic Farming Toolkit in which we use teachings to encourage treatment of the land with due respect and preservation. Through Islamic farming practices on our farms mean that we make the land sustainable and it can produce tayyib food which can feed our populations. In a wholesome farming system, agricultural practices work in harmony with nature. We must look at it holistically and look at all the elements; these include soil, nutrition, food and water.
Clean energy, which is cheap and easy to access, is another way to help women who have to walk many miles just for clean water. Promoting solar energy in Africa has really helped our projects succeed including our Islamic farms in Nigeria and Kenya.
Finally, my recommendations to the Muslim communities are to return to the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah to find the way forward for an ethical world where there is social justice and balance.
I would like to conclude with a quote from Ibn Kathir who speaks about the ‘Mumin’ – which means the faithful believer.
Ibn Kathir stated:
The Mu'min is a person who hase been prevented through the Qur'an from indulging in the pleasures of this world; it comes between them and what might destroy them. The Mu'min is like a prisoner in this world, who tries to free himself from its shackles and chains, placing his trust in nothing in it, until the day he meets his Creator. He knows full well that he is accountable for everything that he hears, sees and says, and for everything that he does with his body
Video of the lecture
[*] Dr. Husna Ahmad OBE is the CEO of Global One 2015, which is a faith, based International NGO focussed on women. With a PhD in International Environmental Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, [SOAS] London University, Dr. Ahmad is the former Group CEO of Faith Regen Foundation, which is a multi-faith UK charity. She is currently a Board member of BOND, Faith in Water, and Palmers Green Mosque (the MCEC). She is a member of the UN Inter-agency Task Force on Religion and Development’s Faith based Advisory Council. Dr Ahmad sits on the Steering Committee of The World Bank’s Moral Imperative Initiative. She is an author and thought leader who has presented many papers internationally focusing particularly on faith and the environment. She is the Secretary General of the World Muslim Leadership Forum and the Coordinator for the Alliance of NGOs and CSOs for South-South Cooperation [ASSC]. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year’s Honours list in 2010 for her services to disadvantaged people for work promoting social justice with disadvantaged communities. She is an honorary fellow of the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public understanding of Religion, Birmingham University.