Climate change is a Muslim concern

The Oct. 18 declaration in Istanbul formulated by the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium is a significant development and a right step to build Muslim consensus on the environmental crisis. The declaration came at a time when the earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, witnessed the hottest month of July on record. NASA’s record heat calculations were likewise affirmed by the Japanese weather agency that found July 2015 to be the hottest on record.

The Islamic Climate Change Declaration emerged from a deep concern and awareness of the destruction that has been visited upon the earth and the need to alter the dependence on fossil fuel. Participants in the symposium commented in the preamble: “The pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude,” and the fact that “it is human-induced, we have now become a force dominating nature.” The Islamic moral and ethical responsibility, according to the declaration, emerges from the Islamic understanding that humans were “selected to be caretakers or stewards, “khalifah,” on the earth.” However, the participants said the supposed caretaker has become “the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet.”

The concept of “earth’s fine equilibrium,” a central Quranic concept informing Islamic epistemology and contextualizing God’s purposeful balance in creation, must shape the relationship of human beings to the earth. According to the participants’ declaration, the “current rate of climate change cannot be sustained and the earth’s” perfect balance “may soon be lost.” Presently, the “earth’s fine equilibrium” is at stake and human misguided and shortsighted devouring of world resources is threatening life itself and the sustainability of the world.

More critically, the discussion and Islamic declaration brings into focus and challenges prevailing religious attitudes toward the environment and how best to manifest the human vicegerent status (khalifah) in the world. A certain religious perspective that translated the Biblical notion of reigning over the earth and the Quranic idea of vicegerent to an open ended license to exploit, slash, burn and consume our way through the earth. This domination over the earth is built on decades and centuries of a misguided worldviews that shaped the economic, political, social, gender and religious structures around the world.

Within the Christian tradition Genesis 1:28 which says: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry around the ground,” had shaped and influenced the exploitative approach to the environment. This narrow and destructive attitude is best reflected in conservative American commentator Ann Coulter’s crude statement: “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’ ” Massive economic and political interests that have been able to mobilize evangelicals and the Christian right to maintain a status quo relationship to the earth influence the tension around the environment and climate change.

Supported by mountains of studies and data, scientist have reached consensus on the dangers and consequences of climate change. Consequently, researchers have concluded that an explicit link is evident between global climate change and rising earth temperatures, droughts, melting of the ice cap, rising sea levels, destruction of natural habitats, mega-storms and other phenomena, which increases the urgency to change the current and surely destructive approach to the environment and the world.

It is important to situate the Islamic declaration in the broader global debate and conversations underway that witnessed the active entry of religious figures and institutions into this critical discourse. Indeed, the Islamic declaration illustrates and is part of a growing number of religious institutions and leaders that shifted focus and began to take a proactive approach to the global environmental crisis and climate change. The Islamic declaration comes on the heels of Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical: “Be praised: on the care of our common home,” which strongly called for “a new and universal solidarity” to address climate change and that the world faces a dire future of “debris, desolation, and filth.” Pope Francis called the climate “a common good” and “a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” In addition, he highlighted the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet.”

The major challenge for the Muslim world is to find a way to end dependence on fossil fuel considering that two-thirds of world oil reserves are located in Muslim majority countries and their economies are heavily dependent on it. Certainly, Islamic teachings provide sufficient guidance to face the challenge and overcome it, but the key obstacle will be the existing political leadership that has been wedded to the easy fossil fuel economy and massive revenues. The Islamic text provides clear guidance for alternative action, but the political and economic context, I am afraid, will continue to dominate and frustrate the birth of a fossil fuel-free world.