Islamic Declaration points to moral obligation to fight climate change

25th Sep 2015

Last month, at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul, Turkey, Islamic leaders from around the world issued a call to Muslims to address climate change. They framed the plea as a moral obligation, for in Islam humans are seen as stewards of the Earth that the Almighty Allah bestowed upon them.

The very straightforward, and sometimes bleak declaration, discusses the responsibility of Muslims to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (p) who, “established protected areas (himas) for the conservation and sustainable use of rangelands, plant cover and wildlife; lived a frugal life, free of excess, waste, and ostentation; and renewed and recycled his meagre possessions by repairing or giving them away.”

It also asks Muslims to humbly recognise their role as a part of nature, “as we humans are woven into the fabric of the natural world,” as well as to leave a healthy planet for future generations, “What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?”
The declaration recognises the cultural problems that have led to climate change, and how such problems disproportionately affect the poor, stating, “We recognize the corruption (fasād) that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption.”

The drafters specifically call on well-off nations and oil-producing states to lead the way in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and no later than the middle of the century, provide financial and technical support to less well-off nations in order that they may also phase out greenhouse gas emissions, and “Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.”

The very powerful document uses the tool of conscience to get the point across that if Muslims want to follow their faith properly, they must address their role in the climate crisis and do what they can do avert catastrophe. “Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans. But our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them.”

As climate change is a time sensitive issue, the religious leaders were wise to issue the statement ahead of the Conference of Parties in Paris this December, where leaders from all participating nations are to come up with a legally binding plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speakers at the symposium in Istanbul included Islamic scholars and high-ranking officials, including Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Ibrahim Thiaw; the CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohamed Ashmawey; and the Director for Strategy at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Halldor Thorgeirsson.

There have been many religious calls to action on climate change this year, including a Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change, a Rabbanic Letter on the Climate Crisis, and of course Pope Francis’ Encyclical. According to New Republic, the Islamic Declaration may be further reaching than the Pope’s Encyclical, as many of the major oil producing nations are Muslim, there are already more Muslims than Catholics globally (1.6 billion vs. 1.2 billion), and many Muslim nations are already seeing the adverse effects of climate change.

Turkey and Iraq have seen extreme heat waves this year and, “predominantly Muslim countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries with the worst air pollution in the world, according to a 2014 World Health Organization report.”

The powerful, all-encompassing document calls specifically for a complete transition to renewable energy, the formation of a sustainable economy, and a recognition of the dire consequences of inaction. Basically, if humans do nothing about climate change, they are not following their faith properly, for if Allah created this magnificent Earth for all living creatures, who are humans to ravage it for their own greed, when they were simply appointed caretakers?

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy

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