DR NAJMA MOHAMED writes that Muslims must draw on the teachings of Islam to call to climate action and the pursuit of new economic pathways premised on wellbeing, sufficiency and fairness.
FOR decades, the message about the climate crisis has grown more urgent. The most recent was, ‘Act now or face an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events as a result of climate change.’
The full extent of climate breakdown hit home in 2022, serving as a wake-up call for everyone, including the world’s two billion Muslims.
Facing the reality of the climate crisis
Climate change will have a wide range of consequences, including rising sea levels, rising temperatures, and an increase in extreme weather events. This will result in the loss of lives, the destruction of livelihoods, and the destruction of infrastructure. We estimate that the top ten climate disasters will cost the world more than $3 billion in damage by 2022. Floods in Pakistan and South Africa were devastating, as were heatwaves in China and Europe, droughts in East Africa and Central America, and hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean.
We only have a small window of opportunity to avert climate change. Country commitments and actions are currently insufficient to avert a global climate catastrophe. However, not all countries and people have equally contributed to climate change.
The richest countries have historically emitted the most global greenhouse gas emissions. They are still responsible for up to 45% of emissions today. However, climate change will affect more than just the countries whose polluting economic policies have led to the planet’s current predicament. It will affect those who have contributed the least to global warming, as well as those who have limited resources to adapt to and cope with climate impacts.
How should Muslims genuinely respond to this crisis? How do we respond to one of the most significant challenges of our time, which has already resulted in massive losses? How do we strive to implement just climate action?
Reviving the green teachings of Islam
Many of the countries that will bear the brunt of climate change are dominated by Muslims. They must be involved in the dialogue and solutions surrounding climate action. Muslims all over the world are increasingly turning to Islam’s ecological teachings to inspire climate action.
According to leading contemporary Islamic scholars and researchers, concern for the climate and environment is deeply rooted in all fields of Islamic teaching and culture. Muslims believe that the earth was created in balance and that men and women must act as Allah’s representatives on the planet, enjoying the earth’s bounty within limits.
However, this balance has been upset. Humanity has violated the natural limits that ensure a safe and healthy planet for all life to flourish. According to scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Institute, five of the nine planetary boundaries required to sustain life on Earth have already been breached. Rather than pursuing planetary and societal well-being within environmental constraints, our economies have been designed to maximize profit and wealth for a few. As a result, widespread “destruction on land and sea” has occurred. Climate change is part of this environmental destruction.
Living in justice with people and the environment is a requirement for every Muslim who accepts the mandate to live as Allah’s representative on this planet. Islam’s ecological ethics seeks to improve people’s relationships with the environment, instil just and moral behaviour, and mitigate harm. Muslims must now demonstrate the transformative power of Islam, which requires us to act for the environment.
The ecological ethic of Islam presents a vision of the sovereignty of the Creator and the just, responsible, and accountable trusteeship of humankind that respects the sanctity of creation. This ethic is shaping Muslims’ lived religion, including the climate actions of Muslims globally.
Growing a movement for climate action
From the minbars of Cape Town to the coral reefs of Zanzibar, from the pesantren in Indonesia to the green masjid in Canada, Muslims are drawing on the teaching of Islam to call to climate action and the pursuit of new economic pathways premised on wellbeing, sufficiency and fairness.
This green banner of Islam is being held aloft by a growing global movement that is demonstrating, through words and actions, that every Muslim is required to exercise responsible stewardship on planet Earth in order to be true to the teachings of Islam.
Activists are bringing this message into Muslims’ daily lives, demonstrating what it means to live a sustainable and ethical life. Climate education for imams and religious leaders, incorporating ecological teachings into the madrasah curriculum, and emphasizing the importance of reducing waste and extravagance during religious festivals are just a few examples. However, solutions that are proportionate to the magnitude of the climate challenge are required. And so, the movement must start thinking and acting at scale
We must consider finance, including how we earn, spend, and invest money. How can we promote a green economy as opposed to a greed economy? How can we help those who are most vulnerable to climate change? We must shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean, healthy, and renewable energy systems. How can we persuade governments and leaders in Muslim-majority countries to take courageous, bold, and principled steps to phase out fossil fuels? We must reconsider how we grow, produce, and consume food. How can the halal food industry be transformed to embody the principles of just and ethical food production and consumption that nourishes soils and souls?
The teachings of Islam must pervade every aspect and choice in a Muslim’s life, from the drops of water we use for ablution to the litres of fuel we use to power our cars. In the life of a Muslim, no good deed, no matter how small, is deemed insignificant. And, in the fight against the climate emergency, every action counts.
Dr Najma Mohamed works in international development, climate and nature and economic policy. She is based in London and completed her PhD in Islam, ecology and education at Stellenbosch University.