- Muslims account for nearly a quarter of the world’s total population, much of which is impacted by climate change.
- At the same time, Islamic worldviews can bring solution-based perspectives to events like the upcoming COP28 climate conference later this month.
- “It should be recognized that Islamic frameworks of climate solution thinking are important, and the climate issues facing Muslims need to be at the forefront of climate discourse as well,” a new op-ed argues.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
Earlier this year, the IPCC report released its catastrophic global warming report. As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres succinctly put it after the release, “our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.” This begins by having bold, honest, critical conversations and results in unique, creative, and hopeful solutions that are deeply connected to the histories and worldviews of communities, towards meaningful climate action.
As we approach COP28, there are some key issues and perspectives that need to be brought to the forefront of the climate change discourse. Two of these areas of focus need to be how Islamic world views can bring solution-based perspectives, and how Muslims globally are being impacted by climate change.
Islam, as an intellectual framework, is deep and offers solutions to the complex intersectional nature of climate justice issues both at the systemic and individual level. The Islamic legal framework inherently protects the environment through concepts of protection of the common good; an economic system that requires every stakeholder to partake in the financial risk; and agricultural and water distribution laws that require the protection and well-being of all of creation.
Looking at gross overconsumption habits, historical data clearly depicts the world’s richest countries being the greatest carbon contributors since 1750, and 10% of the world’s wealthiest population currently produces greenhouse gases equivalent to the combined emissions of 90% of the rest of the world. Such consumptive habits have far-reaching destructive impacts on the global south.
The Islamic system of lawmaking, the Maqāṣid al-sharīʿah, are the objectives, purposes, intents, and principles that drive the essence of Islamic rulings. Islamic scholars agree that the five essential matters of the Maqāṣid al-sharīʿah are protection of faith; protection of life; protection of reason/intellect, protection of dignity, honor, and lineage; and protection of property. This framework of law-making drives an interconnected relationship between God, humanity, and creation such that planetary stewardship becomes an inherently lived experience in Islam. The relationship between the human and the Earth is a unity and Islamic laws relevant to buying and selling; water ownership and use; land use, and animal rights are all derived through a system of objectives that return back to a framework that protects the balanced well-being of all living things on Earth.
The current economic system of consumption based on loans, debt, and usury, lends itself to a ruthless pursuit of growth and consumption that not only impacts the well-being of those living on the Earth today, but is also crippling future generations, thus “fueling the climate change crisis.” Following the Maqāṣid al-sharīʿah, the Islamic finance system is an interest-free, risk-sharing system. This system innately has a close correlation with the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whereby social and planetary well-being are upheld. Significant amounts of research by various bodies, including the UNDP has found that the Islamic finance system adheres to standards that consider the well-being of all stakeholders, broader society, and environmental well-being through the minimization of harm and offers significant solution pathways towards achieving SDGs.
A historic example of the Islamic framework in agricultural practices can be found in the works of historical Muslim figures including Ibn al-Awwam, a Muslim agriculturalist from 12th century Spain who published one of the most comprehensive and respectable works on agriculture. These practices became the foundation on which Andalusian Spain thrived through the medieval period and produced a center of intellectual and societal growth. Such farming practises from over a 1,000 year old tradition, which produced water channels within the Spanish mountain systems, are now being rediscovered as Spain tackles drought and climate change issues today.
While the Islamic framework can provide solutions-based perspectives, the way climate change is impacting Muslim communities and nations must also be part of the climate justice dialogue. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable nations sustain disproportionate impacts of climate change, and climate impacts can further “exacerbate inequitable social conditions.” A quick scan of a recent list of the 10 countries that are most at risk of climate disaster clearly shows that at least 60% of those nations are Muslim-majority countries.
See related: A Ramadan reflection on Islam and climate action
Vulnerability to climate change results in forcible displacement due to weather-related impacts such as storms, wildfires, extreme temperatures, floods, and therefore drastic impacts on crops and access to basic needs for livelihood. Studies forecast that the world could see nearly 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050, and this doesn’t include the estimated 216 million in-country climate disaster related displacements. In 2020, 95% of all conflict-related displacements occurred in countries that are already vulnerable to climate change, such as Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan and Bangladesh. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 7/231, which explicitly recognizes that climate change “poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.”
The intersection of illegal occupation, conflict, and blockade of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip for the last 16 years is a clear depiction of climate apartheid in Palestine. Climate change deters the human rights of Palestinian people who are living under colonial rule, military occupation, and apartheid oppression, as they are confronted with unsustainable appropriation and exploitation of their lands, thus exacerbating their climate change vulnerabilities, in contravention of the views of international human rights bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN who are calling for an end to the occupation and immediate compliance with international law.
A 25-mile long strip with 2.3 million civilians living in an “open air prison,” the settler-colonial impacts on the occupation of Gaza has major impacts on land, water, air, forests, and wildlife. Israel’s ecological footprint exceeds the land’s bio-capacity, ranking Israel 3rd in the world for its bio-capacity deficit. Human Rights Watch published “A threshold crossed: Israeli Authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” a 213-report which concludes that Israel must dismantle all forms of systemic oppression, including discriminatory policies and practices in such realms as citizenship and nationality processes, protection of civil rights, freedom of movement, allocation of land and resources, access to water, electricity and other services, and in granting of building permits.
For close to one month now, in contravention of international law, Israel has been engaging in war crimes as they continue a genocidal assault on Gaza. As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres indicates, the situation is “growing more desperate by the hour.” International bodies including Amnesty International, the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières, Red Cross, Oxfam, and Save the Children have clearly called for an immediate ceasefire.
As of November 2nd, the 27-day death toll stood at 9,376 Gazans, including 6,125 women, with 24,920 people being injured. The climate justice discourse amongst the international community needs to take a clear stance and focus on interventions and call for an immediate end to end the illegal occupation of Palestine.
But prior to this, in September 2023, a unique climate justice conference in New York City called Muslims for Climate Justice: The Earth as our Amaanah, was organized by Faithfully Sustainable. Through lectures, workshops and storytelling, the conference provided a space for conversations on the impact of climate crisis along with how the Islamic framework can uniquely contribute to the wider climate justice narrative on vulnerable communities globally. Conversations explored how Islam asks Muslims to look at these issues, with both contemporary as well as traditional ways of deconstructing these issues.
While platforms like the conference are crucial for Muslim communities, it is equally important for such perspectives and solution frameworks to be incorporated within the mainstream climate change discourse. At present, the global Muslim population exceeds two billion, thus accounting for a quarter of the world’s total population, so it should be recognized that Islamic frameworks of climate solution thinking are important, and the climate issues facing Muslims need to be at the forefront of climate discourse, as well.
Memona Hossain is a mother, community-based collaborator, and a PhD candidate in applied ecopsychology. She serves on the boards of the Muslim Association of Canada, Faith & the Common Good and the Willow Park Ecology Centre.
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