Muslims Concerns for the World Environment

• In today’s Western-dominated global order, conspicuous consumption has become of the highest order. Money, or as the modern world has contrived it, has assumed the characteristics of a virus that eats into the fabric of the planet. The consequence of this has become the global environmental degradation that we have become sadly witness to. From the pollutants that choke the air we breathe and seas we travel to the dark threat that global warming presents, the situation of the environment and its rectification has become a priority for many. From the embattled cries of environmentalists to the staged drama productions of politicians, many have presented solutions and amongst the plethora of ideas and case scenarios, initiatives have been undertake to reverse the damage caused to the environment. Though some have a cause for optimism, there are many who share disquiet that not enough is being done. With this is mind, concerned Muslims should now be presenting the solution that was bequeathed to them 14 centuries ago, a radical, world-changing force that can restore the balance between man and nature – Islam.

An Emerging Response
In our current situation a practical expression of Islam has now become severely attenuated, having been swept aside into a domain that treats the natural world exclusively as an exploitable resource. As what we understand by modernity advanced, as the secular ethic progressively seeped into the Muslim psyche and as industrial developments, economic indicators and consumerism became the governing parameters of society there has been a corresponding erosion of the Muslim perception of the holistic way Islam solves problems and a withering understanding of the sacred nexus between the human community and the rest of the natural order.
So what is the Islamic understanding? The planetary system, the earth and its ecosystems, all work within their own limits and tolerances. Islamic teaching likewise set limits to human behaviour as a control against excess. In essence, Islam describes an integrated code of behaviour which deals with personal hygiene, at one end of the spectrum, to our relationship with the natural order at the other. This is including inter alia family law, civil law, commercial law and environmental law. Regarding environmental law, Islamic jurisprudence contains regulations concerning the conservation and allocation of scarce water resources; it has rules for the conservation of land with special zones of graded use; it has special rules for the establishment of rangelands, wetlands, green belts and also wildlife protection and conservation.
The concern for the environment is instilled in every level of society, when the Qur’an uses an environmental theme in exhorting mankind to be moderate –
“it is He who produces gardens, both cultivated and wild, and palm trees and crops of diverse kinds and olives and pomegranates both similar and dissimilar. Eat of their fruits when they bear fruits and pay their dues on the days of their harvest, and do not be profligate. He does not love the profligate” (Holy Qur’an 6:142)
– This applies to Muslims in their personal and societal sphere. So they would be careful not to litter unduly nor would they ignore requests to effectively utilise recycling units in their community. From its earliest years the Islamic Caliphate (state) had an established agency known as the hisba whose specific task was to protect the people through promoting the establishment of good and forbidding the wrong-doing. This agency is headed by a Qadi Hisba who functions like a chief inspector of weights and measures, as well as a chief public health officer rolled into one. In a modern sense this could also be described as an environmental inspectorate, checking that local businesses are complying with stringent pollution control methods.
There is a restricted right to public property.
• Abuse of rights is prohibited and penalized.
• There are rights to the benefits derived from natural resources held in common.
• Scarce resource utilization is controlled.
• People who reclaim or revive land have a right to ownership.
• Land grants may be made by the state for reclamation and development.
• Land may be leased for its usufruct by the state for its reclamation and development.
• Special reserves (hima) may be established by the state for use as conservation zones.
• The state may establish inviolable zones (al-hareem) where use is prohibited or restricted.
These are only a few examples of the legislative principles that would be institutionalised in an Islamic model. But what of environmental changes that transcend the boundaries of nation states? This can be no better exemplified than with global warming, an issue that highlights the true inability if western models to propound any meaningful solution, but given a chance to the Islamic model, could well be our last hope.

Global Warming
Withholding from citing extreme examples, the discussion on global warming and its effects, has taken a front seat in the prologue of human endeavours that alter the face of our planet. A catalogue of possible catastrophes has been presented repeatedly by workshops, conferences, summits and even big-budget Hollywood films. Even though there are some circles that dismiss global warming as a scientific fallacy or a product of estranged environmentalists hell-bent on having their way, there is a growing body of evidence pointing to actual anthropogenic changes that are altering the chemistry of the atmosphere. [Interesting to note is that the skeptics of global warming are largely from institutes that originate in the US, who are also funded by Exxon Mobil].
In response to this growing concern, many of the world’s nations have tried for the past two decades to find a resolution to this problem. Through many stalled conferences, finally a framework was devised that would be the starting point for world healing to begin – the much vaunted Kyoto Treaty.
Optimists praise the treaty for being a beginning, a beginning that could save our grandchildren. Sadly it’s a beginning that’s been crippled from the start, as it is, the future of the treaty shows little chance of it walking, let alone racing for the future. Behind the glaze of statistics, the desired result of the Kyoto protocol is to only reduce greenhouse gas emissions for ratified countries to 1% percent below 1990 levels (and this would only be an attempt to ‘stabilize’ the atmosphere). This ignores the fact that two of the fastest developing countries – India and China – are not included in the framework. While the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, the US, has decided to not even ratify the treaty. Not surprising, as US policy is no stranger to being a danger to humanity, in fact any act of altruism by the US would come as a shock to many. Still the question remains as to how the problem of global warming can be resolved.
Fortunately, technical solutions exist that can drastically reduce our output of gases that have a high global warming potential. Advanced gas scrubbers and carbon capture units can be retro-fitted to thermal (fossil-fuel) plants. While matured renewable energy power plants in the form of wind and solar can sufficiently help reduce the base-load demand of even the most industrialised of nations. With further research and investment, upcoming renewable energy technologies in the form of marine current turbines, wave power and the sustained use of bio-energy could solve world energy woes and provide an effective strategy to the near elimination of greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, much of this is still not being realised. Even with heightened interest in renewable technologies, progress is still seen as achingly slow, especially in relation to those who even have a passing interest in saving the world. Primarily the problem lies with how nations view how great a necessity it is solve the crisis of global warming. As it stands, even with the enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol and the introduction of Carbon taxes and Green levies, the overriding factor has been economic concerns. Since profits form the motive in investment, many have relegated renewable energy technologies to the sidelines, as the technologies are new, seen as capital intensive and viewed as not having the security of supply that fossil fuels have.
But even in Capitalist states, (perceived) vital issues often take precedence even if economic sanctity is at stake. Two simple examples can illustrate this. The defence budget of many Western nations and the nuclear industry. Despite demonstrating that it has “No Capability”, the US’s ‘Star Wars’ program has an annual budget of nearly $10 billion, a tenth of this amount would be required to power the city of London through wind turbines alone. While the UK in the middle of the last century faced with a growing energy shortage due to the expanse of its industries, resorted to the costly building of nuclear power plants. Even during the 80’s the British government provided subsidies to the tune of £6 billion (through the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation) to the ailing nuclear industry. Profit was not a concern since energy production was viewed as a state enterprise, providing a pressing need demanded and required by the people.
If we take global warming to be the result of rapid industrialization with the sole concern of profit making. If we say that there exist technologies and techniques that allow the development of clean low-emission industrial development, but they just cost more. Then we say that the Islamic approach is to adopt the more costly but cleaner technologies as capitalism is not the basis of Islamic thinking.

There may be some of you who are reading this article, wondering why some of the contentious issues raised have been given such a brief treatment. This article was not meant to be an elaborate articulation, indeed we will hopefully have occasion for that later. Rather, its scope was meant to widen the debate on how mankind is to approach the pressing problems the world faces, more so it is meant for us to take a fresh evaluation in this approach. Arguably, global warming is not the only threat we face from our own actions and inactions; AIDS, Malaria and dire poverty are just a few of the global tragedies that nations have failed to resolve despite the resources, expertise and wealth which exist in abundance.
There used to be a schizoid tendency in Muslim societies whereby it strove to maintain its deep attachment to Islam, but it persisted in tasting the fruits of the current order. With praise to the All-Mighty this is now changing, with a growing consensus amongst Muslim masses that the ruling by Islamic governance is a command they have ignored for far too long.

Saad Mannan, Reading University

This piece is taken from the website of Imam Reza Network. 

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