The Purpose of Religious Differences

Discussion on why and how religious debate should be conducted.

If all goes well, millions of people across the world will watch what is un-arguably the single largest gathering of world leaders during the third edition of the Wo r l d Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), otherwise referred to as the Earth Summit. They will meet to discuss the burning issues of the global environment and sustainable development. The very first edition of this conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 and the second one, which attracted greater world attention was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1991. The third summit which was scheduled for Johannesburg, South Africa, between 2–11 S e p t e m b e r, 2001, could not be held. A committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations has proposed a new date (26 August – 4 September 2002) for ratification by the General A s s e m b l y.This summit promises to be the biggest ever yet as most of the current world leaders, at least 135 Heads of State and Government of both small and big nations plus thousands of dele- gates from across the globe, are expected to attend the most crucial last 3 days of the summit. It is necessary at this point however, to ask first what are the issues that are considered so important and have similar conferences held in the past yielded much by way of solutions to the perceived problems? My personal lay-man’s view is that indeed, the issues at stake are weighty indeed.They are issues that affect all of God’s creatures and the environment in which they live.But as to whether similar meetings held in the past have achieved much, my answer is, no! The major decisions of the summit held in 1991 in Brazil, referred to as the ‘Rio Pr i n c i p l e s ’ – 6 Review of Religions – August 2002 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development By Dr. Abd Latif Busari – (Abuja, Nigeria) This article was written before the World Summit took place have gone largely un- implemented, ten years after the summit. The decisions include the Pollution-pays Principle, the Precautionary Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Re s p o n s i b i l i t i e s . Indeed, the status of implemen- tation of the Rio Principle is among the top priority items to be discussed at the opening m e e t i n g . S i m i l a r l y, the Montreal Protocol – an i n t e r n a t i o n a l agreement signed in 1998 in Montreal, Canada – with the major goal of reducing the rate of depletion of the Ozone Layer through a graded reduction in CO2 emissions mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture and use of compounds like CFC (Chloro fluoro-carbon) which have been implicated in causing Ozone depletion, has also not been implemented. The Montreal Protocol calculates that if all necessary actions are taken on the part of concerned countries the Ozone layer could be fully repaired by the middle of the 21st century. However, one cannot, on the basis of past failures, refuse further efforts at solvingsuch persistent problems. The scope of the issues to be discussed and for which solutions must be proffered at this meeting have been substantially enlarged to take care of virtually all conceivable issues of sustainable development and global harmony. Already meetings have been held by all regional blocks to synthesize and fine-tune the most pressing problems confronting their populations for inclusion in the global agenda. The Asia-Pacific meeting was held in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia on 26th November 2001, the Africa group met in Nairobi, Kenya on 18 October. The Arab block had their meeting in October in Cairo, Egypt, while Europe’s meeting was held in September and the Latin America group had also met in Rio, Brazil. From all these meetings 15 major areas including 5 consensual issues were arrived at. My main aim in this article is to highlight some of the more important areas that the summit hopes to address and show how Islam, through its teachings, has proffered solutions that will enable mankind to find his way out of the log-jam 7 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 The 15 major areas of delib- eration at the proposed summit include; 1. Agriculture and Food Security-how to double agricultural production especially in Africa in 5 years and ensure a sustainable agricultural and rural development (SARD); 2. Sustainable Consumption and Production – the need to decouple economic growth from pressures on the environment or natural resource base and increase global energy efficiency; 3. Management of Natural Resources-the need to develop specific initiatives and implement past international commitments on issues of fresh-water, sanitation, coastal zones, mountains, air quality, climate change, forest, b i o d i v e r s i t y, land use and desertification, minerals and metals etc. 4. Sustainable Human S e t t l e m e n t – the need for strategies on effective urban planning and management, issues of mega-cities and urban slums. 5. Fresh Water and Sanitation- how to achieve the Millennium Declaration target of global access to water and sanitation services and promotion of integrated water management. 6. Energy – need for promoting global access to energy and initiatives for promoting sharing of renewable and affordable energy. 7. Implementation of the Rio Principles- status report on the implementation of the Polluter-pays principle, Precautionary principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Re s p o n s i b i l i t i e s and to map out strategies that will remove all impediments to their effec- tive implementation; 8. Health – the need to strengthen health services a s part of poverty reduction and sustainable development s t r a t e g y ; 9. Human Development- involv- ing human education, train- 8 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 ing, employment, gender main-streaming, minority rights and youth development. 10. Financing of Sustainable Development – strategies for mobilizing all sources of finance for sustainable development, especially of the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), cancel- lation of debt of poorest countries; etc. 11. Poverty Eradication-how to achieve the Millennium Declaration goal of halving global poverty level by 2015 and provide the linkage between environment, p o v e r t y, trade and human security. 12. Trade and Market Access- need for greater market access to developing countries’ products espe- cially textile and agricultural products, elimination of market distortions such as subsidies, export support measures and other unwhole- some trade practices and reduction of environmentally damaging subsidies. 13. Globalisation-the clear need to make globalisation equi- table, inclusive and sustainable. Specific initia- tives to be developed in areas of trade, finance, invest- ment, new technologies (including information tech- nology I.T). 14. Transfer of Te c h n o l o g y – requires summit to foster the establishment of effective strategies for technology transfer and capacity building in the LDCs. 15. G o v e r n a n c e / I n s t i t u t i o n a l Structure for Sustainable Development – summit is expected to discuss ways of improving institutional framework and strategies for effective monitoring of sustainable development at national, regional and international levels, to pro- mote good governance and effective bilateral or multilateral partnership among nations for security. As can be seen these, topics go far beyond the traditional environmental protection and sustainability issues that characterised the earlier sum- mits. What I intend to do is to 9 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 highlight the Islamic perspectives on some of these topics with a view to suggesting alternative solutions to the problems. Although they appear like so many issues, a closer look will reveal that all of them can be fitted into 2 or 3 main themes; a. issues pertaining to the sustainable use of the earth’s resources without irreversible damaging effects on the environment and its inhabitants; b. issues on a humane economic world order that will ensure equitable distribution of the world’s resources in a manner that will satisfy the minimum requirement of all peoples; c. issues on good governance and leadership that will exercise authority in a manner that will promote and foster the material and moral and ethical upliftment of people at various levels – family, organisational, nation- al, regional etc. Do we have Islamic concepts, principles and precepts that can be adopted to guide mankind on these topical issues of our time? In my opinion we do and I will briefly highlight these major concepts before going into the detailed discussion of how their adoption could help mankind. The first is that according to Islam,human beings, are by divine wisdom, at the center of creation and are the rulers of this world.Indeed, they are the raisond’etre of Allah’s creation and all other things were created to serve the purpose and needs of man.We read from the Qur’an; Have you not seen that Allah has pressed for you unto service whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and has completed His favour on you, both externally and internally? (Ch.31:v.21) And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth; all this is from Him. In that surely are signs for a people who reflect. (Ch.45:v.14) There are several other similar verses portraying the subjugation of the earth and all it contains to man (eg: Ch.2:v.30, Ch.22: v.66). 10 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 Even the sun and the moon and the stars have been constrained into the service of man (Ch.6:Vs.13-17). But having created all these for man Allah created man himself, in the best make (Ch.95:V.5), made him superior to other creatures ( C h . 1 7 : V.71) giving man the capacity for unlimited progress ( C h . 8 7 : V.3) and then showed him the twin ways of good and evil ( C h . 7 6 : V.4, Ch.90:V.11) and gave him the freedom to act as he chooses (Ch.41:V.41). I will later expatiate on how the neglect by mankind, of all these bounties from Allah and his deliberate choice of evil over good has led him to his present woes. The second major Islamic concept, that is in close tandem with the above is that at the point of creation Allah has made adequate provision for all and there is no reason why any creature should be in want of anything. We read again in the Ch.20:VS.119-120. It is provided for thee that thou will not hunger therein, nor wilt thou be naked, And that thou wilt not thirst therein, nor Wilt thou be exposed to the sun. The above clearly shows that food, water and shelter for man’s use have been provided in abundance by Allah. But these provisions come with some conditions; man should use them judiciously and equitably (Ch.25:Vs.64-76, Ch.16:Vs.3-19), should exercise good judgment in their use (Ch.92: Vs.6-12) and he shall only have what he strives for (Ch.53:V.40), but shall be assisted to achieve the object of his desire (Ch.17:Vs.19-21). The third principle that would guide mankind out of some of the problems enumerated above has to do with the Unity of Allah our Creator and the brotherhood of mankind.The point here is that if human beings truly realise that they all come from the same God, the same source and are therefore brothers to one another, their attitude to each other would be radically different from what is currently on display today.It also follows that when any man is chosen to lead others or finds himself in position of authority over others, he should exercise the authority in trust, as all sovereignty actually belongs to God (Ch.3:V.27). Any leader who does not exercise authority with equity, justice and humility 11 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 (Ch.4:V.59, Ch.5:V.9,Ch.38:V.27), loses the right to lead (Ch.47:Vs.23-24). Before showing how the application of these principles can effectively help mankind resolve his self-created problem, let us quickly review the current status of some of the afore- mentioned issues to enable us all to see the nature of these problems and some of the solutions so far tried and whether it is not high time man tried some alternative strategies to resolve them. Food for All A World Bank Report (Knudsen and Nash, 1990), claims that there is more than enough food to feed the people of the world twice over. This confirms the proclamation by Allah in Ch.20: Vs.119-120, yet over 60% of this w o r l d ’s population go hungry, according to the same report. The same report states that the problem of hunger in the world today is poverty and not insufficient food production. A television documentary prepared by ITV for the EU in 1987 titled the ‘Politics of Food’ shows that the European Union countries spend the sum of £150 million daily to store all the food reserves – grains, milk, butter, fruits – produced in those c o u n t r i e s . Recently with the advent of the mad-cow disease farmers in United Kingdom and few other European countries had to slaughter over a million heads of cattle – and those countries still did not go hungry. Yet there are countries in this same world – Somalia, Congo, Angola, Bangladesh, Iraq, and lately Afghanistan, – where due to either ravages of war, drought, flood or famine, whole popu- lations starve to death. The U.S. Federal Government has to pay what it called ‘intervention or set-aside levies’ to some of its farmers NOT to produce on their farms while the world is at present grappling with how food production in Africa can be made to double its present starvation levels. Millions on the continent have to scavenge refuse dumps in order to eat.The fact therefore is that Allah has in His Mercies made all the necessary provision, but man, by his selfishness and avariciousness and thinking he has all the answers, has caused all the problems. 12 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 Water Everywhere, Not A Drop to Drink A TIME International magazine special supplement (Nov. 8, 1999) revealed that chronic water shortage affects one third of the people on earth; yet 80% of the earth’s surface is taken up by w a t e r. In North China, it is reported that global warming is aggravating an already acute water shortage. Global warming is implicated in the rise of summer temperatures by 0.5 – 0.8oC leading to serious losses of water from rivers while rainfall remains unchanged and its water is not enough to off-set the losses from the rivers. Common sources of water that people rely on are either guinea worm infested (as in many parts of Africa) or polluted by toxic effluents, industrial wastes or agricultural pesticides. Common clean water to drink – a free gift from the Creator – is now a luxury item to most people on earth! Human Shelter Another free gift from our Creator – provision of shelter – is lacking to a third of the world’s population. Millions of peasants live in the open, surrounded only by flimsy polythene sheets and rags in major cities of Asian and African countries. Even the birds of the skies are more decently sheltered. Despite the estab- lishment of the United Nations Commission on Habitat and Settlement (UNCHS), and the setting aside of a day every year as World Habitat Day to refocus world attention to this deplorable global problem, it has remained with us and may in fact be getting worse. A UN study predicts that by the year 2015 there will be 26 extremely huge cities in the world and 22 of them will be in the less developed countries. The megacities will include Bombay (26 million by 2015) Lagos (24 million), Dhaka (19 million) and Karachi (19 million). These are cities already unable to provide decent shelter for 25-45% of their present populations. The report further estimates that by 2030 almost 60% of the world’s people will live in urban areas, by which time some megacities will contain some 30 million or more people. We should ask ourselves who will provide housing for all these people? Natural Resource Endowment Nowhere is man’s penchant for despoilage witnessed more than in his handling of natural 13 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 resources such as forests, minerals and metals, fresh-water, air quality, bio-diversity etc. Among the natural resource endowments that mankind has abused, mention should be made of our intellect and the God-given freedom of choice. It is indeed our injudicious use of these last two that led to the over-use, mis- use and abuse of the others Also through some other activities that we engage in such as pollution and over-fishing, we are rapidly destroying the oceans, rivers and lakes and because of over-grazing by our herds and intensive agriculture on fringe lands, the deserts are expanding. In fact, agricultural lands are rapidly shrinking due to erosion and desert encroach- ment, while we lose perhaps some 30,000 species of animals and plants every year. The result of all this is staggering. Some of the repercussions have direct impact on our lives. In Hongkong air pollution kills about 2000 people prematurely every year. Citizens have resorted to wearing air masks and using bottled oxygen in order to breathe clean air. The Clean Air Initiative for Latin American cities was launched to help reduce the rate at which thousands of Latin American citizens suffer and die from respiratory diseases caused by air pollution. Unknown to us, Allah, the Creator, has configured that we would need these natural products to replenish genetic biodiversity in our crops and animals and to produce new medicines. We also would rely on pristine ecosystems to replenish oxygen, control erosion, recycle essential nutrients, regulate water cycles and re-stock critical fisheries. But by our activities we are destroying them all and in the process putting ourselves and our lives on earth in serious jeopardy. Rio Principles and Tokyo Protocol Another direct effect of the mis- use and abuse of our environment is the phenomenon of climate change.According Dr. Anthony Givens of the London School of Economics in the lecture he delivered in Hong Kong in 1999, just 25 years ago, the concern among scientists was global cooling and how to stem the trend. Today the pendulum has swung to the opposite end and global warming is the major environmental concern. It cannot 14 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 fail to be so given the unrelenting emission of heat trapping carbon dioxide and other gases through the burning of fossil fuel by motor vehicles and heating of homes. Now vast portions of the earth especially in the northern hemisphere periodically expe- rience heat waves up to 50oC.Places like Texas (U.S), Eilat (Israel) and many others have recorded this.And the impact of this is already with us – witness the incessant flooding, forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes that are regularly making the rounds in international news in different parts of the world. It has been estimated that as a result of the global warming, sea levels will rise by an average 24 cm over the next 50 years. Poverty and Sustainable Development All issues pertaining to global finance, the world economic o r d e r, based, as it were, on capitalism and globalisation, the debt overhang of the HIPCs and the accompanying poverty in these countries, as a whole, constitute the obverse side of the sustainable development coin. Yet, in the last decade or so, the world has witnessed financial upheavals in many developing countries leading sometimes to riots and forced or precipitate change in governments.Many economies had gone into recession so much so that today, many are questioning the wisdom in the measures recommended by the Breton Wood Institutions for economic resurgence.One after the other, countries like Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia and lately Argentina have had serious financial crisis almost sometimes threatening political stability in these countries. In 1998 President Clinton had to extend a 20 billion life-line to Mexico. In 1999 Brazil had to devalue its currency (the Real) by as much as 40%, its interest rate went as high as 39% and inflation went into double digit, plunging the country into a severe economic recession. Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Ph i l i p p i n e s all had their own economic crisis one after the other and most of them especially Japan – the third biggest world economy are not out of the woods yet. The situation has almost caught up with Singapore that is reported to have the most secure and stable economy in the region. Even in the U.S., reported to be the 15 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 global economic leader, interest rates have to be cut several times in order to stimulate the e c o n o m y. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. Africa is in a special class of its own as the continent is home to most of the world’s most impoverished countries. With the possible exception of some north African Arab countries and South Africa, at the other end of the continent, all the countries are members of the infamous HIPCs. This situation is compounded by innumerable theatres of war that dotted the continent’s landscape. It is no wonder that Human Development Index (HDI), in these countries has been the lowest for decades and remains the lowest till date. At one point or the other the developed countries – belonging to their own prestigious OECD club have tried using IMF and the World Bank as fronts, to force down both macro and micro economic theories which they believe worked wonders for their own economies. Such attempts have largely failed and are increasingly being resisted in many Development statistics and economic indices in these countries are chilling At the heart of all the financial mess of course is the capitalist economic world order solely based on the charging of interest The global economy now is characterised by large-scale cross-border capital flows, inter- dependent markets, market liberalisation and de-regulation, mega-conglomerates mergers and buy-outs oiled by the internet and the information super h i g h w a y. Globalisation entails ‘free competition’, allowing so- called market-forces to determine the health of the economy and its direction. It is amazing that inspite of all evidences pointing to the un- workability of their economic theories over the past few decades they still insist that these theories only and nothing else offer the way out. Proof again, of man’s arrogance in self actualisation and disdain for the sensibilities of others. THE ISLAMIC OPTION Sustaining the Environment Perhaps it is first necessary to establish the link between Islam, and indeed any religion for that m a t t e r, and the environment. 16 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 Muslims believe there is a very strong link. For as long as man relegates the moral aspects of his day-to-day dealings to the background, so long would he continue to have intractable problems not only in such issues as the environment but also in every other sphere of his life and living. There is obviously in the world today a crisis of values and ethics. This moral crisis, which might well be viewed as ‘moral pollution’ underlies the phenom-enon of environmental pollution and degradation that we are all witnessing today. The moral crisis came about as a result of our individual and collective relegation of religion to the back- burners. In order to understand A l l a h ’s subjugation of ‘w h a t s o – ever is in the heavens and the e a r t h ’ to mankind, one has to first understand the philosophical principles under-lying the Islamic concept of creation of nature and its use by man. To put it simply, Allah, according to Islamic teachings, has created man, as the best of creatures and endowed him to the extent that he is personally responsible for the moral ordering of the natural world.It is only when man began to fail in this duty, that is, when man divorced ethics and morality from his pursuit of knowledge and its application that environ- mental pollution and degradation set in. Islam teaches that the universe has been created for a specific purpose. The Holy Qur’ a n Ch21:V.17 says: And We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is in between the two in p l a y. Furthermore, the creation of the heavens and the earth has been in accordance with the require- ments of wisdom (Ch.15:V. 8 6 , C h . 3 9 : V.6). These requirements of wisdom dictate that there be laws governing the running of the whole system, down to its minutest detail. The whole of Allah’s creation is in harmony. Allah, (Subhanahu wata’ala) repeatedly reminds mankind that in all His creation, one cannot find a flaw, discord, disorder or incongruity, for He is Allah, Al- Hakeem, the Most Wise. In the universe created by Allah, everything is adjusted and there is a superb coordination by the Master Planner (K h a i r u n M a k i r u n), Himself. It follows therefore, that any disorder or 17 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 maladjustment we may observe must result from our misuse or contravention of the laws governing the universe. The depletion of the Ozone layer due to the overproduction of ‘green house gases’ is an example. Another is when an individual or a group of men use their knowledge – another of nature’s endowment to create situation or objects that cause disharmony among other men. World history has shown that every time an individual or a group misuses any of God’s endowment or does anything to show disregard for Allah’s natural l a w, it poses danger to them, one way or the other. Getting back to the question of the purpose of creating the universe, we read from the Q u r’an (Ch.41: Vs.10-13, Ch.79:Vs.28-34) that it is solely to aid man, in diverse ways, to achieve the purpose of his own creation. This is the context in which the verses earlier referred to were revealed.Subjugating to man all that is in the heavens and the earth, far from making man a despoiler, are to help him achieve the purpose of his creation. They are part of Allah’s measure of unlimited bounty to man (Ch.16: Vs.13–20).The universe and the various laws governing it are constantly at work, but this working and their consequence, whether beneficent or otherwise, depend on man’s use. The Holy Qur’an reiterates this point in several portions (Ch.14: V. 8 , Ch.16: Vs.13–17, Ch.56, Vs.69–91 etc).Therefore, having ‘pressed into service’ all that the universe contains for man’s use, to help him achieve the purpose of his own creation, Allah then makes man responsible for the way he uses this facility or weilds this authority. That effectively makes man account-able for the way he chooses to conduct his life on earth. In effect, man is the architect of his present woes (Ch.39:Vs.49-52). Again because man was created ‘in the best mould’ (Ch.95:V.5), and was given all the required facility (Ch.16: Vs.13-17) and was also given the chance to make his own choice (Ch.41:V.41), man has no excuse whatsoever for not achieving the purpose of his creation and existence and that again makes him accountable. Allah thus promised to raise man up to account for his life (Ch.23:V.80). As the saying goes, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. So, what is man’s 18 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 ultimate purpose in life? In other words what will he be held accountable for, on the day of ‘Akhira’. It is how far he has been able to receive the impress of God’s attributes and become a manifestation of these attributes within the limits of his creation and capacity (Ch.5: V. 5 7 , Ch.2:V.22). Allah created man in order to equip himself with the best provision, which is righteousness (Ch.2: V.198) The Holy Prophet Muhammad( s a ) expatiates on this when he said, ‘equip yourself with the attrib- utes of God’. When man has been able to do this, and let us quickly remind ourselves that some of the attributes of Allah are that He is a God of order and equilibrium, of harmony and balance, of peace and love, of justice and equity, when man too is able to acquire some of these through a complete submission to the will of Allah and through His worship, then would he be able to live with his fellow man, nay with all God’s creatures, a life of harmony and order, devoid of discord or imbalance in an unpolluted and safe world. This is the context in which God has subjugated to man the universe and all it contains.Times without n u m b e r, Allah exhorts man to reflect i.e. to think, study and do research so that he may acquire the proper knowledge about all Allah’s bounties so he can under- stand the laws governing them and thereby make beneficent use of them to achieve his own purpose of creation. And while man may justifiably be proud of his array of scientific and technological breakthroughs, all great scientists agree that we do not as yet know even 1/millionth of what there is to know about our universe. Infact our know- ledge, staggering as they may appear to us, is still rudimentary, in relative terms. To quote Diane Ackerman; ‘There will always be plenty of nature’s sweet secrets waiting to be told’ and Elizabeth Gleick – author of Life in the A b y s s says, ‘Some scientists speculate that there may be 10- 100 million species living on the ocean floor that are yet to be discovered’. Given this back- ground, there doesn’t appear to be so much that men should be so haughty about. The assurance that the whole of universe is subjugated to man’s service and the certainty that everything in the universe is governed by laws, the knowledge of which God has promised to 19 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 vouschafe progressively to man (Ch.55:V.34), are in themselves reassuring as well as proof that man can make a success of his life and living on this planet. The only condition is that man must make conscious choice to make a beneficent use of these bounties for his physical and spiritual growth.If he fails to do this, that is, if he misuses or abuses them, the very bounties may become the instrument of his ruin and destruction (Ch.14:V.8). So we are back to where we started from, that the environmental degradation and global pollution we are wit- nessing are a reflection and manifestation of our misuse of God’s bounties ‘of diverse hues’. In other words the degradation of our morals and pollution of the ethics of the society we live in are responsible for the degradation and pollution of our environment. However, hope is not lost. Islam has provided a way out of this predicament, if we care to follow it. The first thing to do is for man to realise that in acquiring the various scientific and economic knowledge, we have become arrogant. Our disdain for the world around us is a direct result of that arrogance and it is this same arrogance that is mani- fested in our conscious effort to lose all moral or religious restraint that may otherwise curb our excesses. Man of course knows what is right from what is wrong. So says the Qur’an. All it takes is to change our moral outlook, get closer to God in order to imbibe some of His attributes and make a conscious effort to make beneficent use of His bounties. If all the world leaders who signed and endorsed the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol, the Rio Pr i n c i p l e s realise that they have a moral obligation to implement these agreements, that they will be held accountable for their choice to either implement or neglect – for the overall benefit of mankind – then the world would begin to witness a real change for the b e t t e r. The same advice is applicable to leaders of major countries that have so far refused to sign these international treaties. The major pollutants which the Kyoto Protocol sought to reduce include sulphur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide which contribute to urban smog and carbon monoxide and mercury emissions from power 20 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 plants. U.S. releases about one quarter of these man-made green-house gases while China emits about 11% of the world’s carbon emissions. Sustaining All-Round Human Development In general terms the same conditions that led to the pollution and degradation of our environment have led to the incredible lopsidedness in the distribution of global wealth and the inability of vast portions of the earth to have the minimum level of life’s comfort, let alone sustain themselves from one day to the next. In specific terms, it is the inability or unwillingness of a minority section of the world to follow the Islamic injunction of curbing their avariciousness as already shown in the case of U.S. and China on the Kyoto Protocol. the Qur’an Ch.59:V.10 says And whoso is rid of the covetousness of his own soul – it is these who will be successful. At the heart of the capitalist economic world order is the issue of interest (R i b a), which is a manifestation of the inability to rid oneself of avariciousness. Paradoxically those whose banking laws and profits are based on interest believe they are doing the lender some good. But there is no way that lending whose returns include interest ‘involving diverse additions’ (Ch.3: V.131), can be benevolent. Anyone who comes out to borrow in the first place must be in some relative form of dire straits, for if he could finance whatever the project or acquisition is without borrowing, he would have done so.What Islam prescribes is that; If any debtor be in straitened circumstance, then grant him respite till a time of ease.And if you remit it as charity, it shall be better for you, if only you know. (Ch.2: V.281) This – debt forgiveness – is what scores of leaders of poor countries have been asking for. President Obasanjo of Nigeria has been in the forefront using all available international fora to obtain this from both the London and Paris club of creditor nations. But his pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. Instead, palliative measure such as debt re- scheduling is preferred. The 21 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 Qur’an enjoins us to remit all debts owed us as charity! This is true benevolence. And there is no merit in those who regard the taking of interest as trade – referring to it as ‘the cost of capital’. Allah says He, by divine wisdom, allows trade but forbids interest. (Ch.2: V.276). This clearly shows that there is a world of difference between the two.It cannot be trade because the money over which interest is being charged is itself, a valueless entity – intrinsically– assuming the value arbitrarily awarded to it by convention, might or common acclamation. The rich nations assuage some of their guilt by the so-called ‘aid’ they dole out to poor countries, but what they get in return in terms of interests on the so- called debt owed by these countries more than makes up for this, ten times over. The Jubilee 2000 project launched in February 1999 (now known as the Jubilee coalition) claims that Africa now owes about 379 U.S dollar per head on the average. But for every one dollar the rich countries of the West gives as aid, nine dollars come back in debt servicing. So where is the benevolence in the so-called aid being doled out? The developed nations of the West and their leaders have taken the pursuit of materialism and the adornments of this world as the ultimate. The Promised Messiah of this age, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), admonishes Muslims in his book Our Teachings, thus: ‘I do not forbid you to think of material means within proper limits, what I forbid is that like other nations you become the slaves of material means, altogether forgetting God, who controls material means as well. Only if you have eyes to see you will find there is only God and God alone everything else being worthless………… A person spiritually dead would laugh at this but it would be better for him if he died before he indulged in this laughter’. The same avariciousness plaguing the rich nations is to be found among the so-called leaders and elites of most of the poor nations of the world. These are countries where individuals at the helm of government are richer than their countries – wealth obtained by robbing the country blind. In 22 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 recent times, billions of dollars and pounds stolen by a former military leader in a popular African country were traced to some banks in rich western countries – which was where some of the money came from originally as loans to his country. In a book titled, Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, the Head of the world wide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, dealt extensively with the issue of Islamic economic system. According to him, in Islam, an attempt is made to create a situation where government and the wealthy in the society understand that it is ‘in their own ultimate interest to establish an equitable economic system’ where they are constantly on the look out for the rights of the less privileged and endowed. The current capitalist economic order could not create such a situation, which is why we now have so much misery, pain, and dis- harmony in our socio-economic relations. I wish world leaders attending this summit will read this book and critically review its suggestion to see if it cannot help solve our current financial problems. Islam lays greater emphasis on ‘giving rather than taking or keeping’; therefore, an atmos- phere is created where ‘the demand for one’s rights gives way to regard for the rights of others’.The Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) w a s reported to have urged Muslims, t h u s : Give the labourer more than his dues.Pay him what he has earned before his sweat dries out.Do not put those under you to serve on tasks that you cannot perform yourself. As far as possible, feed your servants with whatever you feed your family. Do not transgress against the meek in any way or you will be held accountable by God. Lest you succumb to false pride, occasionally make your servants sit on the same table with you and serve them. These exhortations form the philosophical under pinningof the Islamic socio-economic system. Lest some think they are mere platitudes, a cursory look at the Sunnat of the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) will prove otherwise, as he ran a society based on these principles and was able to achieve real economic justice. 23 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 This could still be achieved in today’s contemporary world if we care to follow Islam. The place to start is to first imbibe – as individual, corporate or national entities – the various religious injunctions that enjoin us to love others as ourselves and only do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This is the essence of true brotherhood and the universal beliefs in the common origin of mankind and the unity of God. With this moral re-orientation we can then set up the pillars of such economic system involving Zakat, prohi- bition of interest (under whatever guise or form), prohibition of hoarding of wealth, adoption of moral principles in business and commercial dealings etc. Qur’anic verses dealing with these principles and practices include Ch.3:V.135, Ch.2:V. 4 , Vs.262-265, Ch.51: V.20, Ch.76: Vs.9-10, Ch.74: V.7, Ch.93: V.11 etc. Even in the West certain big business are now adopting the last pillar – using moral principles and ethics in the daily conduct of business. Far from making business ventures unprofitable, as some may think, it is indeed yielding high dividends, aside from removing social disharmony and economic tension all because it is blessed and in doing so, we are responding to the ‘innate laws of the human psyche’ while attempting to imbibe the attributes of Allah our Creator – which ultimately is the purpose of our creation. It is my sincere hope that as the preparation for the Johannesburg meeting gets underway world leaders that do attend would ‘equip themselves with the best provisions’ (which is right- eousness Ch.2: V.198) for this meeting.They should for once break from the past and come out with simple but divinely inspired strategies that would set mankind on the path of peace, progress and sustainable development in an unpolluted environment. The current crop of world leaders should also search their con- sciences and see whether they are truly discharging this onerous trust in a just and equitable manner as enjoined by Islam. Why should the developed countries of the We s t for instance, continue to provide sundry subsidies to their farmers and key industries to enable them compete in the world market and at the same time insist – through the IMF – that debt-ridden poor 24 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 countries remove similar sub- sidies as part of their economic structural adjustment pro- grammes? In the world today, there are different sets of law governing international relations. This is part of the problem. Leaders of so called third-world countries even have more cases to answer before God in the manner their policies and governance have impoverished their citizens. This is another direct result of the neglect of religion. In conclusion, the leaders of the world should swallow their pride and accept that in the exercise of choice over these global issues, they have erred. Hadhat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Head of the world wide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has made us realise that God has instilled in man’s nature the faculty of intuition, which warns him of the impending dangers attendant upon his decisions. It is therefore left to our leaders to make the right choice to get mankind out of our present dire cir- cumstances. The Qur’an (Ch.75: Vs.15-16) further asserts that ‘man is a witness against himself, even though he may offer excuses’. Rather than hiding behind excuses, mankind should trace its steps back to its Creator, before more calamity comes its way. Allah has promised (Ch.26: V.209) that He never punishes any people until such people have repeatedly rejected His warnings. Mankind should take all these floods, typhoons, tornadoes as warnings which if heeded may spare him from Allah’s wrath. Anyone who still thinks these tragedies and tribulations of our time are mere coincidences should go and read the article by the United Nation’s Secretary General – Mr. Kofi Anan in the International Herald Tribune of September 10, 1999. He had tried to alert the world about the extraordinary increase in the number and magnitude of so- called natural disasters. According to him, there were three times as many great natural disasters in the 1990’s as there were in 1960’s, while the total cost of these disasters were nine times as much in the same period. He stated that the n u m b e r, intensity and cost of natural disasters in 1998 alone exceeded those of all such disasters in the whole of 1980’s . The point in all these is that 25 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 something strange is happening to our world – and it is not mere imaginings of superstitions for religious people. They are happening all around us and are well documented. All the examples I have enumerated above were not concocted. Everybody reads them, in the news. The earlier mankind sees them for what they truly represent – evidence of our past sinful ways – and change our ways, the better for us. We have Allah’s assurance in the Qur’an Ch.39: V.54, thus; Say ‘Oh My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls! despair not of the mercy of Allah, surely Allah forgives all sins. Ve r i l y He is Most Forgiving, M e r c i f u l . ’ May Allah grant us a clear understanding of His injunctions and the humility to make us accept the limitation of our knowledge and may He also grant us the grace that would enable us to pattern our lives in a manner that would foster harmony among all sojourners on earth. Amin. REFERENCES Al-Hadis 1979. English Translation of Mishkatu- l Massabih, Book II Chp. VIII, XIII, XVII, XVIII. pp.9 – 292. Diane Ackerman 1998. Discoveries on your doorsteps. In: The New Age of Discovery. A TIME Magazine Special Issue. p.15. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, 1996. O u r Te a c h i n g s. Extract from Kishtie-Nuh. p.13. Knudsen, Odin and Nash John, 1990. Redefining the Role of Government in Agriculture for the 1990’s. World Bank Discussion Papers No. 105.Wa s h i n g t o n , pp.1–98. Leon Jarrof 1998. Save the Earth. In: The New Age of Discovery. A TIME Magazine Special Issue (Winter 97 – 98). pp.62 – 66. Mirza Tahir Ahmad 1997. Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship, pp.1-149. Mirza Tahir Ahmad 1997. Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, pp.141–220. Niles Eldredge 1999. Will Malthus Be Right.In: Beyond 2000. TIME Special Issue, p.70. The Economist (3–9 October) 1998, pp.3–100. The Holy Qur’an. Translated by Maulawi Sher Ali, 1997. The News Magazine (8–13 Feb) 1999. League of the Sick, p.11. 26 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development Review of Religions – August 2002 About the author Dr. Abd Latif Busari is an Ahmadi from Nigeria. He has a keen interest in environmental and economic issues