The Environment

EDITORIAL – The Heat is On

2 The Review of Religions – May 2007 Fareed Ahmad – Newquay, UK EDITORIAL The Heat is On According to a recent report1 the last winter was the warmest since records began. Sounds great if you dislike the cold and dreary winters, but for environ- mentalists – and in reality for all of us – this is bad news. Be it due to greenhouse gasses, carbon emissions, the El-Nino or methane emissions from livestock, the signs are not good and this does not bode well for the future of life on earth. There is, we are told, a 75% risk that global temperatures will rise a further two to three degrees in the next 50 years2. The consequence of this would be dramatic. In fact a rise of just one degree would melt the Greenland ice sheet and drown the Maldives, but a three degree increase would kill the Amazon rainforest, wipe out nearly half of all species facing extinction and wreak havoc with crop yields due to weather changes. These are not just fictional scenarios but are likely events – especially if you note that the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change include fore- casts for this century of increases up to six degrees. Experts around the world have been warning about this for decades and have been urging governments to do more to slow down the rate of global warming. But with the economic giants of the world preoccupied with activities seeking to serve their national interest it seems that the international crisis has effec- tively been sidelined in the hope that either the experts will be proved wrong or that the problem somehow will take care of itself. Often such warnings were dismissed as ever more experts were commissioned by govern- ments to see if climate change was for real. Perhaps they should have taken note of an Igbo tradition that says: ‘You may be clever but you can never lose your shadow.’ Now it seems that the shadow is getting bigger and leaders are starting to look more concerned with the impending gloom. So is it time to panic? Perhaps. Is there any hope for survival? Possibly. Whilst the global climate does indeed go through hot and cold cycles, what is worrying about the current phase is the pace of change that could send us head first into a final spin. Although we have certainly benefited from technological advancements that have given us plastics, air travel and cheap food – what is important is to maintain a balance so that excessive consumerism does not ride roughshod over nature’s harmony. There are flexibilities in what nature can handle but eventually the scales will tip over. In Islam man is given the role of trusteeship over the earth, which is a huge responsibility. In the past, man had to be careful how he treated his local environment since excessive grazing or agriculture could bring ruin to his livelihood. His knowledge was also limited but in the event of a disaster either through ignorance or abuse at least he could resort to moving elsewhere and start again. Now we should have no excuse for ignorance and we should have learnt from our past to avoid misuse. But what is worrying is that our respon- sibility has also increased considerably, in line with our ability to use vast amounts of the earth’s resources; the crunch factor is that now the impacts of our behaviour are not just local anymore, they are global. If we fail to act in a responsible manner then we cannot simply relocate because there will be nowhere to go. It is therefore vital that as producers, manu- facturers and consumers, we ensure that we give due consideration to the impact of our actions. Such a responsibility is not just that of the east or the west but a responsibility for us all. In Islam, rather than addressing each aspect of climate change 3 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – May 2007 individually, the Holy Qur’an provides a moral framework that facilitates human progress by providing a clear set of prin- ciples that benefit man. This is because it is the behaviour of a person that can influence not just one but many spheres of human activity. These include the environment and sustainability and this is why they are captured in this same framework. Fairness, ethical behaviour, and unity are among the numerous tenets advocated in Islamic teachings. They are important factors when decisions have to be made in matters including those relating to natural resource management. Stakeholders of the Muslim faith are obliged to act with justice if they wish to earn the pleasure of God, for the Qur’an states: Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice… (Ch.4: V.59) Islam also lays great stress on the fact that there is a balance in the universe and that this is a feature of God’s creation. And the heaven He has raised high and set up a measure, That you may not transgress the measure. So weigh all things in justice and fall not short of the measure. (Ch.55:Vs.8-10) This makes clear that it is God Who is Perfect and has out of His Grace provided ample resources for all time. But through man’s misuse, this balance may change. It is man who will suffer the consequences as a result. The term ‘measure’ refers to universal balance and that is certainly sustainable unless man exceeds it or seeks to alter it. The need to maintain balance and the requirement to only use what is due to you and not to take what rightfully belongs to others (whether now or in the future), is further emphasised in the following verse, in which God 4 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – May 2007 also reminds man that whilst at an individual level he may not live to see the consequences of his actions he will certainly be held to account for them. Woe unto those who give short measure; Those who, when they take by measure from other people, take it full; But when they give by measure to others or weigh to them they give them less. Do not such people know that they will be raised again Unto a terrible day, The day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the worlds? (Ch.83:Vs.2-7) This is why acts that promote harmony in the environment are considered to be meritorious acts, for the Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘If anyone plants a tree or sows a field, and men, beasts or birds eat from it, it is considered as a sadaqah [act of charity] on his part’ (Musnad Ahmad) So why does man act in a manner that threatens to deprive him and others of a harmonious future? The answer is of little surprise. According to the Qur’an one of the key underlying motives for such actions is personal greed, for it is greed that takes man away from God and therefore from the balance of nature. If man cares little for God and His teachings then what care would he have for his fellow beings? This results in man staying focused on his personal gain at the expense of all else Vying with each other for amassing wealth had made you oblivious. (Ch.102:V.2) Personal greed can also encourage those with resources to squander their wealth – which is a wasteful approach to life as it deprives others who may need those resources. Verily the extravagant are brothers of satans and Satan is ungrateful to his Lord. (Ch.17:V.28) 5 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – May 2007 O Children of Adam!…eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely He does not love those who exceed the bounds. (Ch.7:V.32) [And the servants of the Gracious God are…] …those who, when they spend are neither extravagant nor niggardly but moderate between the two. (Ch.25:V.68) The overall message is, therefore, that Islam promotes harmony by advising moderation. It accepts that we need to use resources for our progress but this should be done wisely and in a sustainable manner, so that a satisfactory medium is found. So we as individuals should act on the Qur’anic injunction that promotes balance and avoids excess and Nations need to be more willing to share knowledge for the sake of the planet rather than for profit and take collective action in line with their collective responsibility – only then do we have hope. By doing so we will be able to win the pleasure of God and honour our trusteeship of the earth for the present and future generations. 1. Report of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 15 March 2007 2. Review on the Economics of Climate Change, by Sir Nicholas Stern, October 2006 6 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – May 2007 7 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – May 2007 Verse references to the Holy Qur’an item count ‘Bismillah…’ (In the Name of Allah…) as the first verse of each Chapter. In some non-standard texts, this is not counted and should the reader refer to such texts, the verse quoted in The Review of Religions will be found at one verse less than the number quoted. In this journal, for the ease of non-Muslim readers, ‘(saw)’ or ‘saw’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’ meaning ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other prophets is an abbreviation meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from ‘Alaihis salatu wassalam’ which are words that a Muslim utters out of respect whenever he or she comes across that name. The abbreviation ‘ra’ or (ra) stands for ‘Radhiallahu Ta’ala anhu and is used for Companions of a Prophet, meaning Allah be pleased with him or her (when followed by the relevant Arabic pronoun). Finally, ‘ru’ or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him. 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