Islam & the Environment

I am Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and in our last newsletter we had a paragraph concerning the environment. I have quoted the saying of our Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, which is:

‘The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it’

The Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, also said:

‘The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded’.

Muslims should seek to protect and preserve the environment because by so doing they protect Allah’s creatures, which pray to him and praise him.

Human kind might not be able to understand how these creatures praise Allah but this does not mean they do not do so. In Sura 17 Bani Israil. Verse 44 it is stated:-

The seven heavens and the earth and all beings therein, declare his glory. There is not a thing but celebrates his praise and yet ye understand not how they declare his Glory.

The environment contains Allah’s creatures, which the Muslims consider to deserve protection.

Islam seeks to protect and preserve the environment as Islam, as a way of life, is established on the concept of good (Khayr). Therefore, it is expected that Islam will protect the environment once understood that such protection is good by itself. In Sura 99 Zilzal, it is stated in Verse 7 to 8;

Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it.

In Islam, humans are expected to protect the environment since no other creature is able to perform this task. Humans are the only being that Allah has ‘entrusted’ with the responsibility of looking after the earth. This trusteeship is seen by Islam to be so onerous and burdensome that no other creature would accept it. In Sura 33 Ahzab Verse 72, it is stated:

Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it and man assumed it Lo! He is a tyrant and fool.

In Assisi declarations, issued by gathering of world religions in 1986, the Muslim statement was’

Allah is oneness; and his oneness is also reflected in the oneness of mankind and the oneness of man and nature. His trustees are responsible for maintaining the oneness of his creation, the integrity of the earth, his flora and fauna, his wildlife and natural environment.

I was brought up in Uganda, a country once described as the “pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill. As a young boy I used to fish on the shores of Lake Victoria, swim in the River Nile and visit our game parks to watch with fascination and awe the beauty of the wild. I was lucky enough to see and enjoy the fruits of nature in my youth and it was those experiences that led me to a lifelong love of the environment. I want future generations to be inspired, stirred and captivated by the same natural wonders as I was as a young man. It saddens and worries me when I see the problems that have been created by climate change. The more we understand climate change, the more it looks as if we may be the real culprits.

Climate change poses a serious threat to Africa, and measures to help African countries to “climate-proof” their societies, economies and infrastructure are now widely seen as vital. Sir Nicholas Stern, among others, has recently warned of the uneven impact of climate change on the poorest countries. Most Africans still rely, literally on the fruits of their labour. When crops fail, things fall apart. Lake dissipation, collapsing fisheries, the displacement of millions, and the loss of crops that feed them—all these have a direct and potentially fatal effect.

But of course the problems of climate change affect not only Africa but also the entire globe. The Middle East and Muslim countries, like other regions, need to urgently examine the way in which climate change may affect their future. In an area dominated by arid and semi-arid lands, water is a very limited resource. Water is a scarce resource and with climate change further exacerbating the situation it will continue to be so in the future. The downstream states of Israel, Jordan, Syria and Palestine are under pressure to share the limited waters of the River Jordan. This in turn means examining the inter-relationship between climate variations, water supply, land use, economic planning and demographic change. Such questions cannot be dealt with on the basis of national interest only but demand cross-border cooperation.

As the chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organization, I see at first hand how the insurance industry is already feeling the impact of climate change worldwide. In the United Kingdom, Europe and America, we are suffering from freak weather conditions; we now have hot summers and excessive rainfall resulting in flooding and stormy conditions in winter. Storm and flood losses in Britain cost £6.2 billion between 1998 and 2003—double the amount in the previous five years. The financial costs of flooding could rise in both the UK and the rest of Europe, increasing the annual flood bill by some £82 billion across the continent. More important than the financial loss is the human cost. It now appears clear that climate change is a threat to the future of the entire world. Hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wild fires and other natural disasters have caused devastation in parts of the globe.

Yet the future does not look promising. Economic growth is expected to propel global oil demand from 84 million to 116 million barrels a day by 2030. Carbon emissions are set to soar by more than 55 per cent over that period. Furthermore, there may be greater use of the burning of coal. This energy scenario is not only unsustainable, but also doomed to failure, according to the International Energy Agency.

The first and best way to alleviate the efforts of climate change and to make dramatic cuts to damaging greenhouse gas emissions is to take a holistic approach with the participation and the support of local authorities, Governments, international organizations and us, the people. The UK government is taking a leading role. Its focus on climate change during its presidency of the G8 in 2005 is most welcome. The UK produces 2% of global carbon emission, but in the UK we have achieved a 15% reduction of Green House Gas emissions in 2002 from 1990 levels, and committed to 60% cut by 2050. All this while economy posted 30% growth which I believe we can be an example to other nations by championing sustainable development.

We would like other countries in the world to follow our example. United States of America and fast growing countries like India and China must all take a positive role to reduce pollution and carbon emissions and preserve energy.

If we take the right action there will be dual benefits; first we will reduce pollution and, secondly we will secure our energy supplies for the future. The UK must set an annual ‘carbon budget’ to limit the amount of greenhouse gas we produce each year, so we can achieve that 60% reduction target by 2050. The government needs to offer tax incentives to drive UK innovation in renewable energy and other clean technology and use public subsidy to support R&D.

With renewable energies, there is real hope that this can be achieved – in wind, solar and waterpower – reminiscent of the early days of information technology or mobile phones. And, like the information Age, the Renewable Age could also herald real opportunities

What can we as people do? Climate change unites us all – each and every one of us will suffer if we allow runaway increases in our emissions to further damage an already ailing atmosphere. More than one-third of the UK’s carbon emissions come from people’s homes and road transport. This is an issue of personal choice as well as government policy.

We can begin by undertaking home improvements to cut down on energy wastage. We can recycle as much as possible. We should make more use of public transport and cut down on air travel, where possible.

We must remember few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts we can make a real difference.

We must choose instead to make the 21st century a time of renewal. By seizing the opportunity that is bound up in this crisis, we can unleash the creativity, innovation, and inspiration that are just as much a part of our human birthright as our vulnerability to greed and pettiness. The choice is ours. The responsibility is ours. The future is ours.

I will conclude by reciting one of my favourite sayings by Mahatma Gandhi;

‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’

Thank you

Updated: 27/08/2009 — 4:28 PM