In August of last year, an event took place in Istanbul that didn’t quite dominate the headlines but carried a significance nonetheless. This was the first International Islamic Climate Change Symposium and was attended by Islamic scholars and academic figures from 20 Muslim countries. A product of this conference was a joint declaration acknowledging the threats from climate change and the need for governments to take decisive action to counter this.
While the delegation didn’t feature much representative from some major Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, it was an important though belated step in the right direction. Up till this point, there hadn’t been to my knowledge any major joint Muslim effort to put spotlight on the topic of climate change, and the voices of our spiritual leaders have been noticeably absent on the international stage.
It is critical for faith communities representing a huge swathe of humanity to be on the frontlines on such an important issue. For example, in May of last year, Pope Francis issued a now famous encyclical regarding climate change that garnered much praise and helped to shape public opinion. Muslims are a decentralized religion in that we do not have one leading hierarchical figure speaking on behalf of all the faithful. The onus therefore is on our religious leaders in our separate countries to come together on this matter and educate the masses about the reality of climate change.
I myself never really questioned the science behind climate change. I was taught about the greenhouse effect when I was young and the reasoning behind it seemed simple and straightforward for why the temperatures are rising and weather effects are getting more dramatic.
On a fundamental level, I knew that all of the air, land and sea pollution since the dawn of industrial revolution in the 18th century must have some cumulative consequence down the road. Now, with the hurricanes, droughts and tsunamis, humanity is reaping what is has sown. Yes, we can debate about the level of devastation and timing of climate change effect, but not the phenomenon itself. The fact that temperatures are reaching new highs is beyond question.
Rather sadly, I have encountered all to often among my fellow Muslims a healthy climate change skepticism. Some see it as a Western or Globalist conspiracy hatched by Al Gore, the Illuminati and co. Others question whether human’s actions through industrialization can have such a mass effect on weather patterns, and consider these cyclical changes. More so than this though, I have witnessed a more indifferent attitude to this issue. They may not deny the reality of climate change, but put it lower on their list of worries. While to a certain degree this is understandable, as poverty and war seem more immediate concerns afflicting Muslims. But when you look deep enough, climate change can be seen as a contributing factor for many of these problems (such as its role during the Arab Spring, for example).
Finally, I have a sincere wish that Muslims would study the view of Nature rooted in our religious traditions, and see how different it is from the modern materialist standpoint, as pointed out by intellectuals such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Contrary to the modern worldview that sees Nature as a domain of human conquest, Muslims have traditionally seen the natural surrounding as imbued with a sense of the sacred, and hence not something that should be exploited willy-nilly. When we explore deep enough, we can find that this loss of the sacred may have been the root cause of the environmental crisis, and the only solution may be for us to recover our love for the environment as a creation of the Divine. In this way, we have more to offer the world on the issue of climate change than even we know.