As human society, we have used our natural resources on this earth more than nature can regenerate themselves. We are currently consuming more than 1.5 earth resources globally at the rate we run our lives today. Global Footprint Network began to calculate a few years back on what is called the “Earth Overshoot Day” which is the date in any given year when humanity’s use of all natural resources and services in that particular year exceeds the ability of the earth to regenerate in that year. Humanity’s footprint first exceeded global biocapacity in the early 1970s and has done so every year since. By 2019 the annual overshoot had accrued into an ecological debt that exceeded 17 years of the Earth’s total productivity. And this year’s Earth Overshoot Day was a few weeks ago on July 29th, while we still have several months to go until the end of this year.
So, we are gobbling up natural resources at an unsustainable rate. And we practically now live in our ecological debt of this year!
In the last 10 years, we have noticed more heatwaves, storms, and other severe weather events. The increase in wildfires, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes is directly related to our oceans rising, which is, in turn, directly related to the increase of global temperatures. Higher temperatures result in faster evaporation of water. When there is more water vapor in the atmosphere, we experience more frequent, more torrential storms. The increase in global temperatures, which will be catastrophic to the beautiful green planet we call home.
This dramatic increase in rising global temperatures is exactly why we need to make some serious changes now. And if you have children, grandchildren, or plan to start a family, the changes that you make right now can help improve the quality of life for future generations and hopefully in saving the planet.
This year’s Islamic New Year, Hijri, was celebrated on August 9th, 2021 at the same time with the release of the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which sadly lays out in stark terms the disastrous environmental impacts on the planet’s natural systems and worsening extreme weather events around the world. The news was devastating!
On the other hand, the Islamic New Year is considered as a time for prayer and reflection on the sacrifices that led to the beginning of the faith. Hijrah is understood not only as a physical migration that took place more than 1400 years ago. It’s a constant process! It’s a mentality! It’s a philosophy! It’s something we live by! Hijrah is something Muslims constantly do. Muslims want to avoid, stay away from the wrong things, and do the right things. It’s a state of mind!
Hijrah does not require fasting, or feast and it is not celebrated like other cultures. While it may not be celebrated with feasts like other Muslim holidays or in the way other cultures bring in the new year, many Muslims would take time to acknowledge the new year as an important historical moment. Many more Muslims also take the time to reflect as the Islamic New Year approaches and others may celebrate simply by renewing their commitment to God. Although the new year is not as popular or grand as other Muslim holy days, it’s a moment when many Muslims pause and reflect on their faith. The sighting of the new moon at sunset which marks the first day of Muharram, the first month on the Islamic calendar. The new year honors the Prophet Muhammad’s Hijrah, or migration, from Mecca to Medina when he escaped persecution to establish the Muslim community. And I personally often think about how Prophet Muhammad built a society from scratch after fleeing persecution, and how I could transform such wisdoms into practice by caring toward our current planet’s condition.
Muslims around the world are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. God has created the universe in all its splendor, and our duty as human beings is to be khalīfah (stewards) to cultivate the greater good for all people and all of God’s
But as I consider the actual state of the world, as a Muslim, my heart overflows with concern. Climate-induced floods, droughts, and wildfires are now happening more frequently and it’s always those of us who’ve done least to cause the problem who suffer the worst: racial and ethnic minorities; the poor; elders; young children; women. There are significant demographic and geographical disparities as well. Here in the US, it is well-documented that communities of color suffer disproportionately from climate change-induced heatwaves and severe storms.
Internationally, many of the predominantly Muslim North African countries are among the most impacted parts of the world, despite having done very little to contribute to climate crisis.
In Islam, there is a clear call for action to protect the environment and to work against climate change. The Holy Qur’an calls on us to recognize that Allah established the natural world in a life-sustaining balance which we should both respect and protect. The Qur’an also recognizes that people are responsible for all forms of human wrongdoing – including that which affects land, sea, and air. In effort to integrate these values into our own personal lives, more and more Muslims are trying to change their own personal consumption habits to walk more lightly on the Earth. Many of us, for example, are reducing the amount of water we use during our wudu – the ritual cleansing of our face, arms, head and feet before we pray.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, lived in a desert land. He recognized how valuable water is and taught us to use it sparingly. His example takes on new meaning for us today. Muslims around the world also have started approaching Ramadan with a more climate-centric lens by ensuring they reduce waste. Some Muslim activists are pushing for greater energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies in their mosques, along with the training of Islamic clerics about the importance of saving energy. They also encouraged Muslim pilgrims to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca more sustainable.
But as a Muslim, I know that while personal behavior change is vital, it is not enough to turn the tide. Governments, financial institutions, and corporations have massive power over the environment, and I am deeply alarmed by the massive gap between what is required to limit catastrophic global temperature rise and actual climate change commitments by governments, financial groups, and multinational companies. For example, even as COVID-19 has cost millions of people their livelihoods, the palm oil industry in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, successfully lobbied the government against climate and environmental protections, leading to dramatic increases in deforestation. This is plainly incompatible with the teachings of Islam, which, ostensibly, is the code by which the country’s governance is based.
After decades of knowing how serious the climate crisis is, this gap between what’s needed and what’s happening is morally incomprehensible. No religion sanctions the destruction of nature. Yet this is exactly what governments, financial institutions, and major corporations are doing.
That is why I and an increasing number of Muslim youths in the U.S. and elsewhere are joining the growing global, multi-faith movement for climate justice. On March 11, over 400 grassroots religious actions in 45 countries issued a remarkable set of demands. Those of us of the Islamic faith stepped out of our mosques and joined our partners from other religions who stepped out from their churches and temples to peacefully take to the streets to call for action at a level that truly meets the crisis we face. We called on governments and financial institutions to end their support for new fossil fuel infrastructure and tropical deforestation, to commit to universal access to clean and affordable energy, to support policies creating green jobs and job training, placement, healthcare and income maintenance for workers and communities affected by the transition to a clean energy economy, and to enact policies to support those forced to migrate due to climate impacts.
Such are the kinds of commitments that define my understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. Commitments that represent adl (justice) and rahma (compassion). I know that other faith communities share the same values.