A Panel Debate on Environmental Concerns from an Islamic Perspective
“Corruption has appeared on land and sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought…”
— The Qur’an (30:41).
If, until quite recently, we were asked to describe or attach a universal label to our current global predicament we most certainly would have provided not one but an array of descriptions and would have disagreed along differing cleavages which cut across cultures, religions, sects, economic interests, political partisanships and other markers of identities. That is mostly in the past now. The future looks different and uncertain. There is now one common reality, which imposes itself upon us universally, disregarding our particular interests. Indeed, this new reality marginalizes, undermines even, to the point of rendering our particular concerns and solidified identities meaningless. The name for this reality is the looming threat of ecological catastrophe. We have all, in one way or another, become environmentalists. All big global issues have to, directly or indirectly, address environmental concerns. It is the haunting specter, and rightly so, of the 21st century.
We would like to address the impact of the dominant economic paradigm that promotes constant growth. This paradigm upholds and perpetuates the imbalance between the developed and developing countries, as opposed to a more sustainable global system. Since it is true that the earth cannot physically sustain an incessant consumption of resources at current levels, then what are the alternatives? “If we are to achieve a sustainable way of life which guarantees that something will be left for future generations”, said Richard C. Foltz, “Westerners will have to learn to live with less, and non-Westerners will have to give up the fantasy that they can live the way Westerners now do”. Therefore it is important to address how the disparity of global wealth and resources is at the crux of the current ecological crisis.
Considering the ecological state of affairs (e.g. global warming, desertification, deforestation, costal erosion, waste disposal, water shortage, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, loss of biodiversity, species extinction, famine, etc.) we want to encourage a rethinking and revaluation of the cognitive postulates and dissonance, the value system and existential modes of our symbiotic relationship to the environment. The magnitude of the environmental crisis, which endangers both human beings and other living organisms, requires changes in the way we cognitively map and practically live our lives, as well as the production of energy and reorganization of our societies. It also demands that we look anew at our religious texts and scriptures to interpret them in conformity with an ecologically benign perspective. Change is incumbent and necessary if we are to prevent overuse and depletion of natural resources.
The driving motive which undergirds this debate is not only an awareness that we need to do something about sustaining the environment but also to provide a platform for bringing together some of the world’s great religions to discuss how they can help in resolving the environmental crisis. Clearly, solving this crisis is not only an issue for governments but, first and foremost, an issue which concerns every individual human being. By way of addressing the environment as a common concern, world religions can enter a dialogue that we hope may be more fruitful. By working together towards a common objective. Inter-religious dialogue has often been characterized as dialogue of the deaf. For such a dialogue to be successful a third element from outside the co-ordinates of the present religious horizon, or at least, not directly related to the dogmas of religion must mediate the exchange. The ecological crisis is an opportunity to advance the inter-religious dialogue a step further by discovering and nurturing not only doctrinal differences but also ideological commonalities.
The Muslim philosopher and reformist Tariq Ramadan in his newly published book, Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation, urges Muslims to radically think through actions and laws in the name of ethical goals of Islam. He maintains that Islamic thought is absent from some essential contemporary debates, among which he includes the environmental crisis. He demands not only a greater involvement of Muslims in these debates but also a reform of Islamic education and mindset change. This mindset change is, of course, a complex and daunting task, as Ramadan is well aware but it is worth pursuing. One of the most important contributions of this book is the problematization of the “Halal” consumptions.
Which is ethically more “Islamic”, more “halal”? A chicken that has been mistreated when alive, that may never have seen the light of day and that has been force-fed before being slaughtered according to Islamic norms with ritual formula, or an animal that has been kept in a healthy environment respecting its development according to “organic food” label norms, but for which no ritual formula has been declaimed? Many fuqaha [religious scholars], single-mindedly focusing on technical norm implementation, would not even understand such a question’s being asked, and yet, all things considered, in the light of outcomes, before God and human conscience, this question is meaningful and may rightfully be asked in the name of the refusal of too often hypocritical formalities (p. 251).
This sums it up all. Given that many people worldwide are motivated by religious sentiment, the involvement of religious thinkers with these environmentally sensitive and practically relevant issues represents an important front for the advancement of the awareness of the environmental responsibility. Religions have for centuries promoted the well-being of human beings. They can certainly help shape a consciousness that is in the service of protecting and conserving the environment. The way people think about the environment determines how they treat nature. From this premise, a convincing case can be made for the religious basis of environmentally sound thinking and attitudes as it can be instrumental in helping mitigate the environmental crisis.
The debate is organized by Liberalt Laboratorium in cooperation with Andrew McMillion.