I’d ul Fitr Khutbah: 5 June 2019: World Environment Day: Becoming an Eco-Muslim by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

I’d ul Fitr Khutbah: 5 June 2019: World Environment Day: Becoming an Eco-Muslim by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

 

ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر ولله الحمد

God is Greater than; God is Greater than; God is Greater than;
All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude belongs to God Alone

 Introduction

We gather here at this `Id al-Fitr service to bid farewell to the blessed and beautiful month of Ramadan. By the Grace of Allah, the ever-Merciful and all-Compassionate, our spiritual and moral resources have been replenished by the great blessings of fasting. We pray that Allah accept our fast (siyam), prayer (qiyam), supplication (du`a), acts of charity (sadaqah) and good deeds (`amal al-salihat). Allahumma Amin.

 `Id al-Fitr is a day on which we display a deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the wonderful gift and blessing of successfully completing a month long fast and dedicating ourselves to increased acts of prayer, charity and benevolence. We commence this celebratory day by coming together to offer the special `Id Salah, to rejoice in the remembrance of Allah’s favours, to reflect on our spiritual accomplishments and to show gratitude for the blessings of everyday life. It is with this spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude that the global Muslim Ummah observes `Id al-Fitr.  This understanding of `Id al-Fitr as a Day of Thanksgiving is underscored by verse 185 of Surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2 of the Glorious Qur’an in which Allah, the Lord of Compassion and Mercy proclaims: 

وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَى مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

Allah desires that you complete the fasting of the whole of the month, and that you may glorify Him for giving you His guidance, and that you may give thanks and show gratitude. (Surah al-Baqarah 2:185)

At this joyous time of `Id al-Fitr we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. In particular, as responsible South Africans we also give thanks for the free, fair and peaceful general elections convened at the beginning of the month of Ramadan. We make du`a and pray for elected leaders who will serve our country well and in the `Id spirit of forging unity, we pray that Allah will bless our country and its people as we work together to promote greater levels of socio-economic justice and social integration. We give thanks for the witness to justice of Imam Abdullah Haron who was martyred 50 years ago and all anti-apartheid activists whose sacrifices have afforded us a free and democratic country. At this time of thanksgiving we also spare a thought for those who are affected by poverty, deprivation, war, disease, and other misfortune and we pray that Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, alleviate their suffering and hardship. We remember in our du`as and prayers especially this morning all worshippers who have been killed and maimed in the recent attacks on places of worship in the Philippine’s, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and during Ramadan in the West African country of Burkina Faso. All of these innocent victims have a special place in our du`as and prayers.

On `Id al-Fitr we also celebrate our spiritual achievements and accomplishments of the past Ramadan, and we look forward to meeting the challenges of the next year with renewed hope and determination. This year our `Id al-Fitr celebrations coincides with World Environment Day, 5 June 2019. As conscientious muslims and responsible global citizens it therefore behooves us to create awareness about our environmental challenges and reflect on what we are doing to care for our common home.

 

In my khutbah today, I would like to raise the environmental banner by highlighting some of the environmental challenges we are currently faced with, but also focus on a few positive changes happening in the environmental space and offer some encouragement for us to get active about caring for our planet.

My decision to focus on environmental justice during today’s `Id al-Fitr khutbah was further prompted by some striking remarks made by Anglican priest, Reverend Michael Lapsley during his pre-khutbah talk delivered here at the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) on Friday 17 May 2019. Father Lapsley reminded us that during our recent 8th of May 2019 general elections, a response to climate change never appeared on the election manifestos of any of the major contending political parties, despite the fact that climate change has reached a tipping point for irreversible change. However, he expressed the hope that our faith in God may help to galvanize us to respond to our environmental crisis with passion and purpose. It is thus with deep faith and hope that I share my reflections on mitigating environmental challenges in anticipation that it will inspire many of us to leave this `Id al-Fitr service a little more committed to actions that will reduce our carbon footprint and preserve our natural environment.    

Islam and Preserving the Environment (Hifz al-Bi`ah)

It might be expedient to begin by reminding ourselves that conscientious Muslims are those who live in reverence and harmony with nature. In this regard, the companion, Abu Sa`id al- Khudri narrated in the hadith collection of Jam`i al-Tirmidhi, that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advises us as follows:

 ان الدنيا خَضِرَةٌ حِلوة ٌ

وان الله مُستخلِفُكم فيها

فناظرٌ كيف تعملون
The world is green and delightful,

And Allah has made you a custodian over it (the world),

And is observing carefully how you deal with it. (Jam`i al-Tirmidhi)

Nature and the environment are indispensable guides and intimate companions of faith in Islam. The Glorious Qur`an, in numerous verses exhorts Muslims to tafakkur i.e observe, contemplate, and reflect on the signs of God in the universe. The Qur’an insists that these signs manifest all we need to know about God and about our rightful place in it. For example, in Surah Ali-`Imran, chapter 3, verse 190-1, Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ

 لَآَيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا

 وَعَلَى جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ

 رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding who celebrate the praises of God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth (with the thought): “Our Lord! not for nothing have You created (all) this! Glory be to You! Grant us salvation from the torment of fire.” (Surah Ali-`Imran 3:90-91)

It has been reported that the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) wept all night long when the above verses were revealed to him. At dawn, when his mu’adh-dhin, Bilal, came to call him for the fajr prayers, and inquired about the reason for his tears, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replied: “Woe to anyone who hears this verse and does not meditate on its illuminating meaning.”

From an Islamic perspective, what is known “Fiqh Al-Bī’ah fī al-Islām” or the “Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment” is so critical that some contemporary scholars, such as Dr. Mustafa Abu-Sway, from Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, have cogently argued on the basis of sound Islamic evidences that the challenges of our times demand that we review and add caring for our environment (hifz al-bi’ah) to the traditional list of what is known as the Maqasid al-Shari`ah, i.e. the higher objectives of Islamic law. These universal objectives of Islamic law were first formulated by great classical Muslim legal theorists such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d.1111) and Abu Ishaq Al-Shatibi (d.1388) and traditionally constitute five or six basic categories, namely: human life (hifz al-hayat), religion (hifz al-din), reason progeny (hifz al-nasab), property (hifz al-mal) and sometimes honour (hifz al-`ird). By including conservation of the environment (hifz al-bi’ah) as one of the higher objectives of Islamic law, Dr. Abu Sway believes that contemporary Muslim discourses, ethico-legal rulings and lifestyles will be geared towards fulfilling our role as responsible stewards of the earth (khalifat Allah fil ard). I wholeheartedly concur with this view and believe that as conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens we should be at the forefront of advocating such a viewpoint. However, in order for us to be effective we need to have some understanding of the environmental crisis as well as positive initiatives so that we can all join in mitigating this challenge. This is one of the major purposes behind the celebration of World Environment Day.

World Environment Day

World Environment Day is an annual event aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. This year 2019 the theme is “Air Pollution” and we would do good to educate ourselves about how we can preserve and enhance the quality of air we breathe. It is common knowledge that air pollution can have devastating effects on our health and the environment.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 91% of the world’s population live in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits (10 to 30 times higher) and air pollution is a major cause of death and disease globally. An estimated five million premature deaths globally are linked to air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections. In children and adults, both short- and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma. Five million deaths a year make air pollution the fourth leading cause of premature deaths in the world.

Even though all populations are affected by air pollution, the burden of ill-health is inequitable within and across countries. Most of the disease burden is borne by poor and marginalized communities who tend to live near busy roads and industrial sites characterized by high levels of air pollution. In South Africa, air pollution kills 20 000 people every year. The pollutants emanate mostly as a result of human activities which includes fossil fuel burning, electricity generation, vehicle emissions, aircraft emissions, domestic fuel burning, biomass burning, waste incineration and the use of household materials that contain persistent organic pollutants. Improving air quality is therefore among the measures with the greatest potential impact on health equity. It is encouraging to note that the former minister of environmental affairs, Nomvula Mkonyane, committed to amend the minimum standards to improve air quality in South Africa.

In an April 2018 pre-khutbah address at the CMRM, Brian Ashley, director of the Alternative Informational and Development Centre (AIDC), informed us that the South African economy, despite its relatively small size, is the 12th biggest emitter of Greenhouse Gases in the world and has a per capita emission profile similar to large industrialized economies such as Germany and Britain. AIDC has launched a commendable “One Million Climate Jobs” campaign which seeks to pressurize the South African government to embrace policies that will move our economy from an extractivist one, which is reliant on fossil fuels such as coal and oil, to a low carbon economy which will mean using our natural resources such as wind and sun to generate energy. Extractivism is not just confined to minerals, gas and oil but includes industrial agriculture, forestry and fishing. Extractivist modes of development, as we have it in South Africa, crowd out and stand in the way of the diversification of the economy.  Critically, Brian reminded us that behind the phenomena of extreme extractivism lies extreme capitalism. A transition to a low carbon economy holds out much greater hope for diversifying the economy, stimulating new industries and most importantly creating the greatest number of decent jobs for millions of people. These include public sector jobs within the renewable energy sector; jobs related to the expansion of public transport systems in order to reduce cars on the road; jobs to retrofit buildings and homes to be more energy efficient; jobs to produce food through small-scale and organic farming methods; jobs related to recycling and reducing waste. AIDC estimates that One Million Climate Jobs could be created in this transition to a low carbon economy.   

 Environmental Action and Victories

The current environmental problems we are faced with make us vulnerable to disasters and one could say that we are in a state of green emergency. We therefore need to address environmental problems seriously because if we do not act fast, we will be doomed for disaster.

ver the last few decades, the exploitation of our planet and degradation of our environment has increased at an alarming rate and some environmental challenges which requires our immediate attention are climate change, the energy crisis, the depletion of natural resources and pollution.

However, it is encouraging to note that over the last few years, it seems as if the world has experienced an awareness and consciousness catch-up, spurred on by active citizens around the globe. In 2018, thanks to tighter environmental policy, the United Nations announced that the ozone hole is recovering and may be completely healed by the year 2060. This felt impossible in the 1980s when the world first became aware of the problem of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) destroying the Ozone layer.

Another reassuring victory is the global effort to end single-use plastic pollution. Countries and cities all over the world are introducing laws and policies with regards to the manufacture, sale, use and disposal of single-use plastics. Whether governments are implementing taxes on the production of plastic bags, charging customers to use plastic bags, banning or restricting single-use plastics, the policy measures are proving effective. Closer to home in Cape Town, Aaniyah Omardien, a CMRM member who has worked in conservation and caring for the environment for nearly 20 years has been instrumental in not only cleaning the beaches of Muizenberg, but also in getting local establishments to make an active difference by not offering customers and patrons single use plastic straws or plastic shopping bags. Aaniyah spoke at the masjid last Ramadan where she informed us that she founded ‘The Beach Co-op’ in 2015 and for the past four years she has been on a mission to eliminate, reuse, redesign and recycle single-use plastic, which often lands up in our oceans and on our beaches.

 The Green Belt Movement started by Professor Wangari Maathai to encourage women in Kenya to plant trees in order to improve the soil and provide fuel and food is another success story and has to date planted more than 51 million trees. Furthermore, what started as tree planting has led to grassroots activism and direct community empowerment and today the Green Belt Movement continues to advocate for the area’s protection.

Lastly, less than two weeks ago we received the good news that President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Carbon Tax Act. The Act came into effect on 1 June 2019 and aims to reduce the impact of climate change following the polluter-must-pay-principle and taxing greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully this will ensure an environmentally sustainable economic growth path for South Africa. 

We make du`a and pray that environmental victories and eco-progress such as these, inspire us to make positive changes to our lives and to become eco-Muslims.

 Becoming an Eco-Muslim

 Overcoming the environmental crisis and mitigating the impact of climate change, from an Islamic perspective is underpinned by defining the role of humans as trustees (khalifatu Allah fi’l Ard). We are therefore compelled to take stock of our actions and redirect our energies towards slowing down or reversing the devastating effects of pollution, deforestation, global warming and climate change.

In a society spoilt by choice, we should commit ourselves to favouring greener options in all aspects of our lives. I would like to offer some practical suggestions as to how each one of us can become an eco-Muslim i.e. a Muslim who takes the ethical principles of Islam with respect to the environment as central to their faith and lifestyle.

There are many things we can do to adopt a more caring, low carbon life-style.

Firstly, and a good place to start, is to try and lower the amount of waste we contribute to the environment and we can easily do this by reducing our household waste. In this regard we need to buy smart. This means buying things that we don’t have to replace often, buying things with less packaging, buying bulk instead of small amounts and remembering to use reusable shopping bags. In addition to this, we can decrease the amount of waste we create by composting, reusing and recycling.

Secondly, we should commit to planting more trees since it is one of the most powerful ways that we can make a difference to our environment. Trees are essential to life and not only produces the oxygen we need to breathe, but also helps to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which cools the earth and helps to defend our planet against climate change. Throughout the course of his life, Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) was always concerned with the environment and its protection, and he has left behind several prophetic traditions (hadith) that underscores the importance of caring for and planting trees. In one such hadith, reported by Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said:

 عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ

  الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا

  “If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while

he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.”

(Musnad Aḥmad)

In other words, trees hold such great value in Islam that even if the hour is established, we should finish planting it.

Thirdly, we should try to reframe our mindsets on how we define our needs so as not to fall into the trap of greed and consumerism and continue on the trajectory of a being a throw-away society. Our heedlessness and voracious appetite for an endless supply of newer and better things, is rapidly depleting the natural resources on which we depend. For example, our mobile phones are arguably the most central objects in our lives because they connect us to everything and everyone at the touch of a button. But what we don’t realise is that every time we purchase a newer or latest version of a mobile phone, we are adding to the burden on the environment. More than this, we should ask ourselves whether we really need new phones, laptops and other electronic devices before carelessly purchasing it. Aspiring to better ways of consuming and a more sustainable relationship with nature goes hand in hand with an Islamic consumer ethic which encourages the individual to live within his/her means and avoid incurring unnecessary debt, and most of all, to show gratitude for our many blessings, including the natural environment. To this end I recommend that we learn and recite the following Sunnah supplication to ask Allah, Our Sustainer and Provider, to help us live balanced lives and not to succumb to the plague of rampant consumerism that besets the economic culture of today. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us the following supplication (du’a) that we should constantly recite during these challenging times:

 اَللَّهُمَّ اكْفِنِي بِحَلالِكَ عَنْ حَرَامِكَ
وَأَغْنِنِي بِفَضْلِكَ عَمَّنْ سِوَاكَ

 “O Allah, suffice me with what You have permitted, so that I have no need of that which You have forbidden and make me Independent of means by Your bounty so that I have no need of anyone besides Thee.” (Jami` Tirmidhi)

Fourthly, water scarcity has been a global issue in recent times and it continues to be so. An eco-Muslim is therefore one who isn’t wasteful in their consumption of this precious resource. In this regard I would like to cite an instructive quote from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is related by the companion, `Abdullah ibn `Umar, in the hadith collection of Ibn Majah, that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed by his companion Sa’ad, who was performing his wudu’ (ablutions), and said:

 عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَرَّ بِسَعْدٍ وَهُوَ يَتَوَضَّأُ

 فَقَالَ مَا هَذَا السَّرَفُ

 فَقَالَ أَفِي الْوُضُوءِ إِسْرَافٌ

 قَالَ نَعَمْ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ عَلَى نَهَرٍ جَارٍ

 “What is this wastage, O Sa’ ad?”

“Is there wastage even in (such a sacred act as) washing for prayer?” asked Sa’ad; and he (the Prophet) said, “Yes, even if you are by a flowing river!  (Ibn Majah)

The message is crystal clear: Do not waste water, even if you perform your prayer ablutions and even if water is available in abundance.

Lastly, we should support environmental advocacy groups and NGO’s such as the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign (PHA) and the South African Faith Communities Environmental Institute (SAFCEI) who work tirelessly to protect our environment and influence public policy in order to bring about justice and positive change. 

Conclusion

 In an age where excessive consumption has become the norm and our connection to nature has weakened, it is important for us to take a moment to show gratitude for the beautiful, natural world which al-Khaliq, our Creator, has blessed us with.

At this sacred time of `Id al-Fitr, which coincides with World Environment Day, we implore Allah the Most Compassionate to inspire us to become more caring and compassionate towards our natural environment. Let us all resolve to become eco-Muslims, strive to restore the balance in our lifestyles and live in reverence and harmony with nature.

Please join me in a special supplication to ask the Lord of Compassionate Justice to make us more responsible stewards of the earth:

O Allah the Creator of the heavens and earth and everything that exists,

Forgive our confusion and inaction as we confront the environmental challenges facing us.

 We pray for all those who suffer because of environmental damage.

 We pray for the defenseless animals harmed or made extinct by our selfishness and heedlessness.

 We pray for the defenders of our environment and their families who share this burden.

 We pray that we have a change of heart and stop harming the planet.

 We pray for our leaders to implement new and just policies that will protect our fragile world for future generations.

 Help us to re-examine ourselves and our lifestyle choices.

 Inspire us to work together to achieve the environmental goals we set for ourselves.

 May we follow the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in caring and being a source of compassion (rahmah) for everything that exists in our precious universe.

 Allahumma Amin

 ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر ولله الحمد

God is Greater than; God is Greater than; God is Greater than;

All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude belongs to God Alone

May you all have a festive ‘Id al-Fitr and May you live well and in the Grace of the Lord Compassion.

I greet you all:

 

‘Id Sa’id Wa Mubarak

May You Enjoy a Happy and Blessed `Id

Kullu ‘Am Wa Antum Bikhayr Ma’as-Salamah Was-Sihhah

May your entire year be filled with Goodness, Peace and Health

Baie Slamat vir Labarang

 

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