In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Tomorrow, Saturday, 1 November 2014, the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) in association with the International Peace College South Africa (IPSA) and with the support of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) will be co-hosting an inaugural seminar on Environmental Justice in Islam. The seminar will take place at IPSA’s campus which is located next to the Habibia Masjid in Rylands Estate, and will convene from 9am to 1pm.
Informed by an Islamic imperative of environmental justice, this seminar is intended to help raise community awareness about current global environmental concerns and also to provide an interactive and engaging platform from which to critically reflect and respond to these issues from an Islamic perspective.
Environmental justice forms an integral part of the comprehensive Islamic vision and the socially responsive mission of the CMRM. At the CMRM we advocate the view that environmental justice and consciousness is an integral part of what it means to be a conscientious Muslim. The conscientious Muslim however, is not someone who is only concerned about issues of environmental justice but is also one who lives in reverence and harmony with the natural environment. 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:
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.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) grew up in the desert, became a shepherd at a young age, and throughout his life shared an intimate relationship with nature. He espoused an environmental philosophy which showed compassion (rahma) for all living things and advocated the harmonious balance between humans and nature. The Arabic word for balance is mizan and God warns humans in many verses of the Qur’an not to transgress this balance through our negligent and uncaring behaviour. In Surah al-Rahman, chapter 55, verse7-9, for example, Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaims:
وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ
أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ
وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ
And He (Allah) has raised the cosmos,
And set up (for all things) the Balance.
So do not transgress the balance.
Weigh, therefore, (your deeds) with justice,
And cause no loss in the balance!
Furthermore, from an Islamic perspective, we at the CMRM view the environmental crisis humanity is facing today as a symptom of a deeper spiritual malaise. This spiritual malaise has come about through our extravagant and consumerist lifestyles that have transgressed the balance between humans and nature. An imbalance or altering of the mizan (balance) has taken place at the individual, social and global levels and this is now being reflected in the environmental crisis. Hence it is incumbent on all of us, as responsible stewards of the earth (khalifat Allah fil ard) to try our best to restore the balance in our relationship with nature. But how best can we fulfill our role as responsible stewards of the earth (khalifat Allah fil ard)? This is the key question that the speakers at tomorrows’ seminar on environmental justice will consider and reflect on.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, from Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, will address the theme of the seminar which is titled “Fiqh Al-Bī’ah fī al-Islām: Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment”. Dr. Abu Sway has published a groundbreaking article in which he cogently argues on the basis of sound Islamic evidences that the issue of environmental justice is so significant in Islam that it justifies it to be added 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, religion, reason progeny, property and sometimes honour. Dr. Abu Sway is one of several contemporary Muslim scholars, including the European based Muslim public intellectual, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, who have argued that the challenges of our times demand that we to review the classical list of the maqasid al-shari`ah and add to them. 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).
The second speaker, at tomorrow’s environmental justice seminar is Dr. Najma Mohamed. She hails from Cape Town and wrote an important doctoral thesis on Islam and Environmental Education in 2012 at the University of Stellenbosch. She will share some of her research findings on the Islamic ecological ethic from sacred texts, traditions and contemporary thought, and illustrate how this ethic can be enlivened in the educational landscape of Islam, for example, how we can make environmental justice a critical part of the curricula in madaris i.e. local Muslim schools. Dr. Mohamed proposes a transformative approach to environmental education which could play a pivotal role in imparting the elementary teachings and values of Islam on the environment to future generations of Muslims.
The third speaker, at the seminar is Kate Davies. Kate serves as the Programme Coordinator of Eco-Congregations for the renowned interfaith body known as the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI). She will share some important Environmental Strategies and Practical Tips for establishing eco-congregations and for embracing eco-ethical lifestyles. Currently the CMRM has the distinction of being the first registered Muslim eco-congregation i.e. a faith community committed to working for a more just and sustainable world. By registering as an eco-congregation, we at the CMRM have committed ourselves firstly, to implement measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the masjid and to encourage congregants to embrace greener lifestyles. To this end, we have conducted water and energy audits at the masjid that will serve as a baseline for us to continuously monitor and reduce our energy usage at the masjid. Secondly, as an eco-congregation the CMRM seeks to join and support nongovernmental organizations that raise awareness and campaigns around issues pertaining to environmental justice. It is our earnest hope that at tomorrow’s seminar we will be able to persuade more of our local masajid to register as eco-congregations.
Finally, I will also be presenting a paper at the seminar reflecting on the Sīrāh i.e. the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through an Environmental or Green lens. It is my view that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us how to live a perfectly balanced life through the Sunnah (his exemplary conduct and teachings) and that he has bequeathed to us a rich reservoir of wisdom concerning the preservation of the natural environment which is the most promising guidance for enabling us to live as responsible stewards of the earth (khalifat Allah fil ard).
In conclusion, I call upon this jumu`ah congregation to join us for this inaugural environmental justice seminar tomorrow morning at IPSA’s campus in Rylands. The seminar is open and free to the broader public; and will be especially useful for those who are actively involved in their local masājid, schools and madāris either as administrators, teachers, imāms students and community leaders. In addition to helping to create much needed awareness and discussion around the important issue of environmental justice, the seminar hopes to provide participants with practical guidelines for how to adopt more eco-conscious behaviours within their own community organizations as well as in their personal lives.
At this sacred hour of jumu`ah 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 challenges of global warming and climate change.
We pray for all those who suffer because of environmental damage.
We pray for the defenseless creatures harmed or made extinct by our selfishness and heedlessness.
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 and to achieve the environmental goals we set 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.