Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change: A Review
by Arthur Lyon Dahl 29 August 2015
After drafting work by a group of leading academics, and wide circulation for consultation, an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was adopted at an international Islamic Climate Change Symposium, held in Istanbul, Turkey, on 17-18 August 2015(1) (see ANNEX). The document is a significant addition to other religious declarations on this critical issue for the future of humanity, alongside those of the Bahá'í International Community's statement in 2008: Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change (2) and the Pope's June 2015 encyclical Laudato Si': on care for our common home (3) reviewed on this web site (4), among others.
The symposium brought together leading Muslim scholars, diplomats and experts from across the Muslim world, as well as other leading experts from different faiths. One of the speakers at the Symposium was International Environment Forum member Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.
The Islamic Declaration is divided into three parts: a preamble that sets the scientific context, a set of affirmations of principles based on Qur'anic texts, and calls addressed to particular groups to take up their responsibilities for responding to climate change.
The preamble starts by setting the Islamic context, acknowledging Allah (God) as the creator of the universe, and human responsibility to serve the Lord of all beings. It then summarizes in several paragraphs the current scientific understanding of climate change and its human causes, causes which are in contradiction with our responsibility to be the caretaker of the earth and to maintain its equilibrium. It lists various reasons for concern, including the risks to the poor and disadvantaged, and risks of abrupt and irreversible changes. It notes with alarm that we are accelerating our own destruction and approaching the threshold for catastrophic climate change. It calls for a proactive approach to halt and hopefully reverse the damage being wrought. As with the Pope's encyclical and long-standing Bahá'í principles, this section demonstrates the new convergence of science and religion on environmental issues.
The affirmations of Qur'anic principles bring out the spiritual foundations of the need to act on climate change. Allah is the Lord, Creator and Sustainer of all beings, and He encompasses all of His creation. He created the Earth in a perfect equilibrium of natural resources and cycles in which all living beings thrive. Humans have corrupted the Earth in their pursuit of economic growth and consumption, causing climate change, pollution, soil erosion and deforestation, and damage to human health. Humans are exceptionally powerful, with a responsibility to establish good and to avert evil, with no right to oppress the rest of creation or to cause it harm. Our intelligence and conscience require us to treat all things with care, compassion and utmost good. We are accountable for all our actions. The section concludes with our responsibility to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, Who protected the rights of all living beings, conserved water, established protected areas, lived a frugal life free of excess and ostentation, renewed and recycled his possessions, ate simple healthy food with little meat, and took delight in the created world.
Such themes are common to many religious traditions. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, speaking at Stanford University in 1912, stated that "The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life"; then He asked, "Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?"(5) He also wrote that "it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature."(6) He similarly set an example of a simple life.
Calls to Groups to Take Up Their Responsiblities for Climate Change. The third part of the Declaration issues calls to significant actors responsible for climate change. The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 30 November-11 December 2015, should bring its discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, with the enormous responsibility to lead all of us to a new way of relating to God's Earth. The well-off nations and oil-producing states should lead in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions to stay within a 2°C or preferably 1.5°C limit for global warming, leaving two-thirds of the earth's proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and investing in the creation of a green economy. They have a moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit, to preserve the environment rather than profiting unethically from it, and to elevate the condition of the world's poor.
The Declaration makes a broad call to the people of all nations and their leaders to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and to commit to decentralized renewable energy. Economic growth should be pursued wisely and in moderation, with priority to adaptation and increasing resilience to climate-change impacts, especially for the most vulnerable. The Declaration calls for "a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality". Corporations, finance and the business sector should shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impacts, committing to and shifting investments into renewable energy while divesting from the fossil-fuel-driven economy. They should change from the current business model that is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable and more socially and ecologically responsible. All groups are invited to join in collaboration, cooperation and competition in good deeds, in particular welcoming the significant contributions of other faiths offering the best of their respective traditions, since all can be winners.
The final call is to all Muslims, with a long list from Heads of State to congregations and community activists, not to "strut arrogantly on the earth", and to bear in mind the Hadith that "The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves."
Conclusion. Common themes among the three declarations from Islam, the Catholic Church and the Bahá'ís are the link between poverty and climate change, and the fact that these are both symptoms of an underlying spiritual illness, requiring a significant transformation in the materialistic economy. Such declarations have the potential to take their messages of planetary responsibility far beyond what scientific declarations or even government efforts can reach. Their acceptance of the scientific reality of climate change, combined with an ethical and spiritual message of responsibility to act, will reinforce efforts to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The fact that many oil-producing nations are dominantly Muslim, and that the Islamic Declaration specifically targets these states and calls for the oil to be left in the ground, should have particular impact in the years ahead. The opening to interfaith collaboration is also welcome in helping to counteract growing religious intolerance in many quarters.
The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change can be another important milestone in the necessary planetary mobilization to try to head off catastrophic climate change.
1. International Islamic Climate Change Symposium. 2015. Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/
2. Bahá'í International Community. 2008. Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change. Statement presented at COP14, Poznan, Poland, 2008. https://www.bic.org/statements/seizing-opportunity-redefining-challenge-climate-change
3. Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si': on care for our common home. Encyclical (18 June 2015) http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
4. Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2015, Summary and Commentary on Laudato Si': the Pope's encyclical on the environment and poverty. International Environment Forum, https://iefworld.org/ddahl15d and https://iefworld.org/fl/LaudatoSi_commentary2015.pdf
5. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, talk at Leland Stanford Junior University, Palo Alto, California, 8 October 1912. Promulgation of Universal Peace. Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982. p. 350
6. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 158-159.
ANNEX - ISLAMIC DECLARATION
Declaration adopted at the
International Islamic Climate Change Symposium
Istanbul, Turkey, 17-18 August 2015
Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change
In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate
1.1 God – Whom we know as Allah – has created the universe in all its diversity, richness and vitality: the stars, the sun and moon, the earth and all its communities of living beings. All these reflect and manifest the boundless glory and mercy of their Creator. All created beings by nature serve and glorify their Maker, all bow to their Lord’s will. We human beings are created to serve the Lord of all beings, to work the greatest good we can for all the species, individuals, and generations of God’s creatures.
1.2 Our planet has existed for billions of years and climate change in itself is not new. The earth’s climate has gone through phases wet and dry, cold and warm, in response to many natural factors. Most of these changes have been gradual, so that the forms and communities of life have adjusted accordingly. There have been catastrophic climate changes that brought about mass extinctions, but over time, life adjusted even to these impacts, flowering anew in the emergence of balanced ecosystems such as those we treasure today. Climate change in the past was also instrumental in laying down immense stores of fossil fuels from which we derive benefits today. Ironically, our unwise and short-sighted use of these resources is now resulting in the destruction of the very conditions that have made our life on earth possible.
1.3 The pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude from the gradual changes that previously occurred throughout the most recent era, the Cenozoic. Moreover, it is human-induced: we have now become a force dominating nature. The epoch in which we live has increasingly been described in geological terms as the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans”. Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost. As we humans are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savour. But the same fossil fuels that helped us achieve most of the prosperity we see today are the main cause of climate change. Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans. But our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them. What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?
1.4 We note that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNEP, 2005) and backed by over 1300 scientists from 95 countries, found that “overall, people have made greater changes to ecosystems in the last half of the 20th century than at any time in human history… these changes have enhanced human well-being, but have been accompanied by ever increasing degradation (of our environment).”
“Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”
1.5 Nearly ten years later, and in spite of the numerous conferences that have taken place to try to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the overall state of the Earth has steadily deteriorated. A study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprising representatives from over 100 nations published in March 2014 gave five reasons for concern. In summary, they are:
We are driven to conclude from these warnings that there are serious flaws in the way we have used natural resources – the sources of life on Earth. An urgent and radical reappraisal is called for. Humankind cannot afford the slow progress we have seen in all the COP (Conference of Parties – climate change negotiations) processes since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005, or the present deadlock.
1.6 In the brief period since the Industrial Revolution, humans have consumed much of the non-renewable resources which have taken the earth 250 million years to produce – all in the name of economic development and human progress. We note with alarm the combined impacts of rising per capita consumption combined with the rising human population. We also note with alarm the multi-national scramble now taking place for more fossil fuel deposits under the dissolving ice caps in the arctic regions. We are accelerating our own destruction through these processes.
1.7 Leading climate scientists now believe that a rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperature, which is considered to be the “tipping point”, is now very unlikely to be avoided if we continue with business-as-usual; other leading climate scientists consider 1.5 degrees centigrade to be a more likely “tipping point”. This is the point considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change, which will expose yet more millions of people and countless other creatures to drought, hunger and flooding. The brunt of this will continue to be borne by the poor, as the Earth experiences a drastic increase in levels of carbon in the atmosphere brought on in the period since the onset of the industrial revolution.
1.8 It is alarming that in spite of all the warnings and predictions, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol which should have been in place by 2012, has been delayed. It is essential that all countries, especially the more developed nations, increase their efforts and adopt the pro-active approach needed to halt and hopefully eventually reverse the damage being wrought.
2.1 We affirm that Allah is the Lord and Sustainer (Rabb) of all beings
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Praise be to Allah, Lord and Sustainer of all beings
Qur’an 1: 1
He is the One Creator – He is al-Khāliq
هُوَ اللَّهُ الْخَالِقُ الْبَارِئُ الْمُصَوِّرُ
He is Allah – the Creator, the Maker, the Giver of Form
Qur’an 59: 24
الَّذِي أَحْسَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ
He Who has perfected every thing He has created
Qur’an 32: 7
Nothing that He creates is without value: each thing is created bi ’l-haqq, in truth and for right.
وَمَا خَلَقْنَا السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا لَاعِبِينَ مَا خَلَقْنَاهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ
And We did not create the heavens and earth and that between them in
play. We have not created them but in truth
Qur’an 44: 38
2.2 We affirm that He encompasses all of His creation – He is al-Muhīt
وَلِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُّحِيطًا
All that is in the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah.
Allah encompasses all things
Qur’an 4: 125
2.3 We affirm that –
وَالسَّمَاء رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ
أَلاَّ تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ
وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ
وَالأَرْضَ وَضَعَهَا لِلْأَنَامِ
He raised the heaven and established the balance
So that you would not transgress the balance.
Give just weight – do not skimp in the balance.
He laid out the earth for all living creatures.
Qur’an 55: 7-10
2.4 We affirm the natural state (fitrah) of God’s creation –
فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا فِطْرَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ
لا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لا يَعْلَمُونَ
So set your face firmly towards the (natural) Way
As a pure, natural believer
Allah’s natural pattern on which He made mankind
There is no changing Allah’s creation.
That is the true (natural) Way
But most people do not know it.
Quran 30: 30
2.5 We recognize the corruption (fasād) that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption. Its consequences have been –
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Corruption has appeared on land and sea
Because of what people’s own hands have wrought,
So that they may taste something of what they have done;
So that hopefully they will turn back.
Qur’an 30: 41
2.6 We recognize that we are but a miniscule part of the divine order, yet within that order, we are exceptionally powerful beings, and have the responsibility to establish good and avert evil in every way we can. We also recognize that –
وَمَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلاَ طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم
There is no animal on the earth, or any bird that wings its flight,
but is a community like you.
Qur’an 6: 38
لَخَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ أَكْبَرُ مِنْ خَلْقِ النَّاسِ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لا يَعْلَمُونَ
The creation of the heavens and the earth
Is far greater than the creation of mankind,
But most of mankind do not know it
Qur’an 40: 57
2.7 We recognize that we are accountable for all our actions –
فَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَيْرًا يَرَهُ
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ شَرًّا يَرَهُ
Then he who has done an atom’s weight of good, shall see it;
and he who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it.
2.8 In view of these considerations we affirm that our responsibility as Muslims is to act according to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) who –
3.1 We call upon the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol taking place in Paris this December, 2015 to bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, bearing in mind –
3.2 We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to –
3.3 We call on the people of all nations and their leaders to –
3.4 We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to –
3.5 We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavour and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.
وَلَكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ
He (God) wanted to test you regarding what has
come to you. So compete with each other
in doing good deeds.
Qur’an 5: 48
If we each offer the best of our respective traditions, we may yet see a way through our difficulties.
3.6 Finally, we call on all Muslims wherever they may be –
Heads of state
Religious leaders and scholars
Islamic endowments (awqaf)
Educators and educational institutions
Civil society activists
Communications and media
وَلاَ تَمْشِ فِي الأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولاً
Do not strut arrogantly on the earth.
You will never split the earth apart
nor will you ever rival the mountains’ stature.
Qur’an 17: 37
We bear in mind the words of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):
The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you
stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.
(Hadīth related by Muslim from Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudrī)
International Islamic Climate Change Symposium
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