Islamic leaders urge climate action in declaration

This article appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

Islamic leaders from 20 countries launched a rallying call Tuesday to combat climate change at the conclusion of a two-day symposium in Istanbul. Addressing the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the Islamic Climate Change Declaration presents the environmental crisis as a moral issue backed by Islamic teaching, urging its followers “do not strut arrogantly on the earth.”

The declaration was adopted by the symposium’s 60 participants, who included Islamic scholars, academics, policy makers and Muslim activists, as well as representatives of the United Nations, civil society and other faith leaders. The conference itself -- the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium -- was co-sponsored by Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the interfaith group GreenFaith.

“The basis of the declaration is the work of world renowned Islamic environmentalists, it is a trigger for further action and we would be very happy if people adopted and improved upon the ideas that are articulated in this document,” said Fazlun Khalid, founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, in a press release.

The declaration relied heavily on passages from the Quran to support its many affirmations and calls to action. It stated that “God -- Whom we know as Allah -- has created the universe in all its diversity, richness and vitality,” and added climate change is nothing new on a planet that has existed for billions of years.

“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 declaration said.

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“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,” it said.

The declaration affirmed 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 cared for all living things, established protected areas for plants and wildlife, lived frugally, recycled his possessions by repairing or giving them away, and “took delight in the created world.”

At its conclusion, the declaration called “on all Muslims, wherever they may be,” to follow Muhammad’s example and to address the root causes of climate change and environmental degradation.

“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,” it stated.

The declaration also challenged a multitude of groups -- “the well-off nations and oil-producing states,” people of all nations and their leaders, and the business and finance sectors -- to aim to:

  • lead in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050;
  • provide financial and technical support to the less well-off;
  • “recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources”;
  • Commit to 100 percent renewable energy and invest in its decentralization and the creation of a green economy, and assist fossil fuel divestment;
  • Refocus concerns from unethical profit from the environment to that of preserving it and aiding the world’s poor;
  • Shoulder the consequences of profit-making activities and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint;

Ahead of the U.N. climate talks, to be held in Paris this December, the declaration calls on participating parties to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion,” reflective of the scientific consensus on climate change, the need for clear targets, and “the dire consequences to planet earth if we do not do so.”

Though based on Islamic teaching, the declaration called for collaboration among religious communities to confront climate change. In a press release, its participants described it as “in harmony” with Pope Francis’ recent environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” and the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace supported their efforts.

“It is with great joy and in a spirit of solidarity that I express to you the promise of the Catholic church to pray for the success of your initiative and her desire to work with you in the future to care for our common home, and thus to glorify the God who created us,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the council, in a statement.

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.]

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