Changing Our Role with Climate Change

As humans on Earth, the changes we need to make when it comes to climate involve everything around us. We would need to change everything from how we live to how our economies function. For Muslims, it goes even deeper, and we need to re-evaluate our role, and the responsibilities that were given to us since our creation.

One recent summer, the temperature was abnormally high and above average. A tweet went out from a Washington D.C tarmac concerning a delayed flight. “ Why is my flight canceled? Because DC is so d#%n hot that our plane sank 4’’ into the pavement.” This was indeed true, and the black pavement looked like wet cement. The plane eventually had to be towed, and a few hours later the passengers went on with their business. This is becoming the norm these days, proving that what has been happening with our climate is not a mystery. The fact that burning fossil fuels is causing radical climate change, and that it is now interfering with our daily lives, did not stop those passengers in D.C from continuing their flight, and won’t stop us from doing what we have to in order to maintain our consumer lifestyle.

I am in no position to judge, as I find myself guilty of this as well. What concerns me is the trajectory of our culture as it relates to its environment. We continue to invest and spend towards things that can threaten our survival. The global economy is doubling down on the fragility of the environment by exploring even dirtier alternatives than fossil fuels, such as deep-water drilling for oil, bitumen from tar sands, coal from detonating mountains, and gas from fracking. The studies we value hit us in the face as we live with this kind of dissonance, simply a part of being alive in this moment in history.

Humans fall into a few categories when it comes to climate change, although most of them have humans looking away from the problem. You have the deniers like Donald Trump and the Tea party followers, where one winter changes their perspective. You have those that deny it, but look back on climate change as a joke. Then there are the hopefuls, those that tell comforting stories to themselves on how clever humans are, and trust that we will use science and technology to solve this. This is another way of looking away. You have the hyper-rational, who think in terms of dollar for dollar, and think it is more efficient to focus on developing the economy than to focus on climate change. There are a few people who are mentally occupied people, too busy to care and too distant to think abstractly. And lastly we have the individualists. They are aware but decide only to focus on themselves making the change. They would recycle, shop locally, bike or walk to work. But it stops there, and they don’t take it to the needed level of making desperate changes to the community. If we continue to not react, if we continue to deny how frightened we actually are, little by little we will reach a place we fear most, a place where we can’t look away, a place we can’t come back from. We would fail ourselves and our children, and break an Amaanah that has been left with us since the dawn of time.

There is a way of preventing such a disastrous future. As humans on Earth, the changes we need to make involve everything around us. We would need to change everything from how we live to how our economies function. For Muslims, it goes even deeper, and we need to re-evaluate our role and responsibilities that were given to us since our creation. The how and why we go about this are already documented for us in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Reviving our roles as individual caliphs (successors) of the earth and its prosperity is critical to achieving the justice that the poor and weak need. Any form of injustice is usually created by the rich and powerful and impacts the weak and poor. Climate change is no different. When a drought happens, like in France for example, the rich or developed parts of countries are primarily unaffected. But take that drought to a third world country and the impacts are catastrophic. We had a drought in the states recently on the West Coast, and most people continued on with their daily live unaffected. The droughts in Ethiopia, however, can ruin families, spread famine, and leave long-lasting effects. The majority of the world is in poverty, and a good portion of people are Muslim. They are the ones suffering from the effects of a problem to which they did not contribute. We are leaders in our households and our communities and that is where change will begin. The profits, employment, and growth are good, hence climate change has never received crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries tremendous risk, far more risk than collapsing banks. Here is an example of how money drives reason more than justice.

This was an interview conducted between an investigative journalist and a climatologist. Hedges, the journalist involved, notes that while Hansen and most other climatologists have been “sounding the alarm for decades,” the “establishment systems of power continue to pursue policies that are suicidal,” and he asks why. “It’s pretty clear why,” Hansen responds. “Because the fossil fuel industry is making a lot of money… and they are able to influence both the legislative branch of government and the executive branch. That’s why we’re trying to use the third branch of government, the judicial branch, to secure the rights of young people.” Oil giant Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research in the 1970s and then, without disclosing the findings of its scientists, worked to manufacture doubt about the scientific consensus of its own research. This was all for the sake of money.

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We need to step away from the role of spectators and truly adopt the responsibility we have that is mentioned in the Quran. World leaders and politicians aren’t the only ones with the power and ability to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too. Our recent history is full of major changes at the hands of the people. Slavery wasn’t considered a violation of human rights for British and American elites until abolitionism made it known as one. Racial discrimination wasn’t treated as a real threat to the welfare of people until the civil rights movement made it one. Sex discrimination wasn’t acknowledged until feminists rallied for rights. The Apartheid was supported and funded until an anti-Apartheid movement took place. It is not too late and we can work together and revive our roles.

Masajids and institutes can have joint efforts to be greener and be an example for others to follow. No one mentioned the protection of nature and wildlife with as great emphasis and rules as Islam and the Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Before Islam and the final messenger, our climate wasn’t thought about as much. Today we are going back to what the Prophet said over 1400 years ago, and trying to get back on track. Subhanallah.

Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

The solutions are there! There is an issue of poaching endangered animals. What is the remedy? The Prophet said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.” The listeners asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?” He replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away.” (An–Nasa’i) When it comes to deforestation, the Prophet said, “Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees.” [Al-Muwatta].

Access to clean water is a right. What was prescribed by the Prophet? Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-`Aas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet passed one day by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) while he was performing wudu’, the ritual cleaning of the body parts in preparation for prayer. The prophet asked Sa`d, “Why is this wastage?” Sa`d replied, “Is there wastage in wudu also?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.” (Ahmad and authenticated Ahmad Shakir)

Consumerism that impacts our resources and environment is another major concern. The Prophet used to recycle and care for his needs, When asked about what the Prophet used to do in his house, the Prophet’s wife, `A’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), said that he used to repair his shoes, sow his clothes and used to do all such household works done by an average person. (Authenticated by Al-Albani)

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