Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fazlun Khalid: Using faith to save the environment

by Prodita Sabarini,

Source: The Jakarta Post, Bogor | Thu, 04/15/2010

Where do we ... we turn to when addressing climate change?

The climate change conundrum has become a talk-shop between politicians of economy-driven developing and developed countries. Prominent British scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock in a recent interview with The Guardian daily quipped that humans were too stupid to stop climate change and suggested democracy be temporarily suspended.

British Muslim environmentalist Fazlun Khalid believes the answer lies in faith.

The founding director of the non-governmental organization Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), also recognized as one of 15 leading eco theologians in the world alongside the Dalai Lama and the Pope, said recently that “the best way to mobilize people to take action [on climate change] is through their faith”.

“Because they believe,” he said.

Sitting in a coffee shop in Bogor, the septuagenarian talked to The Jakarta Post about why faith can motivate people to protect the environment, Islam’s view of humans’ place in the environment, and why he became interested in the politics of environment and conservation.

Khalid visited Indonesia earlier this month to speak at an international conference on climate change – attended by Muslim community representatives from 17 countries, from April 9 to 10. The conference aimed to establish the Muslim Association for Climate Change Action (MACCA).

Khalid said the environmental crisis we faced was rooted in our “competing nation state” model locked into a capitalistic economic paradigm, which encourages a consumer culture and in turn sets no limits on growth.

There are two forces working against each other in the environmental debate, Khalid said. A consumerist force — best described as everyone wanting access to education and a good life, which drives the exploitation of natural resources and will ruin the environment — and morality.

“The pull [from morality] is not strong enough,” he said.

Even though scientists have warned about the danger of global warming to the earth and future generations, people still need to be motivated to take action.

“That [motivation] comes from your faith,” he said.

“There is a very strong need to raise Muslim awareness, Muslim consciousness to this issue,” he said, adding that Indonesia had enormous potential given how religious its population is.

Khalid said that Islam was inherently environmental, although few people realize this.

“Unfortunately 99 percent of Muslims do not know what know Islam says about the environment. Even ulemas are surprised,” he said.

People need to be trained and reminded of the importance of the environment to Islam, he said. “Teaching children to pray or fast, pay zakat [alms] or do the haj is not enough. In fact, you can say that every good action is a form of worship.

“Protecting the environment for the future generation is a form of worship.”

Khalid said that according to Islamic terminology, humans live in Allah’s creation and are part of it. “Therefore, because of our intelligence, Allah has given us the responsibility as khalifa [people with a role of stewardship] to look after god’s creation.

His organization has been training Islamic communities around the world for the last 25 years, and working on identifying the environmental message carried by Islam as well as on presenting it to Muslims in this day and age.

Khalid has been visiting Indonesia for 15 years, as part of his work with IFEES. “I think we can reasonably claim that we introduced the concept of Islamic environment to Indonesia,” he said, referring to the concept of green theology introduced in 1998 at a Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) conference.

In West Sumatra, his organization is currently collaborating with a Rufford Small Grant for Nature Award (...sic, he supposed to said: Darwin Initiative Project) working on a conservation project applying Islamic principles.

Religious leader in Guguak Malalo, West Sumatra intiating planting trees activity.

Three principles were applied to the project: Hima or management zones established for sustainable natural resource use; Harim or inviolable sanctuaries used for protecting water resources and services and Ihya Al-Mawat or reviving neglected land to become productive.

He also trains religious leaders in the pesantren (boarding school) as well as community leaders.

A successful example of the use of the faith-based approach to address environmental problem was IFEES’ project in Misali Marine conservation & Mangrove Rehabilitation, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

He said the NGOs had invited IFEES to help with their conservation program because they could not persuade the Misali fishermen to stop using fish bombs. Two days after IFEES’ visit, the fishermen stopped using fish bombs.

During the IFEES training, the fishermen were told to stop using dynamite as coral reefs were Allah’s creation and that their job was to protect them because they were Allah’s khalifa, Khalid said.

Born in Sri Lanka, Khalid lived more than 50 years in the UK, where he worked with the government’s Commission for Racial Equality for 25 years.

As a nature lover passionate about politics, he realized the environmental problem was rooted in economics and politics. “I came to realize the solution had to be a political one. I began to look into what Islam had to say about it.”

The ulema didn’t give him satisfactory responses. He found the answer after returning to university in his 50s to study Islamic theology.

During that time, he founded the IFEES and started campaigning about green theology. People responded negatively the first time he introduced the idea.

“Everybody thought I was a crank. ‘What is this man Fazlun Khalid doing?’ They were patronizing me. ‘Ok, let him get on with that’,” he said.

Now, he is now recognizes as one of the 15 leading eco theologians in the world alongside the Dalai Lama and the Pope. The Independent newspaper also listed him on the Green List as one of UK’s 100 top environmentalists.

He has taught at several prominent universities such as Harvard and Yale and consults for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Now, they all want to hear me [speak],” he said.

It is important to train young people to protect the environment, he said.

“Because this is your world. I’ll be gone.”

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