The Call to Eco-Jihad
by Monika Zbidi
Climate change and global environmental problems have not only led humans to reflect on their position in the environment, they also call for strategies for preserving the earth, not least with a view to protecting and preserving the human habitat. This is why many religious communities started to look at what their own religion had to say about the issue of environmental protection.
In 1967, the historian Lynn White Junior put forward a controversial theory about the origins of the ecological crisis, namely that its roots lay in monotheistic religions. Reactions to this accusation from the religious quarter triggered a new discourse of ‘ecotheology’. Although White focussed primarily on Christianity and Judaism in his writings, the confrontation with such an allegation and the perception of the ecological crisis led Muslims to turn their attention to the issue of ecology as well.
The Islamic ecotheology movement, which comprises Islamic ecological philosophy, Sharia-based environmental law and Islamic environmental activism, was initiated by Muslim academics and scholars, many of whom grew up in a predominantly Muslim country and later lived in – or still live in – Western countries. The confrontation with environmental problems led them to focus on the position of their own religion in the discourse. Since then, the ecological dimension of Islam has spread and has been applied in Muslim organisations and initiatives worldwide
Eco-Islam on- and offline
The ‘Green Khutba Campaign’, ‘The Green Guide to Hajj’, ‘The Muslim Green Guide to Reducing Climate Change’, ‘Greening Ramadan’, ‘The Clean Medina Campaign’ ... one can see at a glance from the names of these initiatives, projects, and campaigns that their focus is on the link between Islam and nature. The terms ‘green Islam’ or ‘eco-Islam’ (the latter is primarily used in the English-speaking world) have become the labels of this contemporary movement in recent years.
However, this is not to say that supporters of this movement are propagating what one could call their ‘own’ version of Islam: it is more the case that the term is a reference to the esteem in which they hold the environment and God’s creation, and an attempt to define a sustainable way of life as an inherent Muslim necessity. One of its objectives is to make other Muslims aware of the potential of Islam.
Important Islamic events and dates in the Islamic calendar are ideal for the promotion of these views, for example Ramadan, the month of fasting, which is considered a month of contemplation and self-reflection. Because Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, many families prepare enormous feasts for the evening meal, which means that a lot of food ends up being thrown away. In recent years, a number of articles on a variety of blogs dedicated to the theme of Islam and ecology (such as http://www.theecomuslim.com or www.khaleafa.com), have in the run-up to Ramadan and during the month of fasting called for a ‘green Ramadan’, and for sustainable and environmentally-friendly behaviour. In the Western context, this means, for example, using fair-trade products, growing your own fruit and vegetables or, if that is not possible, buying local products and using water sparingly during the ritual washing before prayers.
The Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and Islam’s greater and lesser feasts, (the Feast of Sacrifice at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Feast of Breaking the Fast) offer Islamic ecological organisations or blogs an opportunity to appeal to the religious and, in this way, to people’s ecological conscience.
The ‘Green Khutba Campaign’ was founded by Muaz Nasir on the occasion of international Earth Day 2012. A sample Friday sermon on the environment was drawn up specially for the campaign, which was supported by more than 75 imams and/or organisations in North America. The aim was to encourage mosques and Islamic institutions to dedicate the Friday sermon on Earth Day to raising awareness about the environmental challenges faced by humankind. Muaz Nasir is a Muslim environmental activist from Canada who lives in Toronto and is very active in the environmental sector.
The principle of stewardship (khilafa), which God gave to humankind, is the inspiration for Muaz Nasir’s blog http://www.khaleafa.com In hi.s blog, he links the Canadian and the Muslim identity, both of which, he feels, have a close connection with Nature. He uses important environmental events to reflect on an Islamic view of things. Examples include the above-mentioned Earth Day, or International Pollinator Week, which inspired him to write about the role of bees in Islam. He also used Canadian Waste Reduction Week to explain why the avoidance of waste is also anchored in Islam.
The British Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) commissioned Global One 2015 and EcoMuslim to write The Green Guide to Hajj, which was published in 2011. The aim of the guide was to change Muslims’ ecological behaviour, particularly during the Hajj. Pilgrims are in a sacred state in which they are forbidden to hunt, kill animals, or to fell or kill plants and trees. Because the pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam, and because the approximately 2.5 million pilgrims who make the pilgrimage every year generally return home with the good intention of adhering even more closely to religious requirements, this event is ideal for touching pilgrims’ hearts and encouraging them to adopt a sustainable, more environmentally-friendly way of life.
The guide contains a foreword by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, and lots of tips and ideas: for example, how to use only environmentally-friendly products and services during the Hajj, how to reduce waste and consumption during the pilgrimage, and how to continue to live sustainably after the pilgrimage. Pilgrims should not travel by plane. If this is not possible, they should make a donation to an environmental project in order to compensate for the carbon miles they ran up by flying to their destination. The Green Guide to Hajj also calls on pilgrims not to use plastic bottles, to use public transport such as the Mecca Metro, and only to make the pilgrimage once in their lives, as their religion requires of them.
Muslim Green Guide
Another brochure, published in 2008 by Life Makers UK (founded by Amr Khaled) and the Birmingham-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), is the Muslim Green Guide to Reducing Climate Change. This brochure contains practical instructions for individual Muslims on how to tackle climate change. Everyday tips on issues such as saving energy when cooking or washing, recycling, and using public transport or bicycles are accompanied by quotes from the Koran. This brochure explains why Muslims should take action and illustrates that protection of the environment is anchored in their faith.
Another campaign run by the IFEES was the ‘Clean Medina Campaign’, which also ran in Birmingham in 2008. The campaign slogan was: ‘It’s a film! It’s a campaign! It’s Jihad!’ Muslims recorded themselves on video sweeping and cleaning streets together in an attempt to motivate other Muslims to take similar action in their respective cities. IFEES is regarded as the mother of all Islamic environmental organisations. It runs a variety of local and international projects and was founded by Fazlun Khalid in the 1980s. Khalid was born and grew up in Sri Lanka and has lived in England since 1953. He is considered to be one of the co-founders of eco-Islam. What sets him apart from the rest is the fact that he is both a Muslim ecotheologian and an environmental activist.
There are now a large number of international activities similar to the ones described here, and the Internet is increasingly being used as a means of spreading ideas and approaches, and for putting Muslim activists in touch with one another. In addition to information websites, there are blogs, numerous Facebook pages, and groups that are run and used by people from a wide variety of countries. These sites and groups are used to discuss environmental themes on the basis of articles, videos, and links.
This is why A.M. Schwencke, in the style of Olivier Roy, speaks of a ‘globalised eco-Islam’. On the aforementioned blog http://www.theecomuslim.com which, is run by the young British woman Zaufishan Iqbal, the themes range from environmentally-friendly halal food (including recipes), ethnic fashion and eco-mosques, to reviews of books on environmental themes and reports on national and international developments. The subtitle of her blog is ‘the eco-jihadTM Enviro-news, halal living and eco-lifestyle from UK’. When she speaks of so-called ‘eco-jihad’, she is playing on Western associations with the term ‘jihad’ in her fight for a healthy environment.
The fundamentals of Islamically-motivated ecological behaviour
The founding father of Islamic ecotheology is the Iranian-born philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who in 1967 wrote the book Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man. In so doing, he was well ahead of his time. Islamic environmental ethics are based on the Koran and the body of hadiths. According to this interpretation, conserving nature and creation – in particular flora, fauna, and water – is one of a Muslim’s most important obligations. Water plays a very important role in Islam because it is considered to be the source and foundation of life. It is also of major significance for Muslim ritual cleansing. There are many sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed that prove he urged people to use water sparingly, and forbade the pollution of water.
The purpose of all creation is to praise God, and all individual parts of the earth are perceived as signs of God (ayat in Arabic). This means that God is omnipresent, which implies that Nature should be protected for God’s sake alone. In addition, Nature is seen as the totality of mutually complementary elements. In addition to praising God, every individual part of Nature has a role and a task within creation that is of importance for the functioning of the Earth. This means that all things are mutually dependent on one another. ...
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