Can an Islamic climate change declaration inspire 1.6B Muslims?

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SHAFAQNA - Islamic leaders from around the globe tomorrow will unveil a declaration calling on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to embrace climate change action as part of their religious duty.

Activists gathering in Istanbul for the event said that just as Pope Francis declared climate change essential to the Catholic faith, they hope Islamic religious scholars can inspire Muslim communities to make the issue a priority.

“Islam is very strong on environmental protection,” said Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network International, who is helping to organize the declaration.

“From the Quran to the hadiths [sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad], it really says it is a human responsibility … that we are tasked with protecting creation and it is part of our duties as Muslims,” he said.

Leaders will be carrying that message when the Islamic Climate Change Declaration is formally unveiled at the conclusion of a two-day symposium organized by Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, and GreenFaith.

In addition to emphasizing the Quran’s teachings on environmental protection and the role that Islam can play in addressing climate change, it is expected to call on wealthy countries to “drastically” reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable nations grapple with climate impacts.

A call for a fossil fuel-free world

Issuing the declaration will be religious and political leaders from throughout the Muslim world, including professor Din Syamsuddin, president of the Indonesian Council of Ulama; Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje, grand mufti of Uganda; and Mohammed El Arwadi, a representative of the grand mufti of Lebanon.

“In Islam, we don’t have a pope, so there isn’t one focal point,” noted Saleemul Huq, who leads the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.

But, he said, with so many predominantly Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia highly vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures, “many people felt it was something the Muslim community couldn’t just stand by and not have a say in.” The declaration, meanwhile, brings together leaders from different branches of Islam in a common message.

“I’m not particularly religious, but I do think it’s a moral issue,” Huq said. “For people of faith, it’s about right and wrong. The pope did a marvelous job of articulating that the teachings are very clear. We have a duty to do the right thing to protect the Earth.”

In addition to being vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, predominantly Muslim oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia are some of the biggest contributors to it. It is unclear what role, if any, religious leaders from fossil fuel-producing developing countries will play, but the initial list of speakers did not include anyone from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran or Kuwait.

The declaration will, however, call for a world “free from polluting fossil fuels and built on a foundation of 100 percent clean, safe, and renewable energy,” according to a press release issued by the organizers.

Farrukh Khan, head of climate finance at the U.N. Executive Office of the Secretary-General and formerly Pakistan’s lead climate negotiator, called the declaration “a groundbreaking step.”

“Faith plays a very important [role] in the Islamic world,” he said. “If Muslim religious scholars were to issue a call for action against climate change, the impact could be much stronger than the most ambitious legally binding treaty.

“In that manner, this — a very small, limited and perhaps not so representative gathering — is still in my view a groundbreaking step. This needs to be encouraged and supported,” he said. “I hope it would lead to better awareness amongst people of all faith, understanding of the consequences and threats that climate change poses and action against it.”

As home to the world’s second-largest religion, Hmaidan said, Muslim countries and Islamic leadership can play a unique role in shaping the global climate accord that countries hope to sign in Paris in December. Currently, he said, climate change is only sporadically raised in Islamic discussions, usually as part of a particular initiative. He called the symposium and declaration a “first step” in substantively engaging communities during Friday prayer and other occasions.

“To change everything, you need everyone,” he said. “Every key community in the world needs to really start putting climate change on the agenda.”

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