Interview with environmental expert Tarik M. Quadir

"If we don’t pull together to save the earth, we will ‘sink’ together"

Taking the Fridays for Future movement as his starting point, Muslim environmental expert Tarik Quadir talks to Marian Brehmer about the connections between Islam and environmental protection – and the attitude Islamic countries need to adopt in countering climate change

What do you think about the Fridays for Future global climate strikes?

I am heartened by the youth movement. After all, in order to save the natural world we need nothing short of a giant transformation in the way we think and live. This cannot be achieved without the energy of the young. Now is a crucial time. We have the technology to harness solar, wind and geothermal energy that – with bold political initiatives and financial support – can replace fossil fuels as the source of global energy demand.

Nevertheless, an excess of greenhouse gases is not the only problem that is threatening the environment. We are polluting the land, water and air in numerous other ways, which cannot be reversed with technology alone. We are rapidly depleting the underground freshwater supply, causing loss of biodiversity on land and in water at an extremely alarming rate. What is more, we are making large tracts of fertile land uncultivable through industrial agricultural practices, which in turn are poisoning our bodies and altering our minds with antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides.

Why has the Islamic world participated so little in environmental movements to date?

The Islamic world has been too preoccupied with issues stemming from a need to adjust to social, political, economic, cultural, and military agendas set by the West globally over the last two hundred years. That is also why the Hindu and the Buddhist world have not been as active as the West. Nevertheless, most Muslims are themselves at fault for not knowing what their tradition teaches about nature.

Environmentally-friendly restaurant in Tehran (photo: Marian Brehmer)
The loss of the sacred vision of nature: "how we view something largely determines how we interact with it," says Quadir. "This shift in world view from a sacred to a purely material one is at the root of modern capitalism and the Industrial Revolution that took off in the second half of the 18th century"

Furthermore, the environmental crisis became ‘visible’ in the West first. After all, industrialisation and modern capitalism began and spread in the West long before they took hold to the same extent elsewhere. As a result, there is an erroneous tendency in the Muslim world to think that just because the environmental crisis began in the West; it is the West’s responsibility to fix it. Muslims must remember that all of humanity is in the same boat – this earth. If we don’t pull together to save it, we will ‘sink’ together. Muslims are called upon to do their part.

Can you name examples of distinct Muslim environmentalism?

Yes, there are many examples of grassroots level environmentalism in Muslim countries, such as the story of a simple faithful rickshaw puller in a small town in Bangladesh. But if you are asking about environmental activists in the modern sense, the first example that comes to mind is Fazlun Khalid, founder of IFEES (Islamic Foundation For Ecology And Environmental Sciences), an institute that has run several successful environmental projects in Asia and Africa. Or the Islamic eco-schools in Indonesia, for instance.

What does Islam tell us about humanity’s relationship with the environment?

The Koran tells us that every entity in nature is a sign of God; every species is a community like us. In fact, every entity (except the human) is ceaselessly praising God, and everything was created in a balance that human beings must not upset. Human beings are created as God’s representatives on earth, charged with the responsibility of taking care of the planet.

Being God’s representatives does not give us free rein to exploit the earth, because its gifts, as the Koran tells us, are to be shared by all living creatures. Most importantly, tawhid (Divine Unity), the most important foundational principle of Islam, implies that God/Truth/Reality (al-Haqq) is One (al-Ahad; al-Wahid). As such we are all in God and are intimately related to all other living things. What we do to the least of God’s creation, we do to ourselves.

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