I wish climate change was a hoax. I really do.
But with the vast majority of scientific consensus, the reality is clear: the earth is warming, human activity is a major contributor to is, and we need to do something about it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. But ignoring it is not the solution. With that realization comes a sense of urgency and responsibility.
As a faith community, the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world have the ability to make a real impact. That said, one area that I have not been able to find much on is climate change from an Islamic perspective. What does Islam say about climate change? What solutions does it present? By looking at religious texts, we find that environmentalism as a whole is ingrained in the religion. And not only that, but also how to respond when faced with such a huge, existential threat as climate change.
Caretakers of the earth
From my own experience, one of the biggest shortcomings of the Muslim community is that we are somewhat detached from environmental issues. By all means, we are very active in other worthy causes, such as relief for refugees and persecuted people overseas. But I have never seen a single Islamic fundraiser dedicated to helping the environment. The closest we had was the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change in 2015.
The irony of this is that environmentalism is rooted within Islam. In the Quran, God tells us that He made the earth for us to use to our advantage:
“See you not (O humanity!) that God has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth…” (31:20)
However, this comes with a huge responsibility. Just because the earth is made for us does not mean we should rampantly consume and destroy it to satisfy our personal desires. On just the topic of eating, God says:
“Eat of the wholesome things We have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest My condemnation fall upon you; he upon whom My condemnation falls has indeed thrown himself into utter ruin.” (20:81)
“…and waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not Al-Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance)” (6:141)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, understood this when he taught us not to waste water, even if we are on the bank of a flowing river. And, as if tapping into a deeper understanding of our own nature, he also said:
“If a son of Adam were to own a valley full of gold, he would desire to have two. Nothing can fill his mouth except the earth (of the grave).” (Sahih Bukhari)
Unfortunately, a large factor in climate change is excess. We want more and more and we don’t care how we get it or what it costs, as long as we can get it for cheap.
In Islam, the goal is to achieve a balance between nature and man. Yes, the earth and what is on it has been given to us to use. Unfortunately, we have become so consumed with wanting more and more that we have done so with little consideration of what the consequences might be. In the Quran there is also a dire warning for us that we see playing out before us today:
“Corruption has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done, so that Allah may cause them to taste ˹the consequences of˺ some of their deeds and perhaps they might return ˹to the Right Path˺.” (30:41)
In his commentary on this verse, Ibn Kathir states that, “the more justice is established, the more the blessings and good things will increase.” In Islam, there is a correlation between the actions of mankind as a whole and the state of the earth. In fact, one of the signs of the Day of Judgement mentioned by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is that there will be an increase in earthquakes, corruption will increase and wealth will be distributed only among the rich.
I remember worrying about climate change from an early age.
I live in Alberta, and so if snow didn’t start to appear by December, I began to worry that the world was heating up. I’ve carried that concern with me throughout my life. However, in recent years it has been magnified as the effects of climate change become more and more drastic.
The biggest worry now, however, is with my two children. What sort of world will they be inheriting? What will their future look like? Though we probably won’t see Mad Max-style desert wastelands, the fact is that days will get hotter, food will get more expensive, water will be a more sought-after commodity (perhaps more so than oil), and the natural world will change. Some people are so troubled by this that they are going so far as to stop themselves from having children. It’s heartbreaking to think that I have seen places and animals in my lifetime that my children will never see.
Eco- anxiety, climate change depression, climate despair are all becoming more frequent topics, especially among psychologists who are seeing more patients suffering from these kinds of issues. A lot of it stems from the fact that climate change is such a huge issue that it requires changes at government and international levels—and unfortunately, some governments are not inclined to make such changes. Such a daunting problem can cause a sense of hopelessness, despair or nihilism. Basically, it’s such a big problem, what can we as individual do about it?
I’ll admit I fell into that thinking, too. Hot days became stark reminders that the days are getting warmer. I felt guilty just driving up to the store to get groceries. And if I’m being honest, I can’t even say that I’ve completely pulled myself out of that hole, either. Some mornings it’s still a challenge to fight off the fear that the world is on fire.
For me, faith has been an instrumental part in keeping myself grounded, keeping myself from falling into despair, and keeping myself hopeful for the future that I, and my kids, can work toward.
The palm shoot
Every Friday Muslims are encouraged to read Surah Kahf, the 18th chapter of the Quran. One Friday I was going through anxiety and depression about this issue, and I came across these two verses:
“And give them a parable of this worldly life. ˹It is˺ like the plants of the earth, thriving when sustained by the rain We send down from the sky. Then they ˹soon˺ turn into chaff scattered by the wind. And Allah is fully capable of ˹doing˺ all things.
Wealth and children are the adornment of this worldly life, but the everlasting good deeds are far better with your Lord in reward and in hope.” (18:45-46)
What this reminded me is that God is ultimately in charge of everything. The believer’s test is to trust in God more than they trust in the works of man. However, some people think this is just being naïve, as if we are just going to wait for God to suddenly fix all of our problems for us. To me, trust in God does not mean that. It means trusting that He will put the right people in the right place, with the right circumstances, to do the right thing. On an individual level, it means doing everything we can, individually, to tackle this challenge. Then pairing this individual action with hope that God will put all the right things in place to make it happen.
It all comes back to the purpose of why we are here. My wife reminded me of something very important: in summary, this world is not the end goal. This world is merely a testing ground, and a stepping stone into the eternal life.
In the face of despair and hopelessness, I always come back to something Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Al-Albani)
I hold this hadith dear to my heart. I’ve written about this before. But to me it’s a reminder that no matter how bad things get—even if the world is literally about to end—keep doing good, even if you’ll never see the fruits of that goodness. It’s a call-to-action that has pulled me through difficult times. Above all, it’s a reminder to always have hope in the face of hopelessness.
A lot of articles on climate change are soaked in despair and hopelessness about the extinction of the human race. Ironically, this tone is counter-intuitive to encouraging people to act. When things seem hopeless, many people will jt shut down and give up. People need hope to work towards something better. To me, that’s where faith comes in: a belief that, no matter what, things will get better.
And that may sound ironic, considering nearly all faith traditions have some form of apocalypse.
Throughout my life I was always afraid of the world ending. From cosmic events like black holes to fire-and-brimstone Biblical Armageddon. After becoming Muslim, I realized this was something I had to come to terms with, since it was part of my belief.
When we look at the Islamic narrative of end times, we see that the end result is a lot more positive than we see in other apocalyptic scenarios. It’s a lengthy and in-depth subject, and there are a lot of terrible things that happen, but near the end of it all there is actually a long period of peace following the return of Jesus, peace be upon him. In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad said:
“The earth will be washed till it looks like a mirror. God will then order the earth: ‘Bring forth your fruit and restore your blessing.’” (Sahih Muslim)
Hatred among people will disappear, and there will be so much wealth that people will not be able to accept surplus. When we read about these final years, it is as though the earth has healed from all of the corruption and blood spilled upon it.
Ironically, these descriptions about the end of times give me hope when it comes to climate change. From an Islamic viewpoint, it’s almost like a reassurance that we aren’t going to cook ourselves off the planet.
However, that is no excuse to not act. A mistake some people make is thinking that their actions are insignificant, and that others are better equipped to make the changes needed to fight climate change. Yet there are things that all of us can do on some level to help tackle this growing problem.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that the deeds that God loves most are the small deeds done regularly. They may seem insignificant, but over time, they have more of an impact than you would expect.
The same goes with climate change. We are not the policy makers or industrial giants or political pundits. But we can still make a difference in our own way. Not all of us can afford electric vehicles or have the know-how to live off the electrical grid. But there are small things that we can do, individually, to help tackle this problem. Some of these things include:
- Bike and walk more
- Recycle more
- Carry glass or plastic containers when going out to dinner to take leftovers home in
- Bring your own mug when buying coffee or tea
- Use reusable bags; leave some in your vehicle in case you forget to take some
- For parents, use reusable diapers (I recommend Lil Helpers); it’s a bit more effort, but you’ll save money on disposables in the long run
- Cut down on meat, especially beef; this is a hard one, especially for families where meat is expected at every meal, but cutting down on our meat consumption is one of the largest factors in curbing climate change and can cut your carbon footprint almost in half
- As a sidenote, a single Beyond Meat burger uses 90% less greenhouse gas, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef (Source)
- Eat more plant-based meals, along with grains and nuts
- Cut down on food waste; compost your leftovers and plan your weekly meals to cut down on wasted food
- Dispose of electronic waste properly; don’t toss batteries and phones in the garbage, but collect them over the year and take them all at once to an electronics disposal site
- For Muslims reading this, cut down on water when making wudhu; don’t turn the water on full-blast and leave it, and if you want to go really old-school, fill a bottle of water and use only that for wudhu
- Vote for political parties that support action on climate change
- “Buy back” emissions through the UN’s carbon offset platform
- Get involved with organizations that promote positive activism
There are many other things we can do as individuals to help fight climate change. And with the health of our planet at stake, it’s something we each have a responsibility to shoulder in some capacity.
Only one earth
The natural world is referenced many times in the Quran as a sign of God’s power and majesty. For example:
“And He is the One Who sends down rain from the sky—causing all kinds of plants to grow—producing green stalks from which We bring forth clustered grain. And from palm trees come clusters of dates hanging within reach. ˹There are˺ also gardens of grapevines, olives, and pomegranates, similar ˹in shape˺ but dissimilar ˹in taste˺. Look at their fruit as it yields and ripens! Indeed, in these are signs for people who believe.” (6:99)
The fact that our world exists at all is a marvel. It is the perfect distance from the sun and contains all the things necessary to support complex life. The natural world exists in perfect harmony, and if all of mankind were to disappear off the face of the earth, nothing on earth would weep for us or be troubled by our absence. Whatever losses we face in our efforts and sacrifices to fight climate change are minute compared to what we will lose if we choose to do nothing.
This is our home. It’s a gift from God. We have mistreated it for decades now, and now we are seeing some of the worst effects of that misuse.
But we have it in us to fix it. Never ignore the small things you can do.
Faith, to me, is a source of hope in the fight against climate change. But it is hope that must be paired with action from every one of us.