Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Islam and Ecology - Part 2

A book that gives a fascinating insight into some environmental and ethical aspects of Islam is "Islam and Ecology - A Bestowed Trust" published by the Harvard University Press. Here are a few parts that particularly caught BFTF's attention.

Towards an Islamic Ecotheology (Kaveh L. Afrasiabi)
Afrasiabi comments on tendency amongst some Muslim activists and thinkers to shun any meaningful dialogue with the non-Muslim West whom they fear are trying to mentally colonise the Muslim world. However, this lack of recognition of the other can have adverse repercussions, such as preventing recognition of global environmental issues that are facing everyone.

Afrasiabi adds that:
"As a result, the recently surfaced ideas of..an Islamic green movement, and the like have yet to take hold of the imagination of worthy Muslim theologians and jurispudents, most of whom appear to have confined themselves to rhetorical recycling of premodern norms..."

He goes on to add that:
"Sadly lacking is even a minimal theological discourse that would exhibit a keen awareness of the inadequacy of Islamic theology when icomes to human self-limitation viz-a-vis nature and animals."

and gives the example of the Shia cleric Ayatollah Montazeri who writes about the categories of birds whose meat is forbidden to Muslims. Ayatollah Montazeri mentions that eagles and vultures should not be eaten as they are carnivorous, but n o mention is made of endangered birds and the role of sharia in protecting them.

The Environmental Crisis of Our Time (Yasin Dutton)
Dutton discusses the impact of the interest-based banking system on the environment, and includes a remarkable testimony by Sir Fred Atkinson (former government chief economic advisor (1977-79), who made the following comments on a television programme:
" A government has very little control, because it needs the approval, so to speak, of world financial centers, otherwise the money will be taken out and the exchange rate will fall. So it has to play the game according to the opinions of international banks, you might say, which means that it has to have its interest rates at what the world thinks is a correct level for a country in that position. It has to keep its budget within limits that people think are reasonable. So it is under a discipline not from an internatioal authority, but from all tyhe moneylenders of the world, all the banks of the world"

Capacity Building for Sustainalbe Development (Safei-Eldin A. Hamed)
Commenting of the feasiblity of introducing environmental capacity building in Muslim majority countries, Hamed mentions the example of a World Bank officer who suggested, in 1995, that a three-year capacity building programme should include a component on environmental issues. The suggestion was met with strong opposition and was then rejected by government representatives of several Middle East countries.

Hamed also points out that capacity building requires freedom of information, something that is an anathema to many Middle East countries where political leaders perceive notions of a "Freedom of Information Act" as being a way of gathering military intelligence about their respective governments. In addition, requests from local NGO's for access to natural resources information are routinely rejected,suspected or treated as acts of treason.

Perhaps most critically, Hamed states that there is widespread acceptance that the involvement of local people is crucial to providing robust solutions to environmental problems - but this local participation (via a Shura or other body) is rare in the autocratic regimes of the Middle East.

Islam, the Environment, and Family Planning (Nancy and Joseph Jabbra)
Amongst much else. the Jabbras describe a population issues survery conducted in Egypt. The survey found that Imams tended not to support government family planning policies, which they equated with birth control and believed to be incompatible with Islam. Imams from private mosques in fact preached against birth control and suggested compassion on the part of others and patience on the part of parent as the only acceptable solutions to the problems of couples with large families. On the other hand, social workers and women were much more supportive of family planning initiatives, with some 85% of women aged 15-49 having used family planning methods. This group also had the highest level of concern that overcrowding and other population problems were significant issues for the country.

Nature in Islamic Urbanism (Attilo Petruccioli)
This article included a wonderfully evocative account by the 10th century chronicler Ibn Hawqal on the surroundings of Samarkand:
"In the whole region of Samarkand there is no place healthier, with more generous crops, with more beautiful fruit, with stronger people... Here high plains are more salubrious and beautiful than anywhere else; fields perpetually bring abundant crops that never turn bad..[along the Sogdiana river] vegetation is perfect and there is no interruption to the spendid sequence of gardens, fields and orchards cut by perpetual rivers...It is the most magnificent of God's places"


"Islam and Ecology - A Bestowed Trust" edited by Foltz, Denny and Baharuddin and published by the Harvard University Press for the Centre for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.

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