Enjoying good and forbidding wrong inspired
by Qur’an 3:104
What is Climate Justice?
Climate justice is the intersection of environmentalism and social justice. Climate change disproportionately harms low-income communities and colonized communities around the world. These are the people, communities, and countries least responsible for the crisis we face. They suffer climate change’s worst impacts: floods, fires, droughts and the resulting displacement, loss of livelihood, disease, injury, poverty and death. The plants, animals, and wild places of the world suffer too.
The climate justice movement recognizes that the climate emergency exacerbates and is intertwined with many other cruel systems of oppression, including poverty, political exploitation, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and colonization. These forces are rooted in the misuse or abuse of power, people, and the planet by extractive industries, financial institutions, ineffective or corrupt governments, and harmful cultural forces, usually originating in the global North.
It is only changes in these systems and industries that are organized by social movements that will address the root causes of climate change at the necessary scale and depth.
We’ve known about climate change for over a century. The causes are crystal clear – burning fossil fuels and deforestation are responsible for more than 90% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change’s impacts are visible everywhere. Droughts, fires, severe storms, and rising sea levels are forcing millions from their homes. Those who are least responsible are suffering the most. This is unjust.
Only changes in these systems and industries that are organized by social movements will address the root causes of climate change at the necessary scale and depth.
No religious tradition says that we should destroy the planet. Grassroots religious groups are setting the bar where it must be set: the level of compassion, justice, and love.
What is does Islam Teach Us?
Tawhid is the fundamental statement of the oneness of the Creator, from which everything else follows. It is the primordial testimony to the unity of all creation and to the interdependence of the natural order of which humanity is an intrinsic part. The whole of creation – being the work of one Originator – works within a defined pattern.
Humans assume the role of stewards or trustees (khalifah) on Earth. This means that God has entrusted humans with responsibility for creation, and has entrusted the Earth to humans, the Earth which God has put at their service. In other words, although humankind is not the owner or lord of the Earth – a position that is reserved for God – it nevertheless has an important place in the order of creation. The Islamic environmental movement calls on humankind to assume the role of the steward and to stop subjugating Nature to itself.
Very closely linked to the doctrine of khalifah is the doctrine of amanah, which stands for the fulfillment of responsibility in all dimensions of life. It is about the responsibility inherent in the role of steward, the responsibility that humankind assumed when God offered it to humans. The section of the Qur’an that is often cited in this case describes how God offered this responsibility to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, but they refused, because they were afraid to take this responsibility upon themselves.
Mizan means balance, equilibrium, or scales. In Islamic environmental ethics it is translated as ‘ecological balance’ or ‘a middle way’. This principle calls for the conservation or the restoration of balance on Earth, both in terms of harmony within Nature and in terms of the field of human justice and morality in day-to-day dealings. God created the Earth and everything in it as perfect, free from fault, and in balance. However, it is the task of human beings to keep it that way. In the opinion of Muslim eco-theologians, problems such as global warming, earthquakes, and rising sea levels are evidence that the Earth is no longer in divine balance.
Fitrah is understood to mean the original state of creation or the original nature of things. First and foremost, this comprises the natural state of humans in harmony with nature. From this is derived the necessity that humankind protects the environment and its obligation to do so.
A CALL TO ACT
A commitment to climate justice requires examining relevant themes from Islamic teachings to draw together basic principles of an Islamic environmental ethic as viewed from within the faith. This examination will be followed by a discussion on the value of some basic principles inherent in an Islamic approach to economics, contrasted with those prevalent in the current economic system. This will then attempt to uncover what forms an Islamic response to climate change might take, with particular attention given to how Muslims might engage with the climate issue and participate in building a social movement for climate justice. The intention is to point to constructive avenues of expression and thus draw out more of society’s potential, to collectively engage with this global and pressing challenge. This movement has the moral power to change the systems behind the crisis both as an individual duty (farḍ al-‘ayn) and communal obligation (fard kifayah). Together, we rise up to hold fossil fuel and extractive corporations, financial institutions, and governments accountable for the climate emergency.
Throughout the Qur’an and the Hadiths, Muslims are called to know their place, to take care of the planet, and to work for a more just world.
Say, O Prophet, “Good and evil are not equal, though you may be dazzled by the abundance of evil. So be mindful of Allah, O people of reason, so you may be successful.”
(Qur’an Surah Al-Maidah 5:100)
It is He who has appointed you vicegerents in the earth and has raised some of you in rank above others, then He may try you in what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in reckoning; and surely, He is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
(Qur’an Surah Al-An’am 6:165)
Indeed, we offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.
(Qur’an Surah Al-Ahzab 33:72)
The All Merciful has taught the Qur’an. He created man and taught him the Explanation. The sun and the moon to a reckoning, and the stars and the trees bow themselves; and heaven – He raised it up and set the Balance.
(Qur’an Surah Ar-Rahman 55:1-7)
And on the earth are signs of those who have strong knowledge and in yourselves. Then will you not see?
(Qur’an Surah Adh-Dhariyat 51:20-21)