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Friday Sermon on Climate Change and Stewardship in Islam

Allah says in the Quran in Surah Baqarah

AND LO! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it(A vicegerent)." They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood -whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?" [God] answered: "Verily, I know that which you do not know."

Here the Almighty uses the term Khalifa in Arabic. When we unpack this and analyse the word it means that a representative and caretaker will be sent. We are being told that our duty is to care for the planet and ensure that it is left in a good condition for the next generation. Very simply put, this is the concept of Sustainable Development which many people speak of in our modern time. A principle which was given to us as muslims more than 1400 years ago.

When we analyse the Arabic and the translation, the Almighty says he will establish not send down. Also the arabic word for in and not on is used and all of this builds up to us being the Steward and part of the earth. Even SHaitaan knew we were made from the Earth and we will return to feed it. This means we need to be even more cognisant of the planet as we are one with it.

If we think about this in even greater depth, Allah is placing trust in us to do what is right. To live up to the great and lofty ideals we as muslims should have. I mean nobody sends their worst salesman to close the most important deal for their company. The Almighty is saying that we can be better in our actions and do what is right to protect the planet.

Therefore we can see that the protection of our environment is embedded in our religion. This means that we need to be aware of what is happening around us in the real world. This is very important in the time we living in as so much is happening around us and impacting our lives. We see droughts and floods and fires ravaging the planet and sometimes we ask what does Islam say about these events?

First we need to go back into time and look at the Quran and what it says about events of this nature. The oldest story is that of Prophet Nooh The story relays the flood which occurred subsequent to receiving divine guidance to build an ark. This story occurs in two sections of the Quran. The flood is clearly described as a punishment to the people of Noah :

“ And ye shall know to whom a punishment that will confound him cometh, and upon whom a lasting doom will fall. (Thus it was) till, when Our commandment came to pass and the oven gushed forth water, We said : Load therein two of every kind, a pair (the male and the female), and thy household, save him who against whom the word hath gone forth already, and those who believe. And but a few were they who believed with him” (Quran 11: 39-40).

A further analysis of theses verses by Ibn Kathir (2003), highlight the section related to the “oven” gushing forth water and show that this points to that water was stemming from every location, even those where fire used to reign. Qutb (2004) on the other hand says that the phrase should be translated as “the fountains of the earth gushed forth”, which is a less literal interpretation as compared to that of Ibn Kathir (2003), which refers to actual ovens boiling. A more modern interpretation could be groundwater springs overflowing, which could be what Qutb (2004) was attempting to articulate.

If we stop here and think about the story of Nabi Nooh we can see that the construction of an ARK was a direct instruction sent to him by Allah. The Ark in the desert was considered crazy at the time, but the Ark in the desert is what helped him. We need to ask ourselves, what is our Ark in the desert? What do we need to build for the long term sustainability of our societies?What is the Ark that our communities and governments need to construct to protect our environment and leave it in a better state for future generations? If we are to combat climate change, this is the thinking that is needed

But this concept of Climate Change is not an Islamic one? How can it be?Where does the Quran speak about it? Surprisingly enough the story of Nabi Yusuf comes to mind where he interprets the dream of the king. But to take a step back the story of Nabi Yusuf is in itself a miracle. One Surah, about one Prophet in chronological order. The only one of its kind in the Quran. In the latter part of the Surah after being jailed, Nabi Yusuf interprets this dream and the Ayat in the Quran says

And the king said : Lo! I saw in a dream seven fat kine which seven lean were eating and seven green ears of corn other (seven) dry. O notables ! Expound for me my vision, if he can interpret dreams. They answered: Jumbled dreams ! And we are not knowing in the interpretation of dreams. And of the two who was released and (now) at length remembered, said : I am going to announce unto you the interpretation, therefore send me forth. (And when he came to Joseph in the prison, he exclaimed) : Joseph ! O thou truthful one! Expound for us the seven fat kine which seven lean were eating and the seven green ears of corn and other (seven) dry, that I may return unto the people so that they may know. He said : Ye shall sow seven years as usual, but that which ye reap, leave it in the ear, all save a little which ye eat. Then after that will come seven hard years which will devour all that ye have prepared for them, save a little of that which ye have stored. Then ,after that, will come a year when the people will have plenteous crops and when they will press (wine and oil) (12: 43-49)

This set of events depicting the cows and ears of grain were two separate dreams occurring in one night (Ibn Kathir, 2003b). The analysis of the dreams occurs in the latter verse with a further analysis stating that the seven hard years should be used as a time in order to store grain for the seven tough years. Furthermore, after the seven years of drought a good year will occur with plentiful water and in turn good crops of olives and grapes for people to process oil and wine (Najjaar, 1992). Qutb (2004 : 82) mentions the fact that the year of “plentiful” is not in the dream of the king and was used by Yusuf in order to create positive emotions after such negative news. This cycle of seven good and seven bad years in Climate Change circles is the normal trend and is termed as La Nina and El Nino. This cycle of up and down is happening all across our lives. In the Economy, in the weather, in our relationships and even in our personal finances. It means that we need to save in the good times so that we can have for the bad times, just like Nabi Yusuf was told to

The story of Nabi Musa is the final with links to CLimate Change and particularly its impact on us as human beings. The story of Musa is told in more than 30 places in the Quran, but expanded versions are given in ten of those with six of the ten Surahs having a more detailed account. The verses which are of interest to issues surrounding climate change are :

“And we straitened Pharoah’s folk with famine and the dearth of fruits, that peradventure they might heed. But whenever good befall them, they said : This is ours ; and whenever evil smote them they ascribed it to the evil auspices of Moses and those with him. Surely their evil auspice was only with Allah. But most of them knew not. And they said : Whatever portent thou bringest wherewith to bewitch us, we shall not put faith in thee. So we sent them the flood and the locust and the vermin and the frogs and the blood – a succession of clear signs. But they were arrogant and became guilty (7: 131-133)

Chronologically speaking the event of climatic change which affected Nooh occurred prior to that affecting Yusuf and Musa(A.S)(A.S) (Najjaar, 1992). Furthermore it seems as if the duration and intensity of the events are quite different. If one examines the Quran and analyses the text, we find that Yusuf(A.S) was hit by seven years of good weather, contributing to an above average grain yield, and seven years of drought, which adversely affected people all over the ancient Egyptian kingdom. In comparison the climatic event affecting Musa(A.S) was only a few years (Quran 7:130), yet the drought had devastating effects in this short period of time, sending the kingdom into a state of famine. The floods which followed were also of an extreme nature, wiping out the minimal crops and this was followed in quick succession by numerous plagues. Therefore comparatively speaking we find that the Yusuf(A.S) had time to prepare for the “bad” years and store his grain. Also the prolonged event, felt by Yusuf(A.S) and his people, did not have as many after effects, when compared to Musa(A.S). This is no surprise as climatic change still has the experts in the field puzzled, with regards to the behaviour and impacts of the event on its cyclical return (Glantz, 1992). It should be noted that the event of Yusuf bears similarity to the Elnino effect.

The Prophet in his Sunnah has also shown us how to live sustainably with numerous Ahadith related to protecting the environment and conserving our resources. The most important one being

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this extravagance?” Sa’d said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.”

With all of this said, let us be aware of our environment and do our best to save it, even if we just pick up an empty bottle or sweet wrapper to put in the bin. Let us save the planet for the next generation and increase our good actions for the next life.

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