Prominent Muslim leaders are putting the final touches on a new statement on climate change, hoping to issue a sweeping call to protect the planet and insist that followers of Islam have a religious duty to help the environment.
The declaration is set to be unveiled at the end of a two-day climate change-themed symposium being held next week in Istanbul, Turkey. Participants include Islamic scholars, policy makers, academics, and Muslim activists as well as representatives from the United Nations — all organized by Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Islamic Forum for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, and GreenFaith.
“Islam teaches us: ‘Man is simply a steward holding whatever is on Earth in trust,’” said Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Uganda’s grand mufti, according to email about the conference from the Climate Action Network (CAN). “Therefore man should ensure that we do everything possible to protect for this and future generations in order to leave this world a better place than we found it.”
The final document, scheduled for release next Tuesday, will ask leaders at madrasas and mosques to articulate the Islamic impetus for helping curb the effects of global warming. It will also challenge wealthy countries to “drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well as to support vulnerable communities, both in addressing the impacts of climate change and in harnessing renewable energy,” according to an email from CAN.
Muslims have called for action on climate change several times in the past, as Islamic organizations focused on environmental issues have existed for some time. In 2009, about 200 Muslim scholars and religious leaders — including the Mufti of Egypt — endorsed the “Muslim 7 Year Action Plan on Climate Change.” That document included plans to develop a “Green Hajj,” or Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and establish “two to three Muslim cities as ‘green cities,’” among other strategic goals.
But the new declaration is likely to attract more attention than past statements, largely because it comes roughly two months after Pope Francis unveiled a 180-plus page papal encyclical on the environment, which also made a faith-based case for taking action to curb the effects of our changing climate. The encyclical, addressed to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, refuted conservative religious arguments against aiding the planet, and insisted that people of faith have a moral obligation to advocate for polices that can help reduce carbon emissions.
The pope has since thrust the Vatican into the center of environmental advocacy world, speaking regularly on the topic and convening a star-studded group of mayors from around the world to discuss how to address climate concerns. His activism has energized people of faith who have long advocated for the environment: Since June, the World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, Union Seminary, and the Episcopal Church have all divested from fossil fuels, as have several smaller groups such as the the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Shalom Center. In April, the Church in England divested $19 million from tar sands.
Leaders from across the theological spectrum have also become more vocal in their support for the environment this year, taking out ads in newspapers calling for climate action and issuing formal statements backing the pope’s encyclical. Most of these statements note that the effects of climate change disproportionately impact the world’s poor and impoverished, making the issue an inherently moral one.