The Islamic World and Climate Change

By Fachruddin M. Mangunjaya*

Global warming and climate change not only haunts and become a concern for the people of the West, but also becomes a concern of the impact it has towards the Islamic world. On 21-22 June, a dialogue has been congregated between academicians, ecologist and environmental activist including several environmental religious leaders from Indonesia. This meeting became the initial meeting to develop a formula that can be adopted and used by the Islamic community to prepare the actions and efforts needed to be taken in order to reduce the environmental crisis globally. The event was organized with the cooperation of several organizations among others the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), based in Birmingham, the Ministry of Environment, State Islamic University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah and Conservation International (CI) Indonesia.

The Islamic world is also experiencing the environmental problems in the middle of the world globalization competition and economic development after being colonized by the West, and have started to re-emerge to rediscover their identity. Besides being expected to be aware of the environment, the Islamic world is also expected to contribute to the world development and human civilization including reliving the ethics and environmentalism practical teachings that can be accepted by the Moslem world in order to face the environmental problems faced by the world.

Islam is a religion of more than one billion people on the earth, around one sixth of the world’s current population. This religion is held and implemented in countries with Moslem community. Even though this religion was found in Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, but almost 75 percent of its followers are located in the East; one third of its followers or more than 350 million are located in East Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and almost 200 million are in Indonesia—a country with various religions and beliefs–which has the largest Moslem population in the world.

The gathering of Moslem scholars in the Colloquium of the Islamic Fiqh on the Environment at UIN Jakarta aims to present an opinion of the Islamic world’s response towards environmental changes occurring in several Moslem countries; including the climate change impact that could become the largest threat towards the sustainability of live of earth, especially for countries with major Moslem communities. Indonesia with it majority Moslem community and one of the largest Moslem population is predicted to experience severe environmental impacts and food scarcity due to climate change.

In other Moslem countries, for instance the water crisis in the Middle East due to river dry-ups in Mesopotamia and Cashmere could results in major problems and ignite wars. Global warming is also predicted to increase floods in several Moslem areas such as Bangladesh, which will force 15-17 million people to be evicted. Other issues that become a major concern is the increase of land areas converted to deserts in Africa’s Sub Sahara that could lead to food crisis and famine similar to what recently happened in Nigeria.

The other countries in the Islamic world such as Iran, Irak and other Middle East countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Uni Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey face the same problems with managing their environment. Richard Foltz (2005) in Environmentalism in the Muslim World described it as: “The environmental crisis in the local and global levels most affect the poor communities in the world which in majority are Moslems. In reality the majority of Moslem population is in the developing countries, and in these countries the environmental problems are quite severe and not handled properly, which in the end only worsen it “.

According to Foltz, even though the Arabic gulf countries are usually rich, they are often considered as “developing countries” – in whatever circumstance the environment in the gulf area is seen as degraded, thus “development” is considered as a two eyed sword. Foltz gave an example of the ecosystem breakdown in Kuwait due to Irak’s colonization and the war since 1991, which shows how enormous the environmental degradation can be caused by humans. Irak as one of the Moslem countries which environment was properly organized now experience environmental degradation due to the war and America’s aggression to the country.

Similar to the other countries in the Islamic world, Indonesia also face the same environmental problems. This country for instance faced continuous natural disasters during the last decade. This was caused by ecosystem degradation and changes due to non-environmentally friendly measures towards the natural resources that have been the main economy source. Logging practices and harvesting nature resources by the community using unhealthy methods, even violating ethics, for instance illegal logging inside protection forests, fishing using bombs and poison, which clearly – realized by fishermen and Moslem majority – will degrade the environmental eventually.

Besides the increase in rain fall around 2-3% each year, the sea level at Jakarta’s bay also raised around 0.57cm each year. This was proven during the tide, several areas in North Jakarta become flooded. It is estimated that in 2050, the highly concentrated areas in North Jakarta (Cilincing, Koja, Tanjung Priok and Penjaringan) will be sinked under water. The climate change will also affect land productivity since part of the shores will be under water; which in the end will decrease the local ability to produce paddy up to 95% (Purnomo, 2007).

Islamic Environmentalism

As a developing country wanting to emerge, Moslem countries must face a reality dualism: between economic development based on natural resources extraction and the rapidly changing environmental condition which causes crisis. The real debate continues to develop with the following question: Do poor and developing countries —including the Islamic world — have to take part in saving the environment meanwhile the main culprit are the developed industrial countries? The West world were the initial cause of this crisis and all industries causing pollution and environmental degradation stem from industrial countries’ products based on the West capitalism economic teachings. Forces from these West cultural values are the causes of environmental crisis in the third world countries.

Ayatollah Musavi Ardebili from Qom, Iran, was interviewed and reminded once again about this matter: “The reason why our factories are major pollutant are because you Americans not only sold old factories to us, but also hampered our economic growth; thus we can not afford cleaner technologies “.

An irony that can be seen with the naked eye is the high energy consumption by rich countries – which means high rates of carbon emissions – is no comparison at all to those in the developing countries. As a comparison: someone living in a Moslem country consumes a small amount of energy and material consumes by people in the Northern industrial countries, which a much less impact towards the environment. An individual in an industrial country consumes commercial energy up to 18 times an individual in a low consumption rate country. Ironically these low consumption countries – including the Islamic world – make up three fourths of the world’s population, but they only consume 20 percent of the commercial energy (Llewellyn, 2003).

Unfortunately — as realized by the Moslem scholars — previous approaches to raise environmental awareness in Moslem countries are mainly adopted from West knowledge. The same applies to protection area systems including forest conservation (national parks) and conservation areas management that adopt systems from North America. Forgetting the positive side, several areas Islamic teachings on environmental sustainability — including preserving the environment and preventing logging activities — have not been socialized, thus making it hard for people to understand that preserving the environment is one of the compulsory teachings in Islam.

This is why the moslem environmental and conservation scholars make serious efforts to discover Islamic teachings on environment. Nowadays it is clear that Islamic environmentalism strongly supports natural resources management and posses a thorough teaching base. For instance, Al-Qur’an mentions about Tawhid (God is one), al-khalq (creation), al-mizan (balance), fitrah (basic character), khalifah (mandate implementer), al-istishlah (public well-being) and others, which can be considered as the base of Islamic teachings to preserve environment. Allah swt have also gave the mandate to all humans to preserve and maintain earth and its contents after He perfected it (Q.s 7:56; 33:72).

The need of Ijtihad

The current environmental problems found in the Moslem world are the challenges faced by the current scholars and fuqaha. Thus it is a common thing for Moslem scholars in the ecological field and are masters in Islam can sit together in a forum such as the Fiqh al-biah Colloqium. For Indonesia, facing the environmental challenges is very critical and urgent, since the Moslem community in Indonesia are the majority.

Professor Emeritus Muhammed Hyder, from Mombasa, Afrika, one of the resource person in the meeting hoped that the Fiqh al-biah meeting can be continued into a larger scale by joining forces with other parts of the Moslem world. This forum is conducted to bridge the gap between the environmental Islamic law with other Moslem professional scholars in the environmental and conservation field. The initial meeting between Moslem environmental scholars and fuqaha is the first step to create environmental laws (fiqh al-biah) that needs not only centuries old law precedents or general principal ideas, but also detailed, practical, creative and specific events in our environment. In a more humble manner, our current environmental condition needs ijtihad.

*) Fachruddin Mangunjaya, is the Author of “ Nature Conservation in Islam” and co Editor of MENANAM SEBELUM KIAMAT: Islam, Ecology and Environmental Movement (Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 2007). CI staff for Conservation & Religion Initiative, an edited version of this article was published in Republika, Thursday, 3 August 2007. He can be contact at: