In every person’s life, there are certain things they look back on and think, ‘Well, that was a bit of a disaster’. Maybe it was a teenage haircut you thought would make you look cool, a horror film you saw too young that still haunts you or a rush decision to buy 12 pairs of dungarees (everyone knows that they are a timeless purchase). Anyway, we will all look back and think, ‘My life could have probably done without that!’ For me, it was finding out about climate change. Now I am not saying that it was the most depressing and spine-chillingly frightening horror I’ve ever discovered that the human race was inflicting on this planet, but it’s pretty high up on the list.
No, the real reason that I regret finding out about climate change and the devastating impacts it will have on this planet and its 7 billion person population is the often pitiful response it evokes from people, especially my smart, educated Muslim friends who should know better. I know, climate change is scary – it’s a problem of planetary scale, which in my book is pretty big. I know that climate change needs the whole world to get its act together – from homeschooling parents to corporations who are legally obliged to make their shareholders money – and do the right thing. I guess it is for this very reason, the almost impossibility of dealing with climate change, that many Muslims choose to simply ignore it.
They argue that it’s not their problem. That the Muslim Ummah has bigger problems to worry about. That the science isn’t solid proof and the weather is too hot/cold/rainy/dry anyway. That this a Western world issue. That they can’t change anything alone. That it’s too late. That it’s too early to take action. That it’s too hard, too unrewarding, too inaccessible, too complicated. That it’s the governments’ job or that the governments are failing and so what chance do we have?
To all those people who are making excuses to help avoid the action they know they need to take, I want to say that I feel your pain. I was in your shoes once and I know you’re desperate to avoid reality because it’s painful. But here’s something else you should know. There are things you can do – empowering things – and you’re not expected to save the world single-handedly. I do what I can – I limit my air travel, I limit my commute to work, I cycle, I’m careful with water, I don’t eat meat, I talk to Muslims about the environment and I celebrate and support businesses, individuals, groups, projects and organisations that are taking positive action to tackle climate change.
And yes, there are times when I feel hopeless because I know I’m not having a big enough impact and because the movement to pressure governments into action isn’t materialising. But I keep on going because denying reality isn’t the grown up thing to do. I also keep going because as a Muslim I have a duty to protect this amazing planet God created and because I have to show God that I am striving in whatever ways I can. When I think about Judgement Day, I think about the audacity of saying “Sorry, it was too hard and I never really understood the climate science… I was too busy on Facebook to dig the earth and plant it with food…. no-one else was doing anything and I was worried people would think I was weird.” Maybe we can say that now to each other but on the Day of Judgement would your lips be able to utter those words?
I guess what I really want to avoid is the Muslim Ummah looking back at our time on this earth and saying, “Well, that was a bit of a disaster…”.
And Another Thing from Donna Frances Stacey…
One thing that both bugs and baffles me about some of us Muslims is the carelessness we often show towards the environment, particularly when it comes to disposing of or recycling our rubbish.
It is so frustrating and confusing to me because I feel that, as Muslims, we ought to be aware that Allah (SWT) has made us His vicegerents here – trustees of the earth – which means we are not supposed to cause corruption in any form. This caliphate carries with it great responsibility and it is a test for which we are bound to be held accountable.
Allah (SWT) mentions in Surat Al-An’am: “And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful” (Al-An’am:165)
Our lack of responsibility towards our environment is sadly often all too apparent. My prevailing memory from the time I attended Islam Channel’s ‘Global Peace and Unity’ event at ExCel, London – a huge venue with several thousand seats – is the utter mess the attendees left in their wake and the sheer volume of it! There were layers upon layers of promotional flyers and leaflets, drinks cans, fast food remnants – in and out of their boxes and wrappers – and all manner of rubbish strewn everywhere and heaped under the seats. I even spotted a used nappy atop a pile of debris. As the non-Muslim cleaners waited in the wings, at nigh on midnight, for us lot to finally go home so they could begin to tidy up, I felt compelled to apologise.
As appointed trustees of the earth it ought to be a given that we take responsibility of disposing of (and lessening!) our own rubbish so that our Islamic events do not leave an impression of absolute disarray. And not leaving a nasty mess for others to contend with is surely a basic courtesy.
I am naturally far from perfect, but I do try to do my ‘bit’, as I consider taking responsibility for my rubbish both as a part of fulfilling the amanah (trust) that Allah (SWT) has entrusted me with and as a test from Him, as well as a form of good da’wah (demonstration of Islam to non-Muslims) and adab (manners).
Allah (SWT) reminds us in Surat Yunus: “Then We made you successors in the land after them so that We may observe how you will do.” (Yunus:14)
And as I live on a British social housing estate, where there are no recycling facilities, it is not only a test, but a veritable jihad! I can often be seen (and heard) traipsing the mile or so to my local tip with umpteen black sacks full of resounding cans and bottles and plastic stuff tied to each side of my toddler’s buggy looking like one of those ladies who carry their lives around in carrier bags full of rummaged, rubbish-bin treasures.
Trudging to the tip became increasingly difficult as my last pregnancy advanced. I was around eight and a half months pregnant when the mountain of plastic adorning a corner of my kitchen peaked. One of the mums from my children’s primary school knew of my recycling dilemma and kindly extended an open invitation to her recycling box. So I set out one recycling day at the crack of a very dark and frosty dawn, hauling a modest bundle of carefully washed and rinsed milk cartons. En route to my friend’s house, which was at the top of a rather steep hill, I happened upon a middle-aged gentleman who was putting one or two plastic things in the (virtually empty) box at the front of his house. I felt a sudden sense of camaraderie with this chap, as it seemed to me we shared the same mission in our attempt to save the planet! With this in mind, and the dreaded vertical climb that loomed ahead of a rather rotund and waddling me, I chirped, “Good morning! Would you mind if I popped these into your box, as I don’t have recycling facilities where I live?”
The man glared at me and hoarsed a very straightforward, “Yes!”
Slightly confused, I asked cheerily, “Sorry, do you mean, ‘yes, I can’, or ‘yes, you do mind’?
“Yes, I do mind”, came the icy reply.
So I continued my marathon hill hobble, annoyed but steadfast in knowing that I am attempting to do my part for the environment by any means necessary. May our efforts to fulfil the amanah of the earth, which Allah (SWT) has entrusted us with, be accepted insha Allah, however small they may be.
Arwa Aburawa is a writer and researcher based in London.
Donna Frances Stacey is proud to follow in her late mother’s footsteps as a writer and has been published under a number of pseudonyms. She is open to commissions of poetry or prose. Please feel free to write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.