Beyond “the” Islamic Declaration on Climate: 5 Core Strands for Structural Healing
In this post, I attempt to articulate some evolving thoughts, and to stimulate discussion. Some parts may ignite curiosity or challenge – both being ingredients to a healthy dialogue.
The intention is for more of us within Muslim communities to be bold, self-reflective explorers – to open into areas less travelled and to our collective potential – as agents better embodying and restoring wholeness to this incredible world.
Thus, comments are welcome, which will enable our explorations to bear nourishing fruit, so we can better navigate our way with the wisdom needed.
Index (or just scroll down!)
- Introduction to Islamic Declaration
- Taking it Further – Let’s Talk about Power
- The Attraction (& Risks) of Assumed Authority & Hierarchies
- The Patterns within Our Groups
- Funding that Dilutes Our Voices
- The Structural Paradigm Shift: Questions We Might Ask
- The Next Chapter
- The Five Core Strands
- The First Core Strand: Earth & Community
- Deep Democracy
- Whole Economics
- Climate Justice
- Engaged Surrender
The recently launched Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change created welcome ripples that spread far and wide. Just a few months before the Paris Climate Summit, it gathered people representing NGO’s and institutions from more than a dozen countries around the world.
They came for a symposium in Istanbul, Turkey – a symbolic meeting place, of east and west, of science & spirituality perhaps, and here, of climate change and Islam.
The declaration was on relatively ‘safe’ ground, keeping away from factors that might divide: such as carbon offsets, the role, if any, of nuclear energy, the concentration of power etc.
Drawing on a sprinkling of Qur’anic verses coupled with examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad, it made calls centered around shifting entirely from fossil fuels to green energy by the middle of the century.
While generally not presenting anything particularly new, it did nonetheless give weight to time-frames, gathered energy, set a tone, and for some presented a symbol of authority they can now refer to in their circles and beyond.
Taking it Further – Let’s Talk about ‘Power’
The declaration also has room to be taken further. In aiming for wide acceptance, the declaration’s remit, understandably, remained mostly centred on greenhouse gas emissions. It can be applauded, however, in making some references to the economy e.g. “to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite… is not viable “, and for corporations “to adopt a circular economy”.
This is a beginning, and leaves scope to go deeper.
While we can call on corporations to develop a ‘circular economy’, we must also acknowledge the disproportionate power corporations hold. Furthermore, we can motion to greater awareness of hierarchies – awareness of how power is being distributed and wielded – in our own networks, communities, groups and other spheres of our lives.
If we can bring into the fabric of our desire for positive change a more conscious awareness of power in all spaces, we are in a better place to transform the existing structures upon which climate change and upon which many other injustices gain a foothold, and are but a symptom of a more fundamental problem.
To navigate the journey needed, we need to commit ourselves to developing greater clarity around the social and economic paradigms that support injustices – and co-awaken into being within our selves and within our own groups, the kind of values, paradigm and appropriate structures that move towards healing the earth and ourselves of those injustices. These will be the communities of the future.
The Attraction (& Risks) of Assumed Authority & Hierarchies
The concentration of power is not just confined to corporations. Power can be, and is, concentrated in all social arrangements whether secular or faith-based.
For instance, the players involved, in choosing to name this declaration on climate change, “The” Islamic Declaration, created a scenario of giving this voice absolute Islamic authority – a socio-religious power.
While this has strengths in giving the declaration that sought after stamp of credibility on a global challenge, and while it is a potentially effective strategy to mobilise – and there is dire need for mobilisation – there are also potential risks if we have restricted awareness to our relationship with the dynamics of power.
Firstly, it sets up a hierarchy.
This risks reinforcing a culture already prevalent amongst many Muslims: a culture of giving our power over to ‘authority’ figures, and moving further along the scale of expecting to be told what to think.
Instead we need to exercise with more consistency, depth, and trust our own capacity to reflect, dialogue and evolve. (“An” Islamic” Declaration… might, in this vein, have been a better title.)
Secondly, it promotes a spirit that can be in opposition to and which squeezes out space for the resilience of diversity.
Thirdly, as we move to find wholesome solutions to the challenges we face, as we gather energy around our intention to co-create a more beautiful world, we might choose to be wary of giving power to the idea that any group, set of NGO’s, scholar or entity has a voice that claims an absolute monopoly on where Islam stands for, or not, on any given issue.
In the end, whether we choose to agree with a view or not – and there is much to be gained to listen – we need, with humility, to also remain switched on, being mindful that we do not unconsciously give power away to any created organisation, entity or elite. Any one of us can be mistaken or misled, whether today, tomorrow or further down the line.
The Patterns within Our Groups
Just as the declaration’s strength was it being led and held by individuals from largely mainstream NGO’s and institutions – the set ups and hierarchies that these organisations embody might be useful to explore. With CEO’s, executive directors and so forth at the front, an implicit message being articulated in an already dominating, power-centralised system, was the reinforcing of that system as the norm.
While this may in part be the absence of Muslim and other organisations being bold or creative enough in taking on more flatter, democratic structures, without consciously reflecting on and examining how we organise ourselves we limit the extent to which we can be an embodiment of real solutions.
There are a wider, more fluid, range of set ups we can embody, simultaneously helping shake up a predominately monoculture system of organising.
My own observation is that many Muslims are over-dependent on high-status sounding terminology (e.g. ‘President’, ‘CEO’, ‘Executive Director’ etc.) and top-down pyramid structures.
In nature, while hierarchical systems do exist (e.g. branching structures in trees, the respiratory system in the body) nature also expresses itself through flatter, less centralised more web-based structures, which can also inspire and need more widespread validation and embodiment.
Frederick Laloux, author of ‘Reinventing Organisations’ has done some fascinating research in the field of organisational models. He is worth listening to.
Here’s an inspiring interview:
Funding that Dilutes Our Voices
The source of our finances and any strings attached – whether vocalised or not – can influence the path we take.
A valuable strength of mainstream NGO’s is their widespread reach as well as their skill at securing funds. Yet, if any demands they make are inconsistent with the desires of the rich and powerful some of whom may be funding them, their process of finalising any position on a given issue risks being one of watering down, of diluting the core message crucial to a real solution.
With regards climate change, it is thus more likely for there to be relative silence on fundamentals associated with the core of the problem, such as: carbon-offset loopholes, concentration of corporate power (already touched on), a just economic system, nuclear energy, and a deeper, direct democracy that moves power from the financially rich elite and back to all people.
The Structural Paradigm Shift: Questions We Might Ask…
Climate change is but one possible entry point. Going deeper, thus, here are some useful questions we might ask ourselves: if we were to reflect on the structural characteristics and paradigm responsible for disturbing the mizan (balance or equilibrium), disrupting the climate, and contributing to fasad (corruption/disasters), where would that take us? And what then might the term khalifah mean in this wider, deeper context?
What does a more wholesome paradigm actually look like?
What does it feel like to be moving towards it, letting go of the familiarity of the old structures, narratives and hierarchies?
What kind of qualities would the new narrative and new paradigm hold? And how could we be active participants in its co-creation?
The Next Chapter
Nobody is claiming that fundamental change will be easy. It will mean the dissolving away of patterns and structures that are ‘normal’ –
– and while we journey towards a more compassionate world and live more meaningful lives, letting go of what is currently familiar will mean emotional discomfort and feelings of loss.
As we let go of the old, the assumed, and step into the new, we will need each other moreso – our youth, our elders, masculine energy, and feminine in particular, people of colour, the privileged, those on the margins – as well as tools for inner processing and transformation.
The beauty of Islam is that not only does it offer concepts for framing climate change and our relationship with the earth, it is also holistic. It thus offers a deeply informed trajectory that can help heal the structures from which a destabilised climate emerges as a symptom.
If we limit an Islamic perspective on climate change to simply carbon emissions without regard for deeper structural change, this will be a huge loss.
At Wisdom In Nature, with no funding from government nor corporations, and more than a decade of reflecting, dialoguing and – where we can – practising emerging answers, we have condensed into five core strands a set of principles for this journey. These are by no means perfect nor complete, and it is and will be necessary to continue to go even deeper and wider. But they are based on attempts to answer key questions in a framework that honours interconnectedness, diversity, wholeness as well as our relationship to power.
It may be that you already have more finely tuned insights or that the ideas evolve into something more meaningful to you. This is infinitely richer than taking on what we have literally said.
We welcome hearing what comes up for you as we are all take part in this journey of creating a more beautiful and wholesome world together.
The Five Core Strands
The five core strands are meant to offer a framework for dialogue, reflection and action. The first four comprise an intention for two supporting movements: a movement ‘away from’ ; and a movement ‘towards’.
The intention, thus, is to facilitate a movement away from states, processes, and paradigms that contribute to imbalances in the ecology (including the social), and move towards those that are nurturing, wholesome, in alignment with our natural order (fitrah), and that help restore ecological balance (mizan).
They weave together a range of supporting values into a more coherent whole, and thus while they are numbered for convenience, their organic inter-relatedness makes their order entirely fluid.
The two movements in each of the four strands are summarised below.
1) The First Core Strand: Earth & Community
Strand 1 is the Earth & Community strand. This comprises an intention to move:
Away from corporate domination and consumerism;
Towards simplicity, sharing and a deeper connection to the earth & its diverse communities.
As corporations gain more wealth and power, their increasing influence on socio-political structures gives them privileges otherwise unavailable.
Yet, the greater a corporation’s power, the easier it can be for a corporation to override and take action against the interest of people, local communities, and the planet. Climate change becomes more likely.
This strand is for a power shift – away from large power-hungry corporations, and towards community; Away from consumerism towards sharing and simplicity; Away from corporate privilege, towards accountability and grassroot, cooperative-type movements.
To facilitate the power shift from corporations to people and the earth, we need to skill up, learn to co-create through processes that mirror the world we want, a natural outcome of which is its manifestation.
This means being mindful of voices we might be marginalising, and consciously working to include all, including the less privileged amongst us. As the Qur’an affirms, true change is down to each and every one of us:
Truly, God does not change the condition of a people unless they change it themselves (within their own souls). (Qur’ an 13:11)
We can also learn from the earth:
“On the earth there are Signs for those of inner certainty, as also within your own selves..” (Qur’ an 51: 20-21)
More people, including many Muslims, are being inspired by approaches such as permaculture which can support us to connect with, appreciate and apply the wisdom reflected by the earth.
In so doing, we also support our practise of Islam – which in essence is a natural way (i.e. in accordance to the fitrah); At the same time, Islam, as an authentic spiritual tradition, can help add depth and meaning to approaches like permaculture, making it more powerful and also wider reaching.
2) The Second Core Strand: Deep Democracy
The second core strand is the Deep Democracy strand. This comprises an intention to move:
Away from concentration of power amongst the rich and privileged;
Towards more equalisation of power that honours diversity, draws out consensus & creativity and empowers all.
The concentration of power in the hands of a few leads to marginalization of voices that undermines the wholeness of people, communities, and ultimately, our world.
Greater wisdom emerges when people actively listen to each other. In Muslim communities there can be an over-reliance on authority figures, celebrity scholars, and top-down structures. This can disempower and cause people to isolate themselves from the community and its one-way flow that limits multi-directional listening.
Thus, while top-down leadership has its usefulness (mostly perhaps in time-limited situations such as emergencies), moreso, we need to train up as facilitators. We need to skilfully draw in the different parts and voices of our communities or groups – we need to process tensions as a gift to uncover insights, and support one another to creatively discover our own wisdom. Healing, rather than being a distant dream, is lived and becomes intrinsic to the process: a process that empowers, awakens potential, and supports diverse, inclusive action.
Putting time into processes conducive to deeper dialogue also saves time in the long run. Otherwise time gets taken up avoiding unacknowledged tensions, and undoing damage to people and ecosystems caused by rushed, superficial decisions.
The Qur’ an states:
“Far better and more lasting is what God will give to those who believe and trust in their Lord; who shun great sins and gross indecencies…; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation.” (Qur’ an: 42:36-38)
“And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him.” (Qur’ an: 3:159)
While a major area of focus within this strand is the influence of large corporations, deep democracy is also about ensuring voices are heard in all our contexts – families, workplaces, places of worship, and community organizations, NGO’s/charities and so forth. It is relevant to us all.
Thus, deep democracy includes a movement toward awareness of power dynamics in our everyday interactions and spaces.
As we include and integrate more voices, those at the margins and those at the mainstream, the joyous as well as those holding pain, we begin to witness, appreciate and heal.
Simply by, in essence deeper listening and consciously directing our attention, the structures on which many injustices enjoy resting are gradually transformed. Climate change is choked of the social fuel it is fed by.
3) The Third Core Strand: Whole Economics
Strand 3 is the Whole Economics strand. This comprises an intention to move:
Away from monetary systems disconnected from real value and embedded in usury;
Towards just economic systems nurturing to life, soul and community.
The recent and ongoing financial crisis is a manifestation of an economic system that is unsustainable, unjust and disconnected from the real world.
What is needed is a radical shift to economic systems working in harmony with the natural order. This would mean less to spend on problems otherwise created and exacerbated by the dysfunctional capitalist system.
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Kenneth Boulding, economist
We have an economic system in which:
1) Money can be created out of nothing – i.e. is fictitious, often no more than pixels on a screen.
2) The lent fictitious money has interest compounded into it, people borrow to pay the debt off, interest is added to the lent money, etc. Debt increases, and the vicious spiral continues.
3) The above two impact on the real world – on the earth and on communities: increasing production to pay off debt, consumption of more fossil fuels to provide energy for the production, and the consequent increase in greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change.
“O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied; but fear God; that ye may (really) prosper.” (Qur’an 3:130).
- In an Islamic economics, the unit of transaction that takes the form of money would have real value. Thus, paper receipts and pixels on a screen, which correspond to no real wealth, would consequently have no more buying power than their worth as objects in the eyes of the people.
- Any medium could be used and it would be left to the people who would be free to engage in transactions using whatever medium they choose. The power would thus shift away from banks, and back to the people, thus supporting a financial democracy.
- A fundamental distinction between such a system and the current one, is that in the one proposed, money would remain connected to the real wealth of the natural world, for it is only such wealth that would be a candidate for money.
While the above are a set of core principles, there is inevitably more than one route.
We envisage the steps to transition to a transformed economics will emerge through a variety of local and wider people-led initiatives – initiatives that move towards the principles of real wealth, economics without usury, and fair transactions.
4) The Fourth Core Strand: Climate Justice
Strand 4 is the Climate Justice strand: climate chang being such a globally pressing challenge that it deserves its own space – simultaneously a holistic approach needs the weaving of the economic, social & decision-making processes, power dynamics and so forth. The Climate Justice strand comprises an intention to move:
Away from dependence on fossil fuels;
Towards non-polluting energy, needs above profit, and low impact living.
One source among many is the colour photo-booklet we produced titled, Islam and Climate Change ~ A Call to Heal.
Focussing on relationship rather than prescriptions, and including a list of resources, it can be downloaded and printed for free. Or you can order hard copies for yourself, group, institution etc..
5) The Fifth Core Strand: Engaged Surrender
All four strands are underpinned by the Engaged Surrender strand .i.e. by:
a nonviolent, process-oriented activism, expressed through a contemplative dimension within the framework of Islam (Surrender to the Divine).
Process is key. For by focussing only on outcomes we neglect how things are done, which voices are heard or marginalised, how people are feeling, where money comes from, what strings are attached and so forth. By focussing only on outcome to achieve a quick ‘end’ result, we risk embodying principles and processes that reflect and manifest the world we don’t want rather than the one we do!
In some groups including our own, when making decisions together, we often first go through simple exercises to encourage listening and discovering more of what we each bring. This increases coherence, and helps us to value our diversity and the deeper parts of our selves, and it thus supports us to genuinely co-create together. The experience is very beautiful – sometimes even magical.
We might also consciously bring into awareness rank, privilege and power distribution as these otherwise play an invisible, yet influential, role amongst us. Better to include them in the group awareness so they can be consciously witnessed, and worked with.
At a time when entities are contributing to cycles of violence in the name of security and safety, it is also important to talk about non-violence.
It’s helpful reflecting on the life of people such as Abdul Ghaffar Khan (aka Badshah Khan) a Muslim Pathan who in the 20th century lived by principles of active non-violence, drawing on Islam.
Badshah Khan raised a non-violent army of 100 000 Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”) that resisted British rule over India. Here he talks to his people about the power of patience (sabr) and righteousness (salih):
“I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.” Abdul Ghaffar (Badshah) Khan
In addition, in terms of real healing and community building, it is vital to acknowledge that pushing away pain, or hurt, is not the same as healing it. Pain needs to be acknowledged and released, to restore wholeness and to support real forgiveness.
For global healing, we need everyone. We thus need to authentically take care of each other as intrinsic ingredients to the process, in order to actualise the planetary healing we desire.
Thus, to transform the social, economic and inner structures from which climate injustice arises, a multi-dimensional approach is needed. It is about creating something more beautiful, more whole, and more desirable to the heart.
This post presents ideas that while raising important questions and pointing to a necessary trajectory, are open to debate. testing and need space to evolve. They are far from written on stone.
Thus, where you find any ideas here to resonate, please feel free to work with them. Alternatively let them evolve in your own awareness and develop into something more meaningful to you than what has been presented.
And I welcome hearing what comes up for you. We are all co-participants on this journey of creating a more beautiful, fair and wholesome world nourishing to all.
Muzammal Hussain has been involved with grassroots ecological work for almost 20 years and is one of the pioneers amongst Muslims in the UK. Read his full bio here>>