Going Green: Putting Faith in Our Environment

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Faith and Environment
Can faith or religion tackle the crisis of the environment?  This was the topic of discussion at a symposium on May 17 entitled Faith and the Environment, organized by Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) with the support of the Thaqalayn Muslim Association (TMA). This once-in-a-blue moon event was made even more special as this was the first time that the RIS sought support from the TMA, a Shia organization –  a revolutionary step in fostering unity amongst the Muslim youth organizers.

With over 300 attending the sessions at University of Toronto and the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Dr. Sayyid Hossein Nasr, one of the best-known scholars on Islamic science and spirituality, and Hakim Archuletta, an expert of homeopathic medicine, led the discourse on the subject.

Archuletta began by diagnosing the audience with a critical level of simultagnosia – the inability to see pieces as a component of the whole. With over 20,000 people dying daily due to lack of food, 90 percent of the fish species having disappeared from the seas, and 100 species disappearing every week from the face of the planet, it becomes difficult to argue that humans possess common sense, let alone any humanity. How can we turn a blind eye to this environmental genocide and allow an ecocide to take place?

Archuletta attributed this to the human nature of denial. "Just like when one is diagnosed with a disease, e.g. AIDS, it difficult for us to accept that we suffer from such a disease." Archuletta argued that we pretend that a tragedy like this cannot happen to us, and with the new-generation WMDs (Weapons of Mass Distraction), we try and combat reality by resorting to our flat-screens.  

The West is said to shockingly use over 80 percent of the world's resources, Archuletta pointed out. This  "obesity" is not only physically expressed but also societal manifested in terms of excessive consumerism, which all religious doctrines are opposed to.

Dr. Nasr criticized all, including adherents of religion, for having done very little work when it came to protecting the environment in comparison to the rate of the environment's destruction.  "It is like rearranging the furniture aboard the titanic as it just about to sink," he said.

He particularly pointed out to the Muslim world for having forgotten its rich environmental heritage, where the first hospital for animals that even treated the wounds a donkey sustained while carrying heavy loads existed in Middle East thousands of years ago. He further pointed out that the Qur'an had numerous chapters named after plants and animals, which even described their kingdoms, including those of the bees. Both scholars made reference to a famous Islamic tradition "If you find out the end of the world is coming tomorrow and you are planting a tree, continue planting the tree."

From the monotheistic point of view, Dr. Nasr proposed that if God is the Creator as most religions claim, then it is our moral responsibility as his representatives and those made "in God's image" to respect the first revelation: the creation of Nature. He further expounded this by saying, "If you have faith in Beethoven as one the best composer, then you surely will have faith that his composition will be the best, and definitely respect it."

On a religious platform, we ought to draw attention to our religious leaders to come up with "Green" masjids, as well as convince them to place an emphasis about the environment in their sermons and join forces with environmental activists, initiatives, and organizations so as to preserve our environment.

Indeed Rumi, the famous Persian scholar, made no mistake when he said, "Faith is the sail of the Ship of Our Being." Whether we believe in God or not, we all know that Nature has the last say.

Imam Ali's (peace be upon him) concept of "Die before you Die" excellently summarizes what we ought to do by coming up with a Breakthrough before the Breakdown from an almost unstoppable environmental disaster in the West. We have to do something now before it's too late.  In accordance with this, Dr. Nasr proposed that we should "think globally and act locally." The world is indeed a global village. By realizing that a dam in China will affect how you and I will breathe in a city in North America, we ought to deal with the cancerous problem of environmental degradation now.

Sikh, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, Jew or Christian – we are all in this together. This world is like a ship; if we do not do something now about the hole the environmental destruction is creating, we are all sure to sink.

Author of this article: Shahbaz Mir
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