Friday, July 17, 2015

Meeting People of Different Faiths in Rome- A Personal Reflection!

Businesses of life often orchestrate people’ thinking in complex way that they find it hard to come on certain common point. Difference of opinion is profoundly influenced by cultures and norms. However when it comes to personal gains, people thrive their own school of thoughts, often neglects facts or try to manipulate situations towards personal favors.

The real story of climate crisis is not much different than such personal and cultural conflicts. The extent to which common citizens get completely confused on which path to follow, some wise leaders step in and recall them the power of faith. This is what Pope Francis realized in the best interest of humanity and presented to the world his historical Encyclical on climate change.

Being a follower of my own religion Islam, I see the importance of Pope’ Encyclical as one of the most powerful tools which attracts diverse group of people work for the only Planet Earth as one universal family! I could personally witness this extraordinary value last month when I was invited in Rome by GreenFaith- a US based organization whose mission is  inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. I found myself among those passionate environmental activists who were Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Baha’i, Buddhists all filled with the spirit of environmental protection in their hearts and souls.

This three-day Multi-Faith Climate Convergence in the city of Rome was one of the best interfaith gatherings, enriched with the evidence of social actions every person had or have been doing in their own communities. As a Muslim, when I kept on believing protecting environment is our moral obligation, I was totally impressed how different individuals and their organizations have contributed their part for protection of Mother Earth by getting inspired of their own individual faiths.

The time I lived and learnt from those passionate participants coming from different parts of the world, I was thrilled to know how Christianity motivated people stand up for the Mother Earth. When I looked at what the Hindu fellows have done in mobilizing their own communities, making their villages clean was my own realization that each faith finds common values for humanity- here it is making Earth green. And when I interacted with those fellows who follow the religion of Baha’i, I learnt how powerful their own stories are when they call for climate action! In short, this is what I can truly call interfaith harmony which brings people closer to each other.

This Climate convergence gave a spiritual meaning for people of different faiths. And it happened in such a critical time when we are almost at the verge of climate crisis. We are left with just a few weeks when the world leadership is gearing up to convene in Paris and decide the fate of Mother Earth due to human induced climate change. GreenFaith was able to bring people of different faiths on a common ground, not only to say special thanks to Pope Francis for his Encyclical through a peaceful Climate March in the Vatican City but also provided a meaningful opportunity to us all reflect on our past, our own religious teachings and our environmental practices.
Everyone in the gathering linked his climate action with his/her own spiritual values. In Islam our Prophet Muhammad guides us find blessings of Allah by not only getting kind to our brothers and sisters but to our Planet Earth as well. At the same time, I learned how other faiths give satisfaction to their own followers by doing every small or big action for environmental protection.

The time has come we make sure reflect on science and faith together. Science gives us facts and figures about climate crisis and faith encourages us to take action and protect humanity. Faith is also powerful as it invites individuals learn and explore the secrets of universe. This is the sense we all need to transform into those who are supposed to be decision makers on our behalf at the Paris conference. We have to take this message on because we have to protect our present and our future generations from climate crisis. We have simply got a big responsibility which is truly rewarding! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

A letter to Pakistan Ulama Council on Climate Change

Honorable Chairman
Pakistan Ulama Council,
 Maulana Tahir Ashrafi
Bayt-ul-Aman, Begumpura Mor,
G.T Road, Lahore, Pakistan
Phone: +92-321-5777776

Subject: A Request to Call Muslim Communities act on Climate Change and Environmental Protection  

Dear Maulana Tahir Ashrafi,

Ramzan Mubarik!
I am Asif Iqbal, a voluntary Climate Change campaigner in Pakistan. It’s my pleasure to write you this special letter as we start the month of blessings i.e. Ramzan Karim! What I am hopeful is my anticipation that you can make a green history with your humble consideration to my request to call for our Muslim communities living in Pakistan in particular and outside Pakistan in general to stand for protection of our Environment and fight Climate Change!

Honorable Maulana Ashrafi, being a Chairman of the Pakistan Ulama Council, I think you hold an important place to help Muslim community understand religious responsibilities to protect our environment, value of scientific knowledge related to climate change and urge them take much needed actions. And why it is important for us all, our Quran and our Holy Prophet has already made it clear;

It is He who has appointed you guardians in the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, the He may try you in what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in reckoning; and surely He is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
Qur’an 6:165)

“The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it”
~ Prophet Muhammad S.A.W

Being the followers of Almighty Allah, we all have strong belief, without a single matter of doubt, that Allah has bestowed human being with the gift of thinking power we call human intelligence. That’s the reasons that human being has made advancement in the field of science to know the secrets of the universe. With this belief in our mind and heart, we also hear from climate scientists (almost 97%) that how humans of the present world, particularly from the rich and industrial countries are doing harm to our Planet Earth and its natural eco-system.

Let me explain this in a simple way; one of the blessings that Allah grant us is the heat of Sun, which keeps our Earth warm and a livable planet. Our Earth absorbs most of this heat and part of it is reflected back to atmosphere which is a layer consist of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide etc. These greenhouses gases are capable of trapping the heat which comes back from the Earth. This natural process keeps our Earth warm which is necessary to maintain life on the Earth. This is a balanced natural system Allah has created for us. With the absence of these layers of greenhouses gases, there would be no heat and the Planet Earth would become a ball of ice and an unlivable place for human being.

However, Maulana sahab, the real problem is caused historically by the rich industrial countries like the US, Europe and in present time by growing economies like India and China. Many other developing economies are also following the same path. These countries are responsible for massive environmental pollution by burning fossil fuel (coal and oil) with excessive use of transportation and industries. Burning of fossil fuel produces large amount of greenhouse gases which further concentrates into the atmosphere. This excessive amount of greenhouse gases is damaging the natural system of our Earth atmosphere. The more greenhouses are concentrated into atmosphere, the more heat is trapped and the more Earth gets warmer. It is same like a person feels more heat if numbers of blankets are put on his body.

So what’s wrong if these rich industrial countries, along with developing economies continue polluting our environment? Let me explain it… According to climate scientists, increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has disturbed the eco-system of our Planet. In last one century, the world’ average temperature was 0.6%. In Pakistan this figures accounts for 0.8%. Climate scientists have unanimously declared that 350 particles per million (ppm) is the safe amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whereas the historical and current pace of environmental pollution has already made this concentration to 400ppm. Climate Scientists warns that if we do not keep the concentration below 350ppm, the Earth annual temperature will exceed 2 degree Celsius, which will cause irreversible climate change i.e. frequency and intensity of natural disasters like floods, cyclones, sea/rain storms, heat waves and drought will increase. We will face more abnormal weather changes, which will directly impact our food and water system. Global warming will further contribute into rapid melting of glaciers and increase in sea level, thus inundating coastal areas with sea intrusion. In conclusion, global environmental pollution is directly risking lives of billions of innocent lives with their increased exposure to climate related natural disasters.

So what does Pakistan Ulama Council can do in helping poor communities protected from these disasters? As I read the philosophy of the Council, one of its principles follow the Madina’ model i.e. “availability of food, clothing, healthcare and education for the people” which makes me feel confident in appealing you step in and play your role to protect humanity as we are supposed to do with the ideology of our religion Islam. Our religion clearly instruct us not to destroy crops and trees even at the time war, which means there is a logic behind protection of our natural resources, which is necessary for human subsistence. If we talk about the context of Pakistan, we have already witnessed the impacts of climate change in 2010 when the northern parts of our country received rains in three days, which otherwise occurs in normal period of six months. In terms of sea level rise, many of our coastal villages have gone under water. In 1999-2000, we suffered from severe drought in parts of Sindh and Baluchistan, which had sharply declined under-ground water table. In coming years, we will suffer from extreme food and water crisis. Numbers of our villages in Sindh and Punjab provinces have malnutrition rate, which is worse than many in the African countries. We need to tell our Muslim communities how profit making economies are playing with the natural system, making the planet a dangerous place to live in.

Dear Maulana Tahir Ashrafi sahab, our religion Islam teaches us to learn and help our brothers and sisters at the time of difficulties. Human induced Climate Change is a valid reason for us all to come forward and take action in the true spirit of Islam- protecting humanity. Our government has already developed a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy to ensure, food, energy and water security through sustainable economic growth. More encouragingly, the present government has also reinstated the Federal Climate Change Ministry after realizing the real challenge of Climate Change to our country. However we all need to work hard and push the government take timely, real and aggressive measures. We have the role to avert this challenge and being the Chairman of Pakistan Ulama Council, you are even in more influential position to take this responsibility on your kind shoulders. As I said earlier, you can make history in the Muslim world if you really become champion of actions on climate change.

Maulana sahab, with the blessing of Al-mighty Allah, you are a known scholar, whereas I am just an ordinary citizen. Therefore pardon me if I dare to suggest you some of the actions you can take in the best spirit of humanity;

  • Call on the entire Muslim community to get serious on the issue of climate change by protecting the natural resources Allah has bestowed us for our subsistence. It includes sustainable use of fresh water as wasting water is a sin, less air pollution as by doing this we conflict with the balance of nature and avoid wastage of food as per the teaching of Islam

  • Ask the Government of Pakistan to take all necessary actions while it participates in the UN led Climate Change Conference in Paris this December 2015 in which the world political leaders are expected to sign a new binding agreement on Climate Change in order to limit global environmental pollution and protect humanity from irreversible climate change. Our Government needs to take bold stand along with other poor and developing nations to put real pressure of all those rich and industrial countries who are major contributors of greenhouse gases emission and responsible of damaging our environment

  • Ask the government officials, particularly the Federal Climate Change Ministry, who are involved in planning and development of different environmental projects, to promote sustainable economic growth by encouraging clean and renewable energy i.e. wind and solar power projects, instead of long term investment in fossil fuel industries

  • Request faith leaders to include climate change and environmental protection part of their religious education to common citizen and urge them guide communities of faith protect natural resources at household, community and national level with the true spirit of Islamic teaching

  • Ask policy makers and parliamentarians to formulate laws and ensure implementation of already existing laws in the best interest of our environment and life of common citizens and children

      At the end, I would like to say my heartiest thanks for your due consideration and sympathy to this noble cause as I believe you will explore further the teaching of Islam in perspective of environmental protection and will draw upon a comprehensive approach on behalf of Pakistan Ulama Council to serve people in need.

      With my deepest gratitude and respect to you

      Asif Iqbal