Fazlun Khalid descended the stairs of the Birkbeck building,in the University of London with great difficulty. At 84, his hair was white and his posture no more upright, but the vigor with which he spoke belied his seniority. He once worked for the British Air Force and the British Civil Service, and after retiring, he somehow achieved a sudden realization after reading some religious books, and then decided to devote the next 30 years of his life as an environmental activist. He seemed nonchalant about the terribly hot London skies under which I traversed in disdain , or about the fact that he is older than my grandparents .
I was attending a workshop on Quran, Ecology and Conservation organized by Mr Fazlun's environmental group, Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) with a friend, and we were mesmerized by the strength of the old man who stood for hours to speak about nature.
I sat in a small room with a motley group of people, ranging from aerospace structure analysts to housewives, most of which were Muslims. As a student of economics, I was looking forward for the accusations that would be thrown upon the capitalists, but I couldn't quite figure out the motives of the mothers behind me who even brought their toddlers who were quite passionate in crying at random times. Perhaps they had figured out that one doesn't have to be an environmentalist to show their care about nature, or they have had nothing else to fill in free time.
They were all eager and curious to discuss and suggest solutions-as if that was possible- for climate change and pollution, extinction of faunas and the sort, while I was thinking about turtles and plastic bags. Mr Fazlun however started the day with a presentation about Ilm al-Khalq, the study of creation in Islam, during which we spent a few hours discussing verses of Quran related to the nature.
Instead of stripping naked in public or disguising ourselves as choked turtles as environmentalists usually do, Mr Fazlun Khalid conducted the session with the supreme politeness of a British gentleman. He stressed that we human beings are entrusted with the care and conservation of nature, all of which are signs of the Creator. There is a concept of balance( mizan) of nature in Islam which must be preserved , and it is the obligation of us all.
He said that the responsibility for the climate change rests upon every human beings , not only rotten capitalists or the industry , because the effects of climate change does not discriminate, and in Islam, humans are the designated vicegerents on earth, which are responsible upon the damages done by themselves.
While the old man talked about hundreds of verses in Quran about nature, aided by Professor Abdul Haleem, he did not try to monopolize the cause of nature conservation, or make claims that Muslims have better ways of solving the problem. Mr Fazlun humbly admitted that we are lagging far behind in the amount of effort and concern, and he stated that for how much Quran is related with the environment, we should have more Muslims engrossed in the fight, and environmental issues should have been located high in the list of Muslim priorities.
I was still waiting for the mention of turtles when some of the participants tried to bait the hosts into playing the blame game. While international conferences on environment usually puts the blame upon oil companies and heavy industries, Muslims have the tendency to put blame upon sects ; for example; the Salafis are somewhat guilty for climate change because they are not as awesome as moderate Islamists. There was a breath of relief as the chairperson quickly dismissed the issue by stating again that the climate change does not discriminate against sectarian beliefs .
The hosts then showed us a documentary about the conservation of coral reefs in the islands of Zanzibar, in which Islam played a crucial role . After deciding that dealing with capitalists and politicians are indeed a futile business, WWF sent Fazlun Khalid to stop the poor fishermen there from fishing, a business which is the main source of their livelihood. Fazlun Khalid collaborated with the Imams in the villages of Zanzibar , and trained them to speak to the people about the conservation of reefs and coral fishes.
The poor Muslims of Zanzibar were taught that their methods of fishing were detrimental to nature, and that should they destroy their reefs, rich European children wouldn't be able to enjoy their paradise under the sea anymore. Under the guidance of the Imams and village heads, the locals obeyed the new rules set for the conservation, such as avoiding areas marked for breeding, and using non-transparent and large nets. These practices clearly reduce their source of income , yet the fishermen accepted that the conservation of nature is indeed their responsibility. The documentary actually showed some turtles.
Fazlun Khalid avoided playing the blame game, and emphasized that the responsibility upon climate change lies upon everybody , but he is only one of the few prominent Muslims in the field of environmental activism . As if trying to challenge his feats, two youths stood in front after the documentary, as eco-ambassadors of MADE in Europe ( Muslim Agency for Development Education in Europe) , and they spoke about initiatives they have taken for the environment, mainly the Green Up programme, which tries to utilize mosques as the centre of education for green practices. Mosques in London and around it are telling their congregations to recycle and reduce waste, all with the help of mullahs and technocrat Imams.
While Mr Fazlun explained how central is nature in our faiths, he humbly stated how dismayed he was with the lack of participation of Muslims in the cause. We need to sort out our priorities and increase our contributions, instead of being continuously apologetic and pointing the finger at capitalists , or blaming western imperialists for our own lack of concern.
Reduce plastic bags. Save turtles.