Caring for the Environment
International Mother Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to remind us of our collective responsibility to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity.
The current pandemic is an opportunity for us to stop and reflect on our relationship with nature. As many economies and societies have slowed down, heavily polluted cities around the world have seen significantly improved air and water quality. This has reinforced how significant our human impact has been on the environment.
As Shi’a Ismaili Muslims, our faith also calls on us to care for the environment. This is a challenge that the Ismaili Imamat has taken upon itself, particularly through the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
Environmental Stewardship in Islamic Tradition
The Holy Qur’an describes humans as trustees or inheritors (khalifas) of Allah’s creation:
“It is He Who made you inheritors of the earth, and elevated some of you above others in degree in order to test you in what He bestowed upon you.” (6:165)
Mawlana Hazar Imam has spoken on a number of occasions about our role as stewards of Divine creation. In a speech made to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) in 2013, he said:
“I believe that the Islamic faith has played a particular role in the development of Islamic architectural expression. For our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”
Imamat Responses to Climate Change
The Imamat institutions have made environmental sustainability a key part of their work. These initiatives include hydroelectric plants, parks and gardens, tree planting, water sanitation and conservation, environmentally-friendly tourism, and education initiatives. In Canada, this includes the Aga Khan Park in Toronto, Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton, and a park under development in Burnaby.
At the Resilient Housing Challenge in Geneva in 2019, Prince Hussain Aga Khan discussed the impact of climate change on mountain societies and the work of the AKDN in response to climate change. He said:
“Natural disasters are increasing in both frequency and severity because of climate change. They have become more devastating than in the past. Both in mountainous and coastal areas, effects are especially strong. While the coastal impact is well known, and gets lots of publicity… the same is not true of mountainous areas. Yet, the same hill a villager might have heard from his grandfather was the site of a devastating avalanche or flood in the past, now seems to cause trouble every few years. And glaciers that were there forever, now pose immediate threats of glacial lake outburst floods that wipe away people’s homes and livelihoods. The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat was created specifically to find ways to deal with these increasing threats. Its mission is to find innovative ways to address the threat of natural disaster and work to make communities resilient, building on the decades of experience of various AKDN agencies.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam has also spoken about the need to reduce the threats to the environment. At the foundation ceremony for the Bujagali Hydropower Project in Uganda in 2007, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:
“Everywhere in the world today, people are searching for ways to reduce the threat of global warming both by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and by fighting the blight of deforestation. The key to both efforts is to move away from plant and fossil fuels, and to depend instead on renewable energy sources. Hydro electric power fulfills that goal. It is ‘clean’ energy - advancing sustainable development while minimizing its environmental impact… We feel deeply that environmental goals and development goals must be part of a Complementary Agenda – we can serve one set of goals only if we also serve the other.”
In 2018, Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan directed a short film, “Close to Home,” about the perseverance of communities in Northern Pakistan in the face of natural disasters.
Responding as Individuals to Climate Change
As individuals, let us embrace our role as stewards of the environment. This may include a commitment to earth-friendly acts, making more sustainable choices, reducing our carbon footprint, conserving energy and resources, working together on environmental projects in the community, and sharing our actions to educate and inspire others.
In the same speech to the RAIC in 2013, Mawlana Hazar Imam called upon individuals to help respond to the challenges of the future:
“The future will present us with ever-evolving architectural challenges – urbanization, water management, air pollution, protection from manmade and natural hazards and the efficient use of limited resources. Men and women of recognized talent worldwide must be mobilized to meet these challenges.”
Volunteers clean parks as part of the Ismaili CIVIC 150 initiative in Mississauga
Photo by Saad Madhani / The.Ismaili
For Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance on sharing knowledge to help Jamats in other parts of the world, including to help those facing both man-made and natural hazards, we suggest that the Jamat read his message made in Montreal on November 21, 2017 (afternoon). It is published on pages 45 to 48 in the Diamond Jubilee (2017-2018) book of Farman Mubarak.
Family Chat Questions
What are some practical ways that we, as individuals, can care for the environment in our daily lives?
What are ways that we can support the work of the Imamat in environmental stewardship?
Website: Environmental Stewardship (AKDN)
Article: Caring for our environment: The gift of nature (The.Ismaili)
Video: Islamic Gardens: Catalysts for Change (AKDN)
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