The record California drought has left little water in the Folsom Reservoir. Photo courtesy USGS
The record California drought has left little water in the Folsom Reservoir. Photo courtesy USGS

By Imam Taha Hassane

The International Islamic Climate Change Symposium held in Istanbul last week was part of a growing realization among various faith communities that the reality of climate change not only has implications for the future of our planet, but also represent one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time.

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The culmination of this two-day event was the “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change,” a comprehensive document that both seeks to emphasize individual and collective responsibility to address climate change and details the Islamic theological basis for this imperative.

Closer to home, the climate crisis feels especially real here in California. Recent news stories have shown our agriculturally crucial Central Valley is sinking, while climate change is making wildfires and drought more intense. Climate change has a discriminatory impact, hitting low-income people hardest.

Imam Taha Hassane
Imam Taha Hassane

As an Islamic leader at the Islamic Center of San Diego, I call on fellow Californians to join me in supporting two pieces of legislation that answer the call put forth in the recent declaration. One law, SB 32, extends and builds on the successful legacy of AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law adopted in 2006. The second, SB 350, calls for a statewide goal of a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, 50 percent of electricity generation from renewable sources, and doubling the energy efficiency of buildings, all by 2030. Experts agree these goals are ambitious yet achievable—and California faith leaders agree that swift action is our moral imperative.

How do these proposals fit within a global context? With participation from international development policymakers, faith leaders, academics, and other experts, the organizers of the Istanbul gathering likely sought to catch the attention of two key audiences: the world’s Muslim community, and global leaders poised to take action against climate change in a gathering this fall in Paris. The symposium provided a detailed set of recommendations to nations, international bodies, and faith communities, urging broad cooperation on issues of environmental protection and climate change.

The declaration makes a special appeal to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, quoting Islamic texts to emphasize their religious duty to care for and protect the environment. It begins with an affirmation of the Islamic belief of God as Creator, and goes on to acknowledge the Islamic world view of human beings as stewards (khalifah) of the earth.

The Islamic declaration highlights the fact that the Prophet Muhammed, besides living a frugal life free of waste and ostentation, guided his companions to conserve water even in washing for prayer and forbade the felling of trees in the desert. As an exemplar for Muslims at all times, the Prophet represented a level of concern for the environment that modern Muslims would do well to follow.

The Muslim initiative comes in the wake of recent efforts by other faith communities, notably a historic encyclical by Pope Francis entitled “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” where he made the moral case for sustainable economic growth while bemoaning slow and insufficient global action to address climate change. As I endorsed the Pope’s critical message when it came out, I am encouraged that Islamic leaders have now joined this growing chorus.

The declaration has specific recommendations for the upcoming climate convention in Paris, including the responsibility of wealthier nations to lead the way in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions. As California represents the world’s 7th largest economy, we must essentially act as a wealthy nation and do our part. If lawmakers approve these two bills, SB 32 and SB 350, it would signal to the world that the time to act is now, and hopefully influence the discussions in Paris, in which Governor Jerry Brown plans to participate.

Yet it would be unfair to judge the recent declaration only by what we hope will be an immediate influence on climate change politics. In providing an Islamic perspective on the moral issues that we have to grapple with as a result of climate change, and in lending urgency to the issues faced by Earth and its most vulnerable inhabitants, the Islamic Climate Change Symposium represents an important milestone in our broader spiritual journey towards healing the planet.

Imam Taha Hassane serves as director of the Islamic Center of San Diego.