Fostering a society focused on sustainability

Islam supports the preservation and conservation of the environment for the benefit of creation as a whole.

OUR environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. In Malaysia, frequent episodes of landslides, flash floods, water shortages and haze are indications of the failing interaction between humans and their environment.

It also indicates our present society’s unsustainable lifestyle.

Stephen Viederman, in his article entitled A Sustainable Society: What is it? How do we get there? offers a simple definition of a sustainable society, which is “a society that ensures the health and vitality of human life and culture, and of nature’s capital, for present and future generation.”

A sustainable society consists of individuals who are willing to put an end to activities that destroy not only the natural world but also human communities.

In other words, they are willing to make appropriate changes in their lifestyles in the support of conservation and restoration, as well as the prevention of any harmful behaviour in the environment.

In order to restructure a society to live sustainably, we must begin by changing the minds within it.

We must educate society to seriously consider its role in this world and how it is related to other creatures on earth.

Efforts in fostering a sustainability-minded society must be shared by everyone including the Govern­ment, educators, business communities, religious scholars, scientists and researchers.

Each one of them will utilise different tools in order to transform society. In this regard, the cooperation of all parties is critical to ensure success.

There are also two important elements which must be understood in order to develop a sustainability-minded society. The two elements are “urgency and action.”

“Urgency” refers to the urgent need of society to acknowledge that the world or the environment we live in today is under intense pressure, mainly from various human activities.

There is also an urgency to implement appropriate efforts to reduce human impact on the natural world.

Understanding this “urgency” will lead to a commitment to take the right action in creating healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

These actions do not necessarily mean an extravagant or gigantic project, but also refer to consistent small-scale measures that eventually have huge social consequences.

Even small religious communities have a role in promoting sustainable living.

Religious communities in Malaysia should consider appropriate sustainability-based programmes in their houses of worship.

For Muslims, the idea of sustainability is in fact parallel to the teachings of Islamic doctrine.

Islam has always been supportive of the preservation and conservation of the environment for the benefit of all of creation, whether it be in the present on in the near future.

The idea of a Muslim as the khalifah (steward) of the earth, the earth itself as Allah’s creation and the whole universe submitting to Him and consuming resources in moderation and with no wastage are some of the basic foundations of sustainability that can be extracted from Islamic teachings.

Islam or religion as a whole, will always be the dominant factor as to how humans see the world.

As Tan Sri Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas pointed out, for a Muslim, the Islamic world view reflects the Islamic tawhidic paradigm which is the doctrine of divine unity or oneness of God.

The Islamic world view defines God as the Creator and law-giver and thus considers worship and service in His name the very goal of life itself.

This principle definitely influences our relationship with our surroundings, including nature.

However in today’s world, the dominant worldview (the secular worldview), of which “man is the measure,” is centred on mankind as the ultimate norm by which truth and values are to be determined.

In fact, in this view, the human is regarded as “God” and reserves absolute right over other creatures.

Such thinking leads to destructive acts towards nature in terms of over-consumption, wealth inequality, unsustainable use of natural resources and a wasteful society.

Unfortunately, many of us are committed to such a mindset.

A rigid commitment to the dominant world view, including the unwillingness to see how it fails to respect the limitations of nature, is likely to bring about the collapse of our society.

Indeed, it is a great threat to the present effort in building a sustainable society.

We must therefore strive to change or at least improve our way of thinking and actions in order to achieve a sustainable world.

Azrina Sobian is a Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

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