"It's becoming a more important part of Islamic discourse, a more holistic approach to what it means to be a responsible Muslim in the world today," said Tamara Sonn, a humanities professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. "There are greater levels of education and overall global awareness of the importance of environmental concerns facilitated by advances in communication, the Internet."
But Muslim environmental activists say more could be done.
Too often, they complain, discussions of the role of Islam and the environment are limited to conferences. They say religious leaders could issue fatwas on the environment, and governments could introduce curriculums in schools highlighting themes found in the Quran such as the importance of nature, treating animals compassionately and the prohibition on wastefulness.
"The majority of Muslim scholars, leaders, and activists whose major concerns are ritualistic and the legalistic aspects of Islam, themselves have not seen the environmental issues and problems as their immediate concern," Muhamad Ali, assistant professor Islamic Studies University of California, Riverside, said in an email. "While they focus on the purity and validity of a ritual act, they lack understanding and awareness of the immediacy and cruciality of the environment crisis as a common problem. Besides, like other monotheists in general, they see human beings as superior over the natural world."
Khalid has seen first-hand how Islam can persuade Muslims to change their ways on sustainability issues. He once went to Zanzibar after conservation groups failed to persuade fishermen to stop using dynamite on coral reefs. After leading several workshops that leaned heavily on Quranic teachings, he said the fishermen never again used destructive practices.
"They stopped dynamiting coral reefs in 24 hours," said Khalid, who has similar successes in Nigeria and Pakistan with forest protection. "It had a profound impact on the local fishermen. One of the fishermen told me that we can disobey the laws of the government but we can't disobey the laws of the creator."
Casey reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Abdullah Rebhy contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.
Michael Casey can be reached at twitter.com/mcasey1 and Karl Ritter can be reached at www.twitter.com/karl_ritter
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