Early next week (depending upon the Hijri calendar), Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) to honor the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son. Not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr which signifies the conclusion of Ramadan – Eid al-Adha coincides with two million Muslims descending on Mecca for Hajj, an annual pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia expected to be undertaken at least once during a Muslim’s life.
Apart from the miraculous Zamzam Well, Mecca is an arid landscape roughly 100 miles inland from the coast of Jeddah. Amid sweltering heat, impacted roads, and an infrastructure bursting at the seams, Hajjis will endure the discomfort of crowded passage – provided very few resources to tide them over. Once considered a notable characteristic of the sacred journey, ritual hardships have gone from a cherished trait to a serious health concern as the holiday descends into the summer months.
Saudi temperatures are currently well over 100 °F (37 °C) and expected to skyrocket as the pilgrimages’ lunar date retreats through the static Gregorian calendar with every passing year. Scientists warn, however, that seasonal heat waves are only part of the problem with climate change increasing temperatures to dangerous degrees while spreading insurmountable communicable diseases.
The issue is so immediate that one savvy Muslim inventor created a climate-minded umbrella, equipped with a solar powered flashlight, GPS tracking system, and a built-in fan to keep participants cool during their Saudi sojourn.
Alas, technological advancements are merely a band-aid on a global issue. For decades, scientists have watched global temperatures escalate around the world. Every month is record-breaking and every subsequent year follows a similar pattern. In July, as Meccan summer temperatures topped 120 °F (48 °C), studies were released indicating that 2016 will likely break the record held by 2015.
Sadly, sacred journeys are far from the only aspect of human life to be compromised by the unforgiving heat. The world is currently experiencing mass evacuations by refugees fleeing regions battered by climate-induced drought, flood, famine, and war. Bangladesh is rapidly slipping beneath the rising tide as Syria finds itself in the throes of a fever pitch war, both instigated by climate impacts.
Islamic Relief highlighted similar issues during their Ramadan Refugee Campaign, a message recently echoed during Pope Francis’ World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation speech when he shared, “Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact. ”
"The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves." (Hadīth related by Muslim from Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudrī)
In 2015, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was signed by leaders from Muslim communities around the world, calling on UNFCCC officials to ratify global climate initiatives. This declaration came to fruition under the long-awaited Paris Agreement, with final ratifications currently happening as we march toward Marrakesh for COP22. Among the document’s signators was Nana Firman, a Greenfaith fellow, and a member of the Green Masjid Task Group of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which recently held its 53rd annual conference in Chicago, Illinois. Both Greenfaith and ISNA are partners of Blessed Tomorrow.
As climate impacts make their way into the U.S., and organizations such as Greenfaith and ISNA work to find climate solutions, why aren’t more Americans addressing the issue? The truth is that most Americans don’t fully grasp its scope, and that might not be their fault.
Covering these impacts and informing the American public hasn’t always been easy. Mark Schapiro explained in his article, The Unique Burden of Covering Climate Change in the Middle East that the information Americans receive about extensive climate impacts pales in comparison to the fear-laden narratives of terrorism. Stifled by foreign government media censorship and fossil fuel industry advertisement buying power, very few Americans are actually getting the news on climate change.
As a seasoned journalist, Schapiro has worked extensively throughout the Middle East, noting:
"The struggle with violent fundamentalists hangs over every country in the region to varying degrees, for secular and religious Muslims alike, but what’s at least equally if not more potent on a daily basis is the threat of environmental degradation and the predations of climate change."
Americans are coming to realize the impact climate change is having on both foreign and domestic territories. And, just as Muslims honor the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim, our infrastructure must sacrifice the burning of fossil fuels that have placed millions in this dilemma. Although, using the term “sacrifice” regarding a transition away from fossil fuels is not entirely accurate.
Not only will transitioning the U.S. to renewable energy save lives, it will strengthen our economy, and secure prosperity for generations to come –generations that both Christian and Jewish followers of Abraham (Ibrahim) are not only charged to “multiply” but commanded to cherish as part of God’s creation (Genesis 35:11).
All people, Muslim or not, are capable of turning the tide on climate change, but we must act now! We must begin by talking about climate and telling its story in houses of worship. We must challenge and support climate leadership in our communities and demonstrate our moral imperative to act.
Learn more talking to your faith community about climate change with ecoAmerica's report, Let’s Talk Climate.
“The creation of the heavens and the earth is far greater than the creation of mankind, but most of mankind do not know it” – Qur’an 40: 57
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.