How Muslims Are Motivated by Islam To Approach Climate Care and Climate Action

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Since in Minnesota where Tribal nations are facing off against the Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy, which is building a massive pipeline, known as Line 3, that originates in Canada, continues through North Dakota, enters Minnesota in Kittson County, and terminates in Superior, Wiscsonsin.

Despite Line 3 being in operation, protests continue. Furthermore, many opponents continue to face charges. Many Muslims are taking part to stop this injustice with the greater community that include Tribal nations along with Hindus, Christians, Jews among others. This includes partaking in prayers for peace. Reverend Fletcher Harper, who currently serves as the executive director of Green Faith, a national interfaith environmental coalition, has been involved with the opposition of Line 3 from its early days.

Harper explains how sometimes it becomes impossible for some religious groups and organizations to participate in a cause they’re not comfortable without it becoming political. Green Faith provides that space: “We understand how important that kind of public action is,” Harper adds.

Green Faith has been at the forefront of Line 3 protests led by Harper. He believes it is “very important for these infrastructure projects when they are forty to fifty year duration projects. It’s very important for the public to understand. The projects should not be out of sight, out of mind. Secondly to understand the impact of these projects continue to affect Indigenous communities and their rights. And thirdly to continue building awareness at these types of projects in the future need to stop,” Harper expounds.

Harper believes that there needs to be a growing awareness of the effect of Line 3.

“These projects are not about one protest and then it’s done; but this is an ongoing reality. I think it’s very important to keep this in the public mind,” Harper tells us.

In the process, Harper highlights Muslim activity as appreciates the leadership including Imam Saffet Catovic. Catovic is a founding member of Islamic Society of North America's Green Initiatives Committee that was previously known as the Green Mosque Task Force explains that from an Islamic perspective, Muslims are to protect faith; freedom of belief and worship for all; sanctity of human life, reason; progeny and private property.

“Failure to deal with the environmental dangers undermines those key objectives including life itself. Prophetic teachings indicate how there should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm of others. This applies to humans and non-humans and is the basis of one of several universal principles that avoidance of harm takes priority over the attainment of some benefit. Muslims use these principles and wisdom to guide environmental change at large,” Catovic elaborates.

To do so, they are wanting to transform current energy systems into renewable forms. Catovic is calling upon Muslims first to participate in environmental justice efforts by being more conscious of how natural resources are consumed.

Muslim activists have been involved in greening the efforts of Line 3 through protests. Previously, Muslims joined Indigenous-led protest efforts like tree-sitting and locking themselves into construction equipment. Despite this year-long fight, the challenge is not over.

Enbridge has a history of pipeline spills; even if there were no spills, it would be a major investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in a time where climate change is already threatened. The pipeline violates several treaties with the Indigenous population that establish their right to hunt, fish, and gather along the proposed route.

“If we can see ourselves as Nature, then by definition we see our Indigenous folks as our brothers and sisters, which means we must fight for them and be a part of this struggle,” said Muhammad Jiwa, a Muslim environmental justice consultant and activist in Minnesota. “As a Muslim, it’s our responsibility to steward the lands.”

Over the years, Ruhel Islam has managed a restaurant that has provided meals to Indigenous people in Minnesota. His restaurant was burned down during the George Floyd protests, yet he continues to serve meals while it is being rebuilt. As a Bangladeshi Muslim, he feels that Islam has a lot in common with his greater community, particularly the Tribal Nations. Despite their differences, they both respect one other's food and give each other a sense of unity.

“I came back with Zamzam water, the holy water from Mecca,” said Islam, “and then [I] put it in [the] Mississippi [River].”

Islam mixed Zamzam water, water that is holy to Muslims, into the Mississippi River, signifying the importance of his home and expressing his support of the Indigenous people and the need for preserving the natural lands. Ruhell continues to support his Indigenous tribal members in their fight to stop Line 3.

The Muslims’ fulfillment of their religious duty came with consequences, however, that didn’t stop them from continuing to battle for their peers. Catovic, who protested at the People versus Fossil Fuels Protest, where Line 3 opposition was discussed, in the Fall of 2021 was later arrested. Catovic pledged to continue educating people about the harms of Line 3 and encourage them to utilize their voices against it.

“There were also arrests including myself and other many faith leaders,” said Catovic. “We need a lot of work to inform and educate Muslims about these critical existential matters and then mobilize them to act on what they know.”

Catovic further explains that Muslims are generally unaware of the situation with Line 3 and the climate in general.

One of the primary reasons Muslims are persistent in voicing their concerns and anger with the situation is to follow the sayings of Prophet Muhammed.

“We (Muslims) have a hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammed) that specifically encourages us to do good, even if it's at the end of time,” said Whitney Terrill, who works with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light and is a consultant and has been part of the Line 3 movement. “If we're in despair, basically, there's something inevitable happening that we cannot change is to still do that good action to plant the tree specifically as the hadith refers to.”

Terill adds how for Muslims, she feels that there are limited opportunities for “people to really understand us beyond some of the public narrative.”

"It's particularly important that people understand other parts of our priorities and our community beyond some of the negative stereotypes or scenarios,” Terill says. So showing up as people who are in a coalition or in agreement, at a minimum, with other people, to stop something that could really harm water, which is such a central part of her Islamic tradition, is critical.

For Terrill and others, participating in Line 3 efforts allows both for dialogue and to move beyond the labels that have been assigned and allow for others to know and understand the Muslim community.

Harper believes Muslim involvement in the Line 3 opposition is helpful on multiple levels from a social change perspective and how it takes courage for Muslim leaders “recognizing that we have to address climate change so it’s a deeply religious and moral issue.”

Additionally Harper explains that Muslim activists and leaders being part of this movement help establish climate justice as an important part of the community in the U.S.

“That’s important in terms of the future of activism and leadership in the US. It’s also an important model and example for the Muslim community worldwide,” Fletcher adds.

When it comes to the environment, the question for Muslims is not who owns these resources — everything belongs to God, and therefore taking care of the environment is a religious duty.

The Quran refers to a sustainable balance not only on Earth but in the cosmic order. It warns against corrupting the earth, land and sea, with its adverse effect on all people. Even though God created the earth also to take care of humanity, the text makes clear our benefits should be taken while making the least waste.

Majority of conflicts throughout history, regardless of their size, can be tied to one side having greater access over finite resources. Unfortunately, these resources are not being shared equitably resulting in harms to marginalized communities.

Muslim environmental activists are urgently calling upon all to conserve sustaining resources. At the fundamental level, this entails energy consumption in areas that make the most impact beginning with reducing emissions as they have clear impacts on global warming and climate change. Thus, Muslims are actively trying to limit fossil fuel usage and engaging in divestment as led by efforts of Catovic, Harper, Terrill and others.

This report was made possible in part by the Fund for Environmental Journalism of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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I write about culture, politics, parenting, religion, and health. My work has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Vox and Prism Reports among others.

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