With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement

Given the dependence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries on oil and oil revenues, strikes me as secondary issue in relation to climate change. However, it might provide an entry point for discussions:

According to research published last week by US scientists, hajj is set to become a danger zone. As soon as next year, they say, summer days in Mecca could exceed the “extreme danger” heat-stress threshold. The news comes just weeks after over 2 million people completed their journey of a lifetime. The environmental threat to the holy pilgrimage is a panic button for British Muslims like me, signaling that the climate crisis is endangering an age-old sacred rite.

Hajj is a pillar of Islam that I’ve yet to undertake, and the physical endurance required will only become more gruelling in coming decades – scientists predict that heat and humidity levels during hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Environmental stewardship may well be advocated by my faith – the Quran states that humans are appointed as “caretakers of the Earth” and the prophet Muhammad organised the planting of trees and created conservation areas called hima – but it hasn’t mobilised Muslims on a mass scale for what the world needs now: a global eco-jihad.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and author of Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis, has been on a green mission for over 35 years, but his biggest challenge has been to motivate Muslims. “Islam is inherently environmental, but modernity has induced all of us to distance ourselves from nature. The reason I don’t give up is my grandchildren – what kind of planet will they inherit? How can they perform hajj under those conditions?”

Khalid previously gathered a team of scholars and academics who drafted the Islamic declaration on climate change adopted at the International Islamic climate change symposium in Istanbul in 2015 (an event co-sponsored by Islamic Relief, a global charity that is again calling on Muslims to take action now if they want to safeguard the pilgrimage for future generations). Maria Zafar of Islamic Relief UK said: “Hajj has physically demanding outdoor rituals which can become hazardous to humans. It isn’t only Mecca, other sacred sites will be at risk too, like the religious sites in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple in India – it will affect what we hold dear to our hearts. We think that climate change is distant from us, but there is no area of life that it won’t touch.”

If we are truly to tackle a catastrophe as huge as the climate crisis, we have to make it personal. Without a personal stake, it remains an abstract and we unite in perpetuating it. So if money is the only form of emotional investment for some, and if economics wields more power than the will to save our planet, we must use it. Next year Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit, so let’s pressure the country to consider the financial threat due to a loss of religious tourism. Hajj is lucrative: economic experts have said revenues from hajj and umrah (a lesser pilgrimage undertaken any time of year) are set to exceed $150bn by 2022.

Source: With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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