All of us are sons and daughters of our culture and society. We all naturally incline to where we belong. We love whatever things promote our environment and hate whatever things pose a challenge to our surrounding environment. Every culture and society had this feeling inbuilt in their collective psyche since time immemorial.
It is this inner force of belongingness and adherence to cultural values that contribute much to promoting SDG 15 – Life on Land. It is not uncommon these days to come across news headlines where a particular community protests illegal mining and logging activities in its neighborhood by some big corporations. Local communities are not ready to give-up easily hundreds – and perhaps thousands – of years of friendship with their neighboring forest, river, mountain or sea. If we agree with the positive role of indigenous culture in promoting SDG 15, then Multilateral Development Organization like IsDB can harness such cultural components and design programs to create awareness and encourage the propagation of such cultural heritage and knowledge as an enabler of SDG 15 realization.
For example, FAO, UNDB, and UNEP jointly launched the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative in 2008. Many indigenous forest-depended people have been supported through this program through grants to conserve their local habitat from deforestation 1. Indigenous tribes in the Amazon, for example, are well known for their pride being the protector of the rain-forest and they are ready to defend any aggressors intending to destroy their neighborhood, even if that involves their women marching forward alongside their men. It is a little wonder then that the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana named this forest as “Amazon” after Greek women warriors when he saw the local tribes’ women fighting him alongside their men in defend of their custom2.
The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has great potential to tap into Islam as a dominant cultural component of the majority population of its Member Countries. In this regard, a vast corpus of Islamic traditions from both Quran and Hadith can be collected, analyzed and preached that encourage is preserving the earth, planting trees, and staying in harmony with the environment and surrounding ecosystem. These traditions are likely to motivate communities to alter their attitude and behavior towards their environment and thus contribute towards achieving SDG 15 targets.
In what follows, I will cite only three examples from Islamic traditions to support my argument. Once the Prophet Muhammad -peace be upon him- was returning to Medina from an expedition. When he passed by the Mount Uhud, he could not hold his emotions and said: “This is a mountain which loves us, and we love him”3. This incidence indeed is an epitome of love towards an inanimate object from the surrounding environment!
The Prophet said in a hadith: “If doomsday were about to start, and one of you were holding a baby palm tree, then attempt to plan it before the event starts”4. This hadith not only shows the positive attitude towards productivity and labor, it positions plantation high in the priority list.
The Prophet said in a hadith: “No Muslim plants a tree where a bird, human or animal eat from it, except that it will be an act of charity for him”5. It is very unique in Islam that -with such environment-friendly acts- not only one preserves his/her environment but gets also reward in the hereafter.
Promotion of such messages from bottom up at the grassroots level can have more significant effect than government policies cascading down from the top. Corporate capitalism with their extractive mentality is draining our earth from its resources. Religious and Cultural awareness can have a great influence in preventing such hostile environmental activities.
(This article appeared in SDG Digest Issue # 6 published on December 2018 by the Islamic Development Bank)
See an example of such project from Peru in this link https://stories.undp.org/protectors-of-our-planets-lungs ↩
See this hadith in Bukhari (2889) and Muslim (1365) ↩
See this hadith in Ahmed (12902), Bukhari in Adab al-Mufrad (497), and Bazzar (7408) ↩
See this hadith in Bukhari (2320) and Muslim (1552) ↩