The World is on Fire, so I rode The Ark

On Sunday, September 21, I was blessed to be asked to join The Ark, organized by Auburn Seminary and Groundswell (with help from lots of named and unnamed supporters) for the People’s Climate March. The New York Times found it an “odd juxtaposition,” that so many faith groups were next to one another, missing the point that we all share one planet. More importantly, the NYT is in the business of showing us in conflict, not the billions of ways we get along with one another because of all the things we have in common.

Like so many others on Green Faith Street, I marched because it is a moral imperative. Although I could easily point to the Quran and show how defiling and wasting water are potentially the greatest sins in the tradition, I want to move immediately to a broader discussion. The ethics of caring for God’s creation is a means of being God conscious.

There is a famous qawwali, a genre of Muslim devotional from South Asia, that begins “when there was no Earth; when there was no Heaven; there is God.” The subtle shift from the past tense to the present tense emphasizes the idea of God’s pre-existence.

Before there was anything, there is God. The Quran tells us that in pre-creation (7:172) we swear that God is our Lord. Therefore, we make an eternal covenant to be mindful of God.

God tries to make it easy for us through the unfolding of creation. In the Quran, God tells us that all of creation are ayatollah, signs of God, for us to see and reflect upon (eg. 41:53, 30:22). They are proof of God’s mercy and majesty. They are sources of wisdom and knowledge.

Therefore, when we ignore creation, we are ignoring the messages God leaves for us. The Divine love notes scattered at our feet, we treat like garbage. When we destroy creation, we destroy ways we can draw closer to God. In exercising dominion, we claim we have more power than God, and we seek to make that true by excising the manifestation of God’s mercy. The extinguishing of care and humility in us means we remove any sense of mercy we have to one another. When we remove ourselves from the potential of awe, all we are left with is our pride.

We do not have dominion. We do not have just stewardship. We have trusteeship, to pass on the gifts from God to future generations. The verse of the bee (16:68-69) reminds us that the natural world gives us benefits we should use, but that in their use we should reflect on what it means in our relationship with the world and with the Divine.

There is a hadith qudsi, a Divine utterance, where God says, in response to the question “why create?”, “I was a hidden treasure and I wished to be known.” In destroying ways in which we can know God, we are violating our oath that God is Lord. To know God is not for God’s benefit, but for ours, so in breaking our promise to God, we are punishing ourselves. (cf. 48:10)

God is eternal. God is before creation, and that Quran tells us that all will perish but the face of God (28:88). God does not need us. God will survive us. We may not survive ourselves. We cannot be the cause of everything we know perishing.

This idea of being God conscious through trusteeship got me to go on The Ark. I saw something amazing. Thousands of people of faith needed to be there for God. I saw my friend Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen, with the procession of Muslims next to The Ark. I marched with another colleague, Rabbi Jay Michaelson. One of my favorite moments was hearing Jay, with his shofar, joining in chorus with a Hindu pandit blowing a conch, and someone else on the bagpipes. All the trumpets blowing for the glory of God.

If we created this mess, we can uncreate it. If we destroy anything, let it be our hubris and inaction.

Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.


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4 thoughts on “The World is on Fire, so I rode The Ark

  1. Thanks Hussein for the fascinating take on Islam and creation in the context of the recent People’s Climate March. Unfortunately I was not able to join in with most of the interfaith activities happening in the week leading up to the march, or at the march itself, as I was organizing with the youth contingent and helping with our Youth Convergence and bloc.

    From what I saw and have read it seemed like the various interfaith programs were a success. I’m curious if you know more about how active the local NYC (or Tri-State area) Muslim communities were in the march itself, or organizing and outreach in the lead up to the march?

    I feel like the Christian and Jewish communities got a lot of press and attention in what I saw prior to the march, but never saw much on the other faith communities. The NY Times piece you cited mentioned the inflatable mosque next to the Ark you rode on, and the mix of a pagan flag and the Franciscan monks, but would love to hear more about your experience within the march.

    Thanks in advance and enjoyed your post.

  2. Thanks, Hussein, for this wonderful reflection on Islam and sustainability, with particular emphasis on the common interests of all faiths taking action on climate at the People’s Climate March. I also took part in the March within the Baha’i section of the faith contingent and have offered a few reflections on that and related events taking place that weekend in my article “Connecting the Dots…” The level of interfaith collaboration on addressing climate change at the March and elsewhere is encouraging. When we bring the common spirit of our faith traditions together on such issues, it can help to heal and redirect the world toward a sustainable future. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for reading.

    There are groups working on environmental concerns directly. My friend Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the one in the know about them.

    I think you see a lot of environmental thought baked into other interventions, run by groups like Islamic Relief and the Aga Khan Development Network.

    I’m also always really happy when I see Muslims working with broader groups on environmental issues.

    At the march itself, there was a large Muslim contingent, which was great to see. These were folks who were inspired by the march, but more folks who had been involved for a good long time.

  4. Hey Peter,

    Great piece. Thanks for sharing. I passed the Baha’i contingent. It’s amazing how well different faith communities know how to party.

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