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MJC hosts ISNA over fatwa on climate change and fossil fuel divestment

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The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) is reviewing the latest fatwa by the Fiqh Council of North America on climate change and fossil fuels, which emphasised the obligation of Muslims to assist in protecting the environment.

On Wednesday evening, the MJC hosted a panel discussion at their Athlone offices, with members of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Under the theme “Connecting nations”, the engagement unpacked the similarities in experienced between North America and South Africa.

One of the key speakers, Imam Safat Abed Katavich, explained what a fatwa is:

“A Fatwa is a religious ruling by qualified scholarship that is non-binding, but which provides a guidance to those people of faith with regard to how they should utilize the lessons that Allah (swt) has given them in terms of resources and financial means and to use and invest int in a way that is shariah compliant.”

Renowned leaders and shuyoog were in attendance, including leading figures of the MJC and ISNA respectively. This included the national director of outreach and religion of ISNA Canada, Dr Abdallah Idris Ali, director of International Development for Islamic Help, Kamran Fazil, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Imam Safaa Zarzour, Head Imam at Makkah Mosque Leeds and Chair of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Qari Asim Hussain and executive director at Michigan Muslim Community Council, Dawood Zwink.

The discussion came on the heels of the North American Fiqh Councils annual meeting which took a firm stance regarding climate change and fossil fuel divestment within the Islamic context. After engaging with fellow scholarly councils around the world, the fatwa was released.

In a statement, the council clarified that the ruling was based on scholarly work regarding the issues of Islam and the environment which are found in existing Islamic statements, declarations and religious rulings on these matters.


It comes amid mounting calls by the world’s leading climate scientists, environmentalists and activists across the globe for more to be done to reduce carbon emissions and implement policies that guide and protect countries to securing the sustainability of their land, and earth.

Although scientists have been unable to directly link climate change to the growing number of natural disasters, the increase in core temperature of the earth has had several repercussions, some of which are severe and others, irreversible.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth , while temperature extremes have been breaking records consistently over the past few years. The rise in sea levels has also caused major concern after hundreds of billions of tons of ice melted this year with sea ice, in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, reached 41-year lows.

Meanwhile, dozens lost their lives and thousands had been displaced due to flooding in countries like India, Sudan, Russia, South Africa and most recently, Spain. It comes amid other scary statistics released by NOAA, painting a bleak picture of the impeding crisis scientists have been warning us about for years.

In April 2016 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prepared a report which unpacks the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  This report was adopted on the basis of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

In October 2018, the United Nations issued a stern warning that there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, after which the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people will be felt. The impact is immense and range from major threats to groundwater supplies and stormwater runoff to the deterioration of the oceans, ecosystems, biodiversity and land.

There is also the physical effects to human beings including increased rate of cancers, lack of habitual land and threat to food production and security, as well as concerns over mass migration and effectiveness of sustainable plans.

The Paris agreement, which was signed by majority of the worlds countries in 2015, sought to initiate a global response to the threats of climate change, through the implementation of policies and mobilization of resources toward a collective goal. This goal was to keep global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and  limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, in 2019, the global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.84°C (1.51°F) above the 20th century average.


This is among the reasons for the latest fatwa which makes an appeal to Muslim institutions and organisations to enforce changes- and fast.

One of the key speakers at the engagement, Imam and Muslim chaplain at Drew University in the US, Saffet Abid Catovic, pointed out that the coming months are imperative.

“The matter cannot be understated…12 years is our new deadline. The next 18 months is critical because that’s when a lot of international conferences will be taking place that will decide what will be the actions that government and institutions will be doing t turn things around about this juggernaut around climate change and give us the possibility of existence on this planet we call home.”


Catovic noted that there were three resolutions made within the fatwa, the first of which spoke to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“The main driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases as a result. (We discussed) which human caused action needs to be addressed urgently. They were appraised and raised the various scientific reports on this matter, including those which that have reached conclusions of scientific bodies that speak on the known fossil fuel reserves that exist that need to stay in the ground and that fossil fuels burning needs to stop as we transition individually, collectively, nationally and globally, to a fossil free future based upon renewable energy (clean energy).”

“Islamically, we deal with issues of mercy, justice and after various discussions issues the fatwa. 1. Calling for a 100% transition to a fossil free, green economy that is based on 100% renewable energy in the very near term and calls on individuals and institutions and governments to take this actions.”

Catovic added that it is a religious obligation to ensure the sustainability of the earth:

“(We need) action (to be) mandated within the context of Islams Shari-ah, specifically the mataaf- the goals of the shariah, which includes the preservation of life, faith, wealth, family and intellect. Carbon omissions are contributors of degrading and threatening all of these areas and therefore against the public interest.

Catovic explained that there is also an urgent need to involve all business to become compliant.

“It also calls on Muslim financial institutions, Islamic investment funds and houses, to develop fossil-free investment vehicles that will allow Muslim individuals, institutional investors and nations and governments to invest in Shari-ah compliant fossil free renewable energy.
He added that the religious voice has been slow to demand action.”

“The religious voice in terms of climate activism and environmental protection has been, in general, late coming to the game. But, if you may recall, before the historic Paris Agreement was signed, in which we had all nations in the world agree to take steps keeping in line with Sustainable Development Goals, to reduce their carbon emissions by very specific actions.”

He noted that religious leaders have the ability to act as a moral voice.

“We know that that was preceded by release of statements by various faith communities including the Islamic declaration on climate change. This provided the moral voice and the moral framework from which the religious leaders in Paris were able to get the political will to come to a decision regarding the future of this planet. Of course, they have to honour their promises and I would take issue with a few of our leaders – and we don’t need to name their names – are the climate change deniers. The overwhelming majority of our leaders affirm what scientists have been telling us all along and what the Quran speaks to when it says corruption, fasaad and pollution has appeared within the earth and upon the sea, because of what the human beings have done and what the hands of man have brought. Human beings are responsible for this and we need to correct it.”


Shaykh Ridwaan Gallant, who heads the MJC’s Environmental Desk and serves on the board of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), said education is key.

“We firmly believe that there will be zero transformation of the ummah unless we solve the problem of our education. Until the day arrives that Muslim scholars discover and invent things, there is no future. It’s not about getting PHD’s or becoming doctors…but unless we become the researchers, the scholars, the finders, inventors, there is going to be no turn around and no future. We have to revisit what we mean by education.”
He added that Muslim schools have become “comfort zones”.

“We are happy because our daughters are wearing scarves and our sons, in some schools, they wear white tops and fez, there is Islamic studies. But we are in trouble. We must break away from the cycle of government services and curriculum. “

In a statement, the MJC expressed solidarity with the principal of protecting the earth, having added that the fatwa is currently being reviewed.

“The Muslim Judicial Council (SA) has noted the Fatwa by the Fiqh Council of North America on Fossil Fuel
Divestment. We affirm that it is the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists that this clear and present danger is
caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels. To go beyond the 1.5-degree limit will endanger all human
civilization and planetary life. Scientists are already projecting that 1 in four species, 1,000,000 species, are in
danger of extinction by the end of this century.”

“The Muslim Judicial Council (SA) Fatwa Committee has received the Fatwa by the Fiqh Council of North
America, and is in the process of reviewing it. However, in principle, the MJC (SA), supports the Quranic
injunction and call of the Sharia to protect Human Life, as well as the responsibility on us as human beings as
custodians of the Earth, to ensure it’s protection.”

Catovic noted that the time to make changes is now.

“It is our hope, desire and prayer that this fatwa will definitely provide Muslims the rationale, religiously speaking, to make this necessary move. It is not sufficient that we just work on limiting our individual carbon emissions. This is not going to be enough to turn the tide.”

“We need to stop the burning of fossil fuels by everybody. And, of cause, it has to be a transition, but that decision has to be taken now. This fatwa helps people to do the right thing, by God.”


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