mt961013 (mt961013) wrote,
mt961013
mt961013

Lessons from Cameron Highlands

SCIENTIFIC studies have shown that one of the major causes of climate change is extreme environmental exploitation and degradation such as what we have seen taking place in Cameron Highlands.

There have been similar disasters. A recent count lists 15 major landslides between 1961 and 2013, occurring most frequently in the last 20 years.



The report also states that all the landslides – which destroyed lives and property – point to deforestation due to uncontained development of hillslopes as the major cause of the catastrophes. Not surprisingly, Cameron Highlands has been identified as one of the areas most prone to landslides.

What is interesting in the case of the recent Cameron Highlands tragedy is what ensued after – the discovery that illegal workers were “over-populating” Cameron Highlands, the incapacity of the local authorities to prevent over-development (legal or otherwise) and other issues.

If fundamental causes need to be recognised, two factors come to mind – ignorance and greed. Specifically, ignorance of the limits of development of hillslopes and forests, and the dependence of economic gains on earth capital.

“Greed” is a concept that becomes ineffective if one’s perspective is not linked to religious commitment.

In a recent article entitled “Roles of Religion and Ethics in Addressing Climate Change”, it is interesting to note that on both sides of the divide, there is an agreement between the secular and religious ways of thinking that religion has a major role to play in enabling the world’s communities to change their perception and take the necessary steps to address climate change, the most glaring manifestation of the environmental crisis to date.

Alongside the dissemination of understanding of the causes, the impact of climate change and related issues, religion’s pivotal role in ensuring environmental justice depends fundamentally on its societal functions: its ethical teachings (akhlak and law in Islam), reach and influence (religion is seen as a source of salvation) and ability to inspire adherents to action (man’s good deeds and intentions are ibadahor divine service).

Another study indicates that religiously driven involvement and commitment potential still exists in providing future solutions to the environmental crisis.

In the context of Islam, for example, one of the ways religion can remind us as individuals, policy-makers, politicians and citizens is by linking concepts in the religious worldview about the identity and destiny of humans to nature.

One such concept is the principle of gratitude towards life. Our three vital life support systems – air, water and land – reside in the very environment we are now destroying.

The concept of life in Islam (din or total way of life) connotes, among others, indebtedness, submissiveness and judicious power.

Renowned scholar S.N. Al-Attas explains that the word dana, derived from din, refers to human beings being indebted. In this state of being, we need to obey the laws and ordinances governing the debt.

A person in debt (dayn) is under obligation to the ruler or governor (dayyan). Danais also connected to madanna, which means the building or founding of cities or to civilise, humanise and refine.

From madanna arises the concept of madinah (city) and tamadun (civilisation). Just as the price for being given life is obeying God’s laws, so the price of keeping nature sustainable is to not destroy it.

So, in the context of environmental ethics and sustainable development, dinexplains that man is indebted to the Creator for his existence to begin with, and that he actually acknowledges God as his Creator at the moment of his creation.

“When thy Lord drew forth from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: Yes! We do testify.” (al-Quran 7:172)

The nature of this debt of creation and existence is so complete that at the moment he is created, man is in a state of utter dependence because “he” (Adam means “no thing”) possesses nothing himself.

Man can only repay his debt with the one thing that does belong to him, which is his consciousness and freedom to choose right from wrong (ethics). It is through this consciousness that he “returns” himself to the Creator who owns him absolutely.

This is one reason why in Islam, zikir or remembrance and prayer is so crucial as it is the means for attaining guidance towards making good decisions consciously.

Ibadah is also a reason for man’s creation. To carry out good deeds, man needs the environment, which the Quran explains has been made tashkir (malleable) for him. The environment is the theatre and “means” for him to fulfil his reason for being.

For example, to perform the zakat (tithe or means to help the poor), man needs to have worked the environment (farming, rearing animals, cultivating crops, etc.). To this end, he must possess knowledge (science, technology, agriculture, engineering, etc.) of the “what” and “how’”of his utilisation of nature.

Nature is not his but is only given to him as a form of amanah or trust. His relationship to it is in the capacity of the khalifah or vicegerent.

It is in carrying out his amanah that man practices what environmental discourse calls environmental ethics. In the case of Cameron Highlands, it teaches us not to exploit nature beyond its capacity to contain the damage done to it.

Being “enslaved” to God actually means having the best akhlak. This is the state of being a khalifah, who is given authority to do as he pleases yet is bound by ethics and morality.

“He who enslaves himself gains. Who is he who will loan to God a beautiful loan, which God will double unto his credit and multiply many times?” (al-Quran, 2:245)

One of the basic challenges of religious teachings and practices in the context of its role to save the environment is showing the contemporary relevance between religious concepts and principles with the problems being faced.

Nature is made malleable for man, yet he must not transgress from what is adl(just) and zulm (unjust). These values and others are all part of the “beneficial objective” of the syariah (basically meaning “the way” or the Tao).

The allowability (halal or haram) of a thing or act is explicable via data and reality about the components and processes in nature and society.

The ethics underlying sustainable development need to be explained through science and religion, with reason providing the tools for connecting the two and articulating the arguments and principles arising from their harmonisation.

Utilising resources and treating the environment in ways that ensure balance and sustainability is a religious imperative that needs to be taken seriously. Prof Datin Dr Azizan Baharuddin is Ikim’s Deputy Director-General. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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