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Indigenous and Muslim Perspectives on Climate Change

Feb. 25, 2021

The Centre for Religion and Its Contexts hosted a panel discussion on climate change on February 25, 2021. The panel discussed Indigenous and Muslim perspectives on climate change as a way of widening the dialogue to include solutions from a non-western-scientific perspective.

Organized by Emmanuel College’s Nevin Reda, an associate professor of Muslim Studies, and UTM’s Katherine Bullock, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, this panel was the second in a series that has brought together these two communities. Last year’s panel explored Indigenous and Muslim traditional healing practices in a modern context.

Bullock, the evening's moderator, hoped that the panel would offer out-of-the-box thinking to the climate crisis. “A religious perspective on climate change offers hope. It is a reminder that we do not own the Earth and that we are its caretakers. We should not think of ourselves as shareholders who are constantly taking from the planet for the sake of economic prosperity,” she said. “Both Indigenous and Muslim traditions warn of the dangers of materialism. We do not own the Earth and we must not be wasteful with its resources.”

Elder and Knowledge Keeper Dave Courchene of the Anishinabe First Nation joined Bullock as one of the panelists. Courchene, founder of Manitoba’s Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness, was also joined by the lodge’s board member and volunteer Sabina Ijaz, a primary care physician who has worked with Indigenous communities for the past 20 years.

“Mother Earth is a living entity,” said Courchene. “We must offer respect to the land and to the Earth itself. We must never take more than we need. Exploitation might create jobs but at what expense to the land? Humans have created imbalance.”

In balance, however, are the Indigenous and Muslim views on sustainability. “Our two traditions share teachings,” said Ijaz. “We might use different words and stories but we are conveying the same values. Humans won’t go wrong if they follow the laws of nature and respect its balance. The land itself is the best teacher in terms of invoking a spiritual feeling in our hearts. This feeling of love will guide us to peace with each other and with the Earth.”

Memona Hossain, a PhD candidate in ecopsychology and a panelist, sits on the board of the Muslim Association of Canada. “There is so much wisdom and intelligence in nature,” said Hossain. “Nature benefits humans and there is scientific data to back this up. The more we can connect with nature, the more we can be genuine in our response to climate change. People are vice-regents of the Earth. It is a sacred relationship with a divine balance that needs our respect, as it is written in the Qu’ran. Religion offers hope in the face of climate change and offers a pathway to respond to the threat. The Prophet Muhammad is recorded to have said, ‘If the Final Hour comes while any of you have a seedling in your hands, then let them continue plant it if they can.’”

“The challenge,” said Courchene, “is to find what is common among all people. We are all humans and we must create a shared foundation to address climate change.”

A video recording of the panel discussion, Indigenous and Muslim Perspectives on Climate Change, is available on YouTube.

Bullock and Reda will also be hosting the Muslim Philanthropy in a Canadian Context Symposium on March 27. The symposium is free but registration is required.

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