Islamic law is receiving a lot of criticism these days, most of it is unjustified. If you are one of those that believe Islamic law in fact condones the killing of innocent people and somehow provides a rationale for terrorism, then there is no point in reading this essay. There are so many other sites where you can confirm your biases. At the same time Islamic law, as it is practiced today, does require some sober analysis.
Islamic Law will always have powerful influence over the behavior of 1.5 billion Muslims. If we focus on two aspects of life that are rigorously addressed in Islamic law, finance and food, we can see that Muslims, through Islamic law, are missing a tremendous opportunity to be global leaders in changing fundamental human behaviors that are contributing to climate change. Let me explain.
Islam has a lot to say about the environment, and in fact classical Muslim texts outline rather progressive concepts on conservation, minimization of waste and protection of natural resources. However, Islamic law and those who influence it’s application in the present day, are well behind the curve in deploying mechanisms within Islamic law to change the behavior of Muslims in a way that can have dramatic positive effects on climate change.
Finance – While Islamic finance has done a great job of making Muslims feel better about avoiding certain conditions of the global financial system, and turning a tremendous profit in the process, it is largely behind the curve in creating products that promote investment in activities that are both financially attractive and good for the world. Chief amongst these are investments in renewable energy. The growth of the renewables industry in the past few years has been explosive, and Islamic finance has largely missed the boat. Key drivers of this growth have been innovations in financing of renewable energy assets that generate stable returns for investors. There is hardly any activity in the Islamic Finance sector on this front. While there are examples of renewable energy technologies in the Muslim world, the deployment of Islamic finance as a means of scaling these technologies is not happening anywhere near the pace it could. It is a missed opportunity both in terms of financial return as well as impact with respect to climate change.
Food – The human behavior of most consequence to climate change is what we eat, and in particular what kind of protein we eat. Islamic law has much to say about how Muslims organize their dinners. Animal-based proteins are far more resource-intensive to produce than other kinds of proteins. They consume vast amounts of energy, water and other resources for limited amounts of output. Researchers are looking at less resource-intensive sources of protein that can replace or at least provide an alternative to traditional meats. Amongst the list of possible alternatives to animal proteins are crickets. For example, cows consume eight grams of feed to gain one gram in weight, whereas insects can require less than two grams of feed for the same weight gain. According to Islamic law, cricket consumption is considered haram in two of the four major schools of thought. In each case the rationale for making cricket consumption impermissible is that Arabs found it repulsive. Ultimately this is a case where Islamic law, and in particular the scholars who have influence over Islamic law, could make important steps towards changing the eating habits of Muslims through public discussion on the impact of resource-intense protein consumption. This would include plant proteins, but should also broadly consider the larger body of research currently being developed by food scientists who are contemplating the future of the planet in a way Muslim scholars typically don’t ever consider in their analysis.
Muslims are so busy defending Islamic law for what it is not, that they have completely lost sight of what it can do, and that is positively influence the behavior of billions of people around the world. I have outlined two areas where that can have tremendous impact on the environment above. It is almost an entirely useless enterprise to try to change perceptions of those who believe Islamic law to be the enabler of terrorism and the oppression of women. Instead, why not spend some time employing Islamic law to change the world for the better?