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The Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaeda/ISIS have been increasingly preoccupied with environmental and environment-related themes. Consequently, Islamists have been addressing land and water issues, tree-planting, animal rights, pollution control and energy. They have offered proposals and suggestions to tackle problems that are affecting the environment and the population’s quality of life. It is a clear trend indicating a change of direction for political Islam, which is becoming more responsive and engaging. However, each group has adopted a different scale of environmental engagement depending on its priorities and areas of operation. The priorities are set by electoral programmes or other documents, and the areas of operation are determined by ideology and circumstances. Hence, there are three types of Islamist environmentalism: localised, globalised and glocalised.
To begin with, the Muslim Brotherhood has formulated a localised agenda focusing on Egypt’s ecological challenges. Notwithstanding its pan-Islamic claims and credentials, the organisation has not addressed global environmental problems (for example, climate change, ocean pollution). In fact, the Brotherhood’s environmental policy is bound by geography. Pan-Islamism is in reality an elusive construct. This is hardly a surprise since the Brotherhood was founded and developed in Egypt. The Ikhwan aspired to come to power and succeeded in doing so; control of the state has been their ultimate political goal. Thus, the Brotherhood’s scale of environmental engagement is local. The ban of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 has not changed its priorities: the group still concentrates on Egyptian affairs.
Likewise, Hamas has maintained an interest in local environmental matters. Although the group claims to represent all Palestinians, the confrontation with Israel has changed its perceptions and priorities. Hamas is now trapped, both physically and cognitively. Despite its pan-Palestinian rhetoric, the group has increasingly focused on the area under its control. Since coming to power in 2007, the formulation of Hamas’s environmental policy has been due to the deteriorating conditions in Gaza. Consequently, Hamas’s scale of environmental engagement is local.
ISIS has also shown interest in local issues only. The group claims to fight a regional war that is sanctioned by God. In this context, water can be used as a weapon and trees can be destroyed to undermine the enemy’s willing-ness and ability to fight.
For almost four decades, Hizbullah has played an important role in Lebanese political and military affairs. The group mainly represents Twelver Shiʿa Muslims (Ithna ashariyyah), who constitute the second-largest religious group in the country. The very name Hizbullah derives from the Qurʾanic verse 5:56: ‘And whosoever takes Allah and His messenger and those who believe for friend – surely the party of Allah, they shall triumph’. According to Islamic theology, there are two parties: the Party of God (Hizbullah) and the Party of Satan (Hizb ul-Shaytan). Thus, Hizbullah is more than a party because it represents God on earth.
From its founding in the early 1980s, Hizbullah recognised Ayatollah Khomeini as the official marjaʿal-taqlid (highest-ranking religious-legal authority) of the Islamic Republic and the first faqih (Islamic jurist) after the Major Occultation. The 1979 Iranian Revolution had led to the overthrow of the Shah and the return of Khomeini from France. The founder of the Islamic Republic posed as a champion of Islamic revival to appeal to the wider Muslim world. However, his version of Islamism soon became a revo-lutionary force for the defence of Shiʿa rights in the Middle East.
Khomeini claimed the world is divided into two groups: mustakbirin (the oppressors) and mustadʾafin (the oppressed). The terms can be found in the Qurʾan, but Khomeini provided a political interpretation of them. He argued:
It is our duty to be helper to the oppressed and an enemy to the oppressor. This is nothing other than the duty that the Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Muʾminin, namely Imam Ali) entrusted to his great offspring (that is Hassan and Hussein) in his celebrated testament ‘Be an enemy to the oppressor and a helper to the oppressed’.
Indeed, Khomeini viewed the Shiʿa as the representatives of ‘oppressed peoples’ of all religions.
Revolutionary Iran sought to export its ideology to Lebanon because the country had a large Shiʿi community and because its clerics maintained strong links with their Iranian counterparts. In the early 1980s, Lebanon was in the middle of a bloody civil war and the Shiʿa population largely relied on the Amal militia for protection. Following the disappearance of its founder, Imam Musa al-Sadr, en route to Libya in August 1978, Amal broke up into a pro-Syrian and a pro-Iranian faction.
The US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 led to the franchising of al-Qaeda. While its top leadership found refuge in Pakistan, the organisation spread its operations into various Middle Eastern countries. For this purpose, Osama bin Laden collaborated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, who had visited Afghanistan after establishing the Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad (Jamaʾat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad). In March 2003, the toppling of Saddam Hussein by the US military paved the way for the expansion of al-Zarqawi’s organisation into Iraq. In October 2004, al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Laden and took over the local branch of al-Qaeda.
However, he did not remain obedient to the central leadership. Despite bin Laden’s objections, al-Zarqawi initiated an anti-Shiʿa campaign that brought the country to the brink of civil war. In June 2006, he was killed in a US air strike and was replaced by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The new leader reverted to al-Qaeda’s orbit, but he was killed in a joint US–Iraqi operation in April 2010.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then became the head of the local branch of al-Qaeda, which had changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq. The rise of al-Baghdadi coincided with the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions. While fighting against the Shiʿa-dominated regime in Baghdad, al-Baghdadi decided to expand into Syria sometime in 2011. As a result, the al-Qaeda affiliated Support Front for the People of Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham) was established in north-western Syria by Abu Mohammed al-Julani. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi attempted to take over the Syrian branch; al-Julani referred the issue to the new leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had been chosen after the killing of bin Laden by US forces. While he ruled against the merger of the two branches, al-Baghdadi ignored the mother organisation and attempted to absorb the Syrian branch by establishing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fi l-Iraq wa-sh-Sham). In June 2014, he declared himself a caliph in Mosul.
Although al-Qaeda and ISIS are two different organisations, they have shared many common features. First, both groups have adhered to the ideology of jihadi-Salafism.
Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (the Islamic Party of Liberation) has thousands of members in more than thirty-five countries across five continents. It was established by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, a Palestinian Islamic scholar, in East Jerusalem in 1953. In the early 1950s, he developed his political vision claiming that the restoration of the Caliphate was the only solution for the revival of the Muslim world. An-Nabhani proposed three stages of action: recruitment of members and establishment of cells, spreading the group’s propaganda to Islamise society, and the takeover of a Muslim-majority country to serve as the nucleus of the Caliphate. From the beginning, the group declared its intention to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who did not use violence before establishing the first Islamic state in Medina.
An-Nabhani’s political vision was based on well-established principles of Islamic governance, such as al-amr bi-l-maʿruf wa l-nahy ʿan il-munkar (enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong), shura (consultation) and al-muhasaba (calling rulers to account). He envisioned an omnipotent caliph who would rule with wisdom and benevolence. The Palestinian scholar implicitly embraced a Sunni-oriented understanding of the future Islamic state. The Sunni orientation of Hizb ut-Tahrir became more obvious in the 1970s, when Ayatollah Khomeini proposed the system of vilayat-i faqih (the guardianship of the jurist), based on ‘the most sacred canonical sources of Shiʿi Islam’. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the group approached Khomeini and asked him to become caliph of all Muslims. He rejected the offer because Hizb ut-Tahrir’s political programme did not resonate with Shiʿa beliefs.
An-Nabhani had failed to register Hizb ut-Tahrir as a legal party in Jordan. The official excuse was that the group rejected the institution of monarchy and promoted pan-Islamism. Consequently, the Jordanian authorities issued a decree banning the party and arrested its leadership in March 1953. Despite its clandestine status, Hizb ut-Tahrir managed to propagate its ideology in Jordan and expand to neighbouring countries. Its members endured arrests and torture by hostile authorities without resorting to political violence, although the group was implicated in army coups in Jordan and Iraq. From the 1950s through to the 1970s, it remained active in certain Middle Eastern countries (for example, Lebanon and Syria).
From North Africa to Indonesia, Muslim populations have struggled to cope with the new environmental realities. However, in the era of globalisation, institutionalised Islamist parties, particularly in government, are increasingly addressing green issues and suggesting policies in order to help protect water supplies, reduce pollution and increase tree plantation. This applies to Islamists who participate in electoral politics, as well as those who are classified as transnational or militant. Delving into the causes of this new environmentalism phenomenon, Emmanuel Karagiannis explores the religious and political motivations of five Islamist groups and assesses the degree of influence that Islamic texts, rulings and principles have on the green policies pursued.
In her widely praised novel The Kindness of Enemies, the Sudanese-Scottish writer Leila Aboulela tells a story that takes place in the Caucasus of the mid-nineteenth century. In one of its scenes, the legendary Muslim leader of the anti-Russian resistance Imam Shamil recites for his son Jamaleldin the following Qurʾanic verse:
In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the ships that run in the sea with that which profits men; and the water that Allah sends down from the sky, then gives life therewith to the earth after its death and spreads in it all [kinds of] animals, and the changing of the winds and the clouds made subservient between heaven and earth, there are surely signs for a people who understand. (2:164)
It is a powerful moment for young Jamaleldin, who comes to realise God’s power of creation as manifested through the rain, the wind and the clouds. He walks with his fearsome warrior father around their quiet village in the middle of the night, but he can hear the ‘breathing’ of stars and forests. He connects with the Creator of the universe because he feels His presence. Here, Aboulela essentially describes the return to fitra, the primordial nature of purity whereby humans are born to submit to God’s will and follow His commands. This transcendent union between God, man and nature lies at the heart of the Islamic understanding of the cosmos.
At the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is becoming clear that humanity and the planet face enormous and potentially catastrophic environmental challenges. The effects of global warming and climate change could devastate countries and destroy communities. Droughts and floods have already resulted in massive loss of life and migration flows. Air pollution has been identified as a cause of cancer and other health problems. The pollution of oceans and other bodies of water has threatened marine life. Many animal species are close to extinction owing to human activities. Indeed, the list of environmental problems is endless.
From North Africa to Indonesia, Muslim communities have struggled to cope with the new environmental realities.
Egyptians Paying for Sisi’s Selling Out of Egypt Historical Nile Water Share
To the patriotic people of Egypt and the great revolutionaries …
Almost thirty whole months have passed and you are still standing steadfast, in your prisons and in liberty squares across Egypt. The whole world solemnly applauds your determination and resolve.
You have trampled all the calculations of the putschist junta. Their end is approaching fast, God willing. Sisi is marching steadily from failure to failure, while powerful waves of revolutionary protests are coming to save the homeland and the people and stop the shameful concessions and betrayals.
Egypt’s simple peasants are already paying for the Nile water loss, the crisis created by Sisi’s recklessness. Indeed, all Egyptians, especially future generations, will pay for Sisi’s mistake.
The junta-controlled media has misled the Egyptian people, as it celebrated the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam agreement signed by Sisi, and pictured it as a great achievement! Now, it has been revealed that with this agreement Sisi and his gang have forfeited the Egyptian people’s right to Nile water. Evidently, the traitorous Sisi is implementing a Zionist plot to eliminate Egypt’s historical achievements.
The whole world heard the words of Egypt’s legitimate president, Mohamed Morsi: ‘If Egypt’s share of Nile water is decreased by one drop, we will sacrifice our blood to get it back.’
We assure the whole world that these words alone represent the Egyptian people in this matter. Only the traitorous Sisi and his gang take responsibility for any agreements signed by the murderous general. He only stands for his own cronies, the putschist traitors.
We are certainly not gloating, nor rejoicing, for that matter. For this crisis will not hurt Sisi and his regime alone, but all citizens of this country, including us. We, therefore, bitterly lament this situation as we appreciate the gravity of the loss.
Now, Sisi’s army, the great warriors who recently slaughtered one Palestinian man who tried to escape the illegitimate and vicious blockade of Gaza, has not moved a finger to address this serious breach of the country’s national security.
Although the rise of political Islam has attracted the attention of scholars since the early 1980s, most studies have focused on the militancy of certain groups and the proliferation of Islamist parties. This overemphasis on politically and emotionally charged issues has created a literature gap regarding less contested areas of Islamist engagement that this book has tried to bridge. Islamist environmentalism has gained considerable visibility in recent years but has remained understudied. This aspect of Islamism perhaps creates some perplexity among Western scholars because environmental protection is usually viewed as a noble cause.
Islamist environmentalism is a phenomenon that sits on the fringe between social sciences and humanities. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaeda/ISIS are groups and movements strive for power. Political science can certainly explain the policies and motives of such political actors. Yet Islamists make claims to religious authenticity that political science cannot assess. It does not have the theoretical tools to evaluate the validity of such claims. Islamic studies can offer an understanding of religious concepts and principles embedded in the different versions of environmentalism. In this way, this research has sought to expand the interdisciplinary study of political Islam as represented by Islamist environmentalists. More specifically, the book has addressed two research questions: 1) What is the environmental policy of Islamist groups? 2) What role does religion play in Islamist environmentalism?
Before answering the research questions, the book described the Islamic perspective on the environment. Since Islamists draw their legitimacy from religion, it is important to understand how the Muslim faith has approached certain environmental issues. Islam has been preoccupied with nature since the Prophet started preaching his messages to Arab communities in the mid-seventh century. Overall, Islam as a religion has favoured a balanced environ-mental approach that permits harmonious co-existence between humans and nature.
Since the 1960s, there has been a constant theological-intellectual effort to offer an Islamic alternative in line with modern environmentalist thinking. Islamic eco-theology is a contextual form of theology focusing on the relation-ship between faith and nature. The Qurʾan and Sunna could offer spiritual and practical guidance through certain principles, such as tawhid, khalifa and akhirah. The unity of God implies the wholeness and interdependence of all creation.
The Palestinian group Harakah al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah (Movement of Islamic Resistance – Hamas) is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established in 1987 during the first Intifada. The ideology of Hamas contains elements of Arab nationalism, Islamism and anti-Semitism. It was founded by seven members of the Ikhwan in the Gaza Strip, including Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. Both were of refugee origin whose families fled to Gaza from other parts of British-mandated Palestine after the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. Yassin served as the spiritual leader of Hamas, while al-Rantisi was its political leader.
The decision-making body of Hamas is the secretive Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura), consisting of religious and political leaders. The Council elects the fifteen-member Political Bureau (al-Maktab al-Siyasi), where all important decisions are made. Although only lay members apparently participate in the Political Bureau, the influence of religious leaders remains significant. Yet Hamas does not have its own fatwa-issuing body.
From the beginning, the group had an uncompromising stance towards Israel that reflected a wider Islamist understanding of the conflict. For instance, the influential Palestinian-American Islamic thinker Ismail Raji al-Faruqi argued that ‘[Islam] imposes upon Muslims all over the world to rise like one man to put an end to injustice … [T]he Islamic position leaves no chance for the Zionist state but to be dismantled and destroyed, and its wealth confiscated to pay off its liabilities.’ Such views provided justification for Hamas to denounce the Arab–Israeli peace process and use violence against the Jewish State.
In February 1989, Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, conducted their first attack against an Israeli target. Since then, the Qassam Brigades have claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel. In fact, the second Intifada was a Hamas-led armed uprising that began in September 2000 and ended almost five years later. In June 2006, its fighters attacked an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) outpost and captured an Israeli soldier. In December 2008, Hamas launched rocket attacks into Israel and provoked an IDF operation called Operation Cast Lead that lasted three weeks.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) was estab-lished by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. He was a primary school teacher and preacher in the town of Ismailiya, near the Suez Canal. Although he lacked formal religious education, al-Banna was a charismatic leader with organisational skills. The Brotherhood grew rapidly in the 1930s and 1940s, building cadres in towns and rural areas. Al-Banna denounced the British involvement in Egyptian domestic affairs and mocked the country’s nominal independence.
From the beginning, the Brotherhood’s relationship with the Egyptian authorities was confrontational and antagonistic. Following the end of the Second World War, it challenged the Egyptian political establishment and its foreign patrons. The Arab–Israeli War of 1948 led to civil disturbances in Egypt. As a result, thousands of Muslim Brothers were imprisoned and tortured. The founder of the Brotherhood himself was assassinated by unknown gunmen in February 1949.
The army coup of 1952 was initially welcomed by the Brotherhood because the Free Officers, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew the pro-British King Farouk. Yet the new leader suppressed the Brotherhood because it was viewed as a threat to his regime. In 1966, the intellectual leader of the organisation, Sayyid Qutb, was executed for plotting to assassinate Nasser. Nasser’s successors, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, followed a less aggressive and more engaging policy towards the Brotherhood in spite of its illegal status.
The ideology of the Brotherhood has not been static and unchanging over time. Indeed, it has proven dynamic and adaptive in response to political developments and societal changes. Al-Banna professed an ideology combin-ing anti-colonialism, pan-Islamism and social justice, but he was a political entrepreneur rather than a theorist. It was Qutb who truly influenced the ideological identity of the Brotherhood. He claimed that many Muslims still lived in the age of jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) because they did not practise their religion. More importantly, he proposed the collective condemnation of unbelief (takfir). After his execution, the then leader of the Brotherhood, Hasan al-Hudaybi, attempted to moderate the ideology of the movement. In his book Duʾat la Qudat (‘Preachers, not Judges’), al-Hudaybi argued that the concept of jahiliyya does not apply to modern conditions and that only God can judge who has committed a major sin.
Islam was founded in a region with harsh climatic conditions and scarce resources. As a result, the Muslim faith is oriented towards conservation and protection of the environment. Like the rest of the planet, the Muslim world has greatly suffered from many environmental problems due to massive urbanisation, rapid economic growth and overexploitation of natural resources.
This chapter aims at providing an overview of the relationship between Islam and the environment (al-biʾa). It examines Islamic eco-theology as a distinct sub-category of theology dictating environmental ethics. It covers four distinct and interrelated thematic areas: land and water, trees, animals, and pollution and energy. The selection of these thematic areas is based on the availability of information, as well as their practical significance for the well-being of Muslim communities. While the list of topics is not exhaustive, the goal is to demonstrate how the Muslim faith views the relationship between humanity and nature.
Moreover, the chapter describes the role of Shariʿa in environmental matters, including the use of land, water management and animal rights. The increased environmental awareness has also compelled religious leaders to offer relevant fatwas.
The Content and Context of Islamic Eco-theology
Eco-theology is a sub-category of theology that examines the connection between religion and nature. The term ‘Islamic eco-theology’ refers to the study of Muslim creed (aqida) in relation to environmental issues. It also focuses on the essence of religious ideas about man’s relationship with nature. Islam was not established in isolation from other religions, however. In fact, it came to integrate pre-Islamic norms, values and beliefs. The Muslim faith was certainly influenced by the religions that existed in the Middle East before the seventh century. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula were polytheists or followed Judaism and Christianity. Nevertheless, Islam has a unique understanding of the environment that is centred on theosophy (the nature of divinity), cosmology (the origin of the universe) and ontology (the nature of humanity).
Islam teaches that God has ninety-nine names or attributes. Among other things, He is the First (Al-Awwal) who existed before the creation and is the Last (Al-Akhir) after the end of the world. God is also the Creator (Al-Khaaliq) and the Giver of Life (Al-Muhyi).
Edinburgh Studies in the Globalised Muslim World is a series that focuses on the contemporary transformations of Muslim societies. Globalisation is meant, here, to say that although the Muslim world was always interacting with other societal, religious, imperial or national forces over the centuries, the evolution of these interconnections constantly reshapes Muslim societies. The second half of the twentieth century has been characterised by the increasing number and diversity of exchanges on a global scale bringing people and societies ‘closer’, for better and for worse. The beginning of the twenty-first century confirmed the increasingly glocalised nature of these interactions and the challenges and opportunities that they bring to existing institutional, social and cultural orders.
The series is not a statement that everything is different in today’s brave new world. Indeed, many ‘old’ ideas and practices still have much currency in the present, and undoubtedly will also have in the future. Rather, the series emphasises how our current globalised condition shapes and mediates how past worldviews and modes of being are transmitted between people and institutions. The contemporary Muslim world is not merely a reflection of past histories, but is also a living process of creating a new order on the basis of what people want, desire, fear and hope. This creative endeavour can transform existing relations for the better, for example by reconsidering the relations between society and the environment. It can equally fan violence and hatred as illustrated in the reignition of cycles of conflicts over sovereignties, ideologies or resources across the globe.
The Globalised Muslim World series arrives at a challenging time for any inquiry into Muslim societies. The new millennium began inauspiciously with a noticeable spike in transnational and international violence framed in ‘civilisational’ terms. A decade of ‘war of terror’ contributed to entrenching negative mutual perceptions across the globe while reinforcing essentialist views. The ensuing decade hardly improved the situation, with political and territorial conflicts multiplying in different parts of the Muslim world, and some of the most violent groups laid claim to the idea of a global caliphate to justify themselves. Yet, a focus on trajectories of violence gives a distorted picture of the evolution of Muslim societies and their relations with the rest of the world.
The modern environmental movement was born in the United States and Western Europe in the late 1960s to early 1970s, although its roots lie in the anti-industrial romanticism of the nineteenth century. The environmental movement challenged the postwar capitalist orthodoxy and social conformity. Environmentalists criticised dominant ideas about the relationship between humans and non-humans, the socio-economic organisation of Western societies, and the essence of economic growth. Nature and its beings were not to be treated merely as resources for human advancement. In this climate of fierce anti-capitalism, the movement developed intellectual and activist components that produced a new vocabulary (for example, ‘biodiversity’, ‘conservation’ and ‘sustainability’).
The first generation of environmentalists focused on the use of nuclear energy for both peaceful and military purposes, the extinction of species, air and water pollution, and the overexploitation of resources. More specifically, university students, devout Christians and community activists came together to save the environment. However, the movement gradually developed into a multi-issue coalition of groups. During the early 1980s, the first parties were established in Western Europe to promote a green agenda.
Today, environmentalism can be defined as the promotion of values, attitudes and policies aimed at reaching an accommodation between human needs and the limits of the natural environment. Environmentalism as an ideology has included both ecocentric and anthropocentric views and ethics. The former have sought a preservationist approach to nature that centres on care for biodiversity and wilderness protection, while the latter have supported a conservationist approach that focuses on urban pollution and social justice.
Currently, the environmental movement is divided into different sub-movements. Environmental justice is a spin-off from the movement focusing on underprivileged communities which have experienced racism, exploitation and ecological degradation. In effect, it is preoccupied with the socio-economic consequences of the environmental crisis. The conservation sub-movement calls for the protection of natural areas from pollution and economic development. Advocates of animal rights form another sub-movement seeking to end the exploitation and suffering of animals. While the environmental movement is highly heterogeneous, its sub-movements share a vision of a world in which humans and non-humans can live harmoniously in a protected and sustainable environment.