The Common Threat
By Craig Considine
Washington, DC

Left to right: Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Dr. Rebecca Gould and Dr. Rajwant Singh

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed welcomed guests from the worldwide interfaith community to the Kay Spiritual Center at American University to participate in a unique panel discussion to examine how interfaith dialogue can play a role in protecting the environment.
The panel was sponsored by members of the British Embassy, the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light Center, and the Kennedy Political Union of American University.
While this topic is an aberration from the typical discussions of a gathering of such groups, it gives a fresh perspective on a serious global issue that transcends religion. The panel was established to discuss and examine ways in which members of different religions view contemporary environmental issues and how different faiths can work together to solve the world’s challenges. Issues such as poverty, the AIDS epidemic, starvation, global warming, and climate change are all part of our collective environment. The solutions to environmental problems are the responsibility of the whole interfaith community, regardless of religious belief.
Dr. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and the moderator of the panel, introduced the challenges facing the environment as a “life and death struggle” for all of humanity. Ahmed began the conference with reference to an Islamic position on the preservation of the environment. He made a specific note to the 7th century Caliph Abu Bakr’s Rules of War. Ahmed explained that Abu Bakr’s first rule was that no religious representative should be touched in war, nor should women, children, or vegetation and crops, because all belong directly to Allah or God. Ahmed addressed Islam’s highly developed sense of legacy in protecting the environment from the ravages of man. Specifically, when man disrespects the environment, he is essentially disrespecting himself and all mankind.
Among the other speakers involved in the panel was Reverend James Jones, The Bishop of Liverpool, England. Jones explored the relationship between the Christian faith and the preservation of the environment. He made note to several passages in The Bible, seven in total in the Gospels, that include the name Jesus and the Earth in the same sentence. Jesus, according to Reverend Jones, realized that mankind and the earth were intertwined as one under the power of God. Throughout his speech, Jones continuously referred to the African proverb “we have borrowed the present from our children.” The purpose of this passage was to show how important it is for people today to take care of the environment so that our children will not have to deal with self-inflicted damage that has potentially fatal consequences.
Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education of the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light Organization, spoke on behalf of the Sikh faith and ways in which its history is directly tied towards preserving the environment. Singh, speaking on behalf of all faiths, said that “man is part nature” and that everything on earth is a universal manifestation of God. He noted that “spirit and nature is but one” is a powerful and historical passage of Sikhism that can help understand our relationship as human beings to the environment. One Sikh belief that Singh made note of is that “heaven is on earth only if we love nature and each other.” Singh reiterated the comment made earlier by Dr. Ahmed, that global warming is a threat to all people, not just members of specific faiths. Global warming shows no prejudice.
The final speaker of the panel was Dr. Rebecca Gould, an Associate Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. Gould sent a powerful message by claiming it does not take one kind of religion to solve environmental problems, but rather the cooperation of members of all faiths. To her “the issues are moral and spiritual.” She recommended for human beings to find hope and optimism as ways to conquer environmental problems. Human beings must emphasize religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue and to rid itself of theological and personal interests. In conclusion, she called for the “rebirth” of environmentalism through interfaith dialogue, not only as a way to improve relations between different faiths, but to also improve the environment that we live in. We owe this to each other.
Dr. Ahmed concluded by asking all members of all faiths to take a step back and evaluate the damage we are doing to the environment. The health of our environment will be the preeminent issue of the 21st century. Members of all faiths must take an active approach and work together to curb this problem. As secular leaders, it’s time to focus on environmental issues because we are all one. Failure to take care of the environment, in which we are all intertwined with, hurts everyone.
The speakers at this event demonstrated that the root of each religion is a belief that we are liable to God for the condition of the Earth. We all owe it to each other to take care of our precious environment, because as the environment suffers, so will man.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.