The Environmental Justice In Islam Seminar, Cape Town 2015, A Reflection

– Mariam Phoplanker, 2015-12-10

This reflection follows an inspiring, spiritually uplifting and motivational seminar which addressed issues pertaining not only to the Environment, but also to the lessons that Islam teaches us in order to grow as Muslims (no pun intended). The second annual South African Environmental Justice in Islam Seminar took place in Cape Town on the 5 December 2015. The seminar focused on “South African Reflections on the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change”. The seminar was co-hosted by Islamic Relief South Africa, International Peace College South Africa, MJC, SAFCEI, Claremont Main Road Masjid and the Muslims for Eco-Justice. The guest speaker of the event was Professor İbrahim Özdemir — an environmentalist and professor of philosophy, ecology and religion at the Ankara University in Turkey.

Environmental Justice in Islam Seminar Cape Town 2015 (EcoM)The seminar began with true Cape-townian spirits: koeksisters and tea! This was followed by a short welcoming by our master of ceremonies and the melodious recitation of Surah Ar-Rahman by a Qari who studied under Sheikh Londt. During the recitation, the words of the Surah and its translation were projected on the screen; how appropriate this Surah was in reminding us of our purpose there that day. I could go on and expand on all the speakers, their talks and their messages, but before the core gist of the seminar leaves me, I will keep it short and succinct. May it be words, or water, neither should be wasted…

The Keynote Address: The Qur’anic Paradigm of Environment and Sustainable Development by Professor İbrahim Özdemir

Professor Özdemir from Turkey spoke of many things, but some key topics that he discussed included the Qur’anic Worldview and the environment, the Qur’anic values and Sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH) on which the Islamic Declaration is based on, and numerous quotes from authors, poets and our Holy Qur’aan. Some of these quotes and words of wisdom are as follows:

  • On feeling homesick during his trip to America for a conference: “To God belongs the East and the West; whithersoever you turn, there is God.” Realizing this, he felt at ease and at peace being in a country not his own.
  • “Iqra bismi rabbikalladhi khalaq.” Read in the name of your Lord who Created. Here, the meaning of ‘Read’ means a new way of looking at the world where the key notion is that reading should be in the name of your Sustainer and Creator. At the very beginning it is taught that God, as the Sustainer and Creator, gives existence and meaning to everything else.
  • The concept of balance (Meezan) in Islam and the environment, as seen in the Ecosystem, Subhanallah!
  •  Ibrahim/ Abraham PBUH is the perfect role model for faith and commitment; for his burning desire to learn and his search for meaning.
  • Islam teaches us to have a JUST and BALANCED life (55: 5-9)
  • Professor Özdemir uses examples of similes from the Quran. A Muslim:
    • Prostrates like plants,
    • Remains erect like hills,
    • Purifies himself like water, etc.
  • On the word Jihaad: the most misinterpreted word associated with Muslims. Despite this, Professor Frederick Denny feels the term ‘Green Jihad’ is most appropriate for addressing the global environmental crisis.
  • “The poorest countries are suffering the effects of climate change the most.”
  • “We will all, literally, sink in this crisis.” Sh. Dr Toffar.

On a side note, Professor Özdemir also encouraged the South Africans to feel proud of themselves for attending this year’s International Islamic climate change symposium, notably by Mr Taahir Salie (Chairperson of Islamic relief Worldwide) and Mr Ebrahim Rasool (

Environmental Justice in Islam Seminar Cape Town 2015
To close off his talk, Professor Ozdemir shared the story of the Prophet Abraham and the Ant. This, unashamedly brought tears to my eyes, but also soaked my heart in a kind of warmth that only motivated me to do more for our environment:

“Nemrod lit a great fire in which to throw the Prophet Abraham. While a crow was carrying brushwood to throw into the fire, an ant was carrying some water.
The crow asked the ant mockingly, ‘What are you going to do with that water?’
The ant said, ‘I’m carrying water to put out the fire into which they will throw Abraham.’
The crow laughed and said, ‘The water you carry cannot possibly put out that huge fire.’
The ant said, ‘That’s all right; I know it will not be sufficient. But I will have demonstrated my commitment.’”

What we can learn from this simple, yet life-changing story needs no explanation… Just a Subhanallah…

Fighting Back Against Climate Change

A video clip was shown featured by Islamic relief, titled, “Fighting back against Climate Change” ( The lesson learnt here was, among others, that disaster prevention is what we should be aiming for, especially in poorer countries, who are suffering the brunt of climate change. Disaster prevention costs less and saves lives. For example, supplying seeds and fuel rather than food aid alone can change people’s lives and their future.

Introduction to the encyclical on the environment by Father Peter-John Pearson

Despite our different religions and beliefs, the message delivered by Father Pearson was one that can and should be shared by all of humanity. Climate change affects each and every one of us, hence him stressing upon the need for interfaith solidarity to combat this problem. He zoomed in on the relationship of RELIGION and SCIENCE, where science can explain reality, but religion is what gives meaning to it. So together, they can both flourish.

The Panel Discussion

The audience was given a chance to ask questions to the speakers, who took to the stage. The only question I include here was one asked by a very keen and determined gentleman: “Can you please share with us some things that we can do to make a difference today?” The panel’s answers (summarized) were as follows:

  1. Teach children how to recycle, as they are the future.
    2. Trees Trees Trees
    3. Popularize environmental concepts, especially to children.
    4. Belong to a green organization or Masjid
    5. Inform those who are not here of what you learnt (base on Hadith by Prophet PBUH)

Some ideas and words of wisdom that were also discussed:

  • Try stopping big water events; it worked in Gauteng!
  • As suggested by Dr Najma Mohamed: Have measured containers for making Wudhu (see picture). However, it was noted that even 775 ml is too generous…
  • Put Fard above Sunnah! Sometimes, we tend to forget that. For example, if you enter the mosque late for Salaah, and there’s a queue for wudhu, make Fard wudhu to save time to be present for Khutbah or rather make wudhu at home or come earlier to mosque.
  • When making wudhu, for example, of the hands, the water that is dripping from your hands is still PURE. This same water can be utilized to continue your wudhu.

Alhamdulillah, this is where I stop typing and start hoping that my words get recycled to spread awareness and change, InshaAllah.

Mariam Phoplanker is currently finishing her fourth year of medicine at the University of Stellenbosch and is part of the MSA Cape/USTIS. A lover of the simple things in life including food, friends, family, procrastination and (obviously) nature, Mariam has been part our Green Deen Team since 2013. May Allah SWT bless you Mariam for attending this seminar and sharing this reflection! (And may Allah SWT bless brother Armaan Ujra for proof-reading it, Aameen.)


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