Islamic and Sustainable Development: New Worldviews

Title:Islamic and Sustainable Development: New Worldviews
Authors:Prof. Odeh Al-Jayyousi
Publisher:Gower Publications, 2012

The world today represents stark realities about material progress. On one hand, there are millions of people in abject poverty; whereas, a small minority has majority ownership over resources.

Value neutral economic pursuits devoid of ethical considerations lack a guiding mechanism to nurture the good virtues among human beings. Hence, it is no surprise that famine, death from hunger and debt enslavement is the fact of life for millions of people not because that overall, the societies have scarce resources, but because the distribution of resources is inequitable.

In mainstream economic literature, the development discourse has taken several steps in the right direction from an exclusive focus on economic growth, belief in the social utility of greed and trickledown theory to now embracing humans as means as well as ends of development.

While the concept of human capital development and sustainable development are richer than the exclusive focus on economic growth, the focus in the twenty-first century should also now lift from a human-centric focus of development to an ecological balance now and in the future.

During the last 30 years, a lot of challenges have sprung up which require a renewed focus on environmental resource conservation, equitable income distribution, intergenerational equity and enhancing social infrastructure. Is rapid growth accompanied by equally rapid depletion of environmental resources and high fiscal deficit and public debt burden a truly admirable growth model?

Just at the right time, the concept of sustainable development has come to the shore. It is realized that for growth to be sustainable, the growth shall provide widespread benefits and must not come at the expense of worsening income distribution and environment quality.

In Islam and Sustainable Development, Prof. Odeh Al-Jayyousi addresses the social, human and economic dimensions of sustainability from an Islamic perspective. The proposed framework for sustainability in the book consists of four components: good governance (Adl), excellence (Ihsan), social capital (Arham) and integrity without corruption (Fasad).

The author argues that any deviation from the natural state (Fitra) is a Fasad. Hence, climate change from an Islamic perspective is a form of Fasad.

The author argues that the notion of natural state (Fitra) implies that everything on earth is in balance. There is sufficient food and resources if distributional equity and justice exist.

The author highlights that consumerism culture has challenged the planetary boundaries. People in developed countries comprise around 25% of the global population. But, they consume 15 times as much paper, 10 times as much steel and 12 times as much energy as the remaining 75% of the people in developing countries. There is a great need for restraint, but the capitalist system does not have sufficient mechanisms to restrain people from wasteful consumption.

The author contends that banks, media, multinational corporations and governments in a capitalistic economy all have a vested interest in encouraging consumption so that a high level of investment is sustained.

The author highlights the importance of biodiversity and how it is put at risk by overconsumption beyond the regenerative capacity of reproduction and also by industrial pollution.

Diversity promotes sustainability since more diverse the organisms in an ecosystem, the more types of resources are available to deal with challenges. On the other hand, Islam does not approve of the waste of even plentiful resources like water as it helps in sustainability of various forms of life.

The author writes that in the absence of a moral dimension, material possessions become an end in itself. Conspicuous consumption creates only temporary satisfaction. The author goes on to comment that without any meaning and purpose of life; fashions and models only exchange one kind of emptiness for another.

The author also criticizes how credit culture fuels consumerism and wasteful consumption. The author argues that the Islamic worldview expands the responsibility of humans to society, future generations, and other living species on the planet with afterlife accountability for every intentional act done by every human being. Islamic worldview regards humans as trustees of Allah for whatever material resources and mental faculties they come to possess in this world.

In the end, the author cautions that economic crisis can eventually be reversible, but the loss of biodiversity which represents our natural capital and life-support systems may be irreversible. All in all, the book introduces the moral dimension of the sustainability crisis and challenges and explains the potential of Islamic worldview and ethical institutions to help in creating and promoting a culture of conservation, care, responsibility and cooperation.

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