COP28: ‘My religion inspires me to protect the environment’

Female wearing beige headscarf, white top and a black blazer, sitting outside on wooden steps. There are wooden hand rails above metal hand rails. The background behind Amirah is of wooden steps with either side of concrete walls.
Image caption,Amirah Iqbal creates educational resources for an Islamic environmental charity

By Tania Sangha

BBC Asian Network

Can your religion affect how you feel about climate change?

Many would agree that everyone has a responsibility to help limit future damage to the environment, but some people see it as more than that.

Faith and how you practise it are deeply personal, but some people say saving the planet is part of their religious duty.

As world leaders gather in Dubai at COP28 to discuss ways to limit future environmental harm, BBC Asian Network spoke to Muslim, Hindu and Sikh campaigners to find out how their faith drives them.

‘God made humans stewards over Earth’

Every time Muslims pray there is a connection to nature, according to Amirah Iqbal.

“You’re following the cycle of the sun,” she says, referring to the five daily prayers that are based on the progression of the day.

“It’s just that little reminder that made me think: ‘Wow, my prayers are so connected to the sun and nature’.”

The 25-year-old volunteers for the Islamic environmental charity IFEES (Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science) and is part of a campaign called Two Billion Strong.

It aims to help Muslims around the world to get involved in the conversation on climate injustice, and she says a lot of her work has been inspired by teachings in the Quran – the Muslim holy text.

“I decided that I was going to go through the Quran and highlight all the verses on nature,” she says.

“I got to a point where I thought I just need to stop because I’m going to end up highlighting most of it.

“God mentions he made humans stewards over the earth. And we have a duty to act responsibly over our management of natural resources.”

Amirah says “we’re not here for a very long time”, so it’s important to leave the planet “in a better place than we found it in”.

‘My religion is to protect the environment’

Avnish wearing a navy blue jumper standing in front of a beach and ocean, holding his baby son who is wearing a blue jumper and pointing up to the sky. They are on a beach with the ocean water behind them and a cloudy sky.
Image caption,Avnish Thakrar says he wants to make the world a better place for his children

Avnish Thakrar feels linking his Hindu faith to a duty to protect the environment has “been a simple connection” to make.

He says two of the main principles of Hinduism are Dharma – promoting peace and harmony for all living things through our actions – and Ahimsa – trying to cause the least harm.

“So if we live in tune with Dharma and Ahimsa, then being environmentally conscious will just come naturally to us,” he says.

These teachings have impacted the way Avnish lives his life. He follows a vegan diet, uses an electric car and has installed solar panels in his home.

As the national co-ordinator for the Hindu Climate Action group, he also delivers workshops on Hinduism’s perspective on climate change.

“For Hindus we should care about the welfare of animals, rivers, oceans and mountains,” he says.

“We want everything to flourish and be happy and harmonious.”

‘We need to have respect for all living beings’

Amandeep standing infront of a blue, white and green big globe wearing a red top and a black blazer. It is sunset behind her with metal gates visible in front of some trees.
Image caption,Amandeep Mann was part of an interfaith panel for COP26 in Glasgow

Amandeep Kaur Mann feels it’s important to reconnect religious faith values with current modern day issues.

She is the co-founder of Eco Sikh UK which uses teachings in Sikhism to help the environment.

Its website cites a quote from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of Sikhism: “Air is our Guru, water is our father, the earth is our mother”.

Amandeep takes a lot from those words.

“One of the biggest teachings of the Sikh faith is from Guru Nanak dev Ji about oneness. It essentially means that the divine, the force, the creation, is all within each and every living being,” she says.

“We need to have respect for all living beings. We need to protect nature because it gives us so much.”

As a result Amandeep has been trying to get more people out into nature, promoting activities like tree planting and litter picking.

Seva, which means performing a selfless act, plays a big part in the Sikh faith.

“When we come together to do seva of this kind, it just feels so good,” she says.

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