Can faith be a ‘sustainable’ way to control Covid19?
The covid19 pandemic has devastated the lives of millions across the globe. Its high time for international organisations like the UN to look ahead and assess how the ongoing global pandemic will affect the future of sustainable development. It is not only the duty and responsibility of international organisations, NGOs, civil society organizations but also for us as an individual to think about new ways to tackle the various global challenges. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the Coronavirus pandemic a “human crisis that is attacking the societies at its core”. The world body has in recent times employed a method to co-opt bettering existing structures along with religion.
Engaging Faith-based actors: Alternative model
The recent event organized by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) Faith for Earth Initiative focused on the current covid19 crisis situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “Healthy, functioning ecosystems, and environmental law, are central to a post-COVID world, and religious institutions can help push for progress on strengthening policy frameworks to bring about necessary change,” says Abumoghli, the director of Faith-earth-initiative. The Faith for Earth Initiative is an effort to form a global coalition for tackling environmental problems. Its mission is “to encourage, empower and engage with faith-based organizations as partners, at all levels, toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.
The Secretary-General of Religions for Peace said that “We need to work collaboratively across religions to tackle global challenges”. Now, we all know how religion influences people in various ways. It affects the day to day life of individuals in both positive and negative ways. We have seen how religion or faith has become more and more popular and now almost 84% of the global population believes or identifies with a religious group. Though the religious scriptures are misinterpreted and used as a tool to commit violence and spread hatred, it also has the absolute potential to bring about positive change in society. It is because of this great influencing power that religion is being brought in by international organization like the UN to speed up the pace of sustainable development.
Voices from Religions on Sustainable Development
Now one may wonder what religion has to do with sustainable development. Let us start with Hinduism. According to the Vedas, the Earth is the supporter of all life and it is the duty of every human being to maintain the balance, very similar to the concept of sustainable development in the present time(a development which does not compromise with the needs of future generation). Trees like Peepal or Bodhi (Ficusreligiosa) are given special importance because it is regarded as the tree of enlightenment and also because of this people don’t cut this tree. Hinduism gives special importance to animals and plants. There are many plants and animals which are considered sacred and because of their sacredness, these plants and animals are specially protected. The custom of ascribing a particular animal as the vehicle of their Gods and goddesses urges people to protect and take care of any kind of animal. In Hinduism, there is also a custom of alloting a sacred tree to every temple which must be protected and taken care of. Even the great epic Ramayana mentions about the importance and beauty of trees and forests. The Hindu scriptures have given close attention to the natural environment. Forests, groves are considered sacred and special importance is given to flowering trees.
According to Iyad Abumoghli, the concept of sustainable development in Islam can be defined as “The balanced and simultaneous realization of consumer welfare, economic efficiency, attainment of social justice, and ecological balance in the framework of a evolutionary knowledge-based, socially interactive model defining the Shuratic process”. The Shuratic process is the provision which enables consultation or participatory ruling principle of Islam. Islam says that the Earth was created by Allah for a specific purpose and for a limited period of time. The utilisationof natural resources is a sacred task in Islam and man is not the owner but a mere manager. The natural resources- land, air, water, fire(energy) etc are considered as the joint property of the entire mankind and hence Islam promotes the use of resources in a sustainable manner. Man is considered as the vicegerent of Allah in Islam which means he should ensure that rights of the people of future generation over natural resources is not compromised. Prophet Muhammad was very much concerned about conservation of water and this can be clearly understood with the help of hadith where he says that “ Do not waste water even if you were at a running stream”.
Just like Hinduism and Islam, Christianity also talks about sustainable development. Approximately there are 100 verses in the Holy Bible which talks about the protection of the environment. In 2015, Pope Francis said that “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” By saying so he was trying to promote all round protection of the environment by focusing on sustainable development. He not only invites the Christians but talks about bringing together the entire human family, to bring about some positive changes. So he repeatedly invites the entire human family to come together for protecting the Earth, for ensuring a better place for the future generation. Each and every religion from the Bahá’í Faith till Sikhism talks about sustainable development. As its not possible to discuss the voices from all religions on sustainable development, I decided to discuss from the Hinduism, Islam and Christianity’s perspective.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Faith must be enforced by reason; when faith becomes blind it dies”. Blind faith inactivates the reasoning capacity of human beings. We have witnessed a number of incidents even during this pandemic where blind faith played a major role in influencing people. Superstition hijacks human endeavour. It is very important for all of us to remain vigilant, especially now when the whole world is going through a tough time. This article doesn’t justify the actions purported through incredulous actions. But if we specifically talk about the influencing power of religion, we all know how it influences people’s views making it a powerful force for individual and collective change. It is because of this reason that the UN is trying to engage faith-based organizations and other religious actors to speed up the pace of sustainable development while fighting this pandemic. Its high time for us to join hands for building a better, more sustainable world.
AUTHOR BIO: Nazib Sohail is a post-graduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. His interests areas are Religion, Politics, Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and transformation, Identity, environment conservation.
The opinions expressed are that of the author and not of Inside Northeast
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