How can we use acting on climate change as a peace-building and interfaith strategy?
This past weekend, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life Manager Liya Rechtman joined with Muslim environmental consultant and former Green Muslims Board Member Asma Mahdi at the Howard University Divinity School Interfaith Leadership Summit. Together, they led a focus group and workshop titled “Acting on Climate Across Lines of Difference.” With a group of Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist, and Humanist community leaders, they examined the problems facing the environmental movement and the ways in which faith-based advocacy can help.
They determined as a group that the inherent universality of environmental degradation caused by climate change is sufficient to bring disparate communities together. These communities also have particular reasons that they respond to calls for environmental action. Our Jewish tradition tells us to care for the earth and consider it a gift from God. In Leviticus 25:23, we read: “The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is Mine; you are strangers and sojourners with me.” Muslim scripture teaches the same environmental values. Muslims study Nahj al-Fasahah, which emphasizes the imperative to prioritize the earth: “If Resurrection is starting and one of you has a sapling in his hand which he can plant before he stands up he must do so.”
However, the group also concluded that people of faith –Jews and Muslims in particular – had more in common than, as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical “Our Common Home.” The challenge of climate change is one that uniquely impacts Jews and Muslims because of the effect climate disruption has on economic prosperity, radicalization, and security in the Middle East. Many Jews care about climate change and clean energy because we care about Israel. Similarly, our Muslim brothers and sisters also want to work for peace and security in the region.
The conversation concluded with the following understanding: Climate change is a unifier, highlighting our shared values across our differences as people of faith. Climate change is also a national security concern, and a place of shared political priority between Jews and Muslims. Thus Jews and Muslims can work together to act on climate, as an environmental, interfaith, and peace-building tactic.