Wastefulness in environmental degradation: Seeking a new approach to environmental education based on faith values

By Nadya Rashid

' Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.' Quran, 17:7[1]

'Environment', what a familiar word! I had known, not just the spelling of this word, but also its meaning and Kiswahili name; 'mazingira' as early as I was a class one pupil. I learned this word through dictation because it was frequently asked by our teacher at the time. How about you, my dear reader? But why did my teacher do this? Is it the letter 'n' that is difficult to recall as a youngster while writing this word that provoked her, or is it because of the importance of this word? I believe both factors contributed to this. However, it is paradoxical that I don't value this word as much as I should.

As I write this article, I am trying to figure out how many chocolate wraps I have thrown on the streets, and how many times I have used a motor vehicle when I could just walk considering the short distance. Oh wow! And how many times have I seen my grandmother burn plastic items that are no longer in use without informing her of the effects she is causing to the environment? Am I a culprit in not taking care of the environment? And what do our religions teach on environmental conservation?

Thousands of people face serious health consequences from toxic emissions,[2] many resolve to eat wild fruits[3] as the only option left and countless people have lost lives, dwellings and harvests due to floods. That is just a glimpse of the negative effects that the guardian and custodian of the earth has contributed towards the earth. But who is this irresponsible person that was mandated with the duty to take care of the environment, a duty that they are neglecting? It is you and I, we, human beings.[4] It is a paradox that we are the ones who have been bestowed with the duty of guardianship of the earth,[5] yet we are causing harm to the environment, through our own activities.

Fundamentally, religions and religious texts champion environmental protection.[6] Scholars have referred to Islam as a green religion,[7] and the theme of human stewardship in the scriptures is a vital aspect that cannot be overlooked.[8] Additionally, how many customs and teachings, even in the form of taboos that exist in our cultures emphasise the need for environmental conservation?[9] Religions and spirituality undoubtedly contribute significantly to the spread of knowledge that can improve environmental conservation.[10] Furthermore, the influence of faith on a person's action is high. Moreover, many populations in our societies profess to be adherents to a faith tradition.[11] It is now the responsibility of environmental conservationists to take advantage of these religious resources and expand their understanding of the various strategies for protecting our ecosystem.

Asking a random Kenyan high school student about the creation theory, you will undoubtedly get a response on the basis of not only the scientific evolution theory but also religious theories. The student has been taught the creation theory from the Islamic, Christian or Hindu perspective, and even different traditional views of creation. And this has helped not only to broaden the thinking of the student but also made them aware of the different takes of creation. If that was possible, why not apply the same to environmental studies, why not have the religious aspect of environmental conservation in our curriculum?

For the enhancement of faith based environmental studies in our curricula,[12] religious components need not be primarily imported as whole into environmental education.[13] Rather, deliberations on environmental conservation in conjunction with various religious academics and environmental researchers[14] in our classes[15] can be a perfect solution. By fostering these interdisciplinary discussions between intellectuals from the environmental and religious fields, we can harmoniously integrate religious perspectives into the environmental education without the fear of imposing new belief systems or converting students.[16] It can also facilitate a perfect environment for research and analysis, in addition to sharpening students' understanding of our environment within the environmental values that they already occupy.[17]

One might wonder why bring in scholars from other fields to class, and what the point of this is. This form of training will not only make it easier for students to learn from professionals and assimilate their practical expertise, but it will also make it easier to thoughtfully include environmental education and give them a variety of viewpoints from which to consider environmental values.[18] This is fundamental since students have a key role to play in advocating for environmental conservation.[19] It is also a duty of students through research, to find environmental solutions to the community.[20]

I believe that it is time for our curriculum developers to shift their gears and analyse the role played by religious scriptures in advocating for environmental conservation. This analysis needs to be done with the main aim of incorporating the teachings from religions into our environmental law classes. It is only by doing so that students will passionately get engaged through research to save our environment.

[1] Holy Qur'an, Chapter 17 (The Night Journey), Verse 27.

[2] World Health Organisation, 'How air pollution is destroying our health' available at https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health> on 30 May 2023.

[3] 'Residents resort to wild fruits, leaves as drought bites in West Pokot.' Daily Nation, Tuesday, 12 April 2022 available at https://nation.africa/kenya/counties/west-pokot/residents-resort-to-wild-fruits-leaves-as-drought-bites-in-west-pokot-3779782.> on 30 May 2023.

[4] CL Crouch, 'Genesis 1:26-7 A statement of humanity's divine parentage' 61(1) Journal of Theological studies (2010) 9.

[5] Labeeb Bsoul, Amani Omer, Lejla Kucukalic, Ricardo H Archbold, 'Islam's perspective on environmental sustainability: A conceptual analysis' Social Sciences (2022) 2.

[6] United Nations Environment Programme, 'Religions and environmental protection' https://www.unep.org/about-un-environment-programme/faith-earth-initiative/religions-and-environmental-protection, on 30 May 2023.

[7] 'Islam is green! Save the Earth,' Mufti Menk, 19 October 2020, 3:08 to 3:12, https://youtu.be/fRmrPTi4xOw, viewed on 31 May 2023.

[8] Holy Bible, 1 Peter, Chapter 4, verse 10, including other verses.

[9] Lynne R Baker, Adebowale A Tanimola, Oluseun S Olubode, 'Complexities of local cultural protection in conservation: The case of an endangered African primate and forest grooves protected by social taboos', Cambridge University Press (2017) 1.

[10] Devinne Melecki, 'Faith in the environment: The religious fight to save planet earth', Smithsonian folk-life lifestyle, uploaded on Sep 16, 2022 <https://festival.si.edu/blog/faith-environment/> on 31 May 2023.

[11] Melecki, 'Faith in the environment: The religious fight to save planet earth'.

[12] Gregory E Hitzhusen, 'Religion and environmental education: Building on common ground' Canadian Journal of environmental education (2006) 13.

[13] Hitzhusen, 'Religion and environmental education: Building on common ground', 13.

[14] Hitzhusen, 'Religion and environmental education: Building on common ground', 13.

[15] Willy Mutunga, 'In search and defence of radical legal education: A personal footnote' Kabarak University Press, Occasional Paper Series 1(1) (2022) 12. Professor Justice Mutunga internalises this form of teaching, which involves bringing in researchers from many subjects to class, as he reflects on his educational experience at the University of Dar es Salaam. It is from this mode that I got my inspiration.

[16] Hitzhusen, 'Religion and environmental education: Building on common ground', 13.

[17] Hitzhusen, 'Religion and Environmental Education: Building on common ground', 13.

[18] Hitzhusen, 'Religion and Environmental Education: Building on common ground', 13.

[19] Caroline Kibii, 'The role of students in faith based environment', KABU Press Faith and Environment blog, 16 March 2023 < https://kabarak.ac.ke/feb/the-role-of-students-in-faith-based-environmental-action> on 30 May 2023.

[20] John Osogo Ambani, 'Money has killed our universities', The Star, 24 October 2020 < https://www.the-star.co.ke/siasa/2020-10-24-money-has-killed-our-universities/> on 6 June 2023. 

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