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Climate change: this time it

Updated Monday, 7th December 2009

Children are the future so we have a responsibility to make it a better place, Shareen Iqbal puts forward her case from the Faith and Climate Change Conference.

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Copyright The Open University


Interviewer: Could you say a little bit first of all about your personal history and where you have come from and how you’ve ended up in the position you’re in now?

Shareen Iqbal: Okay. Why I’m here, I’ve ended up in this position, if it was just me, I don’t think I’ll think too much about the future because I’ll be gone so, yeah. But I have a son, who will be nine years old next week, and since he was about three he’s been very much into environment and into animals. And around five he really got more interested in the environment, saving nature, and when he was about six he found out about a save a hill that was going to cut down for development. He said, “Mum, we have to go and attend the protest”. Something I would have never done, but he wanted so I took him. And we went for the protest, and I stood there observing the whole thing, and when they were chanting he was like, you know, “Save the forest”, you know, all these things, I’m like okay, then he looks around at me and he goes, “Mum, you’re not shouting!”

So I got involved because of my son. And then he started school about three years ago, at seven years old he started school, and then he heard about Earth Day. I mean I give him, I subscribe to National Geographic, and he watches Animal Planet, National Geographic, so he’s quite aware of all these issues. So he said okay, he went to school, the first year of school, and he said, “Mum, they did nothing for Earth Day”. So I said, “Okay let me check with the school”. They said no, they’re not aware, they don’t do anything. So he said, “Okay next year you’ve got to do Earth Day for school”. So I asked the school, “Are you doing this?” They said, “No, would you be interested? We’ll support you”.

So I’m not an expert, I’m not an environmentalist but because of my son, the following year, the second year in school, I did Earth Day for the school, got in touch with two teachers, the Principal supported it. So all of primary and secondary attended, we went to the big hall, and I got, I wanted something for them to remember so we bought rocks, and then they painted like love, peace or love earth, or they painted ladybugs and flowers. So we had like hundreds of pieces of rocks painted with messages. And then this year I wasn’t feeling too well and my son asked, “Earth Day is coming up?” I said, “No, I’m really busy”. And then the school called three days before, “You are coming for Earth Day. You do have a project?” I’m like, "Yes, I do”. So I called the teachers who I know are involved in the science and I said, “Can you guys help me out?”

So they got the video clips, they got the music, and we bought plants, so we started a nursery this year for Earth Day in school. And I was really sick the morning before, but I knew my son was waiting and the school was waiting. I went and the kids were so hyped up, and they were so excited and the whole school just came for two hours of celebration. And of course in between my son would come and say hello just to show off, you know, hey that’s my mum, and then he went off.

So I’m here because of my son, because I love him, and I’ve had a wonderful world to grow up. Of course it’s not a very pretty picture at the moment. But right now this place is beautiful. And because of him I have to ensure that I do my part, that we leave a better world for him. It should not be worse. So it should be better because of us. So I would say my son is the biggest motivator to ensure that we have a beautiful and magnificent planet for him and for future generations.

Interviewer: Brilliant, thank you. Can you say something then professionally about what you do and how that involves you in the environmental issue?

Shareen: That would be faith, this initiative here that we have in London for this conference that I came for. I never really thought about, I was quite aware of all the information out there, like I said I do Earth Day and I do a few other activities. But obviously it still wasn’t working because we still have a lot of apathy going on and I’m frustrated with the situations around the world, why is there so much apathy when it’s obvious. When things are going up people say oh yeah it’s climate change. But the moment the weather changes so things gets better, oh no that was just a one-time situation.

And then when this conference came up then I had to think does faith play a role? And I thought about it and I said yes it does. And then even for myself I went back to the Koran, I’m a Muslim, and I found so much of information that talks about our responsibility, that we are custodians of earth, that the earth is mentioned 461 times in the Koran, but why isn’t anyone talking about it? Why isn’t that? Why has that never been a focus? And I think all of us need to wake up to this. I’m waking up to this, and I said I’m sure everyone knows, and I’m finding out here, no, not everyone knows or they never really thought about it. And also I believe faith has a lot of hope in it, there is a lot of beauty in it, and I would like to present a loving perspective using faith. Because we’ve been using fear tactics to activate people into action but that creates more fear, more negative outcomes or complete apathy because I can’t do anything or fatalism; this is out of my hands, I can’t do anything.

So I took the perspective of the loving response, the loving perspective. You know, God created earth and all of creation, it’s perfect. If you look in each and every tree, butterfly or leaf it’s amazing. And how all of this synchronises, it’s perfection. You cannot replicate that. So how do we honour this, how do we do something about this, and I said that is all within us, and it is love because if you say I love earth, I love you, I love the tree, then immediately you have good feelings. And you need a picture or a goal to focus on that inspires you and motivates you. If it’s fear, it’s not going to motivate you. But if it’s love you see something beautiful out there, then you want to hang on to it, you want to love, you want it to grow.

So that’s why I think a loving perspective is very important, and we change from fear-based tactics to love-based tactics because love is very powerful and I think, I’m hoping that faith will shift and I’ve always had this vision of all different faiths coming together for a purpose, and I didn’t know what would bring them together. So today, now, being here I realise that okay for the first time I was blown away, and it was very touching to see leaders of all different faiths sitting down together saying we’re all in this together. So it’s amazing, we still have a lot of work ahead of us but at least that image, that idea has come to reality, you see the beginning now. And with this kind of faith and God behind us I don’t see how we can fail so. And when you’ve got love in it expect miracles and shifts to take place.

Interviewer: How do you see bringing faith and the environmental issues together, how practically do you think that can be achieved, over the next one year, say, five years or even ten years’ time?

Shareen: It would start first of all with education, awareness. For example, all the different faiths would have to collect any information that deals with earth, the preservation, that we are the stewards, we are the custodians. The Christian faith says stewardship. The Muslim faith, it says we are custodians, that we are khalifas, we are leaders. Each one of us, it’s not men or women, every single one of us is a leader. So first of all to bring that knowledge to the forefront, and then, for a shift to take place, I think for the first stage just gathering information and talking about it and just compiling. And then we would need a strategy I would say for me personally looking at it now for the next five years is hitting the leaders, one is leadership training, and second thing hitting change agents in communities, in organisations, in governments.

Because people of faith are, you’ve got head of governments who are faith believers and, you know, the guy walking on the street is a faith believer, so if we can use faith to affect each one of us individually, until it gets personal people are not going to bother. But faith is a personal issue; it’s your personal relationship with God. If you deal with material issues it’s temporary. But you have an eternal relationship with God, and you’re going to have to answer for your actions, what were your responsibilities and how you’re accountable for it. So if you have to have that relationship with God every day I see a really great future and potential because that is forever. It’s not government, it’s not the school, it’s nothing temporary.

So five years’ plan and then ten years’ time everyone saying I love earth and everybody’s doing their part. I don’t know what will happen but at least that initial thought, that feeling is built-in through faith. And if everyone is feeling good, feeling happy, so even if people of faith or non-faith join in, it’s okay, as long as everybody is in love with earth and humanity, my job is done.

Interviewer: I think I’m getting a sense of how the answer to my final question is going to pan out, but can you give an idea of where you lie on the whole spectrum of optimism at one end and pessimism at the other?

Shareen: Full maximum optimism.

Interviewer: I thought as much.

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