With the annual UN Climate Change Conference coming to Doha this year, Qatar’s religious communities are taking advantage of the opportunity to build awareness of the importance of climate issues through faith. With community outreach ranging from sermons to theological essays examining the relation between religion and the environment, Qatari religious leaders plan to highlight the moral obligation people have to the planet.
In the weeks leading up to the conference, the imams of Qatar’s mosques will be delivering khutbahs, or sermons, on the importance of the environment. According to Abdullah Al-Mulla, the director of Fanar, which is the Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, talking about these issues through religion can make more of an impact because it strikes at inner beliefs.
“Religion is a great tool for awareness. These ideas must be fed from inside,” Mr Al-Mulla said. “Muslims will answer to this call. If you come from religion, more people will respond.”
Through Fanar’s efforts, imams will be encouraged to speak to fellow Muslims about the importance of taking care of the environment and how Islam encourages such responsibility. Each imam will prepare sermons to communicate these messages to their specific communities.
Dr. Saif Ali Al-Hajari, the Chairman of the Friends of the Environment Centre, believes that religion is a good way to get the message across about the importance of the environment. “There are more than 1,500 verses in the Quran that talk about the environment… and it was written at a time when there was no threat to our environment,” Dr. Al-Hajari said.
The link between faiths and the environment is also the theme of the next edition of the journal “Religions” or “Adyan”, as it is called in Arabic. The journal, which is published by the Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID), has focused in previous issues on themes such as justice and on common grounds between religions.
“The roots of nature are to be found in God: the beauty and majesty of virgin nature reflects the Divine Qualities, and may therefore be approached as sacred. The second lies in the responsibility with which mankind is entrusted by its Creator to care over nature,” Patrick Laude, the Editor-in-Chief of Religions, writes in his editorial for the new issue.
The opening statement for the issue is written by Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the incoming president of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2012 – COP18/CMP8 Doha. “Our hope is that our religious traditions can remind us to look beyond selfishness, greed and apathy in making economic decisions informed by ethical principles,” Mr Al-Attiyah writes.
DICID, a Qatari cultural institution operating under a government that encourages interfaith dialogue, is not only engaging the issue of the environment as a Muslim institution. Its journal brings opinions from members of other faiths, from Judaism to Jainism, from Indigenous African to Melanesian beliefs.
“Our job is to reach out to mankind, tell them we are an Arab, Islamic country that cares about other religions”, Professor Ibrahim Saleh Al-Naimi, the chairman of the Board of Directors of DICID, said. “We work to bring people to sit together and discuss the issues related to our daily lives, to discuss what unites us.”
As part of DICID’s mission to bring people of different faiths to the same table, Professor Al-Naimi and his team have built partnerships around the world and organised conferences to try to bridge the gaps. These have included supporting the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia where, in May 2012, DICID brought people from diverse religious backgrounds together to discuss how to integrate higher education across communities in the Balkans. The following month, DICID visited Stockholm to contribute to dialogue between cultures, particularly between Swedes and Muslim immigrants whose relations have, at times, suffered from mutual misunderstanding. “We try to build bridges between this part of the world and the rest of the world,” Professor Al-Naimi said.
In Qatar, DICID works with partners of other faiths to increase dialogue. They serve as the main interlocutor between the Qatari government and the ex-pat communities living in Doha who are members of other faiths. Part of that dialogue includes holding an annual conference, currently in its tenth year, which looks at the best practices in interfaith dialogue.
Although the main faith in Qatar is Islam and other faiths have only recently had a presence in the country, the Qatari government has taken steps to take care of the many Christians residing in the region. In 2004, the government leased land to the various Christian communities so that they could build a church complex. The church complex currently hosts more than ten different churches. On May 15, 2008, the Catholic Church of Our Lady of The Rosary, Doha, was consecrated.
At the time of the consecration, the Catholic Church released a public statement thanking the Qatari government for its assistance. It said: “The building of this church is a testament to the graciousness of the rulers of Qatar and to their openness to foreign ways of worshipping the One God, their foresight in providing for the non-native population, their magnanimity, kindness, generosity and dedication to making this land prosper.”
Father Peter Poyyathuruthy Matthew, the Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary, said that providing space for Christians in Qatar benefits society as a whole.
“We help people to keep up their faith. Church is the place we help people to be upright citizens,” he said. “The return will be to society.”
As for helping to raise awareness of the environment, Father Peter noted that the Catholic missions in the Gulf are all from the Franciscan Order, which takes its name from St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, known for his love of animals, is often represented in art with birds surrounding him, and he is the patron saint of animals and ecology. Pope John Paul II said that St. Francis's love and care for creation was a reminder "not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us."
The COP18/CMP8 Doha will provide the opportunity for faith communities in Qatar to work together to share this responsibility for the greater good of society.