How about a Green Caliphate? Global Islamic Environmental Governance for Devout Muslim Communities

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Wardah Alkatiri


Unitive (Tawhidi) methodology, Decolonizing research method, Schumacher, Fourth World, Energy Transition, Development ideology, Climate Apartheid, Climate Refugee, Hunger, Postcolonial Theory, Global Justice, Caliphate


Over fifty years into global environmental negotiations since the first UN Conference in 1972 on the Human Environment in Stockholm, to the Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh in 2022, the major environmental concerns of our time are no closer to being resolved. Negotiations continued to fall by the wayside. Given the commitment to economic development and sovereignty of the nation states, the deadlocks are understandable. Against this background, this article proposes a “Green Caliphate” as a faith-motivated global environmental governance for a network of Sharia-based countries and devout local Muslim communities around the world. The article offers a set of rationales for considering the Green Caliphate in the light of climate emergency from multiple perspectives: social justice, knowledge sharing, and cultural transformation. Drawing on Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and Ovamir Anjum’s “Who Wants the Caliphate”, this article broaches the concept of a socially and environmentally-responsible caliphate governance which might be in congruent with the Schumacherian pursuit of the “Fourth World” where government and economics are under genuine human control because the size of such units are small, sensible, and human scale, and where the pace of development is in accordance with the religious cosmology of their members to adapt. The Green Caliphate is envisioned on a decolonial horizon of pluriversality towards a multipolar world order.

                    In the cycle of nature there is no such things as victory or defeat; there is only movement.

                    Within that cycle there are neither winners nor losers, there are only stages that must be gone through. Both will pass. One will succeed the other, and the cycle will continue until we liberate ourselves from the flesh and find the Divine Energy.

                                                                                                                                                                  —Paulo Coelho, “Manuscript Found in Accra”

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1 “What is crucial in statist religion, as I foresee, is the elevation of the collective and
communal destiny of man to the forefront of public consciousness, and the absolute
subordination of private interests to public requirements” (Heilbroner 1977: 95).
2 “Better that we should choose Brave New World and try to make it as benign as
possible than to continue along the path of non-politics; for this would surely earn
us – quite justly – the enmity of posterity” (Ophuls 1977: 171).
3 Since environmental issues entered the international agenda in the early 1970s,
global environmental politics and policies have been developing rapidly (Najam et
al 2006, Conca 2015). Global Environmental Governance (GEG) is defined broadly
as the sum of organizations, policy instruments, financing mechanisms, rules, procedures,
and norms that regulate the processes of global environmental protection.
Climate change, and increasingly ocean pollution as well, are at the center of the
global framework on environmental governance.
4 There are three scenarios that have been considered to predict imminent socio-ecological
events on scientific grounds: Adaptation, Evolution and Collapse. Although
we cannot predict the future, science informs us that the future can be predicted by
the laws of nature, the restrictions of the planet, the constraints of ecological systems,
the availability of resources, and the peculiarities of human individuals and human
societies. Adaptation scenarios take for granted that technological innovation will
solve everything. Evolution and Collapse scenarios require a radical change of attitude.
Evolution insists that society will manage to preserve its coherence, although in a more
localized form, and consume less energy and natural resources. Collapse scenarios are
based on predictions of the impact of climate change, where the energy crisis will result
in fracturing and disintegrating, whether at once or gradually, society as we know it.
5 The following are examples of initiatives being taken in the green community movement
(Jackson and Svensson 2002, Hopkins 2008, Norberg-Hodge 2019):
• Local finance, with community banks, credit unions, local investing, local
currencies and timebanks, cooperatives.
• Local business, which includes local business alliances, ‘Buy local’ campaigns,
local business loyalty card networks.
• Community energy, where people come together to tackle diverse aspects of
low-carbon energy transition. Community energy production is either funded
and owned by local communities, or the investment comes from people outside
the local communities.
• Community food and farming, with community supported agriculture (CSA)
programs in which consumers link up directly with nearby farmers and receive
a portion of the harvest throughout the year, farmer’s market, permaculture,
and farmland trusts. CSA has helped small-scale diversified farms to thrive in
growing numbers, and farmland trusts protect arable land from development.
• Community media, which includes community radio stations, independent TV
channels and community-owned broadband.
• Alternative schooling
• Traditional and complementary medicine, focusing on prevention with herbal
remedies, homeopathy, bodywork, relaxation techniques, and more, while
continuing to draw on the emergency and life-saving care that allopathic medicine
• Community building strategies
• Various resistance and renewal movements.
6 Drawing substantially on Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s works and a unique research
method, my use of the term ‘Tawhidi worldview’ seeks to contribute to the literature
on Islamic philosophy and mysticism. The idea of a unitive (Tawhidi) worldview
has been deliberated by many scholars, including Ismail Al-Faruqi (1982), Osman
Bakar (2010) and Masidul Alam Choudury (2019).
7 ‘Endogenous’ refers to causes, goals, ideas, and motivations originating from within,
rather than from without (Haverkort and Rist, 2007: 7).
8 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (Berger and Luckmann, 1991[1966]), in their
sociology of knowledge and of religions, take the view that society is not a system
or a mechanism, but rather, a symbolic construction composed of (1) ideas, (2) meaning,
and (3) language. Along that line, they argued that Religion and Nationalism
are each ‘symbolic universes’ under which realities are socially constructed. Such
a concept of society, in my view, is more readily applicable to the study of Muslims
in the context of a global world rather than the national Muslim societies mapped
onto the bounded region of the nation state. A ‘symbolic universe’ can be imagined
as a ‘pair of glasses’ that the person uses to make sense of social realities. It
has the capacity to confer identity, to provide meaning, to legitimate and identify
allegiances, and to do so with both cognitive and affective components. The ‘symbolic
universe’ is comparable to what anthropologists call ‘cosmologies’, namely
descriptive models of the world and normative models for action, which contain our
most fundamental and important assumptions about the world, our place as human
beings within it, and what constitutes a good and worthwhile life. Cosmologies also
have a paradigmatic or epistemic character, and hence are socially sanctioned and
rarely challenged. The difference is that a ‘symbolic universe’ is developed through
the history of a particular human collective’s interactions with others, and therefore
it also has a capacity to confer identity as a ‘cosmology’ may not. The origin
of the ‘symbolic universe’, according to Berger & Luckmann, is in the constitution
of humans as world-constructors, fearing chaos, needing security and belonging
and an explanation of death. Accordingly, for Berger and Luckmann, religion is
a social construction, and hence, a human product. From my practicing Muslim
background, I introduce the dimension of spiritual or mystical experience and
meaning into the conceptual premises of a ‘symbolic universe’. This modification
to Berger and Luckmann’s model of sociology of knowledge and of religion sets a
religious ‘symbolic universe’ apart, while better explaining Muslims’ decisions to
act voluntarily. The omission of the mystical dimension and its significance has, I
argue, impeded the development of a sociology of religion which rings true from
the interior perspectives of those who practice a religion – something that I contend
is indispensable if religiosity in modern times is to be better understood.
9 For various references: Indonesia’s Finance Minister (Bhwana 2021), India and China
over coal (Cursino & Faulkner 2021), African group requests for $1.3 trillion a year
(Ainger 2021).
10 For decolonizing the climate movement, see Prashard 2021.
11 The conversations within “Muhammad’s nation” were extracted from my ethnographic
accounts. The Environmentalist position (B) represents myself and my
works (Alkatiri 2015, 2017, 2021a, 2021b).
12 Heidegger distinguished between ‘calculative thinking’ (goal-driven thinking)
and ‘meditative thinking’ (deeply contemplative of “the meaning which reigns in
everything that is”) (1995/2003: 89). A product-oriented calculative thinking is the
defining feature of modern rationality.
13 The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres admitted: “The collective political will
was not sufficient to overcome some deep contradictions” (UN 2021: line 8).
14 On plastic waste and marine pollution in Indonesia, an archipelagic country and
the world’s second largest fish producer after China, see my work, “The Dilemma
of Anti-Fish Campaign” (Alkatiri 2022).
15 In today’s world, kindness is no longer enough. These authors enumerated a number
of Indonesian Muslim figures regarded as ‘liberal’. Among them is former President
Abdurrahman Wahid. During his presidency, in an interview with Hutanuwatr and
Manivannan (2004: 226-246), when they were discussing an Asian alternative to
the Western model of development, Wahid said that he believes Islam is a way of
life but did not see a clear concept of state in Islam (237). Wahid adopted a modern
nation-state concept for Indonesia, instead, and infused it with the principles that
characterized his pursuit of civil society ideals. Advocating libertarian maxims,
Wahid wanted to reduce the role of the government. He declared in the cabinet that
ministers should not try to curtail or challenge people’s creativity. The government
should only make plans and then coordinate with NGOs in organizing activities
(229). On the other hand, while aiming at ‘food sovereignty’, he wanted to save the
agriculture sector from foreign investment and multinational corporations and keep
it, instead, for local communities and peoples (229). Wahid displayed an unfailing
good presupposition of others that demonstrates the Indonesian pesantren’s characteristic
of husnu dzon (husn al-zann in Arabic, thinking of others and their actions
in positive light). Sadly, this virtuous practice is inappropriate to the exploitative
world order under the Global North’s ‘empire’ and the uneven distribution of power
inherent in contemporary geopolitics. While Wahid wanted to change the strategy
towards economic growth, by not depending on foreign investment, export, and
industrialization, and instead building a people’s economy and catering for the
domestic market (237), he continued to resist the interviewers’ negative view of
capitalism (230-232). He put forward his confidence in human agency and inherent
good nature. Evoking a Sufi doctrine of esoteric possibility, he suggested that even
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can always be changed toward serving the
people (233). Notably, the Rupiah went down steadily throughout his period in
office. The interviewer provoked the discussion by suggesting that the international
agency in control of the Indonesia’s money wanted him to fail (233). Still, Wahid
resisted this argument. From my “Green Caliphate” perspective, Wahid provides a
full-circle experimentation of a civil society activist trying to apply the small-scale,
largely homogenous community’s contexts of Indonesia’s Islamic pesantren to the
vast, complex, and heterogeneous nation-state system – in this case, demonstrating
the limits of the Rawlsian paradigm of distributive justice.
16 Ijtihad is the intellectual effort of trained Islamic scholars to arrive at legal rulings
not covered in the schools of law, by reinterpreting the Quran and Sunna while
taking into consideration the variables imposed by the fluctuating circumstances
of Muslim society.
17 Hallaq (2012) contends, as my article (Alkatiri 2018a) also supports, that the modern
nation state is far from compatible with Islam. The caliphate’s Islamic governance
is dissimilar to the modern ‘state’ in many ways, including the latter’s demands of
territorial sovereignty.
18 To be clear, these are the ‘visionary hippies’ explained by Robert (1969), not the
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