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Bateel Skycraper


Ramadan in the  Age of Convenience

Ramadan in the Age of Convenience

Issue 59 August 2009

I went to the 33rd Dimbleby Lecture at St. James’ Palace to listen to HRH The Prince of Wales. The lecture, entitled Facing the Future, was a truly inspirational speech which laid out a philosophical vision for a sustainable future, and I recommend that you watch it online or at the very least read the transcript. The speech called for us to “look deeply into ourselves and at the way we perceive the world and our relationship with it.” As we begin Ramadan, a month of self-discipline, it seems an opportune time to make such a personal reflective journey on how we use the planet which sustains us all.

The Prince was forthright in his speech. “We are standing at a moment of substantial transition where we face the dual challenges of a world view and an economic system that seem to have enormous shortcomings.” He spoke passionately of unity and of community; and he detailed the potential fracture that is draining the Earth of its resources in order for us to live our “Age of Convenience.” With a bold incisiveness he warned that, “for all its achievements, our consumerist society comes at an enormous cost to the Earth and we must face up to the fact that the Earth cannot afford to support it.”

The speech was not an assault on progress, contrary to what some commentators have said; it was not asking us to go back to riding a horse and cart and lighting our homes with candles. Rather, the speech was reminding us that there have to be limits to our unbridled consumerism; that we cannot simply use the Earth’s finite resources at will, with no regard to the future. The Prince recognised however that “our culture has developed a resistance to that word ‘limit’.”
Religion commands limits. Those limits are reviled by many. Our desire for unrestrained freedom has become so extreme that any attempt to instil boundaries is too often ridiculed and resisted. But boundaries are necessary, whether personal, social or environmental. When our resources are limited, then limits must be imposed.
We enjoy the ease of living in a post-industrial society, with running water, electricity, air conditioning and all the other things we take for granted; in so doing we have to recognise that we need to moderate our lives. We need to buy food in season and from sustainable sources; we need to reduce our energy-consumption; we need to buy clothes that will last years, not become landfill within one fashion season. Fundamentally, we have to recognise that the Earth has to be kept in a state of intricate balance, and we have to live in harmony with the Earth if it is to sustain us and our future generations.
Some people have been upset by the Prince’s speech. They think that during the current economic climate we need to encourage people to spend in order to oil the economic machine which has, in some sectors, almost ground to a halt. You cannot spend your way out of debt. To do so is like using petrol to put out a fire. We have moved away from Capitalism to Debtism which cannot sustain growth. Rather, the use of debt to fund our day to day purchases can only lead to further disaster that neither the economic system nor our planet can tolerate.
The time is ripe for a new set of values and I believe passionately that Islam has something to offer. The concept of unity (tawhid) as a prerequisite for harmony is central to the Islamic discourse, as is the concept of balance (mizan). Stewardship (khilafa) is the primary role of humanity on Earth. From Islamic economics to Islamic environmentalism, there is the potential to find a much needed new way to look at the world.
Those that believe in Islam must be prepared to live this world view and be the beacons for it. Ramadan, with its ultimate objective to engender God-consciousness, makes us aware of the need for limits. In this month of self-restraint and self-discipline; this month of giving and forgiving; of renewal and regeneration, we must use the time to reflect on what we can do personally to rebalance the world.

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