The IFN Annual Guide is an opportunity to step back and write from a broader perspective. In this time of a global pandemic and disruption, we need to take note of the many positive ways we can see the world going forward.
I submit that our future will be brighter. Further, I submit that much of the divisiveness we see in the world can be overcome. Please allow me to explain my optimism despite these troubled times.
The explanation starts with a word used more outside the world of Islam than inside it: sustainability. A popular topic in the western world, much is written about it. Young people in western countries consider it a high priority.
While the term is used a lot, it is rarely defined. My desk dictionary uses ‘enduring over time’. We want humanity to endure so we want a world that is sustainable. Frequently, people perceive sustainability as related primarily to environmental issues. We need to keep the air, water and land clean, while addressing the challenge created by the detrimental impact of man-made greenhouse gases collecting in and polluting our atmosphere.
As I have written in my monthly columns, I propose a more inclusive definition. Our lives should be sustainable. The actions we take should make sustainability easier and, where possible, address or prevent unsustainable activities. This holistic approach can be uncomfortable to some people in the western world. All too often, the pieces of our modern world become compartmentalized. For example, I feel ‘green’ because I bought a Tesla that has an electric engine instead of a car with a gas engine, yet I am not good at minimizing the waste created in my home. The totality of our actions becomes the basis for our individual impact on sustainability.
Most of you are Muslims. In some ways, this concept of the totality of one’s actions probably is more comfortable for you. Stewardship of Allah’s gifts to the world is core to Islam. Each of us is responsible for that stewardship. In addition, all of us are stewards of our bodies and our lives. We should do that which is good.
Sustainability should be extended to financial decisions and transactions as well. Financial transactions are about more than investing. In the US, we talk about ‘Share, Save and Spend’. In other words, we make financial decisions about helping people (sharing), saving for the future and spending now for ourselves and our family’s wellbeing. One should be sustainable across all decisions: Zakat, Islamic finance and everyday spending.
I see people around the world increasingly having this broader view of sustainability. It is a source of optimism for me. We are taking action to have a more sustainable and better world.
One of the many wonderful experiences available to me is the opportunity to talk to religious people of many faiths. This perspective helps me understand that we have more in common and less that is different. The concept of protecting the world that God created for all of us is common to major western religions. The concept of being a good person and taking care of oneself is also shared.
Yes, each religion has specific practices. Yes, religions have specific customs. Those sources of uniqueness make the world interesting. We need to respect the uniqueness of each. At the same time, we must not lose sight of that which binds us together as humanity: humanity itself.
A decade ago, I knew little about Islam. A lot has changed for me. Today, I have Muslim friends around the world. They are dear to me. My friends have taught me so much. The pandemic prevents traveling to see them. Fortunately, technology allows us to stay in touch and talk in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.
I encourage everyone to look beyond these troubled times. The future can, and should be, bright. Each of us should be sustainable in all that we do. At the same time, we should find ways to connect with people, especially those with different experiences, faiths and cultures. There is so much we share. Along the way, we make great friends and learn about the incredible diversity on this planet.