says that all the worlds major religions agree on the importance of conservation and describes how they are taking action to put their beliefs into practice
One day the Prophet Muhammad was travelling along a river when it became time for prayer. His followers rushed into the river to perform their ritual ablutions but the Prophet just filled a little bowl with water to wash. They asked him why, surrounded by a whole river, he used so little water. He answered that just because there was plenty it did not mean we had the right to waste it.
Buddhists in Japan tell a comparable story of how the Buddha once received a donation of 500 new robes for his followers. Immediately he started planning what to do with the old ones. They would be used for bed-sheets, he decided. The old sheets would become towels. And the old towels would be used as cleaning rags. Everything should be used and reused.
If there is one key area of agreement between all the worlds religions it is that it is important to look after the Earth. People brought up in Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Daoist, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Shinto, Sikh or Zoroastrian environments are all likely to have been taught, implicitly or explicitly, to look after the environment because at least some elements of it are sacred.
Religions between them own approximately 7 per cent of the Earths inhabitable surface, have influence over more than half of the worlds schools, and act as the main community and spiritual centres for more than 4 billion people. They are immensely powerful in most parts of the world, with followings and influence that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and environmentalist movements could not even dream of.
Not surprisingly therefore, the World Bank, parts of the United Nations, several governments, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other conservation groups all have begun to work with faith leaders on environmental projects.
Enkhbayer, the countrys Prime Minister and an active Buddhist, says: Which will be the more powerful argument? That you cant log this mountain because the Government tells you not to or because it is holy? In my experience there is no question.
WWF was one of the first environmental groups to work explicitly with religious leaders. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, then its International President who put forward the idea in 1986 says: It seemed pretty obvious. If your religion tells you (as it does in Christianity anyway) that the Creation of the world is an act of God, then it follows naturally that if you belong to the church of God then you ought to look after His Creation. I was not quite sure what the other religions believed about the creation of the world but I guessed that they had similar traditions.'
Statements of commitment
Since then, WWFs network for religions and ecology which later became the independent Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) charity has grown to include 11 major faiths. Each, for the first time, has issued statements about its commitment to ecology and Creation.
Anglican Churches have transformed annual harvest festivals into lessons about conservation; Sikh leaders decided that the 300-year cycle starting in 1999 would be the Cycle of Creation (the last one was the Cycle of the Sword). Muslim leaders in Tanzania persuaded fishermen not to use explosives because it is against the Qu.ran, succeeding where violent threats by police had failed. And Shinto groups in Japan are seeking to buy wood and paper from European churches which own large tracts of forests that they have only recently put under Forest Stewardship Council certified management.
And by the end of this year, in a move instigated by ARC, representatives from Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities are scheduled to set up an International Interfaith Investment group, in which they will collaborate in ethical investment decisions to make their billions of dollars of assets work to give maximum ethical clout as well as yield good profits
Victoria Finlay is media consultant for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and co-author of Faith in Conservation, just published by the World Bank.
PHOTOGRAPH: Urpradubporn Chanpen/UNEP/Topham
Common Declaration by Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Swami Vibudhesha Teertha (one of the 12 hereditary leaders of Vedic teachings in India)
Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk
Sheikh Mohammad Hossein Fadlallah, one of the worlds leading Shia references in the world, Beirut
Professor Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Vice President of the World Jewish Congress
Phra Ajahn Pongsak Techathammo, Abbot of Wat Palad, northern Thailand
Sheikh Ali Zein Eddine of Lebanon, President of Irfan, a Druze foundation for health and education
From the Midrash: the collection of Rabbinical commentaries on the Torah (first five books of the Bible) compiled in the first and second centuries)
The Rev Billy Graham
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