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Prof. Hind Al-Abadleh: Reuniting faith and the environment

By Pauline Finch

The first time I saw Anglicans and Muslims interacting, even collaborating for one another’s mutual benefit, wasn’t in real life. No, you guessed it; I was watching “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” But amid the laughter and goofiness of it all, there were sparks of wisdom and a shared passion for life that have stayed with me ever since.

Perhaps it’s a great leap of logic and faith to move from a TV program to a large rambling red-brick church on a busy corner in downtown Kitchener, where St. John the Evangelist stands. Like so many 19th-century inner city churches, it’s much bigger than the active, yet numerically declining congregation it now holds. Like the struggling Anglicans of the fictitious small town of Mercy, however, St. John’s members are curious, proactive, open to change, and deeply aware of the increasingly diverse cultures of the neighbourhood in which they worship every Sunday.

In striking contrast to a past generation or two, as 21st-century Christians, they care more about exchanging real conversation and ideas — not just polite pleasantries — with people of other faiths. Many wish there were more opportunities to do so, not only around issues of religion, but around common causes that affect us all.

When I recently spotted a fascinating article by Wilfrid Laurier University professor, Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh (Scientist Views Climate Change through the Lens of Faith – CIC Friday Magazine, Jan. 8, 2010 – reprinted from www.IQRA.ca Dec. 9, 2009) one of those connecting “aha moments” happened.

As a member of St. John’s newly formed environmental group Green Passion, one of my tasks for 2010 was to find an Earth Sunday speaker (unfortunately, David Suzuki wasn’t available…) But as I read further into what Hind Al-Abadleh had to say about the God-given mandate of humanity to care for this planet as stewards, rather than selfishly consume it into oblivion, I realized that the perfect guest speaker was right on our doorstep, in Kitchener’s twin city of Waterloo.

When the other Green Passion members read the same article, we were unanimous. Our anticipation grew by leaps and bounds when she said yes! After some sorting back and forth with dates, May 9 – Mother’s Day — became the final choice. If we’d been asked to plan a worship event simultaneously encompassing motherhood, thanksgiving for Earth’s abundance, stewardship of our natural environment, and interfaith dialogue, the response might have been, “impossible … too much all at once!” But on May 9, the seemingly impossible happened with ease, right from the moment Dr. Al-Abadleh and her family (mom Leila, sister Iman, brother Mohamed) joined us for a 10 a.m. service called Matins.

Not only were we marking the international celebration of Mother’s Day; it was also the traditional Anglican observance of Rogation Sunday (when newly-planted crops are blessed and prayed for), our congregation’s chosen observance of Earth Day, and the first occasion in long memory when the sermon was presented by a member of our sister faith of Islam. Amazingly, Dr. Al-Abadleh covered these vast but related subject areas with wisdom, understanding, conviction and grace, illuminating her passion for environmental care with profound and inspiring verses from the Qur’an

As a professor of environmental chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University, she deals on a daily basis with the accumulated physical effects of human influence (both positive and negative) on our planet’s atmosphere, water systems and land-masses. Sadly, it’s the negative evidence that continually reminds us what a huge price we’ve paid for our material wealth and high-consumption lifestyles.

Even as she spoke that day, crude oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico from a sunken deep-sea drilling platform whose poorly regulated pollution “safeguards” had failed miserably. And we know that this won’t be the last such incident. As I write now, ten days later, oil continues to hemorrhage into the sea, ravaging this sensitive marine ecosystem for decades to come.

In the face of steadily worsening news about climate change, oil spills and shrinking natural resources, one can feel overwhelmed and powerless, but Dr. Al-Abadleh’s vision is about connecting faith and facts to make positive change, even if just one small step at a time – and you don’t have to be a professional scientist to do it.

Inspired by environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and numerous references to earth-stewardship found in the Qur’an, she has devoted much of her personal and professional life to showing how science and religion can work together at the grassroots level for the healing and preservation of Earth’s endangered environment.

The Qur’an, she noted, repeatedly points out that we are not masters of creation; we were not given a divine entitlement to subdue, exploit, or consume at will everything the earth provides. Rather, we humans are God’s stewards, collectively responsible for maintaining ecological balance in the created world.

In fact, everything around us is a sign of God’s ongoing creative presence, to which we should respond by giving thanks and consuming in moderation. But when we ignore that core principle by greedily seeking excess rather than sufficiency, creation is thrown out of balance, along with our relationship to God. Using different images and contexts, Judaism, Christianity and other world faiths also express the vital importance of good stewardship, but perhaps (in my comparative experience, at least) nowhere is it phrased more explicitly, poetically, or frequently than in the Qur’an.

Dr. Al-Abadleh pointed out that the Qur’an is especially forthright in teaching humans how to act upon their natural feelings of awe and wonder in the face of cosmic phenomena and the sheer beauty of our planet. But we must “see” these myriad signs of God’s presence with more than physical eyes; we must also follow through in acts of faith, with an attitude of respect and reverence for all living things and the seemingly inanimate materials that sustain life. And in this, as God told Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lies true righteousness for all “the children of Adam.”

It was a point well taken, judging by the rapt attention coming from pews of devout Anglicans in just one Kitchener church, who in microcosm reflected the genuine concern and commitment of our Christian denomination worldwide.

As we moved into an informal question-and-answer session over refreshments in the church hall, our guest speaker was surrounded by displays about recycling, alternate energy (even a working solar collector), green-roof architecture, climate change and –most importantly – people. Of the several dozen who stayed to learn more, a number were actually retired scientists and technicians, which made the dialogue with Dr. Al-Abadleh even more exciting. But the best question of all was, “when can you come back?”

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Pauline Finch is an occasional contributor to the Friday Magazine (Canadian Islamic Congress) and a member of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Kitchener, Ont. where she helped found the faith-based environmental working group, Green Passion. She graduated from Huron College, London Ont. in 2008 with a Master of Divinity degree and is interested in inter-faith dialogue and experiences. Source: www.CanadianIslamiccongress.com Friday Magazine

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