Odeh Al-Jayoussi, the current vice president of Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society, has certainly had an interesting career. As well as working for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, he’s spent time at the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and been a consultant for the United Nations, the EU and the World Bank.
All of these positions as well as his personal experiences have clearly informed his book Islam and Sustainable Development: New Worldviews which explores “a new paradigm of sustainability that is informed by Islamic worldviews and Islamic ecological ethics”. Indeed, the book includes lots of topics and stretches itself a little too broadly with chapters exploring Islamic banking systems, the role of the Muslim artist and the Islamic perspective on evolution. Still, a highly recommended read for those interested in sustainability and particularly those new to Islam’s contribution to the debate so far.
Al-Jayoussi starts by pointing out something that most of us will probably agree with. The current development model isn’t working – more money seems to be spent on aid every year and yet poverty keep rising. With this in mind, he states there is a need for a new model that promotes prosperity without overconsumption and pollution. Again, I would say most of us agree. The model that Al-Jayoussi presents is based on four Islamic principles which are then explored across four chapters.
These principles are:
1) Adl or good governance
2) Ihsan or excellence
3) Arham or social capital and
4) Integrity without corruption or Fasd
Bringing these four principles together is quite new and interesting and whilst he sets out the Islamic backing and advantages of following these principles, I think there are lots of questions left unanswered.
Is this model meant to be universal or specifically tailored to the region? If the latter than great but I got a sense it was meant to be universal which I find problematic for a couple of reasons. What about those religious communities or atheists in the MENA region/globally who want to move away from faith-based models? Where do they fit in? Shouldn’t more localised solutions to tackle the problem of climate change be considered? After all, it was the dominance of the Western development model which seems to have cause widespread problems. Isn’t it time we recognized the value of diversity?
A video featuring Odeh Al-Jayoussi
Another issue which kept nagging me whilst reading this book is that the huge contrast between the Islamic principles and the way that Islamic countries actually operate.
Yes, colonialism has a lot to answer for and the author is honest that the framing of these Islamic principles around sustainable development is new but there were a couple of case studies which highlighted the consistent gap. For example, Al-Jayoussi points out the real compatibility between Islam and fairtrade principles. Yet a fairtrade movement emerged without Islamic principles and Islamic economies have played a limited role in the growth of the movement.
I was also worried that ‘a good idea’ wasn’t enough to make it reality. Although the author highlights the model as an Islamic worldview rather than faith-view, he didn’t fully explore its weaknesses or real life applicability. However, there’s a lot for also a lot of interesting bits of history and insights which I think will be referring back to regularly and would be of great interest to new readers exploring the Islam and sustainability nexus.
In terms of the unanswered questions, I got in touch with Al Jayoussi and spoke to him over the phone about these issues. The full interview and his insightful answers will be published shortly so keep an eye out for part two of this debate!
For more book reviews and green faith news see:
Sharing Eden – Green Teachings from Jews, Christians and Muslims
London Mosques Start Beekeeping Trend – Interview
The Eco-Mosque Checklist – 7 Steps to a Greener Mosque
Consumerism, Ecology and the Sabbath