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Dr Husna Ahmad: “We’ve fallen out of awe with nature”Dr. Ahmad, CEO of Muslim women-led international development charity, Global One discusses the role of women, faith and grassroots organizations with UN High Level Champion for Climate Action, Nigel Topping.
This is a short extract from a converstion that took place on May 6. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nigel Topping: Can you tell us a bit about your story and how you ended up running this wonderful organization, Global One?
Dr Husna Ahmad: I think I’m just one of those crazy people like you, Nigel, who just is passionate about things and believes you have to be an involved global citizen. It’s not that I have any particular expertise, I’m not a religious scholar or anything, but I just really feel that it’s important, as a mother, as a grandmother, to connect the dots and find ways to get communities activated and engaged. COP26, for instance, is very much associated with the realms of science and politicians. But for the layperson, it just goes above your head. Although I’m a lawyer by background with a phD, to me it’s still gobbledygook. So, you can imagine what it’s like for other people. We need to know how we translate that.
Why are you interested in connecting the faiths with climate change?
My grandfather was a Quaker. I wouldn’t call myself a Quaker, but I’ve been very influenced by many of the values of Quakers in terms of acknowledging that of God in everyone; there’s a fragment of the Divine in every human. Quakers are very non hierarchical, they call themselves the Society of Friends; they sit in a square and pray together. But there’s also a very strong sense of, if you are privileged enough to have a great education and a great upbringing, then you have an obligation to be in service to the community. So, although I went into manufacturing, I always had a very strong idea that something was wrong in terms of our relationship with the natural world. And by a series of lucky accidents, I was led to this wonderful role I have now.
I’m really intrigued by how you go about bringing the complexity of climate change and COP26 down to earth. How do you ensure that it’s something that everyday people can relate to, in particular people of faith?
The beauty is that all the faith traditions, whether it’s Islam, Christianity or Hinduism, have that connection to the planet, to creation. But I think what’s been happening is, through the Industrial Revolution and other things, we’ve lost that balance.
As Muslims, for instance, we understand that we’re stewards, we’re custodians of the planet, that it’s not our planet to own; we’ve been entrusted to take care of it but it’s something that’s not been happening.
Yes, we’ve turned from stewards to extractors. We’ve stopped feeling in awe of it and started feeling like we have a right to extract.
What advice would you have for me, and [Gonzalo Muñoz, Chile’s High-Level Climate Action Champion], given the role we’ve got in the run up to COP, based on lessons that you’ve learned from your work and mobilizing women leadership and faith stewards from all over the world?
What I would like to see is you guys bringing us more into the centre so that we’re part of the dialogue rather than just an afterthought or add on. Put us actually at the heart of the dialogue and integrate us into the discussion.
The intersectionality between ethnicity, faith and gender is something that really needs to be brought front and centre into these conversations, especially after last year’s events and the Black Lives Matter movement. If we can have that at COP26, a coming together, then that would be great. And I love the idea of storytelling here too because the more people can make something personal to themselves, the more passionate they are and therefore more able to activate and mobilize communities.
It was a delight to talk to you. Thanks for reminding us that we need to fall back in awe with nature and take our role as stewards, which all the faiths call upon us to take, seriously.
It’s been such a pleasure and so easy to be able to talk to you. And it’s been a real honour to have this conversation with you and learn a bit more about yourself as well.
Thank you so much.
Dr. Ahmad is the CEO of Global One. She has a PhD in Environmental Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. In 2011, Dr Husna co-authored The Green Guide For Hajj, with EcoMuslim consultant Omar Faruk, the book encourages ecologically sustainable practices among Hajj pilgrims and promotes the role Muslims can play in protecting nature. An updated version of the book is due to be released in July 2021.
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