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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

 

As part of CIP’s commitment to global challenges, we sponsored two University of Cambridge students to attend a Youth Interfaith Summit on “Faith and climate for a sustainable future”. The event was organised by the Faith & Belief Forum together with the LSE Faith Centre.

Arbah Azhar, a first-year PhD student, reflects on the experience: 

‘It’s a blessing just to live!’

As I write on the train journey home, I reflect on my attendance at LSE’s Faith Centre’s collaborative Youth Interfaith Summit with The Faith and Belief Forum. Jam-packed and buzzing with introductions and discussions, the event starts with attendees huddled around the voices of selected faith leaders and academics. I gravitate towards the table on Punjabi farmers and their relations to the land. The researcher shares his findings through impactful quotes and moving stories of local farmers in Punjab navigating the ever-unpredictable climate crisis underscored by a near-forgotten colonial history. 

*CLANG*

hand-held cymbal, musical instrument

The sound of a cymbal held by an event organiser abruptly stops the talks and the announcements have officially begun. I make my way to the lecture hall and I am met with impressive introductions and reminders of the importance of interfaith collaboration in the fight for climate justice. Antarma, the guest performer, is invited on stage and fills the room with the sounds of drums and his guitar. The audience hums and chants along, echoing hopeful prayers to a universal higher power. 

“It’s a blessing just to live!”, sings Antarma. 

This verse ignites a deep sense of gratitude and I am called to engage with the summit with this mantra in mind. As a first-year PhD student in Theology, I am at an ever-unpredictable nascent research stage; it is easy to get lost in articles and forget one’s initial intentions for their study. I am looking to explore British Muslim Identity and Nature Connection, an often neglected perspective in eco-psychological study. With topics ranging from interfaith partnership in climate justice to de-colonial theories in ecology, this summit lends greatly to my field of study.

Audience members are then given the choice to attend one of four presentations and I make my way to the one titled ‘Legacies of Colonialism; Land and Faith’ led by Dr Saad Quasem. The river islands of Chilmari are discussed whereby the Muslim and Hindu char-dwellers of this region adapt to their unstable climate. The speaker unpacks the land’s colonial history, its contribution to increased flooding and the people’s present-day spiritual reverence towards their rivers.

I reflect on the importance of this unstable climate to the people’s community identity and connection to the land. The verse ‘It’s a blessing just to live!’ comes back to my mind. For those in the global south, climate change is not a future concern but a present-day reality that must be confronted. I ask the speaker about Western anxieties around climate change contrasting the Chilmari peoples’ adaptation to its floods and, surprisingly, he mentions the need for flooding as it encourages fishing and a livelihood in the area. For them, their interactions and connection to the water move alongside, not against, our ever-changing environment. 

As the event draws to a close, I find myself contemplating the profound insights shared throughout the day. The experiences of minoritised faith communities in non-Western contexts offer a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of colonialism on land, identity, and spirituality. Having discussed the aforementioned communities’ resilience in the face of environmental challenges, I am struck by the intrinsic connection they maintain with their ancestral lands and waters, rooted in a profound spiritual reverence.

This reflection inevitably leads me to ponder the experiences of British Muslims, navigating new landscapes far removed from the homelands of their ancestors. How do they sustain their connection to the land and water, amidst the complexities of migration and cultural adaptation? It's a question that resonates deeply with my research pursuits. As I navigate the complexities of my PhD journey, I am reminded of the importance of de-colonial theory in environmental studies, and the imperative to amplify marginalised voices in the fight for climate justice. 

Despite the sombre reality of environmental disruption, the mantra 'It's a blessing just to live' reverberates within me, infusing me with a sense of motivation and resilience. For amid adversity, there lies the opportunity to forge new connections, cultivate spiritual wonder, and chart a path towards a more just and sustainable future.

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