Zakat as a Strategy to Combat Climate Change

Wildfires and climate change are mutually exacerbating. Wildfires are made worse by climate change through increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons. At the same time, climate change is made worse by wildfires, mostly by ravaging sensitive and carbon-rich ecosystems like peatlands and rainforests. This turns landscapes into tinderboxes, making it harder to halt rising temperatures. There is projected to be a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by 2050 and 50 per cent by the end of the century[1]. In this article, we will explore how the absence and missing of Zakat payments has ramifications on the climate.

Increased droughts are among the building blocks of wildfires; and droughts have been identified as a consequence of not paying Zakat. An authentic narration – authenticated by the likes of Imam al-Hakim and Imam al-Dhahabi – reported by the noble Abdullah ibn Umar (may God be pleased with them) states that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

When people refuse to pay Zakat, they will be deprived of rain. Were it not for the animals, it would not rain at all.”[Mustadrak Hakim] 

From a metaphysical lens, all actions have reactions; all inputs result in outputs. Good actions produce virtuous endings, evil deeds emerge into vicious endings. These outcomes are not just restricted to the perpetrator, it impacts everyone. The prophetic narration states:

 “An army will raid the Ka’bah but when they reach a desert land, all of them will be swallowed by the earth.” It was asked, “O Messenger of God, how will all of them be swallowed by the earth while among them are their markets and unrelated people?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “They will all be swallowed up, then they will be resurrected for judgment upon their intentions.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

The withholding of Zakat is a severe form of vice, as it not only displays a disregard for God and His Sovereignty, but a disregard of the bondsmen of God too. The ramification of this disregard is of seismic magnitude. Whilst scholars clearly state the existence of a metaphysical causality, that the wrongdoing and disobedience of man has a direct, physical impact in this world, there is nothing to restrict the learnings of this prophetic teaching purely to a metaphysical realm. Is there any correlation between the withholding of Zakat and wildfires?

From one perspective, maybe the refusal to pay Zakat is a symptom of a larger problem; maybe the withholding of Zakat indicates to a deeper problem within humans. Perhaps the cause and illness is high time preference; which simply refers to the concern and obsession with the here and now, at the expense of tomorrow. Humans have been infected with the desire for instant gratification and a consumption-driven approach to life. Greed and excessive self-indulgence have overtaken many of us, with little-to-no concern of our long-term prosperity, let alone the welfare of anyone or anything around us. The refusal to pay Zakat is a symptom of high time preference, which is a product of greed and selfishness. The erosion of the souls is at the heart of much corruption.

If you are not paying Zakat, then you are exploiting resources which were designated for Zakat. Such exploitation of resources skews the natural order; it brings an imbalance in the economic affairs of the world. Zakat withholders over-consume, whilst the world struggles with undersupply. Our excessiveness has its impact on the many moving parts related to the climate, which in turn increase droughts and wildfires. This is of no surprise. Our consumer habits are arguably driving climate change. A 2015 study found that the production and use of household goods and services was responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. A U.N. report found that the richest one percent of the global population emit more than twice the amount than the poorest 50 percent; moreover, the wealthier people become, the more energy they use.[2] 

Is there a more direct causality between Zakat and droughts? What is obvious is that among the types of droughts that occur, one is agricultural drought. This is when available water supplies are unable to meet the needs of crops or livestock at a particular time, agricultural drought may ensue. Zakat payments can be used to supply funding to the poor and needy farmers, who would it turn purchase the raw materials needed to irrigate land. Roughly 2 billion people (26.7% of the world population) derive their livelihoods from agriculture[3]. If we were to assume that 25% of them were Muslims, then 500 million farmers would be potential Zakat payers or Zakat recipients. The lack of funds, or the lack of Zakat to support these stakeholders in the agri-food chain, has an impact on everyone.

Just as the withholding of Zakat is seismic, the paying of Zakat can change the landscape we find ourselves in today. The 100% accurate payment of Zakat has all the potential to be a powerful strategy in bringing balance in human behaviour and at the same time, strike a balance to the natural order set by God.

By Mufti Faraz Adam