Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Islam and non-violent civil resistance

At the end of May, my friends and I linked arms and sat in front of the sliding doors to the National Australia Bank (NAB) headquarters in Sydney. Our mission was encapsulated in a nifty mantra: “Stop NAB working while NAB works for fossil fuels.” We wanted to create a spectacle and embarrass the bank on mainstream media. The four of us are everyday people, and we discussed our worries in having to confront staff frustration. Nervous energy had been building over several days and none of us slept well the night before.

Sitting on the cold floor, we were surrounded by a forest of legs clad in corporate wool. One under-caffeinated young man attempted to skip over our humble blockade but was prevented from getting through by police. Staff were bottlenecked, the chatter grew increasingly louder and people whipped out their phones to photograph us. I felt my heart thumping in my chest and my palms getting clammy. I took deep breaths, closed my eyes and reminded myself why we were doing this: the world’s scientists say we will breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold of global warming as early as 2027 but banks like NAB are still funding fossil fuels and governments are still greenlighting fossil fuel projects. I exhaled and smiled at no one in particular.

As a Muslim, I believe it is incumbent upon believers to stand up for justice. Being a believer is not a passive act. It means actively seeking to change unjust conditions, challenge inequalities and dismantle corrupt systems by standing in solidarity with the most adversely impacted.

Islam acknowledges a spectrum of possible actions but being passive or uncaring is not an option.

“Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with their hand. If they are not able to do so, then [they must change it] with their tongue. And if they are not able to do so, then [they must change it] with their heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, narrated by Abu Saeed al-Khudri in Muslim).

I thought long and hard about participating in non-violent civil resistance. I see climate change as a great injustice. I am scared of confrontation. I am educated. I have (some) money. I am loved and supported. I have youth and health on my side. I have all these advantages I can leverage to further the cause and so I chose to block the entrance to a bank that is funding fossil fuels. Even if that was a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, I hope it made a positive difference in the minds of the hundreds of people I forced to see me that morning.

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