Sunday, October 29, 2006

I’ll walk to Makkah if I have to!

I won’t do Hajj if it means flying. Admittedly, I haven’t been too keen at the thought of jumping on a jumbo since my brother Andrew crashed his plane. His single engine light aircraft overshot a runway and landed tail up in a ditch. I was first on the scene, where I met brother stood next to his wrecked Sesna, suffering only from a rather severe panic attack, alhamdulillah! Since that day, I've let both my daughters up with him for a short flight round the Thames estuary, but I declined to share their experience. It’s not that I don’t trust him. But that image of a bashed up plane remains a vivid one. Today, there are also other "ishoos", as they say.

Insha Allah, faith and courage would be sufficient to push me onto a plane to Makkah, but I have a more serious and less personal objection, which threatens to undermine the entire point of doing Hajj, in my view. The fact is, Air travel is the world's fastest growing source of greenhouse gase emissions like carbon dioxide, which cause climate change. Never mind not leaving your video on stand-by all night or installing low energy light bulbs. No other single personal action can be said to contribute more to global warming than flying.

Just to give you some idea of the environmental cost of air travel, consider the research findings from a study carried out by the esteemed Tyndall Centre, which concludes that if the aircraft industry in the UK continues to expand at its present rate, then by 2050, everyone else will have to live carbon-zero lives in order to meet emission targets. That means no one will be able to drive a petrol powered car or put on their gas central heating. All power will have to come from nuclear power or renewables. Just so people can have cheap holidays – and go on Hajj.

A few still argue climate change is a myth. My answer to such people is simple – denying the science of global warming is akin to holocaust denial. It puts you in bed with the likes of George Bush. More might argue Hajj is an exception. But with the world facing potential catastrophe, there can be no exceptions – except in matters of life and death. And climate change is a matter of death. Hajj, for all its spiritual significance, simply doesn’t compare to the drying out of sub-Saharan Africa or the flooding of major cities. Almost all climate scientists now agree that two degrees of global warming could trigger catastrophic climate change. The ethical imperative of doing everything we can to stop this far outguns the need for a quick trip to Makkah.

Recently, The Guardian G2 compared the time/cost and environmental impact of travelling overland (and sea) to a variety of destinations versus going by planes. Going to Egypt was only marginally greener, but most other trips proved to be much more environmentally friendly (and fun) than going by air. However, I have no doubt, with the right political will, travelling to Makkah by train/boat could not only be viable for most Muslims, but could also make a major contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Personally, I’ll walk most of the way before take a plane, if that’s what it takes. That’s what Muslims did in the past.

And insha Allah, in this life, I will get there.


The Muslim Anarchist

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