A Muslim and Christian Perspective on Trade Justice
By Zeenat Azmi and Sam Slatcher
It can be a frightening prospect to try to look into our near future, considering the great problems we are facing today. Climate change, food crises, global issues that feel close to spiralling out of control. They require the will of a global community that is ready to put sustainability and balance at the heart of its agenda. If nations continue to serve themselves first, allowing growth to be the ultimate goal, regardless of the expense in terms of global poverty, human dignity and environmental degradation, then before long the wealthy nations will be lost along with the rest.
On the 8th of June The Christian Muslim Youth Forum and MADE in Europe brought together an interfaith group of 30 young Christian and Muslims at Lambeth Palace, who shared a sense of this common concern and with knowledge of their faith to inspire and guide them in the battle for trade justice. The Archbishop of Canterbury launched our Youth Trade Justice Statement, marking the start of a renewed effort to petition our government to take the lead in tackling the injustice of agricultural policies that favour the West. It is focussed on the elimination of subsidies in the EU, especially in the cotton industry, that encourage overproduction and distort world market prices, with a devastating impact on producers in poorer nations.
As a Muslim the principles of Islam guide me through my interaction with the world. I have learned to see the well being of others as inextricably tied to my own, that it is impossible to detach myself from others and serve only myself. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ This golden rule of empathy and seeking equality is the foundation for our dealings with people.
Generosity is loved by Allah and charity and care of the vulnerable is not only encouraged, it is also a moral obligation. Our wealth, time and talents are not our own entitled possessions but a trust and a test for us to see if we use them for the sake of Allah in doing good work and joining with others, or if we instead abuse that trust by using our power to exploit the weak. Whether it is a guardian forbidden from dispossessing an orphan, a master exhorted to “pay the worker before his sweat dries” (Tirmidhi) or honesty and fair dealing when creating contracts between nations, the Quran and Sunnah gives us clear guidance on how to approach social and economic justice.
In 2010 I met fair trade cocoa farmers in Ghana and discovered how closely their principles matched Islamic principles- guided by their faith to care for their neighbour and guard against cheating in trade, Muslims and Christians worked together to improve their society and educate their children. They were proud of what they produced and conscious of those who would enjoy their cocoa in the West – this was a transaction in which both sides felt benefit and that respected human dignity.
While many Muslims in the West do search for solutions on a personal level between the principles of Islam and the structures of modern society, by giving in charity or not dealing in interest, there still needs to be a greater sense of responsibility for our actions in what we consume and our role as citizens in powerful nations. Fair trade activists and Christian movements have been pioneering efforts to address issues of trade justice. We must be open to sharing knowledge and use this opportunity to join together in mutual cooperation and demonstrate our positive will to work towards a more just society.
“O you who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves unjustly except it be a trade amongst you, by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves (nor kill one another). Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you.” (4:29)
Zeenat Azmi is currently doing a Masters in Global Development and Education. She has spent time volunteering in cocoa-farming communities in Ghana and is working with a local Ghanaian pastor to establish a fairly traded handicrafts business and women’s education project, Sankofa Crafts, with Christian and Muslim women. She blogs at www.anobruniabroad.wordpress.com
The Christian Muslim Youth Statement on Trade Justice was presented last Wednesday at Lambeth Palace, London. It is the voices of young people, from the Christian and Muslim faiths, who share a passion for trade justice. The statement, co-written by young people, is the beginning of a campaign to ensure the future of West African cotton farmers, and subsequently the lives of millions of West Africans, are on the agenda at the upcoming CAP reform negotiations in the European Parliament.
I’m learning that upholding the values of honesty, integrity, and equality, as my Christian faith inspires me, is inescapably political. To ‘love my neighbour’, as Jesus taught, is to love those not only related to me, or those who live geographical close to me, but also to love those who are bound up in our globalised world. This includes those in the cotton farming industries in West Africa who increasingly struggle to make a living due to unfair trade rules in the EU.
EU subsidies given to large cotton farmers in Europe, resulting in overproduction of cotton, is driving the global real price of cotton down, decreasing the demand for cotton. This is leaving millions of West African families, who are dependent upon the export of cotton for their livelihoods vulnerable. In Mali, for example, 2.5 million people depend upon cotton for their livelihoods. Trade justice isn’t simply an economic issues, it is also a development issue, a poverty issue, and a human rights issue. This is why, as a Christian, I am concerned. An opportunity, however, is emerging. The European Commission have called for a review of CAP policies, and it is our duty to ensure EU subsidies, and the voices of West African farmers, are firmly on the political agenda, as we campaign for making trade fair.
It was a privilege to be joined by Zeenat Azmi (the Muslim representative), Harriet Lamb (the executive director of Fairtrade), the Archbishop Rowan Williams, Moulana Shahid Raza (the Muslim Patron of the Christian Muslim Forum), and thirty passionate and enthusiastic young Christians and Muslims in Lambeth Palace for the Muslim Christian Forum on Trade Justice. The event was a reminder of the energy, creativity and harmony when young people of two of the world’s largest faiths unite around issues of trade injustice.
Finally, if you are interested in getting involved, why not rally support from your faith community and sign the petition at: http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/christian-muslim-forum-on-trade-justice/2966. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Zeenat email@example.com if you are interested in getting involved with the campaign.
Sam Slatcher is the president of Durham SPEAK society, who campaign for human rights and global justice. Sam has been active in this year’s Fair Trade Fortnight, and will be campaign for support for the CMY Statement on Trade Justice. Sam starts his masters in Faith and Globalisation in Durham later this year.
Artwork by Rukia Begum
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