SULTAN Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of Perak offered a timely reminder of our need to reflect on ancient wisdom in our quest for guidance to our problems.
Speaking at the 2nd Malaysia-China Youth Civilisational Dialogue on Islam and Confucianism on Aug 21, held in conjunction with the 45th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations, the ruler invoked the philosophy and practices of Islam and Confucianism.
He said the teachings of both entrusted their followers with the grave responsibility to take care of the planet and its creatures.
This is important, he said, especially in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and their consequences.
With global temperatures rising and the rate of species extinction at least 1,000 times higher than natural,he reminded his audience that “our world is in now desperate need of a new ethical imperative”.
He had quoted a leading student of Confucius on humankind’s stewardship of the planet: ‘Heaven, the Earth, and humans are the basis of all creatures. Heaven gives them birth, the Earth nourishes them, and humans bring them to completion.’
The contents of his speech are timely insights as the international community approaches the one-third point in its United Nations 2030 Development Agenda, agreed in 2015 together with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDG15 (Life on Land) calls on nations to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.’
SDG6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) requires that we ’ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.’
SDG14 (Life Below Water) sets as our global goal the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources.
Sultan Nazrin raised the potential of Islam and Confucianism to alleviate global poverty.
Both embrace the spiritual imperative to share wealth,to support those in need, and to value social good above financial gain.
In Islam,zakat or almsgiving is one of the five pillars of the faith. Charitable giving is not something that Muslims are encouraged to do; it is integral to an Islamic way of life.
‘In seeking to build a world in which wealth is shared more equitably, in which people value giving more than keeping and acquiring, we may look to these spiritual traditions as a source of ethical guidance,’ said Sultan Nazrin.
‘This directly addresses the first of our 17 SDGs, namely, ‘End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere.’
His statement that Islam and Confucianism ‘have enjoyed centuries of mutual exchange,collaboration, and harmonious dialogue’ resonates with SDG16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, which calls on us to
‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and provide access to justice for all’.
This reminder is relevant for Malaysians, who face an awkward distrust of each other’s race and religion despite living in harmony over the past 62 years. Where have we gone wrong?
We should heed the call by Sultan Nazrin to stop looking at international bridge-building as a need between the West and other countries and cultures.
It is time we started looking for wise words and practices in countries and cultures of the East to find our true bearings.
The writer is a member of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Global