Aside from threatening public health, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the economic and transportation sectors due to stringent containment measures to flatten the infection curve.
This has led to the reduction of water and air pollution, which benefit the environment. Because transportation and industrial activities have been dramatically reduced, levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane have seen significant reductions and are at its lowest rates since World War 2.
In just a few weeks of lockdown, the air quality in many main cities showed significant improvement, and many natural environmental zones were seen slowly recovering.
For some, it seems that the climate crisis is hitting a pause. At a glance, nature, including wildlife, is enjoying a recovery period.
However, this phase might not last very long. While there are reductions in air and water pollution, plastic pollution is reportedly increasing due to the littering of disposable masks and gloves, especially in cities.
It seems that the awareness to wear masks is not accompanied with the awareness to dispose them properly. Experts have advised that masks should be folded and sealed in a plastic bag if a trash bin is not around.
Used masks are also found in rivers, the ocean and on beaches. Marine animals are at risk of severe injuries or death from these items. Since most disposable protective gears are made from polypropylene, it will disintegrate quickly into microplastics in water and make it almost impossible to remove.
These tiny microplastics will be an indirect diet of marine life and eventually enter the human body through seafood consumption.
Microplastics disrupt iron absorption, stresses the liver and are harmful to the human digestion system in the long term.
Overall, the global lockdowns have a negligible effect on the climate crisis according to studies.
Based on the International Energy Agency report, the projection of 2020 global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 47 billion tonnes of carbon, almost eight per cent less than the amount last year.
This amount of reduction in emissions cost more than a million deaths, while tens of millions are out of work, showing how difficult and costly it is to reduce emissions despite major changes in human behaviour.
At the same time, a rebound effect is expected to occur as early as several months after lockdown orders are lifted.
This prediction was made based on the previous Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009 where the global CO2 emissions quickly rebounded in 2010 following large investments by many countries to promote rapid economic recovery.
The post-lockdown period will witness many factories pushing to make up for the lost time, accompanied by an increase of approved permits to construct new coal-fired power plants that last for years and therefore, see the increase of GHG emission. The public will also contribute by using their private vehicles.
Unfortunately, most conventional economic activities are achieved at the expense of the environment. Therefore, a green economic recovery strategy is necessary to conserve the environment while rebuilding the economy post-pandemic.
We must not take the environment for granted. In this sense, it is apt that we pay heed to a reminder from the Quran: "And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters" (Quran 28:77).
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 6 November 2020
The human body is considered to begin fasting when it has completed the digestion and absorption of a meal, which takes place three to five hours after a person stops taking food or water.
Some might think that fasting is unnecessary starvation and has negative health implications.
But research shows that mild nutrient starvation causes no harm, but instead provides health benefits as long as it is under control. Autophagy is a recycling process that can be initiated only from mild starvation, where the cell "repairs" itself by reusing dysfunctional components to sustain a new healthy cell. But overstarvation could lead to cognitive deficiency.
There are several ways to avoid starvation, such as breaking fast at a proper time when needed; providing the body with sufficient nutrients before stopping food intake for prolonged fasting or regulating physical activities to endure longer fasting time.
These will require a person to gain the right knowledge regarding fasting; familiarise with his body's capabilities and limits and adapt to different situations if needed. There are also guidelines for those who are interested in practising intermittent fasting for health benefits.
Research has proven that intermittent fasting could alter the body's endurance and individual behaviour patterns up to the neural level that controls brain functionality. The increase in focus and self-control ultimately leads to better learning and stronger memory.
Scientifically, there is a correlation between the increased memory and cell (chemical) changes in the body and brain. Research has found that intermittent fasting can reduce oxidative stress, a known factor contributing to brain ageing, and can induce cell injury and impairment of learning and memory.
It improves brain structures by the increase in dendritic protein expression and CA1 pyramidal cell layer thickness. Intermittent fasting has proven to improve performance in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in the fear conditioning test.
Besides, it could reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. More people are interested in practising intermittent fasting for better body durability, life longevity, improved immune system and maintaining brain functionality.
In Islam, the primary reason for fasting is to adhere to Allah's command, while the health benefits gained are a reward granted at Allah's pleasure. The role of intention (niat) is, therefore, key to fasting in Islam. In this sense, all Muslims inculcate sincerity (ikhlas) and trust (tawakkul) in this form of worship (ibadah).
The main purpose of fasting in Islam is to attain taqwa (piety), as in the Quran (al-Baqarah 2:183): "O you, who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." Fasting also inculcates moral values.
Muslims start fasting from an early age. Children and those who have not reached puberty often start training by fasting half a day. They normally begin by having the recommended pre-dawn meal (sahur) together with their adult (mukallaf) parents or guardians. After around six to eight hours, they break their fast and are free to consume food.
Such practice reduces effects of starvation for children while they train and familiarise with fasting.
Some children might continue fasting for the second cycle after the mid-day meal until dusk, together with adults who fast for a full day.
Muslims are to break their fast (iftar) as soon as the sun sets (maghrib) with no further delay.
In the context of self-control, fasting is meant to be a protective shield for every Muslim.
Fasting dampens rebellious tendencies of the carnal self through physical effort and submission, which involves abstention from lust, as in the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
"O youth! Whosoever amongst you can afford to get married, let them get married. And, whoever cannot afford to do so, then they should fast because it will help him control his desires." (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
In a nutshell, fasting is not limited to improve health and brain intelligence in learning and memory, but it also strengthens spiritual intelligence in the journey to be a pious believer (mukmin) with a strong belief and commitment in seeking Allah's blessing.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 5 May 2020
Notwithstanding the current cooler spell, Malaysia is hotter than ever before, and the trend shows no signs of reversing to the temperatures enjoyed by Malaysians over the last few decades.
This fact was also acknowledged by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his speech at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last month.
He had urged the global community to pay serious attention to combating extreme climate change. He also highlighted the importance of survival initiatives, such as alternative shelter and food production, in case of a calamity.
Indeed, a majority of countries are experiencing the drastic effects of climate change, as evident from UNGA where almost all leaders brought up the issue.
Most climate scientists agree that human activity is the leading cause of global warming, which in turn triggers climate change. Previously, the natural emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) was the most significant factor in global warming as it formed the largest concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere compared with other greenhouse gases (GHG).
However, human activity stemming from industry, energy production, transportation using carbon-based fuels, and the sum of agricultural activities, food production, land-use and forestry now contribute up to 29 per cent (i.e. more than one-fourth) of the total global GHG emissions.
In this regard, the world needs to shift its attention to sustainable resource management and development practices to curb climate issues.
The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has taken place in many developed and developing nations, reducing their carbon footprint.
Among the progressive measures has been the increase in facilities for renewable energy, including solar farms, wind turbines, biomass and hydroelectric plants — creating a sustainable “energy mix” ecosystem. In addition, “energy efficiency” and “energy conservation” practices were also introduced.
Energy efficiency requires consumers to invest in equipment that can operate with less energy for the same or more load, while energy conservation requires consumers to reduce the use of electrical appliances.
These measures can save natural resources from depletion, keep the environment free from pollution, and save some money in the long run.
The best environmentally friendly activities include the 3R practice of “reduce, reuse, and recycle”. Some might extend this idea up to seven (7R) in a circular flow — rethink, refuse, reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle and rot.
These ideas are commonly applied to daily products or consumables, but the concept can also be applied to other human activities such as transportation. For instance, first, we should rethink whether or not it is necessary to drive fast and recklessly. Driving fast will consume more fuel, release more carbon and might put other people at risk. As a result, the second step would be to refuse to make it a practice.
Third, we should reduce our driving activity by prioritising what is important or at least make the most out of a single trip by accomplishing multiple tasks. Additionally, instead of using a car for a single purpose, a car-sharing practice will make better use of its capacity; this can be considered as repurposing or reusing.
This, in turn, will reduce traffic congestion and pollution, while adding value to the car owner. Finally, as the car reaches a certain mileage, we must plan whether to restore, sell or recycle the vehicle.
Ideally, the process of managing resources will form a closed-loop system; this circularity is aimed at eliminating waste and promoting the continual use of resources — a model known as the circular economy. Unlike the traditional linear economy with the “take, make and dispose” approach that lets waste end up in landfills, the circular economy adopts the “regenerative” approach where “all waste should be food for another process”, inspired from the natural system.
It will mainly involve “reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling” processes. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation paper, “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change”, switching to renewable energy could cut GHG by 55 per cent, and the circular economy could reduce the remaining 45 per cent emissions mainly from the making of products and food production.
In Muslim countries, the concept of the circular economy has been a subject of rigorous discussion especially by those in the Islamic finance circle. Several Islamic concepts in relation to managing resources and the ecology, such as mizan (universal balance), miqdar (proportion), khalifah (stewardship) and maqasid (purposeful use) are supportive of the circular approach.
These Islamic principles can serve as catalysts, among others, to encourage the Muslim community to live in a sustainable system, thus contributing to the efforts to address the climate issue at the global level.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Saturday 26 October 2019
The ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse human behaviour across different age groups must be utilised to identify the needs of a person in his or her learning process.
For decades, we have practised a conventional learning process that relies much on a standardised education system that mostly grades learners on the basis of age.
Such a measure had been adopted on the grounds that the cognitive development of a normal person could be identified and differentiated based on chronological age, especially during their early years.
However, even within the same age group, each person has different levels of cognitive development and learning capacity, and thus may have different needs in learning.
Today, artificial intelligence offers such an opportunity, which is known as “adaptive learning”.
Adaptive learning provides more than just tailored learning resources to learners. It uses algorithm to process the interaction between the learner, the educator and the computer.
This tailored-learning process requires the learner to be collaborative rather than a passive information receiver. At the same time, it allows the educator to monitor the progress of the learner through continuous formative assessment since every interaction is tracked in real-time.
An effective adaptive learning system retains the key component of the learning process, namely the presence of the educator. A real teacher during the class hour is indeed relevant, and in fact, integral to the learning process. A teacher with sufficient knowledge and experience can properly guide the student towards a better understanding and prevent him from making mistakes.
Long before the conventional education system and adaptive learning technology, a personalised learning system has been a practice in traditional Islamic pedagogy. In general, a personalised learning system assumes each learner to be unique and therefore has different needs.
The teacher will always be a source of reference, and provides the learners with the knowledge they need. In a traditional setting, the learners should master a certain level of knowledge in order to move forward in their curriculum.
Islamic pedagogy also emphasises knowledge to be put to practice. For example, in learning the Quran, the learner is said to have truly attained knowledge when he puts his learning into practice. Normally, this begins by teaching others when the learners engage in a study circle or collaborative learning with their peers.
Study circles enhance learners’ understanding through discussion and exchange of knowledge as it creates an active engagement between the learners and the teacher. Such an active learning atmosphere in the Islamic education tradition can also be found in the current adaptive learning environment but with the additional help of technology which facilitates teachers in monitoring development and provides the student with tailored materials that suit their needs.
The question should not be whether adaptive learning is better than traditional and conventional education systems. For decades, traditional and conventional learning systems have been providing people with necessary education and skills. It is the success of these systems which has given us the advancements that we have in today’s world.
And now, as technology advances in the age of Industrial Revolution 4.0, adaptive learning tools are widely available and can be utilised as a complementary or supportive component of our current education system to help teachers in their teaching and students in their learning so that it will be more interactive, interesting and efficient.
Besides the support of the adaptive learning system, our country also needs the people themselves to be adaptive learners. They should be taught and trained to be more adaptive to changes in their surroundings that encompass all aspects of their lives.
Adaptive learners equipped with survival skills and a flexible mindset could lead others, especially when they are in leadership positions.
According to the Centre for Asia Leadership, every person, especially a leader, should be capable of changing his mindset to take the right ‘adaptive action’ in line with the demands of Industry 4.0. Hence, we need to be adaptable and to keep pace since our time is one of accelerated change.
The Quran (al-Ra’d 13:11) tells us that God will not change the predicament of certain people unless they take matters into their own hands and change it themselves. Therefore, we should keep learning, be adaptable, and improve ourselves in order to gain and take advantage of the opportunities available to us.
Published in: The New Straits Times, 02 May 2019
The adoption of artificial intelligence in many industries has been regarded by some as a threat to low-skilled workers, as it will drastically cut down reliance on the human workforce.
Besides unemployment, there are also concerns about rising economic inequality caused by AI-driven companies. With fewer employees, these companies would gain a disproportionate advantage than most conventional companies that still depend on normal shift-based systems.
AI bots, for example, have achieved the capability to interact with humans and build relationships through conversations.
This would eventually enable these bots to affect human behaviour and possibly trigger certain actions. Such intelligent machines, however, are not immune to mistakes and confusion, and can be manipulated to fulfil certain ends.
Also, Al cannot be totally expected to be fair and neutral, since it is dependent on human programmers who have their own interests and preferences.
Recent developments have unveiled AI’s ability to recreate image, imitate voice and even generate fake videos of a person, which could be used for fraud. At this level, even voice recognition software can no longer identify such fraud.
Also, its ability to collect huge amount of data without consent, and put humans under surveillance can be a threat to privacy.
Even in cases where AI could potentially eradicate disease or disasters, its approach and method could still cause undesirable consequences that humans may not approve of.
AI raises great security concerns, especially in the form of autonomous cyber-attacks. Even though AI is currently under human control, the growing rate of AI’s ingenuity is exponential. AI experts fear that it might surpass human intelligence and potentially lead to a technological singularity which then becomes a threat to humanity.
Therefore, the problem now is how to programme an AI with morals. The previous “Laws of Robotics”, introduced by Isaac Asimov, would not be enough since there are more tricky questions about what counts as ethical.
It will be difficult to answer questions such as, “Should a self-driving car just hit another person to save the driver?” or “Is it allowed to programme military robots to kill a terrorist?” or “Should a trading bot inform everyone of a predicted disaster, or just keep it a secret?”.
An AI framework that can take into account human desires, goals, preferences and ethical codes is indispensable. Currently, the AI framework that adopts “reinforcement learning” is extensively studied and developed by some researchers to ensure that artificial agents act ethically.
More work is still in progress to improve this technology of ethics.
Besides, to ensure that the rise of AI in all industries is advantageous, we need to have an ethical code for the AI that does not compromise humankind’s potential and its survival.
Recently, the United Kingdom government published a report —AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?—in which five core principles are outlined. The first principle proposed that AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity. The second dictates that AI operates within parameters of intelligibility and fairness. Third, AI should not be used to lessen the privacy or data right of individuals, families or communities. Fourth, all people should have the right to be educated and flourish alongside artificial intelligence. The fifth principle opposes the use of AI as killer robots with the autonomy to hurt, destroy or deceive humans.
The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, for instance, has launched a crowd-sourced global treatise entitled, “Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritising Human Wellbeing with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems”.
The report takes into account various well-established “classical ethics”, including religious-and-culture-based ethical systems.
As the global community continues to work together on the ethics of AI, there are still vast opportunities to offer ethical inputs, including the ethical principles based on Islamic teachings.
This is in line with Islam’s encouragement for its believers to convey beneficial messages, including to share its ethical principles with society.
In Islam, ethics or akhlak (virtuous character traits) in Arabic, is sometimes employed interchangeably in the Arabic language with adab, which means the manner, attitude, behaviour, and etiquette of putting things in their proper places. Islamic ethics cover all the legal concepts ranging from syariah (Islamic law), fiqh ( jurisprudence), qanun (ordinance), and ‘urf (customary practices).
Adopting and applying moral values based on the Islamic ethical concept or applied Islamic ethics could be a way to address various issues in today’s societies.
At the same time, this approach is in line with the higher objectives of syariah (maqasid alsyariah) that is aimed at conserving human benefit by the protection of human values, including faith (hifz al-din), life (hifz alnafs), lineage (hifz al-nasl), intellect (hifz al-‘aql), and property (hifz al-mal). This approach could be very helpful to address contemporary issues, including those related to the rise of AI and intelligent robots.
As there are so many ethical questions in the age of AI, we need to discuss and address the issues by taking into account various perspectives from different disciplines.
It is hoped that, through this approach, both scientists and religious scholars would work together to address all the issues in harmony, and put an end to the existing practice of separation where scientists and religious scholars operate in two separate universes
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 30 November 2018
Currently, intelligent robots face a public acceptance issue as some people consider them as job thieves. However, what makes it worse is the action of irresponsible individuals who vandalise the robots and leave them broken.
Scientists and legal right activists have come out with several suggestions to draft a set of laws to protect robots, at least as a property of its owner. At the same time, the necessity of the law to protect humans from the harmful acts of robots has to be prioritised, as proposed by Isaac Asimov in the Law of Robotics.
These measures are in line with the objectives of Islamic Law (Maqasid al-Syariah) to protect the human benefits (masalih) and welfare. In this case, two of the essentials of Maqasid al-Syariah need to be highlighted, namely the protection of life (hifz alnafs) and the protection of wealth or property (hifz almal).
If the intelligent robot is to be regarded as an object under human possession and responsibility, then it would bring into the picture the Islamic concept of ownership and accountability. To safeguard a property means to protect it from damage, harm, theft, exploitation, or injustice. This means any property, including robots, owned by humans is protected by property laws.
The suggestion to create “robot rights” in this case is favourable as it will give a chance for robots to stay safe and protected in many ways. At the same time, it will also promote the protection of human property (hifz almal) from the action of irresponsible persons or group of persons.
On the other hand, the person or group of persons in charge of the robot is obliged to bear responsibility, in case of violation. The second caliph, Umar al-Khattab, during his reign had shown in his judgement an important aspect of accountability of the owner.
There was a case where a slave stole food for which he was not punished. Instead, the caliph took his master to task for his failure to provide enough subsistence to satisfy the slave’s needs. Consequently, his master had to pay double the amount stolen by the slave as a punishment. This story showed fair and good judgement by the ruler or the government, which emphasises the accountability of the owner for what they own.
There is also a lesson one can learn from a historical event mentioned in the Quran related to the ruling on the destruction of property during the time of Prophet Daud, and Prophet Sulaiman. There was a case where sheep owned by certain individuals had destroyed crops belonged to another group of people. Prophet Sulaiman ruled that the owner of the sheep was obliged to pay compensation in kind until the field was restored to its former state (al-Anbiya 21:28).
At the same time, he also took into account the loss of benefits while waiting for the field to be restored. A similar approach might be applied to the robots in case of violation.
In order to protect human life and property from the loss caused by a robot, the owner of the robot must take full responsibility to pay compensation if applicable. If the recovery or return process takes some time, then additional compensation must be included to cover the loss of benefits during this period.
More specifically, the criterion of bearing rights and duties in Islamic law is legal capacity (ahliyyah), and it is possessed by the human person who can understand the meaning of responsibility.
A question then arises as to the time when ahliyyah is vested in a human being, to which the Muslim jurists have responded that the starting point of ahliyyah is as of the time when a foetus possesses life.
Yet, an unborn foetus has only a receptive legal capacity (ahliyyah al-wujub) in that it can receive a right but cannot bear an obligation. An unborn foetus, for example, can receive inheritance. It thus appears that life itself is the criterion of ahliyyah.
When this test is applied, it would appear that a robot does not possess ahliyyah. But, since robots can do an act that may bring benefit or loss, like the an imals, the most one can say legally is to equate it with an animal.
Liability for loss is, therefore, ascribed to the owner or manufacturer of the robot. But, this may still be subjected to further development in technology — hence, a tentative opinion.
The issues of legal rights involving both human and robot are not limited to the examples mentioned above. We need more suggestions and appropriate approaches that favour both human and intelligent robot to have suitable legal rights that could harmonise their interaction.
The Islamic concepts of ownership, accountability, protection of life and protection of property may provide important indicators to guide future research to develop a suitable legal rights framework for robots.
However, the construction of this framework should not be limited to these concepts, but remain open to other beneficial concepts that could further strengthen it. More research may be needed as the technological advancement is rapidly evolving.
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 3 August 2018
Pemanasan global dan perubahan iklim benar-benar berlaku dan perlu perhatian serius dalam menanganinya. Peningkatan suhu dunia akibat pemanasan global terjadi apabila atmosfera bumi dan permukaannya dipanaskan secara beransur-ansur oleh haba (gelombang inframerah) yang terperangkap serta tidak terlepas ke luar angkasa..............................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
In the past, fasting was attributed to human spiritual belief in worshiping God for meditation reasons. It has been practised for thousands of years in serving various purposes of life. It is still a practice today. Generally, the practitioners are subjected to certain dietary procedure which trains them to be better disciplined to gain better self-control.
Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam.
The earth’s atmosphere contains important greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly in the form of water vapour containing small amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2 ), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). GHGs function as a thermal blanket for the planet, absorbing heat from the sun and keeping its surface warm (on average 15°C) to support life.............................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
The growth of agricultural activities in Malaysia has always been supported by the country’s environment and favourable climate. Major agro-products that drive the economy are palm oil, rubber and cocoa. Besides these commodities, there are others like padi, tropical fruits and vegetables. Demand for agro-products increases with global population growth, which is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050............................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
In the past, fasting was attributed to human spiritual belief in worshiping God for meditation reasons. It has been practised for thousands of years in serving various purposes of life. It is still a practice today. Generally, the practitioners are subjected to certain dietary procedure which trains them to be better disciplined to gain better self-control. Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam. It is an obligation for every able-bodied Muslim during the month of Ramadan...........................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)