The topic of Islam and Environment is more important today than it ever was as mainstream understanding of either subject gets obfuscated due to disinformation.
Dr Israr Ahmed, a famous theologian once said “Many a times a person knows what the right path is but is reluctant to tread it as there is no motivation for it. It is precisely in those times; religion comes in and provides the impetus”. Today the environmental degradation is being weighed against our unsustainable energy hungry lifestyles. It is now that Islamic impetus is required to win back our environment and a religious workforce that is 1.6 billion strong can play a huge role.
Islam places special emphasis environment through it’s scriptures. There are five recurring themes in Islamic teaching that are directly related to environmental awareness and protection.
These themes are:
- Environmental Awareness
- Environmental Connection
- Ownership of Environment
- Conservation of Environment
- Sustainability of Environment
In Islam one of the signs of a true believer is the person is one with his time. In other words believers are never out of touch with their environment. Therefore for practising Muslims to achieve a level of piety, it is an obligation to learn about their surroundings and create awareness among other.
In quranic teachings, nature and its elements have been consistently referred as “signs” of the Almighty. In countless passages of the Quran, God has asked man to ponder upon his signs. From night and day to ants and bees, from flowing water to raised mountains, all point towards the magnificence of the creator.
In the Quran it has been mentioned:
“Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne, and constrained the sun and the moon to serve you; each planet pursues its course during an appointed term. He regulates it all and expounds the Signs, that you may have firm belief in the meeting with your Lord. He it is Who spread out the earth and made therein firmly fixed mountains and rivers, and of fruits of every kind He has made pairs. He causes the night to cover the day. In all this, verily, are signs doer a people who reflect.” Chapter 13:3-4
Building a connection with nature is an important aspect of Islam. Before making prayers, Muslims make ablution using the most abundant substance in nature, water. If water is not available than earth is used instead. Note that both these elements also make up the human form. The five daily prayers are based on the position of the sun. The Islamic days and months are based on the position of the moon. All routines and rituals connecting Muslims to nature.
Islam uses “mother nature” as a guide and teacher. All prophets at one point or other in their lifetime were shepherds. This profession was used by God to train the prophets. It helped the prophets to develop their understanding of managing a tribe and treading with patience and perseverance. It also helped them understand innate psychological behaviour such as herd/ tribe mentality.
The prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is reported to have said “There was no prophet who was not a shepherd” Hadith Bukhari
In Islam, God has made clear that human beings have been appointed as his vicegerent (Khalifa) on earth. With this custodianship also comes a huge responsibility.
“The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it. The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded. If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part.” (Hadith)
This level of this responsibility was understood very well by the earliest Muslims.
The second caliph of Muslims Umar Bin Khattab R.A is reported to have said “If a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty”.
Thus its clear that development of environment and its protection is an important aspect of Islamic faith.
Wastefulness of any form is forbidden in Islam. In the Quran it has been mentioned:
“Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Chapter 7: 31).
A true Muslim is trained to avoid squandering of resources, even at the time of abundance or when at war.
It is also mentioned in the Quran:
“Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.” (Chapter 30:30)
Thus in the Quran, God is forbidding mankind to alter nature of the creation. Today, many people live in environments that are far removed from nature. In the modern sedentary lifestyles, more and more people are plugged to a virtual world than in real world.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, happened to pass by a Companion, Sa’d, as he was performing ablution (wudhu) next to a river. At this, the Prophet said, “Sa’d what is this wastefulness?” Sa’d replied: “Can there be an idea of wastefulness (israf) in ablution?”
The Prophet said: “Yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river.” – Ibn Majah
Sustainability is the concept that emphasizes on living within means and using resouces prudently. Mankind is at present consuming resources at three times the rate than what is replenished by the nature.
We as a species are adopting an increasingly resource consuming lifestyle that thrives on disposibility and wastefulness.
In order to continue such unsustainable way of life, we are tapping into natures capital reserves. This depletion of environmental capital (resources) will leave our future generations in peril.
“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”, (Chapter 28:77)
Accumulation of wealth and power is prohibited in Islam. It is often the cogulation of the two that lead to issues that plague all of mankind. In the present times, the addiction to oil and profiteering on natures capital has lead to a form of “Corruption on earth”
“And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say “That which is beyond your needs. Thus Allah makes clear to you his laws in order that you may give thought” (Chapter No 2:219)
In 2015, the Paris environmental summit saw the world coming together, renewing their resolve to avert environmental catastrophe. Not only world leaders but religious leaders and clergy must also rise to reconnect mankind with nature and in turn with God.
It is our growing distance from nature that is leading us astray from our very own existence. It would be apt to conclude the topic with the following hadeeth that epitomizes Islam’s emphasis on the environment.
“If the Hour starts to happen and in the hand of one of you is a palm shoot or seedling; then if he’s able to plant it before the Hour happens, then let him plant it”. (Musnad Ahmad)