Environmental Values in Islam
Category : COVER STORY
Author : Shameem Khan

Global climatic conditions are playing havoc with the environment, the results of which have already started emerging. While scientists are pressing the panic button, Islam as a religion had forewarned mankind on playing truant with the environment in the Holy Qu’ran 14 centuries ago. On the occasion of International World Environment Day, here are some aspects of the importance of the environment and the need for its conservation in light of the Holy Qu’ran and Sunnah.

‘Intensely destructive’ is how one can best describe the global climatic change at present. Human actions, including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change, have pushed nature beyond its limit. It is estimated that it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make of nature each year. But as we all know, there is no Planet B. If we continue on this path, biodiversity loss will have severe implications for humanity, including the collapse of food and health systems. At such a juncture, highlighting nature and its dictates as per Islam becomes all the more important.

The Lord and Land Owner
The essence of Islamic teaching is that the entire universe is Allah’s creation. Allah makes the waters flow upon the earth, upholds the heavens, makes the rain fall and keeps the boundaries between day and night. The whole of the rich and wonderful universe belongs to Allah, its Maker. It is Allah who created the plants and the animals in their pairs and gave them the means to multiply. However, ‘Inna lilahi wa inna iliayhi rajiun’ is the one perennial truth that Muslims live by which simply translates to ‘Surely we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return’ (2:156).

During this tenure on the Earth, there is a stress on the philosophy of Allah’s creations serving a mighty purpose in Allah’s scheme of things, which is illustrated beautifully in the following verses of the Holy Quran, “There is no animal that crawls on the earth, no bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you.” (6:38). In short, 14 centuries ago, this divine book had already defined the ‘chain of life’ concept, which is essential for maintaining the balance of life on earth, long before modern science discovered it.

Call of Nature
So while the Divine ownership of this entire planet remains with the Great Lord, he chose man as the Khalifa (caretaker) of his planet which was clearly illustrated by the following verses: “Just think when your Lord said to the angels: “Lo! I am about to place a vicegerent on earth,”” (2: 30) and “For He it is Who has appointed you vicegerent over the earth” (6, 165). Human beings are stewards who have been assigned the role of supervising the upkeep of His divine creation and more importantly, retaining its essence and ambience in its true form.

The Careless Caretaker
In the Quran, Allah says: “Now We have appointed you as their successors in the earth to see how you act” (10:14) making it amply clear that humans were put to test as to how they treated nature. In this context, the khalifah will have to render an account of how he treated the trust of Allah on the Day of Reckoning. The notion that describes the accountability of the khalifah is akhirah (the Hereafter). Needless to say, man failed in upholding this respect and trust laid in him by indulging in irresponsible deforestation and wanton killing of God’s creatures, acts which are strongly discouraged in Islam. The behaviour of those who cause corruption on earth is well noted: “Whenever he attains authority, he goes about the earth spreading mischief and laying to waste crops and human life, even though Allah (whose testimony he invokes) does not love mischief.” (2:205).

The Divine Decree
So, while Allah (swt) provided man with His infinite bounties on a platter–from basic provisions like air to breath in, food to eat, water to drink, natural resources like minerals and natural gases for a comfortable sustenance, mountains providing a convenient shield against extreme weather and forests being sources of food and wood stock, He also laid down several conservative rules towards its preservation. A simple example is that of making ablutions in preparation for prayer (one of the tenets of Islam) wherein Islam instructs an abstemious use of water even if we have a river at our disposal. However, on his part, mankind adopted a callous attitude reeking of utter disregard to the Almighty’s mercy.

Over-utilisation to the point of destruction and rampant wastage over centuries has been a huge contributing factor to his present woes which is in complete contrast to Islam’s dictates related to wastefulness illustrated by Quranic cautions like “And do not exceed the proper limits, for He does not love those who exceed the proper limits.” (Quran 6:141)

Maintaining the ecological balance
The health of our ecosystem depends on our green cover. For instance, each year, marine plants produce more than a half of our atmosphere’s oxygen, and a mature tree cleans our air, absorbing 22 kilos of carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen in exchange. Despite all the benefits that nature gives us, we still mistreat it.
Here, it is noteworthy that Islam promotes planting of a tree as an act of continuous charity which is one of the most desirable acts in the eyes of Allah (swt). According to Islamic teaching, whoever plants a tree with the intention that people will sit in its shade and eat from its fruit then it will be counted as charity and worship.

Yet another tradition that is highlighted by Islam states that if one has on hand a sapling ready to be planted and the Day of Judgment arrives one should go ahead and plant it.
There are also several references to trees in the afterlife. Like when the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever says: ‘Glory is to Allah, the Magnificent, and with His Praise (Subhan Allahil-Azim, Wa Bihamdihi)’ a date-palm tree is planted for him in Paradise.”

The lessons we can draw from these teachings is that planting and maintaining trees are an act of faith. Like all of creation, they should be respected and represent signs of Allah.
Trees are given special mention as Allah created them as one of the many signs of His existence. So, take a moment to pause and reflect on the beauty of nature around us, try to understand and appreciate their complex lifecycle and send grateful thanks to the Almighty for the blessings that He has bestowed upon us by keeping us well shielded and healthy in its green cover.

A Call for Change
The state that our planet Earth is in today proves that the Khalifa appointed by Allah has clearly failed in following the Quranic injunctions and thereby upsetting the ecological balance. He has caused irreparable damage and corruption on land, sea and air, the consequences of which are very telling.

There is an urgent need for concerted efforts in bringing about strong changes in self and society to reclaim the position as viceroys of God Almighty and become His loyal trustees again. Significant changes at micro and macro level can bring the past glory back which includes:
1. Following the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle, be it with water or other natural resources.
2. The massive destruction caused due to deforestation can be reversed by planting more trees.
3. Finding alternatives to natural resources to put less burden on its usage.
4. Controlling pollution of land, water and the air-quality.
5. Helping the Earth to revive by turning to natural methods of agriculture and giving up on chemical usages.
6. Spreading awareness among the public about the ill-effects of wastage and promoting conservation. Here, political thinkers, leaders as well as religious leaders can help with spreading messages that will inspire the faithful towards a heightened environmental awareness.

Learning it the hard way

With the emergence of Covid-19, it is time to wake up to the fact that we destroyed biodiversity leading to a breakdown of the very core that supports human life. Today, it is estimated that, globally, about one billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year. Nature is sending us a message. It’s time to wake up before it is too late.

Taking recourse in religion is the only relief as they constitute the basic values taught by the Qur’an. It is these values which led Muhammad, (peace be upon him), the Prophet of Islam, to say: ‘Whosoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded’, and ‘If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a seed and men and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is a charity on his part’, and again, ‘The world is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you as His stewards over it.’

Only when as an individual and as a society, such values are adopted that we can finally have our perspectives in place. Environmental consciousness is one part of this value system. May we become the community to adopt, adapt and appreciate the Islamic way of life in all aspects, including our interaction with the environment.