Islam and the Environment: an Indian Muslim’s Perspective
By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
19 September 2015
Recently, an international inter-faith movement on climate change has launched “the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change”. In this respect, a declaration signed and endorsed by eminent scholars and representatives of different faith traditions was released in August, 2015. The basic premise of this declaration will gladden the hearts of moderate, peace-loving, productive and eco-friendly Muslims, particularly in India. It beautifully states:
"We support the People's Pilgrimage in India and globally, and encourage everyone to take part in it. We support the call for 100% clean energy and this is in line with the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change (August 2015) that called on the people of all nations and their leaders to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and to commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible”..... “Human beings are created to serve the Lord of all beings, to work the greatest good we can for all the species, individuals, and generations of God’s creatures.....”
Every religion has its own purpose or plan of creation. However, each faith tradition affirms that this universe has been created by God for all beings to live together in full harmony and in a spiritual symbiosis. All religions exhort us to be grateful towards the bounties of nature that nourish and sustain us. However, modern science and technology seek to conquer and control them. In this terrible situation, people of all faith traditions should wake up to the call for the preservation of the environment that has been clearly given in their respective scriptures.
The holy Qur’an offers a completely integrated view of the Universe where human soul and the environment, mind and matter are all part of one living, conscious whole. Therefore, it exhorts man to live a balanced, moderate and an eco-friendly life without causing any harm to the Nature or Earth. It says it in so many words. For instance, "And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption." (Qur'an, 2:60) and again, “And do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors." (Qur'an 28:77).
From the Qur’anic perspective, corruption on the earth is not confined to only political crimes such as frauds, theft, rape, illegal banking or other prevalent malpractices. Deforestation, toxic waste, pesticides, and cutting so many trees on the earth are also grave corruption and hence brazen violation of the true Islamic universal values. This corruption is rampant at all levels of public and social life in this age of consumerism and covetousness. It is indeed a matter of grave concern for the entire human kind.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, once elaborated on how Islam and the environment are in full harmony. Addressing an enlightened gathering of the Oxford University, he beautifully said, "From what I know of the Qu’ran, again and again it describes the natural world as the handiwork of a unitary benevolent power. It very explicitly describes Nature as possessing an “intelligibility” and that there is no separation between Man and Nature....”
Clearly, there is an inseparable relation between the environment and our soul. It will be great if Muslims in particular and the wider world learn from the Holy Scriptures like the Qur'an to try to wage an eco-friendly jihad (noble effort). This will be the true jihad to please God and ensure easy entry to heaven, in the existing world, not to speak of the hereafter. Thus, we can taste the bliss of heaven on this planet before we chance upon the eternal paradise.
Prophet Muhmmad (pbuh) left great traditions and glaring examples of being eco-friendly and going green in his life. He spent his entire life in an eco-friendly jihad, saving the humankind, caring for other creations, preserving the earth, planting trees and protecting the environment. Right from his young age, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was inclined towards the preservation of trees. When he was just 12, he travelled to Syria with his uncle and took shelter under a tree. Today, after more than 14 hundred years, the same tree is alive in the northern deserts of Jordan. This tree, which sheltered the Prophet, is the only living tree in hundreds of square miles of emptiness. It speaks so well of the Prophet’s utmost care for the preservation of the trees. He was keen on planting trees and exhorted his Companions too to keep it up. Therefore, he promised ample rewards and heavenly bliss for those who contribute to it. He said, “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded” (Musnad).
Thus, planting a tree is a Sadaqah Jariyah (continued charity) in Islam for the poor and the rich alike. Whenever a human being or even an animal shelters under the shade of a tree or relishes a fruit that it produces, the planter will be earning optimal rewards, even after his/her death. The above prophetic saying (Hadith), although there are many likes this, is sufficient to apprise us of the eco-friendly nature of Islam.
I would love to share more such beautiful prophetic traditions (Ahadith) that serve as gentle reminders for us to reflect on Islam as an environment-friendly faith. Theses traditions provide us with a complete code of life that exhorts to care for all the creations, protect the environment, conserve water, preserve the nature and safeguard the rights of all living beings, including the animals.
• “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (Sadaqah) for him.” (Bukhari)
• One day Prophet (saw) passed by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas (r.a) while he was performing Wudu’. The Prophet (saw) asked Sa`d: “What is this wastage?” Sa`d replied: “Is there wastage in Wudu also?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.”(Ibn Majah)
• Likening a believer with a growing tree, the Prophet (saw) said: "The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind quietens down, the plant becomes straight again..." (Bukhari)
• Considering tree-planting a renewable source of reward, he said: "If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (Sadaqah) for him." (Bukhari)
• Reminding Muslims of how important it is to keep the environment sanitary to maintain the community, the Prophet stated: "Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: First, relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place……" – (Narrated by Mu`adh, Hasan)
• Similarly, the Prophet (saw) gave paramount importance to street clean-ups, when he said: "Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (Sadaqah)." (Narrated by Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari, Riyadh As Saliheen)
However, some Muslims seem unconcerned with the preservation of the Earth planet, assuming that this Dunya (world) is a temporary world that will be fated to doom and destruction at the end. A Hadith (Prophetic saying) is often quoted to support this notion. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short time, and after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind." [Ahmad, Tirmidhi]. The question is: does this Hadith tell us that this world is irrelevant, useless or worthless? If the world is like a tree in the desert under which we shelter for a period of time and then move on, then surely, we cannot intend to live under it forever. However, a tree is a resting place, offering shade to the travellers. Shade is one of the many benefits trees offer. Shade itself is referred to in another Hadith. Prophet (saw) described seven types of people who earn the most needed shade on the Day of Judgment. For the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), tree was not only a resting place, but also an infinite mercy of God that one should leave behind for others. Shade is an actual expression of the mercy of Allah the Almighty. Hence, the parable of the Dunya (world) as a tree under which we stop to rest for a while does not imply that it is worthless.
Besides, Prophet (pbuh) and his companions also practically taught us how to protect the animals’ rights. They took special care of crippled animals, rescued strays and guarded birds’ nests of eggs. One of the Companions was named ‘Abu Huraira’ (father of kittens) because he was very fond of kittens. Prophet (pbuh) accorded great value to the animals in his bid to protect the ecological welfare system. Driven by his care and compassion for the animals, the Prophet himself narrated a story to his companions so they could drive inspiration from it:
"A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, "This dog is suffering from thirst as I did." So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him." The Companions said, "O Allah's Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?" He replied: "There is a reward for serving any living being." (Bukhari)
There is a pressing need to take a fresh look at all the related Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions in an effort to find solutions to the increasing degradation of environment on this planet earth. It is also of vital importance to revisit other references to explore the wisdom of our faith traditions finding ways to live in full harmony with the environment. After all, it is the moral responsibility of the adherents of all faith traditions to protect this earth and its climate in accordance with the teachings of our faith traditions. And if we don’t take serious steps today towards the preservation of the ecological balance, tomorrow our children will inherit an earth with depleted natural resources.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. After graduation in Arabic (Hons.), he has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in India Arab Culture Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.