Environmental Teachings of Islam

July 25, 2017
By Ashraf Amin
Kashmir Images

When the individuals, families, school children, and tourists from across the globe are making trips to the beautiful gardens, valleys, national parks, sanctuaries, mountain ranges, forests, etc., in these hot summers, it is highly commendable to show the care for the places we visit. Their greenery and prettiness may not be harmed or blemished. The Creator of the beautiful nature wishes us to be friendly to our environment. Let us never overlook the blessed teachings of Islam while making a visit to any recreational area. The essence of Islamic teachings 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, it’s maker. It is Allah who created the plants and the animals in their pairs and gave them the means to multiply. Then Allah created mankind - a very special creation because mankind alone was created with reason and the power to think and even the means to turn against his Creator. Mankind has the potential to acquire a status higher than that of the angels or sink lower than the lowliest of the beasts. The success story of a human being is contained in the word “Islam” itself.

The word ‘Islam’ has the dual meaning of submission and peace. Mankind is special, a very particular creation of Allah. But still we are Allah's creation and we can only properly understand ourselves when we recognise that our proper condition is one of submission to Allah who made us. And only when we submit to the Will of Allah can we find peace: peace within us as individuals, peace between man and man, and peace between man and nature. When we submit to the Will of Allah, we become aware of the sublime fact that all our powers, potentials, skills and knowledge are granted to us by Allah. We are His servants and when we are conscious of that, when we realise that all our achievements derive from the Mercy of Allah and when we return proper thanks and respect and worship to Allah for our nature and creation, then we become free. Our freedom is that of being sensible, aware, responsible trustees of Allah's gifts and bounty.

The primary text of Islam- al-Qur’an abounds in the verses to establish the equilibrium and the state of tranquillity between man and his environment. The primordial character of Qur’anic messages visualizes man and the cosmos in a state of harmony that reaffirms man’s inner bond with the natural world. Certain verses of the Qur’an address natural forms as well as human beings, while God takes non-human members of His creation, such as plants and animals, the sun and the stars to witness in certain other verses. The soul which is nourished and sustained by the Qur’an does not regard the world of nature as its natural enemy to be conquered and subdued but as an integral part of man’s religious universe sharing in his earthly life, and in a sense, even ultimate destiny.

The Qur’an makes use of environmental theme in encouraging humankind to be moderate, “It is He who produces gardens, both cultivated and wild, and palm trees and crops of diverse kinds and olives and pomegranates both similar and dissimilar. Eat of their fruits when they bear fruit and pay their dues on the day of their harvest, and do not be wasteful. He does not love the squandering” Al- Qur’an (06: 141). The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the human self and as Seyyid Hossein Nasr explains, “...When Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an...they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an...they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat …for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. The Qur’an says, “There are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (51:20-21).

Delving upon the Quranic statements, we thus arrive at a position where we see that the universe we inhabit is a sign of God’s creation as is the environment of our innermost selves. They both emanate from the one source and are bonded by only one purpose, which is to serve the divine will. This bonding of the cosmic to the inner core of each individual is the profound ecology of Islam. The Qur’anic view holds that everything on the earth was created for humankind. It was God’s gift (ni’mah) to us, but a gift with conditions nevertheless. The tests are a measure of our acts of worship (ihsan) in its broadest sense. That is living in a way that is pleasing to Allah, striving in everything we do to maintain the harmony of our inner and outer environments. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states that every human individual is born on Fitrah i.e. as a Muslim (One whose disposition is towards submission to his Creator) (Muslim). In the same manner all natural entities are patterned on Fitrah. To alter such order may breed disharmony and chaos in the personality of a human being and the nature surrounding him.

The heavenly bodies, the earth and its ecosystems all work within their own limits and tolerances. In the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we have practical reflections of the above mentioned principles and guidelines. We have countless pronouncements and above all his acts that stimulate and convince a believer to maintain a healthy relationship with his/ her surroundings. The glorious Prophet was deeply concerned for the well being of both flora and fauna. He was equally striving for the purity of physical environments as earth, water, and air. At the very outset earth was declared as Mosque for the Prophet. Muslims could offer their prayers where ever they are on the surface of the earth. This declaration sanctioned the sacredness of earth and the responsibility of believers to ensure the purity and cleanliness of earth as is maintained in a mosque. The Prophet’s appreciation of the earth’s natural endowment is espoused, in the following Hadith, with a challenge: “The world is green and pleasant and God has put it under your charge to see how you will manage (Mishkat 3086). We have an instant answer in the Qur’an as, “The earth is inherited by those of God’s servants that do good works and fulfil their responsibilities (21:105). The good you give to the earth, the best will it give to you.  It has been well said that plants are to earth what clothes are to man. In order to add to the beauty of the earth and to maintain its decorum, planting of trees becomes inevitable. In a very inspirational Hadith, Prophet exhorts his followers as: “If the day of resurrection comes upon any one of you while he has a seedling in his hand, let him plant it (Al-Bukhari).

Prophet had a special concern for earth and he could lose no chance to ensure the greenery of earth and its rightful and judicious use; thus the encouragement in a Hadith, “One who reclaims barren land is entitled to own it (Abu Dawud).

The act of plantation not only counts the benefits of the worldly life but registers the blessings of hereafter. In this respect the saying of the Prophet runs as “Anyone who plants a tree or sows a field, and a human, bird or animal eats from it, it shall be reckoned as charity from him (Bukhari and Muslim). Prophet used to remind his followers at every step that beauty is dear to God.  Prophet said: “God is beautiful and He loves beauty. (Sunan Tirmidhi). In a widely quoted Hadith the Prophet (peace be upon him) declares that “Cleanliness is half of faith” (Sahih Muslim). The cleanliness of one’s own self and one’s surroundings forms the characteristic trait of a believer. “He who goes to bed at night with his hands unclean should only blame himself (if he falls ill), says Prophet (Mishkat).

 Muslims have a special relationship with water. It is one of the great signs (ayat) of God in nature, and it has been mentioned specifically in the verses of the Qur’an. Water is indeed a sign of Allah that is everywhere in one of its many forms. For everyday Muslims, water is nothing more than an expression of the covenant, or trust, (amanah) we have with God, for with it we ritually purify ourselves to begin each act of worship. Prophet (peace be upon him) warned his followers of the consequences for withholding water: “There are three persons whom Allah will not look at on the Day of Resurrection, nor will he purify them and theirs shall be a severe punishment. One of them is a man [who] possessed superfluous water on a way and he withheld it from travellers.” This Hadith is incorporated by Ibrahim Abdul Matin in his famous book, Green Deen, at page 121.  Islam strongly dislikes the wastage of resources. It prefers moderation in every act. But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters, says Quran (7:31). Muslims are expected to be humble and judicious in their words and deeds. Arrogance and haughtiness is prophesised as doom and destruction in Islam. The special feature of believers is recorded in the Qur’an as, “And the servants of the All-Merciful are they who walk on the earth gently” (25:63). At another place Qur’an states, “O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and every place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters, as stated above (7:31).

As trees and fresh lakes of water adorn our planet so do the diverse animals and birds. The cruelty to animals and birds is forbidden in Islam. There are many examples from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that support this prohibition — for example: “No human being kills a sparrow or [something] larger, without right, except that Allah will ask him about it on Judgment Day, says Prophet.” Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) directed us to treat animals with love. They are not to be disrespected, denied food or water, or hurt in any way. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) once told the story of a woman who was punished because of a cat she had imprisoned until it died. “She entered the (Hell) Fire because of it, for she neither gave the cat food nor water as she had imprisoned it, nor set it free to eat from the Earth, quotes Ibrahim Abdul Matin in his Green Deen at page 173.

The precepts drawn from both the Qur’an and the Sunnah exhort mankind to be at peace with one’s own self and towards nature and society. Islam holds that the earth and the cosmos are set in equilibrium, and to alter such balance may summon harm and imbalance in our lives. Qur’an warns us in such words as, “Do no mischief on the Earth after it has been set in order; but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good” (7:56). Indeed Qur’an and the example of Prophet urge us to partake in the beautification and maintenance of worldly order. On the contrary “There is near total disequilibrium between modern man and nature as attested by nearly every expression of modern civilisation which seeks to offer a challenge to nature rather than to co-operate with it, laments Seyyid Hossein Nasr in his work Man and Nature at page 20.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [by taking action]; if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] — and that is the weakest of faith.”The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was urging humanity to take action and speak out, and at the very least, recognize in our hearts when something is wrong. The above Hadith is slotted in by Ibrahim Abdul Matin in his Green Deen at page 131. The words of the Prophet echo the words of Allah, “...Help you one another in Al-Birr and At- Taqwa (Virtue, Righteousness and Piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is severe in punishment (05:02). Thus the destiny of one’s own self and of the environment lies in the hands of mankind. All the ugly consequences bore by humanity resulting from the depletion of natural resources and the pollution cum contamination of air, water, and soil is the work of the hands of mankind itself. To beautify or to blemish our planet rests on our own actions for Qur’an openly declares, “Corruption has appeared in both land and sea because of what people’s own hands have brought about so that they may taste something of what they have done, so that hopefully they will turn back” (30-41).

The writer is Doctoral Candidate at University of Kashmir and can be mailed at  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)