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Islam and Environment ( 22 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Environmental Protection: Perspectives from the Qur’an and the Sunnah


By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam

22 May, 2015

One of the ninety-nine Names of Allah is “Al-Quddus”. This particular attribute of Almighty Allah has the following meanings: the Holy One, the Pure One, and the Immaculate One. This Divine Name of Allah as “Al-Quddus” is manifested in ecology by the environment’s capacity to purify itself naturally. For instance, the bodies of animals that die upon the earth and the putrefying remains of vegetation are subjected to chemical transformation; and in time, they are naturally deposited into the depths of the earth thereby preserving the purity of the earth’s surface. Likewise, rains regularly drench the earth, the sun lights upon the earth, and the wind continually sweeps all impurities on the earth’s surface. In like manner, a true Muslim must endeavour to take lessons and benefit from Allah’s Divine Name of “Al-Quddus” by seeing to it that his life and his environment are both pure and clean. Muslims can only maintain the pristine purity of the environment if they make it their spiritual duty to actively protect the environment from all types of manmade ecological destruction. 

Islam teaches that humans are stewards of Allah’s creation. Declares the Holy Qur’an: “He brought you forth from the earth and made you dwell in it” (Hud: 61). On the basis of the Islamic concept of Khilafah (stewardship), humans are tasked by Almighty Allah to be protectors of their environment. The Holy Qur’an further exhorts Muslims to protect the ecology and everything that comprise it by these profound words: “The seven heavens and the earth, and those in them declare His glory. And there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise” (Bani Isra’il:44). Since the whole universe is the outward expression of Allah’s greatness, no Muslim should cause destruction to the environment nor engage in activities that destroy ecological balance and sustainability. Islam invites all human beings in general and Muslims in particular to be always on guard and mindful of ecology’s welfare, by seeking to protect the environment from all harms, destruction, and impurities.

Allah has generously allowed humans to benefit from the creatures and fruits of the earth for as long as they are lawful and clean (Halalan Wa Tayyiban). As humans benefit from Allah’s creatures, they have a spiritual duty to take care of their environment and an ethical obligation not to offset nature’s equilibrium and to ensure that future inhabitants of the earth will continue to have access to these bounties of Allah. In many passages of the Holy Qur’an, Allah warns us that wastage of natural resources is a grave sin, and destroying the balance of the earth through wanton and indiscriminate use by greedy exploiters deserves punishment in the Hereafter (See; Araf:31 and Bani Isra’il:26-27).

Almighty Allah, the Eternal Lawgiver of the cosmos has provided us with sound environmental principles as well as spiritual laws governing ecological spirituality so that we, His servants will be able to live our lives upon this earth as His trustees and vicegerents in caring for and protecting His creation. According to the Holy Qur’an, the earth, and in truth, the whole universe were created by Allah in the most beautiful and perfect manner, since Almighty Allah made the cosmos and everything in it, humans included, in perfect and beautiful balance (See, Tin:4). Humans were tasked by Allah the duty of protecting the environment’s wellbeing since it is the human beings who are the best of creatures and are gifted by Allah with rational discernment and freewill to carry-out His command in protecting the earth and the whole of nature. However, there are many times when humans show their ungratefulness and denial of the covenant which they made with their Lord that they started to behave despicably, as if they are “the lowest of the low” by beginning to pollute their environment and by greedily exploiting natural resources simply to satisfy their lust, selfishness, vanity and caprice (Tin:5). In the words of the Holy Qur’an: “Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of that which men’s hands have wrought, that He [Allah] may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return [back to Him]” (Rum:41). No wonder, that in our present milieu, many calamities emanating from the environment befall humankind. These environmental catastrophes are reminders for us to repent from our irresponsible ways and unsustainable manner of treating our ecology, and to go back once again to Allah’s instructions and guidance in the manner of caring for our environment and natural resources.

Time and again, the Holy Qur’an reminded all the peoples of the world, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to take seriously this divine mandate of Khalifat-ul-Ardh (stewardship of the earth) by seeing to it that no wastage and exploitation of the earth’s resources are being done by fellow humans. All of us should be mindful that the satisfaction of our basic necessities must not be done in a wasteful or prodigal manner at the expense of the future generations following us (See Araf: 31). We, Muslims who are the direct inheritors of the commands of Allah as found in the Holy Qur’an, should all the more follow His directives in caring for and protecting our environment. We must fully adhere to the Qur’anic commands against wasting our natural resources and against exploiting and polluting our ecology. By following the examples of environmental protection undertaken by the Holy Prophet Muhammad and His Blessed Companions, we will be able to preserve our ecological resources for the years to come.

Prophet Muhammad was a great exemplar to all Muslims in respect to environmental management and ecological protection. The Holy Prophet participated in the city planning of Medina as an urban area with environmental sustainability in mind. He forbade the cutting down of trees, killing of wild animals and hunting birds not just in Medina, but also in the city of Mecca and the oasis surrounding Taif. The Prophet declared that the distance of 1,000 square meter circumferential radius around Mecca must be designated as conservation areas. Within these areas, he strongly prohibited the cutting down of trees, hunting and killing of insects and birds, and even breaking of palm branches (Sunan Ibn Majah, pp.113). He likewise forbade Muslims from wasting water while performing their ablution, even if they are living near streams or riverbanks. These prohibitions show that indeed, the Holy Prophet is very concerned with environmental protection and that he wanted all Muslims to do likewise (Sunan Abu Dawud, pp.43).

The Prophet saw that Medina was a verdant oasis where date palms grew in abundance and many cattle fed upon its fertile grasslands. In Medina, he commanded that for every palm tree that is cut, another must be planted in its stead. The people of Taif sent a delegation to establish alliance with Medina; and as one of the framers of the terms of agreement, the Holy Prophet added provisions declaring that the valleys of Taif must be environmentally conserved, so that destroying farms and hunting wild animals in the region were forbidden and that all tribal elders of Taif must strictly implement this provision. Also, upon his peaceful conquest of the city, the Prophet enjoined the Muslims of Mecca to plant trees and date palms along the grassland peripheries and near wells so that underground aquifers will not dry-up and grasses will not be scorched by the desert heat. Again, the Prophet prohibited the cutting of old giant trees which were used by wayfarers and beasts of burden for resting and shelter (Sunan Abu Dawud, pp.83-87).

The Prophet gave clear and strict orders regarding environmental sanitation. He was very concerned about the health of cattle, camels and horses as well as the cleanliness of their grazing sites. He also gave orders that mosques should be cleansed and perfumed regularly with aromatic herbs and wood resins, that the front yards and backyards of a Muslim’s house should be thoroughly cleaned, and that no one should urinate nor defecate near bodies of waters nor human waste be thrown near sources of running water (Tirmidhi, pp.64-66 and Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Wudhu, pp.103). Similarly, this statement from the Holy Prophet illustrates well the principle of sustainable land use: “If someone revives an infertile piece of land by planting trees and by farming on it, such person will be rewarded by God for this righteous deed. If any living creature benefits from this land or from its produce, it will be recorded as charity for the one who cultivates it” (Bayhaqi, pp.20-22). On a personal level, the Holy Prophet himself was a practical model to others in terms of environmental sanitation. He, alongside his beloved wife Hazrat Aishah Siddiqah, would make their surroundings clean by sweeping the floor of their own house, courtyard, and backyard even as far as the adjacent lot next to the Prophet’s mosque (Sunan Tirmidhi, pp.11-13).

The Sahabah-ul-Kiram (Holy Companions of the Prophet), who themselves were ideal examples of holiness, followed the Prophet’s guidance with respect to ecological protection. For instance, the first Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq warned the armies who were defending the borders of Islam: “Do not burn farmlands, nor uproot and cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not slaughter cattle or sheep that are not yours”. It is narrated that one fine day, Hazrat Abu Bakr was planting trees by the roadside, a Bedouin passerby thought that for the Caliph to plant trees with his own hands is beyond the dignity of his office, he therefore frankly told Hazrat Abu Bakr his opinion. Upon hearing it, Hazrat Abu Bakr replied: “The Prophet said that if a person plants a tree, the fruits eaten by any humans or any of God’s creatures, or even those eaten by travellers will be recorded as charity for the one who planted it. This is why I am planting trees by the roadside.” (The Virtues of Sayyedena Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, pp.78)

For my final point, allow me once again to quote from the Holy Qur’an: “Oh children of Adam, attend to your adornment at every time of prayer, and eat and drink and be not prodigal; surely He loves not the prodigals” (Araf: 31). We, Muslims must endeavour to comply with this directive of ecological sustainability given by Almighty Allah to us and strive to teach this to our fellow believers. In order to be true disciples of our Prophet Muhammad and to be truly obedient worshippers of Almighty Allah, we Muslims must therefore strive to live in accordance with nature, cease from wasting resources from our environment, endeavour to protect our environment from man-made degradation, and pro-actively promote ecological sustainability measures. Furthermore, we should always be aware of our responsibility to manifest God’s divine character of “Al-Quddus” (The Most Pure) in our lives, by our constancy in guarding our surrounding, making it pure and clean always. Above all, we must constantly remember that Allah has entrusted us to be His stewards in taking care of the earth and all of His creatures. By the grace of Allah, we will be faithful trustees of the environment which Allah has entrusted upon us to care for, cherish and protect. In this way, we will, Insha’Allah, be able to bequeath a cleaner, more habitable and more liveable world for the incoming future generations. Amen. May it be so!

Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at the University of the Philippines Cebu from 2011-2014. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islamic philosophy, the writings of Imam al-Ghazali on tolerance and pluralism, Turkish Sufism and Public Theology.