By Sadia Dehlvi
Dec 05, 2014
The ecological crisis is one of the biggest challenges of our time. We need to understand the underlying philosophical causes for man’s rapacious attitude towards his environment.
In the Quran, God speaks of creating everything in balance, and warns that transgression of balance shall have disastrous consequences. This holds true not just of the world around us, but also for our souls. The Quran confirms that God created Adam from clay, making man just another part of the physical world.
Islam maintains that humanity is part of the extraordinary cosmic symphony, which is interacting with God. However, what differentiates the human being from the rest of creation is his role as vice-regent of the earth. The children of Adam are expected to rise above greedy impulses and turn the earth into a manifestation of the Garden of Eden; in anticipation of the promised Gardens of Paradise. In contrast, we could reject this “water principle” and use the “fiery principle” to turn the earth into a kind of hellfire. This implies succumbing to the possibilities of anger, greed, envy and other negative aspects within the human soul.
There are over 6,000 verses in the Quran, of which more than 500 deal with the natural phenomenon. Allah repeatedly calls on mankind to reflect on His signs, which include all aspects of nature such as trees, mountains, seas, animals, birds, stars, the sun and the moon; and our own hearts. Traditional Islamic jurisprudence contains regulations concerning the conservation and allocation of scarce water resources, it provides legislation for the conservation of land with special zones of graded use, it has special rules for the establishment of rangelands, wetlands, green belts and for wildlife protection and conservation. Unfortunately, much of these traditional institutions and laws associated with sound environmental practice in Islam are no longer applied in Muslim countries.
Prophet Muhammad had declared a 30-km area around his city of Madinah a protected grove, prohibiting cutting down of trees within its borders. He prescribed picking up litter from the streets as an act of faith. He forbade the cutting of cedar trees in the desert that provided shade and shelter to animals. There are innumerable sayings of Prophet Muhammad that stress on conservation of natural resources, especially water.
Human beings have the capacity to subvert the world, far more than any other living species. We also have the capacity to uphold the physical world. Islam believes that all human souls come from a garden and at the end of time each soul will either enter the garden or the fire. We could turn the world into something that becomes hotter, greedier and more destructive or we can turn it into something that is calm, garden like and reflects the Divine purpose. Prophet Muhammad famously said, “Even if the Day of Judgment should arrive and you hold a sapling in your hand, plant it”.
This indicates that one should never lose hope and continue trying one’s level best to be at peace with the earth till the very end.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.