Islam and Environment Be the trustees and stewards of planet earth
World Environment Day is celebrated on 5th June across the world. It’s important to care for the environment we live in, not only for our health but for our very survival. This special day urges us all, at both individual and collective level, to come together and explore renewable energy, green technologies, and ways of restoring the ecosystem.
Islam represents a unique model for a transition to sustainable development by focusing on justice and harmony between human and nature. Islam views environmental challenges as an indicator of a moral and ethical crisis. Looking at the creation of humans, earth, and the entire cosmos as signs of the Creator is fundamental to Islamic values. Water is the basic origin of every life that exists on earth. ‘We made from water every living thing’. (Qur’an, Al-Nur: 41) Islamic worldview defines a good life as living rightly on earth and caring for both people and nature. The Qur’anic injunction is “And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption on the earth.” (Al Qasas: 77)
Islamic discourse offers a sense of hope and optimism about the possibility of attaining harmony between human and nature. Earth will find a balance if humans rethink their lifestyles and mindsets as stated in the Quran: “Corruption has appeared in both land and sea, because of what people’s own hands have brought.” (Al Rum: 41)
Here the consequences of evil by the acts of some people are shown in order to understand the reality and turn to the righteous path. The holistic view of Islam is founded on the notion of harmony and natural state and in respecting the balance and proportion in the systems of the universe. These notions provide an ethical dimension and a mandate for all humans to respect nature and all forms of life.
Hence, overcoming environmental crisis and mitigating the impact of climate change, from an Islamic perspective, is underpinned by defining the role of humans as trustees and stewards of planet earth. This balance has been disturbed because certain human choices have resulted in over-consumption, over-exploitation, and over-use of all available natural resources.
Islamic values call upon to protect the diversity of all forms of life. The present ecological crisis is linked to human ethics and values. Human actions are responsible for the global ecological crisis. Reflecting on the main environmental problems, such as the destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, climate change, ozone depletion, global warming and erosion of soil, we see that all are triggered by human greed and ignorance. Human responsibility is to save and protect livelihood and ecosystem services to ensure a sustainable civilisation, learning from and reflecting on the fate of past civilisations in Islam. To celebrate the symphony of life, all humans need to celebrate and protect biological and cultural diversity.
Islamic worldview calls for a transition to a sustainable society and economy by adopting responsible and sustainable principles. This change requires a shift in norms and practices. Islam being a religion can become a powerful part of the solution if humans adopt a holistic spiritual view towards mankind.
To see a new Islamic discourse that emphasises and links faith, reason and empathy to ensure ecological restoration, we have to rethink educational systems that neglected the beauty and majesty of nature and the cosmos. The extinction of species around us, which are simply communities like us, may extend to humankind unless we change our worldviews and development models.
Islamic beliefs, traditions and values provide an effective and comprehensive solution to the current environmental challenges faced by the human race. The Holy Qur’an has a number of specific references to ecology and also contains some important principles for environmental conservation. The first principle which guides Islamic teaching on environmental sustainability is the concept of trusteeship. Being a responsible guardian, a man should take all necessary steps to ensure that the entrusted property is passed on to the next generation in as pure form as possible. The holy Qur’an teaches, “And do not do mischief on the earth after it has been set in order.” (Al A’raf: 85)
According to Islam, each man is the custodian of nature, and must live in harmony with other creatures. It is the duty of all Muslims to respect, nurture and care for the environment. Corruption of all kinds, including environmental corruption, which includes air, water, noise and industrial pollution, and reckless exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources, is disliked by Allah (SWT). The Holy Qur’an directs: “And Allah loveth not those who do mischief.” (Al Ma’eda: 64)
The traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also deal extensively with various aspects of environment, including resource conservation, land reclamation and environmental hygiene. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) discouraged over-consumption, luxury and lavishness and encouraged moderation in all walks of life.
The Prophet (PBUH) clearly forbade destruction of trees and crops even during war times unless their existence remains advantageous to the enemy. The Prophet (PBUH) gave high degree of importance to sustainable cultivation of land, waste minimisation, humane treatment of animals, preservation of natural resources, and protection of water and wildlife. In Islam, planting a tree is a charitable act.
Islam doesn’t like wasters: “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess.” (Al-Araf: 21). Islam cares about each drop of water even though there is a flowing river. One day, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) passed by Hazrat Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqas (R.A) while he was performing ablution (wudu). The Prophet (PBUH) asked Sa’ad: “What is this wastage?” Hazrat Sa’ad (R.A) replied: “Is there wastage in wudu also?” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Yes, even if you are at an abundantly flowing river.” (Ibn Majah)
Islam has a rich tradition of highlighting the importance of environmental protection, ecological restoration, and conservation of natural resources. According to Islamic law, the basic elements of nature – land, water, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just to human beings. The holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are guides to sustainable development around the globe. Allah (SWT) commands human beings to avoid doing mischief and wasting resources as these acts cause degradation of the environment. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given to mankind on a guardianship basis, which implies the right to use another person’s property on the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed. Islam stressed on the preservation of environment without any disturbance and destruction.
Let us all together inspire ourselves through the teachings of Islam in order to bring about a clean, green and corruption-free environment all around the world.