Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Preserve the Environment and Reap its Benefits – An Islamic Perspective

Science and TechnologyPreserve the Environment and Reap its Benefits - An Islamic Perspective

It was Abraham Lincoln who declared, “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Human impact on the environment is a woeful tale, and the onus is on today’s societies to minimize environmental degradation and build a sustainable future. The impetus to protect the environment from man’s destructive tendencies comes not only from the alarm sounded by environmentalists but is also contained within Islam’s foremost sources.

STEWARD OF THE ENVIRONMENT

Several learned Muslim writers have emphasized that mankind is the steward of the environment and bears responsibility for reducing or preventing environmental deterioration. This view has been espoused by environmentalists and scholars of other religions as well. Some of our scholars say that this concept is contained in the wider meaning of the Quranic word ‘khalifah’: “And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth…” (2:30).

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The Creator has placed everything on earth at the disposal of man. “Do you not see that Allah has subjected to you whatever is on the earth….” (22:65). He allowed humankind to exercise authority over other creatures. However, this comes with the caveat of safeguarding their habitats as much as possible as is implied from the Quranic verse: There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (6:38). 1

The following Quranic verse, according to some modern-day scholars, can be used to embrace anthropogenic or human-caused environmental destruction: “Corruption has appeared on land and at sea because of what the hands of men have wrought; in order that God may make them taste the consequences of their actions; so that they might return” (30:41). Quoting Imam Saffet Catovic with reference to this ayah, “The current global climate crisis is primarily due to what “the hands of men have wrought”: anthropogenic activities driven by the soaring arrogance of conspicuous consumption and the insatiable corporate greed of the few, fueled by the burning of fossil fuels…” 2

Rachel Carson in 1962 through her book Silent Spring first alerted the modern world about the catastrophic effects of pollution and toxic chemicals on the health of humans and its effects on other species. ‘Global environmentalism’ – the concern for and response to environmental transgression worldwide – later emerged.

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DESTRUCTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICES

Today we observe the dire consequences of negative environmental actions and hold little hope for circumstances to be any different in the next several generations. Such destructive doings include habitat reduction, over-exploitation of renewable resources, excessive use of fossil fuels, unsustainable agricultural practices, and pollution.

To provide a current illustration, take the case of pollution in the Caribbean Sea, of which a few examples will suffice. Famed for its attraction to tourists, the area witnesses ever so often cruise ships plying through its waters. However, downgrading of the marine environment occurs when the ships dump sewage offshore contaminating the pristine waters. In this connection, it is noted that, “The region’s small ports have limited facilities for handling wastes and sewage from cruise ships…”.3,4 Another problem this area faces is agricultural runoff from farms into the mangrove and coral reef ecosystems, which diminishes their productivity. Plastic pollution is yet another serious challenge to the much sought-after waters of the Caribbean. Investigations have revealed that “Thousands of plastic shards can often be found in the wider Caribbean waters, representing nearly 80% of the total litter.” 3,5

ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

The harm inflicted on the environment by human activities is depriving us from enjoying some of the blessings inherent in God’s earth. In the Quran we are told, See you not that Allah has subjected to you (mankind) all that is on the earth…. Verily, Allah is, for mankind, full of Kindness, Most Merciful.” (22:65). Our environment provides ‘ecosystem services’ in terms of resources as well as countless other boons. A few examples are water purification by streams and soil bacteria, production of oxygen by plants, decomposition of waste by fungi and bacteria, maintenance of suitable temperatures by the atmosphere, and carbon capture by green plants.

To further amplify the natural service of water purification, we can refer to a Quranic verse where Allah states, “…We send down purifying water from the sky.” (25:48). This is an indication of the indispensable role of the water cycle in replenishing the contaminated water supplies of the earth with pure water.

We should also not omit to include the aesthetic and recreational benefits in nature; they are valuable services too. David Attenborough draws our attention to the aesthetical beauty by saying, “It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest…” Indeed, we see the earth is fine-tuned to facilitate man’s existence and enjoyment. As the Quran says (14:34): “…and if you were to count the bounty of Allah you cannot reckon it…”.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

From the foregoing, we can readily agree with Dr Yasir Qadhi when he says, “It is possible for modern ‘ulamaa’ to make a claim to be ecologically conscious”. This understanding aligns with the core environmental concept of ‘sustainable development’, a term that can be defined as “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

One can refer to the authentic hadiths to show Islam’s encouragement for a sustainable environment where future generations will reap the rewards: Anas (R.A.) reported that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) said, “If the hour (the day of resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the hour is established to plant it.” Anas (R.A.) also reported the following hadith: “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.”

A CALL FOR ACTION

Compelling as the Quranic and hadith evidence may seem, some Muslim countries have nonetheless displayed indifference to the pressing environmental issue of climate change. The Turkish environmentalist, Professor Ibrahim Ozdemir opined in Al Jazeera (August 2020) that “Inaction in the Muslim world persists despite a declaration by Muslim countries in 2015 to play an active role in combatting climate change.” A call to translate rhetoric into concrete action comes recently from former Vice President Al Gore who is well-known for raising concerns about climate change since decades ago. He voiced the urgency saying, “2022 is the year world leaders need to stop talking and actually start cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.”

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Regardless of the extent of governments’ involvement in environmental issues on the macro-level, there are small but significant steps the individual and family household can do on the micro-level in addressing environmental problems. Muslim advocates on environmental protection have given us beneficial tips for a ‘Green Ramadan’. These doable recommendations include reducing water usage, conserving energy, generating less quantity of waste, reducing the use of plastics, and recycling. 6, 7

Undoubtedly, preventing widespread environmental deterioration is the right thing to do and requires ‘all hands on deck’. In particular, the embracing of eco-friendly practices by mosques and Islamic centers would demonstrate leadership for Muslim communities in environmental preservation. Activism by the public in general is a catalyst for environmental change. Consequently, policy makers can be encouraged to formulate policies that mitigate environmental degradation and deliver sound environmental decisions. These and other positive efforts towards environmental protection are reflective of Islamic values and are of immense benefit to all of humanity.

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REFERENCES

  1. Suliman, L. (2020, June 5) Islam and Animal Rights. EcoMENA
  2. Majeed,K., Latif, S.Y., (2020). Forty Green Hadith.

forty-green-hadith.pdf (cambridgecentralmosque.org)

Author

  • 54624d13ba1650bc2af937104fbef53b?s=80&d=mm&r=g

    S. Imtiaz Zaman, B.Sc., M.A., Dip. Ed. is a retired NYC public high school science teacher with 30 years of service. His expertise is in Earth Science, Biology, and AP Environmental Science. Before migrating from Guyana, he served as an Environmental Officer, and taught in high school. On the religious side, he has long been involved with the local Muslim community in terms of basic Islamic education and social activities.

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