Islamic Perspective On Environment Viz-a-viz Mindanao Natural Resources

“BISMILLAH HIRAKHMAN HIRAKHIM”
(In the name of Allah, The Sustainer, The Merciful)

“ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE ON ENVIRONMENT VIZ-A-VIZ MINDANAO NATURAL RESOURCES”
By: Zulfikhar S. Abdullah, Ernesto T. Santa Cruz- October 2009

Muslim- Chief of Staff of ( RLA-ARMM) Assemblyman Datu Suharto S. Midtimbang Cotabato City –

Christian Catholic- Chairman- Department of Environment and Ecology of the United Bangsamoro Sultanates and Royalties of the Philippines (NGO) Cotabato City –

INTRODUCTION

Several decades ago, many environmentalist groups/institutions and even individuals from different sectors of society emerged and strived hard to advocate awareness on the destruction and devastation of our environment both in the local and global domain. Apparently, such advocacies were not able to reach the target level of participation from our local and international communities. Statistically, this can perhaps be traced to the worsening environmental problems of every well developed and developing countries of the world with the exception of few countries.

During those decades, perhaps some advanced technocrat countries perceived that by preserving and protecting their own environment domains they would be exempted to the upheaval of their environment. What they set aside are the realities that our mother earth is one oblate spheroid chattel where the seas and the oceans are not separated from each other though our lands and soils are polarized geographically through the formation of different continents.

It also has to be noted that most of the religions in the world, being a spiritual source of mankind had less contribution in the advocacy of environment protection and conservation. For some reason, they have depended upon their respective governments and put down their full trust on the matter of environment as the prime responsibility of the government. Every government, therefore, have institutionalized a separate department on environment matters. In some other way, this can be associated to the doctrine of separation of politics and religion or say the division between the moral and legal vernacular or due to the partition of the man made laws and the holy the scriptures.

A NEW BEGINNING

Fortunately, the emergence of this “Mindanao Interfaith Stewardship Dialogue 2009” through “Interfaith Dialogue on the Integrity of Creation” initiated by Xavier University, SEA for Mindanao and KAFI Foundation, heralds to create a common stance and possibly serve as a nucleus to open up a avenue for our religious sectors to participate and impart their moral and spiritual perception on environmental matters and to be able to achieve a meeting of minds in our midst. And also to intensify multi-sectoral cooperation to advocate a common ground to our roles and responsibilities on the notion of stewardship over the integrity of Mindanao’s God-given natural resources.

ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF ENVIRONMENT

We know that the environment is one of today’s most serious problems both in the local and global domain. It is a problem that perils not only us but the whole world, our future generations and their right to live in a healthy environment. It is causing many countries including the Philippines to move toward an era in a state of apprehension and fear. This compels us to understand the environmental problems and to help in solving them in our simple yet concerted best level ways.

Precisely, we have to consider the environment from a broad perspective. Foremost, we should not forget that the Creator and Owner of all environments is at the same time our Creator.

Environment is formed by our house, garden, and car, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the town in which we live, and the people we live with. So too, it is formed by the seas, lakes, rivers, roads, mountains, and forests, which are shared by all the members of society and so to speak the entire universe itself is our environment.

Apparently, when we say “environment,” we have to understand all our surroundings in which we and all living creatures live. While by “environmental pollution,” we mean the dirtying and spoiling of these natural surroundings. The air is polluted, the seas are polluted, the ozone layer is diminishing, different animal species becoming extinct or endangered and the devastation of our forest lands. We can also include the pollution of our social environment, worldwide poverty and famine, deprivation of human rights, homelessness, migration problems, racism, abandoned children, wars, drug abuse, alcohol addiction and violence to mention a few.

On the other hand, since this particular interfaith dialogue focuses on the God-given natural resources of Mindanao, then I should focus my presentation on the Islamic perception on natural resources (environment) and the concept of stewardship being emphasized as gamut of our interfaith dialogue. Luckily, we must be grateful, despite hectic schedules of our spiritual vocations in our respective religions, we were be able to appreciate that religion has an important role to play in overcoming these environmental problems and to be able to develop a comprehensive and integral environmental consciousness. And to strengthen our stance as unified force to preserve, protect and conserve our natural resources (environment).

Basically, as far as my research is concerned, according to Islamic point of view, everything in the universe is created by God. It is God who adorns the skies with the sun, the moon and the stars, and the face of the earth with flowers, trees, gardens, orchards, and the various animal species. It is again God who causes the rivers and streams to flow on the earth, Who upholds the skies , causes the rain to fall, and places the boundary between night and day. The universe together with all its richness and vitality is the work and art of God, that is, of the Creator. It is again God who created all plants and animals in pairs, in this way causing their procreation and preservation. God created man subsequently to all these – to entrust these environment.

Islam believes that men are God’s vicegerents on earth, to steward all the created things both the living and the non-living things. We were given an intellect (reason) before He put the trust to manage all created things accordingly, with its due measures and proportions. Just as we are not the lords of nature and the world, so the world is not our property which we can dispose of as we wish or as we are able. Nature was created by God and it belongs to God. Everything in nature is a sign of God’s existence; that is, a token or missive. The Holy Qur’an expresses this truth as follows:

“Behold, thy lord said to the angels: I will create a vicegerent on earth.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah (chapter) II, Verse 30)… “It is He (Lord) who hath created for you all things that are on earth; Moreover His (lord) design comprehended the heavens, for He (Lord) gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He (lord) hath perfect knowledge.” (Holy Qur’an, Sarah. chapter II, Verse 29).

“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds subjugated between the sky and earth — [here] indeed are signs for a people that are wise.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah. chapter II, Verse 164)

The Beloved Prophet of Islam, Mohammad (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) both in his practices and “Hadiths” (sayings of the Holy Prophet), attached a great importance to planting trees, protecting existent ones, planting forests, as well as to conserving existent ones. His practices and conduct related to conservation of the environment should therefore be considered from the Qur’anic standpoint. For us his actions are sources of inspiration constituting his works and deeds/practices, which the Muslims are obliged to follow. To put it another way, as in all matters, the exemplar of Islamic conduct related to the environment and the person who displayed it in most perfect fashion was God’s Messenger (PBUH). His commands concerning it, are learnt, the Muslims weighty responsibilities become clear.

†On migrating to Medina from Mecca, God’s Messenger (PBUH) organized the planting of trees and of date groves. He made the forests and green spaces conservation areas, where every sort of living creature lived. These were called sanctuaries (hima). For example, a strip of land approximately twelve miles wide around Medina was proclaimed a sanctuary and made a conservation area. We know that He proclaimed other areas, similar to this, sanctuaries. All these show the paramount importance —as a religion— Islam gives to nature conservancy and protection of all nature’s living creatures.

SOME HADITHS OF THE PROPHET CONNECTED WITH PLANTING TREES AND PROTECTING THEM

“If you have a sapling, if you have the time, be certain to plant it, even if Doomsday starts to break forth.” (al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, iii, 30)

“Whoever plants trees, God will give him reward to the extent of their fruit.” (Musnad, v, 415)

“Whoever reclaims and cultivates dry, barren land will be rewarded by God for the act. So long as men and animals benefit from it He will record it for him as almsgiving.”(al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, vi, 39; Haythami, Majmau al-Zawaaid, iv, 67-8)

“Whoever plants a tree, reward will be recorded for him so long as it produces fruit.”(Majma’ al-Zawaid, v, 480)

“If a Muslim plants a tree, that part of its produce consumed by men will be as almsgiving for him. Any fruit stolen from the tree will also be as almsgiving for him. That which the birds eat will also be as almsgiving for him. Any of its produce which people may eat thus diminishing it, will be as almsgiving for the Muslims who planted it”.(Bukhari, Tajrid al-Sahih, vii, 122; Muslim, Musaqat, 2 No. 2)

“The reward accruing from seven things continue to reach the person concerned even if he is in his grave: knowledge he has taught, water he has provided for the public benefit, any well he has dug, any tree he has planted, a mosque he has built, recitations of the Qur’an bequeathed to him, and children who pray for him after his death.”(al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, iv, 87)

Following these commands of the Qur’an and the exemplary practices of God’s Messenger (PBUH), throughout history, Muslims have given importance to planting trees and protecting existing one’s. The holy Prophet (PBUH), when sending an expedition for a battle to Muta, gave some instructions and underlines that: “Do not cut down trees and do not kill animals except for food (in the enemy territory).”

Green is the color of Islamic civilization, so too the dome of Prophet’s tomb is green. These are not mere coincidence; they should be seen as reflecting the importance Islam gives to greenery, nature, and trees.

Another important thing related to the environment is the good treatment of the animals, and the protection of them; or more correctly, extending our kindness and compassion to them. However, today many animal species are becoming extinct and endangered. Other animals stray abandoned and hungry in the streets. Taken as a whole, therefore, it cannot be said that we treat animals well and carry out our duties towards them. For Islam regulates not only relations between and among individuals and between individuals and society and the state, it also regulates relations between God, man and nature (environment). A natural consequence of this is that man is answerable to God for his attitude and actions towards nature (environment) and animals. This may be seen in the one Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH):

“If without good reason anyone kills a sparrow, or a creature lesser than that even, the living creature will put his plaint to God on the Day of Judgment, saying: ‘So-and-so killed me for no purpose.”(al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, iv, 87)

AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO ( RLA-ARMM)

These are only few Qur’anic injunctions and Hadiths of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), regarding forest related matters that inspires yours truly through the office of former Speaker Pro-Tempore of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao ( RLA-ARMM) Assemblyman Datu Suharto S. Midtimbang to craft a bill that would serve as a legacy to our generations, principally to protect and conserve the remaining natural forests and to rehabilitate our denuded forestlands specifically in the area of the Autonomous region, encouraged by Sultan Mohammad H. Adil, the Sultan of Kutawato. Auspiciously, the “Regional Sustainable Forest Management Act, (RSFMA) of 2004” surfaced.

This law was basically crafted in line with the existing laws of the Philippine Republic, the “Adat” (refers to customs and traditions practiced by any of the tribes in the area of the ARMM), the “Taritib ago Igma” (refers to the unwritten customary “Adat” laws of the tribes in the area of the ARMM) and in the framework of the Shari’ah Law (refers to the totality of God’s commandments to man, it is oftentimes translated as Islamic law). Thus, the concept of “Kilafah” (vicegerent or steward of God) and “Amanah”) constructive use and development of the earth is a trust from God) were given extensive emphasis and contemplation.

Since the area of the ARMM is comprised of five (5) component provinces, with its diversified major tribes such as Maguindanawons of Maguindanao, Tausogs of Sulu, Maranaos of Lanao, Yakans of Basilan and Sama of Tawi-Tawi and some other indigenous tribes in Mindanao i.e the Kalagan of Davao Oriental, the Tirurays, with the participation of some non-Muslim religious group, such as, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists and other sectors currently residing in the area of the Autonomous region, it must also be noted that the said “RSFMA” bill was conceptualized based on the basic principles of popular consultation among the stakeholders of the Autonomous government in harmony and with high regards to the customary traditions between and among the inhabitants of the ARMM.

In addition, this Forest Management Act as a form of “Kilafah” (Stewardship) and “Amanah” (Trust) – the conservation, protection, constructive utilization, management and development of forestlands and their resources shall be considered as a divine trust and the people involved in those duties and obligations shall be considered as stewards or trustees who are not only responsible to the state and the people but are also accountable to the Almighty God.

CONCLUSION

Islam through its Holy Book the Holy Qur’an and Hadiths (sayings and deeds) of the last Prophet of God, the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) clearly emphasized that environment and its natural resources were created by God for the benefit of the entire mankind, being the source of life and other things that benefits man itself in due proportions and measures, i.e food, shelter, potable water, fruits, vegetation, etc, God also created man to be his vicegerent (kilafah/stewardship) on earth and amanah (trust) based on the reasons He bestowed upon man purposely, to protect, conserve and preserve the natural resources for its sustainability to man’s needs accordingly.

In an attempt to synthesize the problem of forest destruction and denudation in the area of the autonomous region, the Regional Sustainable Forest Management Act of 2004 was thus crafted in harmonization to Islamic perspectives on environment, in line with the existing laws of the Republic of the Philippines and the Adat (customary traditions of different tribes). The RSFMA aims to salvage the destructed and denuded forestlands in the area of ARMM.

The said law also aspires to create an avenue to rehabilitate the forestlands of the autonomous region to pave the way for alternative ways to uplift the living condition of the inhabitants by developing income generating livelihood programs out of the constructive utilization of natural resources of our environment. Such livelihood programs will eventually lead to the betterment of the people’s lives thereby build an atmosphere of peace that serves as the stimulus of development not only in the area of the autonomous region but possibly in the entire Mindanao and its islands.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I seek refuge to “Allah”, the creator and the master of universe, to the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and His guidance, I would like to express gratitude to the people behind this paper who patiently supported and enlightened us. To Johnny Cabreira, for including the Sultanates and ARMM in the list of participants thus enabling them to express their knowledge and wisdom regarding these responsibilities, for keeping us updated and for taking care of our board and lodging; to the secretariat, for patiently updating us; to Bai Dolly Adil, for raising funds for our transportation and other expenses; and lastly, to Sultan Mohammad H Adil , Al Hajj for acknowledging and trusting us to prepare and present this literature representing the Sultanates and its constituents to this worthy forum, “Interfaith Dialogue on the Integrity of Creation”, initiated by Xavier University, SEA for Mindanao and KAFI Foundation. “Alhamduli’lah”

This piece is taken from the website of Kuro-Kuro.

See on-line at: http://kuro-kuro.org/index.php/archives/2001

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