Archive for the ‘Environment From Islamic Perspective’ Category

Ecology and Islamic Values – I

March 21, 2010

I could understand “do not drink the water.” Or even “no swimming—polluted water.” But “do not touch the water”!? Something about that sign, and the reality it pointed to seemed deeply, irrevocably wrong. The fact that it was the nearest campground to Disneyland somehow made the whole situation even creepier.


The memory of that toxic waste dump campground remained with me for years. I gradually realized that the place was not just the perfect anti-campground, but also an image of anti-paradise: a place where the flowing water is too filthy to be used to purify ourselves before prayer, and where the natural plants and creatures are poisoned and dying. The Quran tells us that the Paradise promised to believers, is a garden with rivers flowing beneath. It is filled with fruits and flowers and growing things, offering nectar better than the finest earthly wine, and beauties and pleasures beyond earthly imagination. While we can never create such a perfect paradise on earth, Muslim architects, land-use planners and artists have sometimes used this image as a model for their efforts to preserve and celebrate the natural beauty of creation. Why not? The Quran tells us that all of nature is a sign of Allaah, reflecting some of His mercy and magnificence.


Indeed, all of nature, in the Islamic view, is in a state of continuous worship. Trees and grasses, fish and animals, are all bending in a sweet, invisible breeze that wafts their worship back toward their creator. Human beings can learn from this process and seek harmony with it by joining creation in worship of the Lord of all worlds and creation. Or else, they can obstinately rebel, imagining themselves cut off and self-sufficient, and persist in transgressing the bounds that Allaah has set for them until the inevitable payment comes due.


In contrast to the prevailing view of nature in the West as a savage, fallen chaos that must be tamed by conquest, Islam insists that nature is respected and invites humans to learn from it and join it in harmonious coexistence.


The polluted-campground experience awakened me to the fact that something is very wrong with the way of life that produced such a place, and that Islam holds the keys to understanding the root causes and solutions of our current environmental dilemma. It convinced me that we Muslims should be putting Islamic environmental activism at the very top of our social and personal agenda. Our planet is in a state of environmental crisis, and as Muslims we are the custodians of Allaah’s last revelation, a revelation that gives humanity the knowledge and inspiration it needs to live in peace and harmony—in this life and the next.


The Quranic solution to the problem of environment is, in a word, holistic and comprehensive. Living a truly Islamic life requires avoiding the evils of extravagance and the insanity of materialism, and that we attain harmony with our surroundings and have compassion for other creatures.


It all begins, however, with the right orientation towards life: complete submission to Allaah, The One Creator of all, and that this submission should be marked by pious awe, loving gratitude, inner peace, the struggle to do good, and the constant awareness that Allaah is greater than any aspect of His creation. The Quranic orientation provides the key to restoring the lost balance between humans, nature, and The One who created both (i.e .Allaah)


Materialists and atheists say that nothing is sacred, which implies that there are no limits to what humans can do to gratify their material desires. Materialist culture, as my wise humanities professor once said, has two distinguishing characteristics: A tremendous drive to achieve more and more control over the natural world, and an equally energetic drive to re-make and perfect human society.


Humans as trustees and keepers of the Earth


Islam teaches that we are the successors and trustees of Allaah on this beautiful earth, not prisoners in a flawed world that needs to be radically re-made. As successors, our task is to preserve and appreciate the beauty and goodness we find, in grateful submission to its Creator. All of our planet’s scientists are needed for a more obvious and simple task: Taking care of the planet Allaah has given us, and taking care of our fellow human beings. This means finding ways to live, and live well, while expending far less physical energy, and making far less obtrusive changes to our physical environment, than is customary today. It means finding ways to redistribute the planet’s wealth more equitably, in the environment of zero economic growth or even negative growth that will surely be upon us in just a few short years, when oil production peaks and starts to decline.


“Allaah loves not the wasters”


So, too, is the Islamic injunction: “Waste not!” Both Quran and Sunnah make it absolutely clear that avoiding waste and prodigality is a matter of the highest importance. For example, Allaah Says (what means) : “Do not be extravagant, for Allaah does not love the wasteful” [Quran, 96:141]. And He Says (what means): “But waste not by excess, for Allaah loves not the wasters” [Quran, 7:31]. And (what means): “Squander not in the manner of a spendthrift. For wasters are the brothers of the Satan, and the Satan is to his Lord ungrateful” [Quran, 17:26-27]. Here we see that the root of wasting is ingratitude: those who respond to the marvelous beauty and bounty of Allaah with gratitude and amazement are happy with a little, while the ungrateful one is never satisfied no matter how much he has, so he abandons himself to an ever-increasing cycle of consumption and waste. If humanity is to survive, it will have to move from the spiritual state of ingratitude to gratitude and give up its wasteful ways, as the Quran urges.


Conserving food and water


Along with this Quranic teaching, the Sunnah (prophetic tradition) provides us with the best example of living in a state of gratitude and avoiding waste. The Prophet Muhammad was famous for his attention to conserving and avoiding waste. He was careful not to waste a crumb of food, licking the last morsel from the utensils so that nothing would go to waste. He urged believers to avoid using more water than necessary when performing an act of worship like ablution. If we must be careful not to waste a drop of water in our ablutions, how much more necessary must it be to avoid waste in less-important activities.


Unfortunately the dominant way of life among well-off people everywhere, especially in the West, is marked by unbelievable waste and extravagance. We eat more than what is good for us, buy things we do not really need, throw away things that either still work or could be repaired, buy over-sized large vehicles and drive short distances instead of walking or bicycling, build larger houses than we need and heat and cool them far beyond minimal comfort standards, waste huge amounts of water maintaining herbicide-sprinkled lawns and golf courses, and so on. In perhaps the single most absurd display of extravagance in all history, we are, at the USA, currently burning up fossil fuels at a rate that will ensure that our economy, our environment, or both will completely collapse in the near future. (See: for details.) This lunatic way of life, whose seductive pleasures and comforts disguise its utter madness, its complete lack of sustainability, was not developed by Muslims.


To be true to our religion, we must change our ways, and make an effort to conserve, educate, and build alternative institutions to mitigate and help cope with the coming economic and environmental meltdown, preserve and strengthen of our Islamic communities and institutions,and think about how they can be of service in the struggle to help humanity exercise responsible stewardship over our corner of creation.


Ecology and Islamic values -II

Ecology and Islamic values – III


Sunday : 19/07/2009

This piece is taken from the website IslamWeb.

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Climate Change: A Call for Personal Changes

March 21, 2010

The reality of climate change calls for a re-evaluation of our actions and a redirection of our energies towards the reduction or possible reversal of the looming environmental crisis. Religious leaders are challenged to look into their traditions for any inspiration that could guide us towards averting this global disaster. This new demand on old traditions forces us to look creatively at the world’s religious heritage and reinterpret or reapply sacred texts and principles to our present problem. It is surprising, however, that the texts of the Islamic religious tradition speak directly on many issues that are pertinent to our problem. Hence the task for the Muslim expositor here is not so much a reinterpretation of the traditions, but mainly a reapplication of old texts to new problems.

To begin with, the Quran calls on us to recognise our own contribution to the crisis:

Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return. (Quran 30:41)

According to the verse cited, God is giving us a taste of our own medicine so that we may return from the wrong directions we have taken in life. If we are to reverse the deterioration of our environment then we have to make some hard choices and change our practices. In other words, ecological change calls for personal change.

Wastefulness is a major contributing factor to our present woes, hence the sudden awareness of the benefits of reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. But this reminds us of some Quranic cautions. For example: “But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Quran 6:141, Yusuf Ali translation).

The principle of conservation is illustrated by the following rule, noted in many basic texts relating to Islamic acts of worship: while making ablutions in preparation for prayer we should be abstemious in the use of water even if we have a river at our disposal. When this rule was first formulated, its practical benefit may have been puzzling; today it is all too plain. Muslims following this rule must, over time, cultivate due regard for water and other natural resources as divine provisions.

The Sanctity of Planting Trees
The beneficial nature of trees to our ecosystem is now widely known. It may be noted in this regard that the planting of a tree is regarded in the classical Islamic tradition as an act of continuous charity, the most desirable sort of good deeds. The Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, said that if one plants a tree then whatever is eventually eaten from it whether by humans or animals counts for the planter as a an act of charity. The importance of planting trees as a good deed is highlighted in another tradition which says that if one has on hand a sapling ready to be planted and the Day of Judgment arrives one should go ahead and plant it.

The Equilibrium of All Life
Furthermore, Muslims believe that all creations of Allah, including animals and trees, glorify God in their own way.

Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth,- the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind? (Quran 22:18)

Islam also teaches humans that all creatures of God, whether it be the tiny ant or the huge lion, serves a certain purpose in the larger scheme of God’s world: “There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you.” (Quran 6:38)

This divine notion, which came more than 1400 years ago, reinforces the scientific concept of ‘chain of life,’ with each species depending on another and together maintaining the balance of life on earth. God reminds us in the Quran not to tamper with His divine balance (here referred to as ‘measure’) by reminding us, “And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof.” (55:7-9) Hence, irresponsible deforestation and wanton killing of even the tiniest of God’s creatures is strongly discouraged in Islam.

Man: Trustee and Vicegerent
Moreover, there are some general Islamic concepts which serve to reinforce these observations. One is the belief that everything within our possession and which we conveniently call our property is not only provided by God but ultimately belong to Him. On this belief, what we have is merely placed in our trust, and must be preserved and delivered back to God in the best manner possible. The following Quranic verse emphasises the point: “Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend of that whereof He hath made you trustees; and such of you as believe and spend (aright), theirs will be a great reward.” (Quran 57:7) The imperative towards charity here is premised on the belief that we are mere trustees of the wealth in our possession. Muslims will naturally extend this belief with regards to all the natural resources within their ambit.

Related to this idea of trust is the concept of vicegerency. In the Quran, God says: “Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave” (Quran 10:14). The behaviour of those who cause corruption on earth is well noted: “And when he turneth away (from thee) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; and Allah loveth not mischief” (Quran 2:205). According to the Quran, God made well everything he has created: “Who made all things good which He created” (32:7). And we are commanded commanded to keep it that way: “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order” (7:56).

A Call for Change
Failing to follow the Quranic injunctions, we have, of course, upset the ecological balance. And it is up to us to set it right again. This will require great effort, and courageous personal change. We need to do our best to restore and preserve the balance in nature; to take up our responsibility as viceroys of God and hence as custodians, stewards, and trustees in whose trust God has placed the resources we enjoy. We need to maintain the ecosystems that harbour the dazzling array of life forms God has created, including animals, birds, insects, and plants. But the required personal changes are sometimes simple and manageable. We can easily reduce, reuse, and recycle waste. We can to a large extent conserve our use of water and other natural resources. We can in some small way reverse the process of deforestation by planting one tree at a time. It is time to pay better attention to the principles set forth in God’s message, including this one: “Man shall have nothing but what he strives for” (Quran 53:39).
We have caused corruption on land and sea, and it is up to us to mend our ways. Our present crisis calls on religious leaders to find faith-based messages that will inspire the faithful towards a heightened environmental awareness. We have seen that there is ample content in the sacred traditions of Islam to meet this need. What remains to be seen is the extent to which we will rally to this call for personal change.

Shabir Ally
July 28, 2009

This article is taken from the website Why Islam?

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