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A Muslim Perspective on Care of the Earth

Basma Elshayyal's picture

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God the Creator

 

A Muslim believes that Allah has created everything in this universe in due proportion and measure both quantitatively and qualitatively:

 

And We have produced therein everything in balance.

 

(Qur’an 55:7)

 

and that in the universe there is enormous diversity and variety of form and function. The universe and its various elements fulfil human welfare and are evidence of the Creator’s greatness; He it is who determines and ordains all things, and there is not a thing He has created but celebrates and declares His praise:

 

Have you not seen that God is glorified by all in the heavens and on the earth - such as the birds with wings outspread? Each knows its worship and glorification, and God is aware of what they do.

 

(Qur’an 24:41)

 

Each thing that God has created is a wondrous sign, full of meaning; pointing beyond itself to the glory and greatness of its Creator, His wisdom and His purposes for it.

 

He Who has spread out the earth for you and threaded roads for you therein and has sent down water from the sky: With it have We brought forth diverse kinds of vegetation. Eat and pasture your cattle; verily, in this are signs for men endued with understanding.

 

(Qur’an 20:53-54)

 

God has not created anything in this universe in vain, without wisdom, value and purpose. God says:

 

We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them carelessly. We have not created them but for truth.

 

(Qur’an 44:38-39)

 

Thus the Islamic vision revealed in the Qur’an is of a universe imbued with value. All things in the universe are created to serve the One Lord who sustains them all by means of one another, and who controls the miraculous cycles of life and death:

 

God it is that splits the seed and the date stone, brings the living from the dead and the dead from the living: That is your God - how are you turned away?

 

(Qur’an 6:95)

 

Life and death are created by God so that He might be served by means of good works.

 

Blessed is He in Whose Hand is dominion, and He has power over every thing: He Who has created death and life to try you, which of you work the most good.

 

(Qur’an 67:1-2)

 

 

All created beings are created to serve the Lord of all beings and, in performing their ordained roles in a cohesively designed society, they best benefit themselves and each other in this world and the next. This leads to a cosmic symbiosis (takaful). The universal common good is a principle that pervades the universe, and an important implication of God’s unity, for one can serve the Lord of all beings only by working for the common good of all.

 

The relationship between man and the universe

 

Humankind is part of this universe, the elements of which are complementary to one another in an integrated whole. The relation between man and the universe, as defined and clarified in the Qur’an and the Prophetic teachings, is as follows:

 

A relationship of meditation, consideration and contemplation of the universe and what it contains

 

 

A relationship of sustainable utilization, development and employment for man’s benefit and for the fulfilment of his interests

 

A relationship of care and nurture, for man’s good works are not limited to the benefit of the human species, but rather extend to the benefit of all created beings; and ‘there is a reward in doing good to every living thing.

 

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

 

Stewardship

 

God’s wisdom has ordained stewardship (khalifa) on the earth to human beings. Therefore, in addition to being part of the earth and part of the universe, man is also the executor of God’s injunctions and commands. He is only a manager of the earth and not a proprietor; a beneficiary and not a disposer or ordainer. Heaven and earth and all that they contain belong to God alone. Man has been granted stewardship to manage the earth in accordance with the purposes intended by its Creator; to utilize it for his own benefit and the benefit of other created beings, and for the fulfilment of his interests and of theirs. He is thus entrusted with its maintenance and care, and must use it as a trustee, within the limits dictated by his trust. The Prophet declared:

 

The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.

 

(Saheeh Muslim)

 

All of the resources upon which life depends have been created by God as a trust in our care. He has ordained sustenance for all people and for all living beings.

 

Using the earth’s resources

 

Thus, in Islam the utilization of these resources is the right and privilege of all people and all species. Hence, man should take every precaution to ensure the interests and rights of all others since they are equal partners on earth. Similarly, he should not regard such resources as restricted to one generation above all other generations. It is, rather, a joint responsibility in which each generation uses and makes the best use of nature, according to its need, without disrupting or adversely affecting the interests of future generations. Therefore, man should not abuse, misuse or distort natural resources as each generation is entitled to benefit from them but is not entitled to ‘own’ them in an absolute sense.

 

The right to utilize and harness natural resources, which God has granted man, necessarily involves an obligation on man’s part to conserve them both quantitatively and qualitatively. God has created all the sources of life for man and all resources of nature that he requires, so that he may realise objectives such as contemplation and worship, inhabitation and construction, sustainable utilization, and enjoyment and appreciation of beauty. It follows that man has no right to cause the degradation of the environment and distort its intrinsic suitability for human life and settlement. Nor has he the right to exploit or use natural resources unwisely in such a way as to spoil the food bases and other sources of subsistence for living beings, or expose them to destruction and defilement.

 

Sustainability

 

While the attitude of Islam to the environment, the sources of life, and the resources of nature is based in part on prohibition of abuse, it is also based on construction and sustainable development. This integration of the development and conservation of natural resources is clear in the idea of bringing life to the land and causing it to flourish through agriculture, cultivation, and construction. The Prophet declared:

 

If any Muslim plants a tree or sows a field, and a human, bird or animal eats from it, it shall be reckoned as charity from him. If the day of resurrection comes upon anyone of you while he has a seedling in hand, let him plant it.

 

The approach of Islam toward the use and development of the earth’s resources was put thus by Ali ibn Abi-Talib, the fourth Caliph, to a man who had developed and reclaimed abandoned land:

 

Partake of it gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer.

 

For the use of man?

 

In the divine scheme by which all creatures are made to be of service to one another, God’s wisdom has made all things of service to mankind. But nowhere has God indicated that they are created only to serve human beings. On the contrary, Muslim legal scholars have maintained that the service of man is not the only purpose for which they have been created.

 

Because we cannot be aware of all the beneficial functions of all things, to base our efforts at conservation solely on the environmental benefits to man would lead inevitably to the distortion of the dynamic equilibrium set by God and the misuse of His creation, thereby impairing these same environmental benefits. However, by basing the conservation and protection of the environment on its value as the sign of its Creator, a Muslim believes nothing can be omitted from it. Every element and species has its individual and unique role to play in glorifying God, and in bringing man to know and understand his Creator by showing him, through their being and uses, God’s infinite power, wisdom and mercy. It is impossible to countenance the wilful ruin and loss of any of the basic elements and species of the creation, or to think that the continued existence of the remainder is sufficient to lead us to contemplate the glory, wisdom and might of God in all the aspects that are intended. Indeed, because species differ in their special qualities, each evidences God’s glory in ways unique to it alone.

 

Pollution

 

Waste products and exhaust fumes resulting from ordinary human or industrial activities and the use of modern and advanced technology should be carefully disposed of or eliminated in order to protect the environment against corruption and distortion. It is also vital to protect man from the effects of the harmful impact of these on the environment, and its beauty and vitality, and to ensure the protection of other environmental parameters. The accumulation of waste is largely a result of our wastefulness. Islam’s prohibition of wastefulness, however, requires the reuse of goods and recycling of materials and waste products in so far as is possible, instead of their disposal as rubbish.

 

The Prophet forbade any person to relieve himself in a water source or on a path, or in a place of shade, or in the burrow of a living creature. The values underlying these prohibitions should be understood as applicable to the pollution of critical resources and habitats in general. Waste products, exhaust fumes and similar pollutants should be treated at their source with the best feasible means of treatment, and care should be taken in their disposal to avoid adverse side effects that lead to similar or greater damage or injury. The juristic principle in this connection is that ‘damage shall not be eliminated by means of similar or greater damage’.

 

This is also true of the harmful effects of cleansing agents, and other toxic or harmful materials, used in homes, factories, farms and other public or private premises.

 

It is absolutely necessary to take all possible measures to avoid and prevent their harmful effects before they occur, and to eliminate or remove such effects if they do occur in order to protect man and his natural and social environment. Indeed, if the damage resulting from these materials proves greater than their benefits, they should be prohibited. In this case, we should look for effective and harmless, or at least less harmful, alternatives. This principle would equally apply to other elements impacting on the environment such as noise pollution... Another terminal at Heathrow, anyone?

 

 

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