mosqueAs the natural environment faces degradation as a consequence of human activity there are vigorous calls for a re-evaluation of our actions to reduce our impact on the environment. Amongst others, faith leaders have been looking at their traditions for inspiration to find solutions to this problem.
Islam has a rich tradition of emphasising the accountability and responsibility of humans towards the natural environment. There are over 750 verses in the Quran that mention the environment and exhort humans to reflect upon nature. Numerous ahadith (sayings) of the Prophet Mohammad encourage us to conserve and look after the environment as well. For Muslims, it is not a matter of reinterpreting these texts for a modern phenomenon, but rather reapplying these ancient traditions to current day problems.
Islam views humans as Allah’s vicegerents on earth, “For He it is who has made you vicegerents on earth” (Quran 6:165). Being a vicegerent is a position of trust and responsibility; responsibility towards each other and other of Allah’s creatures. This position demands that we act as stewards and custodians looking after nature and not overly exploiting natural resources.
Over-exploitation and wastefulness, something that is part and parcel of modern consumerist societies, have contributed significantly to environmental degradation. This has prompted the counter movement of reduce, reuse and recycle from the environmentalists. However, for Muslims the impetus for this comes from religion, with the Quran stating: “Waste not by excess, for Allah does not love the wasters” (Quran 6:141). In fact wastefulness of natural resources is so discouraged that the Prophet Mohammad is reported to have said: “Do not waste water, even if you perform your ablution on the banks of an abundantly-flowing river.”
Similarly, the benefits of trees to the ecosystem and in absorbing carbon dioxide are now well known. Mass deforestation and illegal logging have had a detrimental effect on bio-diversity, animal habitats and air pollution. Islamic tradition has always viewed planting and tending to trees as an act of charity and reward. Prophet Mohammad is reported to have said: “if any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity”. In fact, the rewards linked with planting trees are so great that another tradition of the Prophet 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.
Islam puts a great deal of emphasis on looking after the natural environment and acting as stewards and trustees. There are ample guidelines in Islamic traditions to rectify the environmental sins our world is evolving with. It is just a matter of educating ourselves and taking measures to maintain environmental upkeep as an intrinsic human value as required by being the trustees on earth, and remembering that we are responsible for caring for the planet and all its creatures.