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Islam and Environment

Salman Rasheed

The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.

Nowadays, the environment is a hot-button issue as the entire globe is lately experiencing abnormal weather patterns due to global warming.  Also, other environmental issues of concern include air and water pollution, destruction of the ozone layer, and waste management.  The Holy Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) Sunnah mention numerous lessons and directions on treating the environment around us.

The Quran mentions in Surah Al-Azhab Ayat 72, “Indeed, We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.” And Surah Al-Anam Ayat 165, “And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.”

The above verses inform us that we humans are the successors or khalifahs on earth and thus, we have a responsibility as stewards to take care of the earth and its environment. Our life on earth is short and temporary and Allah (SWT) has entrusted its care to us and if we corrupt it through pollution, we have violated this trust. Allah (SWT) again warns us in Surah Al-Baqarah Ayat 60 about not spreading corruption throughout the planet, “and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” 

Corruption can take on many forms like theft, fraud, and political crime. However, we can see the corruption occurring on the environmental front like mass deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, dumping toxic waste in water bodies, and growing landfills.  Therefore, the Quran reminds us to always be circumspect of our actions and the effect they can have on our planet.

Allah (SWT) in the Quran speaks about the importance of water as essential for life, “And Allah has sent down rain from the sky and given life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed, in that is a sign for a people who listen.” (Surah An-Nahl, Ayat 65). Moreover, Allah (SWT) here uses the analogy of life and death so Muslims realize the value of water reminding us to provide clean water for all.   As Muslims, we believe that water belongs to Allah (SWT) and nobody should monopolize it but instead share it among the entire community.

The Quran mentions the protective nature of the ozone layer, “And We have made the sky a well-protected canopy, still they turn away from its signs.” (Surah Al-Anbya Ayat 32). This shows how Allah (SWT) cares for us by creating our planet with the ozone layer to protect us from UV rays that can damage us and other organisms.  Sadly, we have gradually destroyed the ozone layer to our detriment and the detriment of all living creatures.

Besides the Quran, there are many hadiths of our Nabi (SAW) that pertain to the environment and its care and protection. One of the most well-known hadiths on this matter is, “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, the Exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Sahih Muslim).  This hadith re-affirms the Quranic verse mentioned above in this column that Allah (SWT) gives humans, as a test, the responsibility to take care of the earth as a sacred trust or Amana.  Furthermore, this shows how much care and concern the Prophet (SAW) had towards the environment.

Our Nabi (SAW) taught us a valuable lesson on the conservation of natural resources in this hadith reported in Sahih al-Bukhari 198 and Sahih Muslim 325, “The Prophet (SAW) would perform ablution with one mudd, or half of a kilogram, and would perform a ritual bath with one sa’, or two kilograms, up to five mudd.” Therefore, we should conserve natural resources by using the minimum quantity possible which we should practice in our daily lives when using gas and electricity for cooking, heating, lighting, and operating appliances.

The three Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a famous slogan of the modern environmental movement encouraging sustainability and it was our Prophet (SAW) more than 1,400 years back doing this. 

One time Hisham asked Hazrat Aisha (RA), “What did the Prophet (SAW) do in his house?’ She (RA) replied, ‘He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 540). This hadith illustrates that the greatest and noblest person created by Allah (SWT) was aware of the importance of sustainability in daily life.

Our Nabi (SAW) encouraged the planting of trees as an act of charity, “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 39, Number 513). We all know the environmental benefits of tree planting like improving the air and water quality, protecting the ozone layer, and regulating the temperature but also imagine the number of rewards we will receive from Allah (SWT) for doing this charitable act as numerous generations will gain.

Keeping the environment clean and safe is another lesson the Prophet taught us.  Our Nabi (SAW) said, “While a man was walking in the road, he found a thorny branch in the road and he moved it aside. Allah appreciated his deed and forgave him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2340 and Sahih Muslim 1914).  In a country like Pakistan, we have daily opportunities to earn forgiveness by removing debris from our streets but disappointingly, we including myself don’t bother to do so.

I remind myself and others that out of the seven deeds mentioned by the Prophet (SAW) that we continue to receive a reward from Allah (SWT) even after death and in the grave, three are related to the environment, i.e., constructing a canal, digging a well, planting a date-palm tree (Musnad al-Bazzaar 2773).

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