Environmental Teachings of Islam

By Ashraf Amin, via Kashmir Images

The primary text of Islam- al-Qur’an abounds in the verses to establish the equilibrium and the state of tranquillity between man and his environment. The primordial character of Qur’anic messages visualizes man and the cosmos in a state of harmony that reaffirms man’s inner bond with the natural world. Certain verses of the Qur’an address natural forms as well as human beings, while God takes non-human members of His creation, such as plants and animals, the sun and the stars to witness in certain other verses. The soul which is nourished and sustained by the Qur’an does not regard the world of nature as its natural enemy to be conquered and subdued but as an integral part of man’s religious universe sharing in his earthly life, and in a sense, even ultimate destiny.

The Qur’an makes use of environmental theme in encouraging humankind to be moderate, “It is He who produces gardens, both cultivated and wild, and palm trees and crops of diverse kinds and olives and pomegranates both similar and dissimilar. Eat of their fruits when they bear fruit and pay their dues on the day of their harvest, and do not be wasteful. He does not love the squandering” Al- Qur’an (06: 141). The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the human self and as Seyyid Hossein Nasr explains, “…When Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an…they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an…they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat …for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. The Qur’an says, “There are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (51:20-21).

Delving upon the Quranic statements, we thus arrive at a position where we see that the universe we inhabit is a sign of God’s creation as is the environment of our innermost selves. They both emanate from the one source and are bonded by only one purpose, which is to serve the divine will. This bonding of the cosmic to the inner core of each individual is the profound ecology of Islam. The Qur’anic view holds that everything on the earth was created for humankind. It was God’s gift (ni’mah) to us, but a gift with conditions nevertheless. The tests are a measure of our acts of worship (ihsan) in its broadest sense. That is living in a way that is pleasing to Allah, striving in everything we do to maintain the harmony of our inner and outer environments. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states that every human individual is born on Fitrah i.e. as a Muslim (One whose disposition is towards submission to his Creator) (Muslim). In the same manner all natural entities are patterned on Fitrah. To alter such order may breed disharmony and chaos in the personality of a human being and the nature surrounding him.

The heavenly bodies, the earth and its ecosystems all work within their own limits and tolerances. In the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we have practical reflections of the above mentioned principles and guidelines. We have countless pronouncements and above all his acts that stimulate and convince a believer to maintain a healthy relationship with his/ her surroundings. The glorious Prophet was deeply concerned for the well being of both flora and fauna. He was equally striving for the purity of physical environments as earth, water, and air. At the very outset earth was declared as Mosque for the Prophet.

Muslims could offer their prayers where ever they are on the surface of the earth. This declaration sanctioned the sacredness of earth and the responsibility of believers to ensure the purity and cleanliness of earth as is maintained in a mosque. The Prophet’s appreciation of the earth’s natural endowment is espoused, in the following Hadith, with a challenge: “The world is green and pleasant and God has put it under your charge to see how you will manage (Mishkat 3086). We have an instant answer in the Qur’an as, “The earth is inherited by those of God’s servants that do good works and fulfil their responsibilities (21:105). The good you give to the earth, the best will it give to you.  It has been well said that plants are to earth what clothes are to man. In order to add to the beauty of the earth and to maintain its decorum, planting of trees becomes inevitable. In a very inspirational Hadith, Prophet exhorts his followers as: “If the day of resurrection comes upon any one of you while he has a seedling in his hand, let him plant it (Al-Bukhari).