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ISLAM AND THE ENVIRONMENT

 

By Dr. Malik S. Khan

A Publication of Motamar at the United Nations by

the International Islamic Council for Da`wa and Relief

 

The Interfaith Partnership for the Environment, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) examines the interrelated elements of an Earth agenda: water, land, health, air, industry, land mines, waste disposal, and the well-being of humanity. 

Dr. Abdullah bin Omar Nasseef, President of World Muslim Congress, is completely against land mines and nuclear proliferation.  No nation on Earth has any right to have atomic experimentation.  All nations should completely destroy their atomic warheads.  Nobody has the right to kill humans, animals, or plants in the world created by the Almighty with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Dr. Nasseef revised his old speech and declares:

 

Unity, trusteeship and accountability, that is tawheed[1], khilafah[2], and akhirah[3], the three central concepts of Islam, are also the pillars of the environmental ethics of Islam.  They constitute the basic values taught by the Qur’an.  It is these values which led Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, to say: "Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded," and "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 from him"[4] and again, "The world is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it."  Environmental consciousness is born when such values are adopted and become an intrinsic part of our mental and physical makeup.

Muslims need to return to this nexus of values, this way of understanding themselves and their environment.  The notions of unity, trusteeship and accountability should not be reduced to matters of personal piety; they must guide all aspects of life and work.  Shariah (Islamic law) must not be relegated just to issues of crime and punishment.  It must also become the vanguard for environmental legislation.  We often say that Islam is a complete way of life, by which it is meant that our ethical systems provide the bearings for all our actions.  Yet our actions often undermine the very values we cherish.  We must judge our actions by them.  They furnish us with a world-view which enables us to ask environmentally appropriate questions, draw up the right balance sheet of possibilities, properly weigh the environmental costs and benefits of what we want, what we can do within the ethical boundaries established by Allah, without violating the rights of His other creations.  If we use the same values, the same understanding in our work as a scientist and technologist, economist or politician as we do to know ourselves as Muslims - those who subject themselves to the Will of Allah - then, I believe, we will create a true Islamic alternative, a caring and practical way of being, doing and knowing, to the environmentally destructive thought and action which dominate the world today.

 

Water quality is one of the hot issues of the 21st Century.  Economic development needs water; agriculture demands water; life depends on water.  There could be no power and industry without water.  The oceans, coral reefs, coastal areas, and small islands are being hurt by rapidly rising coastal pollution.  U.N. agencies are working together to protect the marine environment against radioactive substances, nutrients and sediment mobilization, oils and litter, physical alterations, sewage, persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.  We must respect and take care of our oceans, bearing in mind the Quranic saying: "It is He Who has made the sea subject that ye may eat thereof flesh that is fresh and tender and that ye may extract therefrom ornaments to wear; and thou seest the ships therein that plough the waves, that ye may seek (thus) of the bounty of Allah and that ye may be grateful." (16:14)

We need a global program of action to correct the course for humanity to have a safe and healthy environment.  Global climate changes are taking place.  Humanity has to take international action to safeguard the earth’s ecology, using science to make sound political decisions to protect the land by means such as reforestation, etc.  We have to conserve biological diversity in order to protect life on earth.  Sustainable economic development coupled with protection of biodiversity can be achieved only by all nations working together. 

The Quran mentions in 56:59, "Is it ye who create it, or are We the Creators?" reminding the current age to manage biotechnology safely.  Patenting life forms has opened a hornet’s nest of moral, legal, social, and scientific concern.  The world’s species have to be protected, and biosafety is essential.  There is growing public concern about the potential risk of biotechnology. 

The Quran warns us, "And follow not the bidding of those who are extravagant /Who make mischief in the land, and mend not (their ways) .." ( 26:151-152).  Hazardous waste and toxic chemicals need attention.  To reduce chemical risks is vital for sustainable development. 

The environmentalists are also warning about the human family.  Poor, politically powerless people in urban ghettoes, rural pockets of poverty, and indigenous peoples’ reservations need justice to combat the "environmental racism" of selective abuse and neglect of their land.

Interfaith action for cooperation and responsibility to help the world’s refugee crisis is a challenge which needs attention.  In the 21st Century we all have to be prepared with effective means to combat problems, issues, and conflicts.

Allah has appointed man as a khalifa, a guardian and a vicegerent on earth.  Islam offers an opportunity for understanding the natural order and human responsibility within its principles of tawhid (the unity of creation), fitra (humanity’s place in creation), mizan (moderation and reason with justice), and khilafah (stewardship).  The message of Al-Islam in the Quran gives the signs of scientific technology.  For example:

 

Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one Unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder?  We made from water every living thing.  Will they not then believe?  (21:30)

 

O Children of Adam!  Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer:  eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters. (7:31)

 

and

 

(Allah) Most Gracious!

It is He Who has taught the Quran.

He has created man:

He has taught him speech (and Intelligence).

The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed;

And the herbs and the trees both (alike) bow in adoration.

And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice),

In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance,

So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.

It is He Who has spread out the earth for (His) creatures:

Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates);

Also corn, with (its) leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants.

Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny? (55:1-13)

 

The knowledge of creation is the basis of environmental teachings in the Quran.  For example, it is forbidden in Islam to waste water.  Even when one is performing wudu (ablutions for prayers)one is required to use as little water as possible and not to waste it.  Allah will give to that (water-conserving) person rewards here and in the Hereafter.

Motamar Al-Alam Al-Islami (World Muslim Congress) has always been in the forefront of working with the United Nations, world religious organizations, and national governments on environmental and ecological issues.  Dr. Nasseef has been the pioneer in environmental issues.  Motamar’s representatives have always attended conferences to enhance the United Nations' programs as well as other environmental programs in Islamic countries.  Dr. Nasseef sent Dr. Malik Sardar Khan to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit," Rio de Janeiro, June 1992).  He felt the importance of the environment and put on a major presentation which opened new avenues of cooperation with governments and NGOs on various platforms and forums. Following the Kyoto Agreement, World Muslim Congress issued the following statement, quoted at http://english.kfem.or.kr/international /international1.htm:

 

The World Muslim Congress (WMC), based in Pakistan, recognizes that today's humanity as a whole - including both the developing world and the industrialized countries - are facing grave problems. To improve the situation, the UN should confront "the scourges of drug abuse and alcoholism, which are the basic causes of domestic violence, fatal health problems, destruction of the institution of family, and economic stress, as well as premarital and extramarital affaires, which further cause health hazards such as HIV/AIDS, the problem of unwanted pregnancies and the rising incidence of divorce." Additionally, the battle against "the threat to environmental deterioration, which was addressed by the Kyoto Agreement, needs further support and boost by the UN through information programs organized especially by the NGOs." (This statement is also endorsed by the World Council of Muslim Communities.)

 

 



[1]Monotheism

[2]Vicegerent

[3]The Hereafter

[4]Hadith (Tradition of the Prophet) 1071 [3:513-O.B], The Book of Cultivation and Agriculture, from Sahih Al-Bukhari, Darul Ahya Us-Sunnah Al-Nabawiya, Pahari Bhojla, Delhi, India: 1994