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World and the Spirit

Islam and the Environment

Despite the apocalyptic premise of Samuel Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations (which prophesies an inevitable war between the armies of the God and the armies of Allah), Islam and Christianity have much in common. In their view of the natural world, both the Bible and the Qur'an share many of the same stories, heroes and ethical concepts. But there are some differences. The Qur'an might even be said to be the "greener" of the two holy books.

     The world "Earth" (ard) appears no less than 485 times in the holy book of the Qur'an. Shari'a, the word for Islamic Law, literally means "source of water."

     One familiar story from the life of the Prophet recounts how, during a journey, one of Muhammad's companions removed a baby pigeon from a nest. Muhammad confronted the thief and gently returned the bird to its nest. "For charity shown to each creature with a wet heart, there is a reward," the Prophet declared.

     In the words of Allah, "There is not an animal in the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are nations like you." (6:38)

     Islamic cleric Mufty Imam Tajuddin H. Alhilaly, argues that all living things "are partners to man in existence and they deserve their own respect."

     As befits a faith born in the desert, water is honored as "the secret of life." Islam forbids the wastage of water "and the usage thereof without benefit.... The preservation of water for the drinking of mankind, animal life, bird life and vegetation is a form of worship which gains the pleasure of Allah."

     Imam Alhilaly infers from this passage that Islam also forbids "factory outpours to go to waterways or to the ocean, as this would pollute the water and threaten marine life.

      "Air is the property of Allah the Exalted," the imam states. "Hence, contaminating the air with smoke is an encroachment on nature and a threat to the life of mankind and all other living things."

     The Qur'an does, however, endorse the transformation of wilderness into agriculture and cattle pastures. The Qur'an proclaims that it is Allah who "sends down water from the sky, and therewith we bring forth buds of every kind. We bring forth the green blade from which we bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches, and gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate."

      "The earth is our first mother," says Imam Alhilaly. "Therefore it has certain rights over us. One of these rights is making it come alive with green vegetation and other plant life.

      "The Prophet said that he who is kind and merciful towards animals, Allah will be kind and merciful towards him.... We must deal with animals with utmost beneficence and compassion and strive to ensure the preservation of the different species," Imam Alhilaly instructs. "It is forbidden in Islam to kill a animal for mere play. Islam has forbidden wastage of animals and plants in peacetime and in wartime."

     Tradition has it that if someone kills a bird for amusement, the bird will demand justice from that man on judgment day.

     In an essay on the "Significance of Environment in Islam" in the April 1998 issue of the Islamic Voice, Akhtar Mahmood, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Punjab, notes that "Islam discourages luxurious and lavish living." Muslims see the existence of luxury as "an expression of social injustice, as few can afford luxurious items at the expense of the deprived masses."

     In an article posted on www.Islamicwell.com, F. Kamal notes that the two fundamental books of Muslim faith - the Qur'an (the Holy Book) and the Hadith (the parables and examples from the life of the Prophet) - both teach that kindness to animals is an "article of faith for Muslims." The Prophet advised people never to curse beasts of burden and commanded his followers to treat these animals with gentleness and kindness.

     The Muslim holy books tell of a woman who "was tortured and was put in Hell because of a cat which she had kept locked till it died of hunger." In another tale, a prostitute's sins are washed away because she gave drinking water to a thirsty dog.

     Kamal observes with some pride that these stories were recorded "1,400 years ago - long before it became fashionable or 'politically correct' to care about animal rights."

     In the centuries following Muhammad's passing, Islamic scholars introduced the idea of hima - a protected zone. Many Islamic countries now set aside certain wild areas that cannot be developed or cultivated. These have become modern wildlife reserves.

      "Much of the foundations of modern science are built on Muslim scientific roots," Kamal states. But Islamic science, Kamal noted, was not "a cold pursuit devoid of any ethical considerations. It was not a confrontation against nature but a search for Allah's signs, limitless bounty and mercy.

      "One of the most destructive causes of pollution is consumer waste," Kamal writes, citing the Qur'an (17:27): "Lo! the squanderers were ever brothers of the devils and the devil was ever an ingrate to his Lord." Devout Muslims, Kamal says, "do not disorder their world... in search of self-gratification, greed, waste and ingratitude to their Lord."

     In his article "Islam and the Environment," Arafat El Ashi, director of the Muslim World League in Canada, [191 The West Mall, Suite 1018, Etobicoke, Ontario M9C 5KB, Canada, (416) 622-2184, www.al-muslim.org] observes that "Human life is sacred in the sight of Islam. No one is permitted to take the life of another person except as life-for-life. Suicide is a crime in Islam."

     Under Islam, El Ashi states, "it [is] incumbent on every Muslim to contribute his/her share in improving greenery. Muslims should be active in growing more trees for the benefit of all people." Even during battle, Muslims are required to avoid cutting trees that are useful to people.

     The Prophet instructed the faithful that any Muslim who plants a crop that feeds another person, animal or bird, will receive a reward in paradise. Cutting down trees is seen as an abomination.

     How important is the planting of trees? In the words of the Prophet: "When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hands, he should plant it."

Resources:

  • Environmental Protection in Islam, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia [www.islamnet.com]
  • The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science (at Harvard University's Center for the Study of World Religions) offers information ranging from religious instruction to organic gardening and solar energy. [www.hds.harvard.edu/cswr]
  • Islam and Vegetarianism [501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510, www.islamveg.org]


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