Salman Ahmed Shaikh
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as successor to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent a broader intergovernmental agreement to foster action on broad based development encompassing economic development, human development and environmental sustainability. There are at least 6 out of 17 goals which are closely related to environment. The Goal 6 on water and sanitation aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The Goal 7 on energy aspires to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Goal 12 on consumption targets sustainable consumption and production patterns. Goal 13, on climate urges action to combat climate change and its impacts. Goal 14 on marine-ecosystems emphasizes conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Finally, the Goal 15 on ecosystems vows to restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable management of forests, combating desertification and check land degradation and biodiversity loss.
When we look at Islamic environmental ethics encapsulated in Islamic principles, we find that they compliment these SDGs and can act as a catalyst to foster commitment, responsibility and affirmative action for sustainable and congenial co-existence with environment. With the concept of afterlife accountability, Islam immensely influences intertemporal choice and behaviour. It helps in private economic agents (consumers and producers) to modify their actions in such a way that takes externalities into consideration and also their own welfare, both in this world and afterwards.
The discussion of ‘protection of progeny’ as Maqasid-e-Shari’ah by Imam Ghazali shows the ethical commitment for sustainable existence in an Islamic paradigm much well before the reactionary focus in the West about sustainable development. Below, we mention some verses from Qur’an and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which discuss the responsibilities to the environment.
It is pertinent that humans incorporate social costs in their private actions for achieving environment related SDGs. If we want clean air, fresh water and proper sanitation for ourselves, then we must also like these things for others living in the present age as well as those who are to come in this world in the next generations. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that a Muslim is one who avoids harming Muslims with his tongue and hands. (Source: Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 1, Book 2, Hadith No. 9).
The realization of enormous value of nature and environment even if it is in no one’s private ownership is vital for fostering a culture of care and responsibility towards environment. Qur’an refers to nature as ‘Ayat’ (signs). Affirmative actions towards preserving and conserving environment are needed as a culture for achieving environmental sustainability. Islamic philosophy of life provides the necessary impetus and deterministic rewards for affirmative action towards promoting positive externalities in the environment. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Whoever plants trees, God will give him reward to the extent of their fruit.” (Source: Musnad, Vol 5, Hadith No. 415).
Climate change and environmental degradation is a slow and cumulative process. To resurrect environment, the efforts also need to be cumulative and consistent. A self-centric secular worldview encourages self-centric use of private property resources. However, even small things done collectively and consistently can have compounding effect. The two-worldly view of life in Islam encourages socially responsible behaviour as one of the prime determinants of salvage in life hereafter. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.” (Source: Musnad Ahmad, Hadith No. 12491).
Qur’an informs that other species also praise and thank the Creator for the blessings. Qur’an says: “Do you not see that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth – the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (Qur’an, 22:18). The single source of creation as encapsulated in the concept of Tawheed undermines the tendency to feel ‘fittest survivors’. It brings humility, congeniality and peaceful co-existence with other life in the environment. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “A good deed done to a beast is as good as doing good to a human being; while an act of cruelty to a beast is as bad as an act of cruelty to human beings”, and that: “Kindness to animals was promised rewards in life hereafter.” (Source: Mishkat al-Masabih; Book 6; Chapter 7, 8:178).
In another narrative, the Prophet (PBUH) was asked whether acts of charity even to the animals were rewarded by Allah or not. He replied: ‘yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.’ (Source: Sahih Muslim, Book 26; Hadith No. 5577).
Killing animals for fun or mere sport is strictly disallowed in Islam. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) created inviolable zones known as hima and haram, in which resources were to be left untouched. Hima applies particularly to wildlife and forestry and usually designates an area of land where grazing and woodcutting are restricted, or where certain animal species are protected.
As mentioned earlier, almost half of food goes wasted while on the other hand, one out of every nine people in the world suffers from hunger, according to Food and Agriculture Organization. Islamic principles discourage conspicuous consumption on luxuries. The Qur’an says: “But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters.” (Qur’an, 6:141)
When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) saw Sa’d performing wudu, He (PBUH) said: “What is this? You are wasting water.” Sa’d replied: “Can there be wastefulness while performing ablution?” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied: “Yes even if you perform it in a flowing river.” (Source: Ibn-e-Maja, VI, Hadith No. 425).
Even with finite resources, we can still do much better in reducing hunger, malnourishment, child mortality and deaths from easily curable diseases. This requires a transformation of self-centric self interest view of life into self-cum social centric one. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Among the three types of people with whom God, on the Day of Resurrection, will exchange neither words nor look at is the one who possesses an excess of water but withholds it from others. God will say to him: Today, I shall withhold from you my grace as you withheld from others, the excess of what you had, but which you did not create.” (Source: Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 3, Book 40, Hadith No. 557).
The drive for mutual help, engendering compassion, respecting biodiversity, equity and sustainability requires upholding values which are strengthened by religion. Else, the same scientific advances can be used to drop atomic bombs, use chemical weapons and expend on military more than on hunger. Godless perspective promotes individualism and selfishness. Environmentalists call the post industrial age as ‘Anthropocene’ (Human Age) since humans have pushed planetary boundaries which have put the life at risk for various species including for homo-sapiens themselves.