Environmental Ethics in Islam

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. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 1, Book 2, Hadith No. 9).

The realization of the 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 the 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.” (Musnad, Vol 5, Hadith No. 415).

Climate change and environmental degradation is a slow and cumulative process. To protect environment, the efforts also need to be cumulative and consistent. A self-centric secular worldview encourages the self-centric use of private property resources. However, even small things done collectively and consistently can have a larger effect. The two-worldly view of life in Islam encourages socially responsible behaviour as one of the prime determinants of salvage in the 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.” (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?” (Al-Qur’an, Al-Hajj: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.” (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.’ (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 himā and haram, in which resources were to be left untouched. Himā 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.

Almost half of the food goes wasted while on the other hand, one out of every nine people in the world suffers from hunger, according to the 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.” (Al-Qur’an, Al-An’am: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.” (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.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 3, Book 40, Hadith No. 557).

2 replies »

  1. Regarding interest, – the proper term is riba, the meaning of which is subject to debate. “Modernists” such as Fazlur Rahman (scholar and former head of the Center for Islamic Research, Pakistan, and professor at the University of Chicago) and Muhammad Akram Khan (former state auditor, Pakistan) argue convincingly that riba is about excessive interest or increase, and that, realistically, it is not the same as interest in modern financial markets. These people seem to be conveniently ignored by conservative scholars.


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