People today are rightfully discussing the shared human responsibility to be caretakers of the earth. When we consider the escalating damage that the land, water, and air have suffered, the urgency of this discussion becomes more obvious. We Muslims have every incentive to become fully involved in the welfare of the environment, since the teachings of our faith require it from us. So let's examine how our faith tradition calls upon us to care for the Earth and use its resources responsibly.
Islam does mention the earth as subservient to humankind, but never does this mean that we are free to exploit it and hinder the earth's God-given capacity of restoration. In Islam, the earth has inalienable rights endowed by its Creator, and the human family has no moral ground to take away this basic right.
According to Islamic beliefs, the Earth is a sanctuary for humankind to dwell in comfort. God has subdued aspects of the vast oceans, forests, and mountains that make up this bountiful planet for our enjoyment and productive use. Further, God compels Muslims in the Quran to respect and revere the environment when He says, "Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth." (40:57)
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told his followers they would be rewarded by God for taking care of the Earth. He said: "If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 8:41) He also compared Muslims to a "fresh tender plant" that bends, but does not break, when afflicted with life's inevitable trials. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 7:547)
Another tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) quotes him as saying: "When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should proceed to plant it." Islam encouraged us not to waste resources: "Eat and drink but don't waste"; "Allah does not like those who waste"; "Those who waste are the equivalents of evildoers"; and "Don't waste water even if you live on a flowing river."
We must also be constant in cleaning our bodies, clothing, and homes. We are vigilant about smelling pleasantly. Historically, Muslims introduced high ethics of cleanliness, purity, and beauty to the places in the world they settled in. Islam teaches us to be kind to animals and not to hunt unless it is for consumption. To hunt for the sake of killing is sinful and abhorrent. Even in circumstances that necessitate warfare, Islam teaches us to respect all creatures, even trees and other plants. Abu Baker, the second caliph, ordered the Muslim army "not to cut trees or kill animals during the war."
Islam teaches us to love beauty and, therefore, to make and sustain beauty in His creation, for Allah has said: "Allah is Beautiful, and He loves beauty." The Muslim mind is expected to develop a strong sense of the goodness and purity of the earth. (Clean earth, for example, may be used for ablutions when clean water is not available. Obviously, ablution is an essential part of Muslim ritual prayer, which may be discharged by the earth itself.) The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "The earth has been created for me as a place of worship and as a means of purification." So the whole earth is sacred, since it is suitable for human's service of God, whether in formal ceremonies or in daily life.
The Quran contains 700 verses exhorting the believers to reflect on nature, and the word "earth" is mentioned 453 times, whereas "sky" and "the heavens" are mentioned about 320 times. Shouldn't that encourage us to protect what we are supposed to be observant of? The Quran states: "And it is He who spread out the earth, and set thereon mountains standing firm and (flowing) rivers; and fruit of every kind He made in pairs, two and two; He draws the night as a veil over the day. Behold, in these things there are signs for those who reflect." (13:3) In the Quran, men and women are viewed as God's vicegerents (guardians or custodians) on Earth. (2:30)
God created nature in balance ("al-mizan") and mankind's responsibility is to maintain this fragile equilibrium through wise governance and sound personal conduct. Deviation in the balance leads to more waste of our limited resources, as we see occurring these days. But imbalance in nature leads to other problems: "Corruption prevailed in the land and the sea, because of all the evil that the hands of humanity have committed, so they can taste some of what they have done in order that they may return in penitence."
Corruption of the purity of the earth is often caused by arrogance. The Quran describes the believing men and women as those who "walk on the Earth in humility." (25:63) Scholars have interpreted this verse, and others like it, to mean that Muslims are to protect nature's many bounties given to them by the Almighty. Preservation is, therefore, more than good policy or some recommendation--it is a commandment from God.
In Islamic history, Ottoman civilization provides us with an example of the seriousness with which Muslims have traditionally taken their environmental obligations. Ottoman ministers, advising the sultan on matters of administration and policy, regularly encouraged moratoria on matters deemed potentially damaging to future generations. Innovations in technology, for example, were hotly debated among scholars; all of them recognized the importance of considering the long-term impact on both society and the environment.
"Do you not observe that God sends down rain from the sky, so that in the morning the earth becomes green?" (Sura 22:63). The color green is the most blessed of all colors for Muslims. It is a symbol of the profound sense of the value that we must have toward nature as God's perfect and most fruitful plan; and it provides a charter for a green Islamic movement or a "green jihad" appropriate for addressing the global environmental crisis.
So are you ready to be an agent of goodness for your earth and for the environment? Help us save the planet and keep it green for our future generations. It is your religious duty.
Dr. M. Zaher Sahloul