Environmental Ethics in Islam

Environmental Ethics in Islam

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 By Syed Mujahid Ali Shah, Dr. Ahmed Jan(PhD), Raja Tariq Abbas
Ever increasing environmental problems made us to realize that modern and  western   approaches are not always applicable  in many parts of  the world where societies are shaped up by  spiritual and  religious values. So called indigenous knowledge and religious environmentalism is proven to be more efficient in those societies that is skeptical and reluctant or unaware of Science, for them ,it is a lot easier to relate their environment to holy belief rather than mere eco-system. With flow enormous  interest, many  religions  and  indigenous  cultures  have  looked  inward  to  find  out what  made  them  to  have  harmonious  relations  with  nature  for  centuries  ,Islam  is  no exception.

In Islamic Environmental ethics and society ,the author started with claiming that “Islamic environmental ethics, like all other forms of ethics in Islam, is based on clear cut legal foundations which Muslims hold to be formulated by God”.This notion is totally compatible with core Islamic ideology that to be obliged by following Muslims.As it is mentioned in the article ,Muslims have reluctance to use rigid terms like Islamic law,instead they preferred to use more religious words with deep literal meaning such as Shari’ ah ,source of water.He has given accounts for several key terms to introduce basic categorization of Islamic behavior .  He stated , “In Islam, the conservation of the environment is based on the principle that all the individual components of the environment were created by God, and that all living beings were created with different functions, functions carefully measured and meticulously balanced by the Almighty Creator. Although the various components Of   the natural environment serve humanity as one of their functions, this does not imply that human use is the sole reason for their creation. …” .

The author believes that the foundation for environmental protection in the Islamic faith is based on religious principle that all aspects of the natural world created by god with different functions that were determined and balanced by God.Islamic values considered unalterably accurate, and Muslims obliged to obey what God has ordered .

He constructed his argument with following steps ;

“ First, the environment is God’s creation and to protect it is to preserve its values as a sign of  the Creator.” That is directly come from the Quran about  the creation  that resonates with all Muslims similar version of that can be found early Hebrew bible.

“Second,  the component parts of nature are entities  in continuous praise of  their Creator. ” He quoted from the Quran to say that beauty of nature is accolade for Allah .

“Third, all the laws of nature are laws made by the Creator and based on the concept of the absolute continuity of  existence.” This religious creed has been considered as cornerstone of Islamic  belief  that  nature  of  law  is  holy  creation  so  that  must  be  utmost  respected  and obliged.Eternal,absolute  existence  of  nature may  not  coincide with modern  Science  ,but  it gives Muslims reason to obey this sacred rule,breaking this rule always seen rebellion against
god’s might.

“Fourth, the Qur’an’s acknowledgment that human-kind is not the only community to live in this world — “There is not an animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you”  (Surah  6:38) — means  that while  humans may  currently  have  the  upper  hand  over other  “peoples,”  these  other  creatures  are  beings  and,  like  us,  are  worthy  of  respect  and protection.

“Fifth, Islamic environmental ethics is based on the concept that all human relationships are established  on  justice  (‘adl)  and  equity  (ihsan):  “Lo! Allah  enjoineth  justice  and  kindness” (Surah 16:90). ”According to his quote from Qu’ran ,Human relations should be just ,there for human nature relation should also be just.That means being too cruel to the environment and living beings are unjust  .Muslims have been  followed  this  tradition  in many ways  to create justice of their own.

“Sixth, the balance of the universe created by God must also be preserved. ….”   This is very valuable argument  to  apply modern  environmental  conservation  to preserve Eco-balance of the world which has been advocated by environmentalist for long that is commonly practiced by Muslims for centuries without digging deep into scientific ramifications.

“Seventh, the environment is not in the service of the present generation alone. Rather, it is the gift of God to all ages, past, present and future. …”

It  reveals  that  Islam  has  already  forward  looking  attitude  to  nature  and  resource  unlike exploiting  them repeatedly  for  short  term  economic  benefits  in  consumer  driven  market economy.Of course this perspective also raised by many western scholars in modern era, this Biblical  context  of  creed  made  more  compelling  to  religious  followers  with  profound commitment.Future generation has as much as at stake as current generation in environment, people should not selfishly torn the nature soly for themselves when there is need for coming ones. This religious  thought has cultivated healthy spirit and habit among many Muslims  to less consumptious ,not be prodigal as it is called in Quran, “Eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loves not the prodigals.” (The Qur’an, Al-Aaraf7:31) .

“Finally, no other  creature  is  able  to perform  the  task of protecting  the environment. God entrusted humans with  the duty of viceregency,  a duty  so onerous  and burdensome  that no other creature would accept it”.In this statement, Humans have special obligation to preserve the environment ,because they are created superior to the rest that gives  legitimacy of human domination that is detrimental sometimes.

On The Human-Environment Relationship

The author asserts  that “ The  role of humans, however,  is not only  to enjoy, use and benefit from  their  surroundings.  They  are  expected  to  preserve,  protect  and  promote  their  fellow creatures.” As  author  stated The  relationship  between  human  beings  and  their  environment includes  many  features  In  addition  to  subjugation  and  utilization.  Construction  and development  are  primary  but  our  relationship  to  nature  also  includes  meditation, contemplation  and  enjoyment  of  its  beauties.   He sets  forth  the  Islamic  view  that  the foundation of environmental protection is found in the idea that God created the world and set human beings  in  it  to enjoy and carefully use  it. Ecological balance and sustainable care of nature are promoted by Islam.

On The Sustainable Care of Nature

Islam  permits  the  utilization  of  the  natural  environment  but  this  utilization  should  not involve unnecessary destruction.    His quotation from Quran that “O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loveth  not  the  prodigals”  (Surah  7:31)  serve  to  explain  that  Muslim  are  allowed  to  the utilization  of  the  sources  of  life.  Of  course  Such  utilization  is  not  without  limit.  The component  elements of  life have  to be protected  so  that  their utilization may  continue  in a sustainable way. Yet even  this preservation must be undertaken  in an altruistic  fashion, and not merely  for  its benefit  to human beings. As he   entioned The Prophet Muhammad said:”Act in your life as though you are living forever and act for the Hereafter as if you are dying tomorrow.”  Even  if  doomsday  were  expected  imminently,  humans  would  be  expected  to continue their good behavior, for Prophet Muhammad said: “When doomsday comes if someone has a palm shoot in his hand he should plant it.” This hadith encapsulates the principles of Islamic environmental ethics. Even with all hope is lost, planting should continue for planting is good in itself.

On The Practice of Islamic Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics has played pivotal  role  in  shaping environmental policy  in Muslim countries through out the history  .As he pointed out   concept of himil {protection of certain zones) and Rima (involved the ruler or government’s protection of specific unused areas) are good examples how  Islamic  rule established  infrastructural system  that offers protection  for nature. Both  protected  area  system  has minimum  requirement met  by modern  conservation standards that made Muslims very nature friendly long before it is practiced in the west. The concept of himil can still be seen in many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, where it is practiced by the government to protect wildlife.The  harim  is  another  ancient  institution  which  can  be  traced  back  to  the  time  of  the Prophet Muhammad. It is an inviolable zone which may not be used or developed, save with the specific permission of the state.   At present the role of Islam in environmental protection can  be  seen  in  the  formation  of  different  Islamic  organizations  and  the  emphasis  given  to Islam as a motive for the protection of the environment.

It is found that  the author has failed to describe diversity among Muslim communities around the world that  is  critically  important  how  they  enrich  Islamic  environmental  values  in  their  own culture.Muslims of today include a broad spectrum of people from different races,ethnicities,culture and so  forth, many  cultures  have mixed  their  pre-Islamic  traditions with  Islam.For  example , for the Muslims in Uighur culture in north western  China or Brusho-Shaman culture in the Karakoram mountains in northern Pakistan,nature  is  somewhat  regarded as holy which  is not prominent  in mainstream Islamic philosophies.The author seems  trapped  in  prism  of  Pan Arabic  view  of  looking  into  these issues ,instead of embracing diversity of Islamic culture.The author some times , exaggerated the  role  Islam  in  environment  to  promote  his  religion  by  giving  favorable  interpretation  to some religious doctrines.

2.Review on “Toward an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment” by Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway

The author has discussed the following entities of nature in the context of Islamic jurisprudence of environment.

1) Animals:
Author  stated  Islam  has  enjoined  upon Muslims  right  relationship  with  animals.  The Qu’ran has a  tendency  towards anthropecentrism and assigns a superior status  to humans  in comparison  with  animals.  It  nevertheless  strongly  enjoins Muslims  to  treat  animals  with compassion  and  not  to  abuse  them.They  are  asked  to  treat  animals well,  and  they  are  not allowed  to  kill  animals  except  for  food.  The  latter  permission  has  to  be  carried  out  in accordance with  the  Shari’ah. Only  in  limited  cases  some  animals  are  allowed  to  be  killed when they endanger the life of the human.

To  slaughter  an  animal,  one  has  to  use  sharp  object  that will  save  the  animal  the  pain associated  with  the  use  of  a  blunted  object.  Shaddad  Ibn  Aws  reported  that  the  Prophet [S.A.W.S]  said:  “…and  excel  in  slaughtering;  sharpen  your  blade  [so  you may]  relief  your slaughtered  [animal].” (narrated by Al-Hakim; he stated that it is a sound hadith according to the methodology of Al-Bukhari).Another  area  of  prohibition  covers  the  hunting  of wild  animals  for reasons other than food (e.g. for fur). The author quotes a Hadith that the Prophet [S.A.W.S] said: “Do not “ride” on silk and tiger fur”(Abu Dawud, # 4129)

Any  unjustified  killing  of  an  animal,  direct  or  indirect  is  prohibited.  There  is  a  great punishment awaiting those who do so. The author has quoted a Hadith that the Prophet [S.A.W.S] said: “A woman who tied a cat will go to Hellfire; she neither fed it, nor allowed it to find food on its own.” (Al-Bukhari).Worthwhile to mention, Although eating animal meat  is allowed in Islam  , though one of the sect of Islam Sufis have practiced vegetarianism

2) Plants:  Islam prohibited  the cutting or destruction of  trees and plants, and encouraged people to protect and increase plants for the great reward associated with that.  “He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], God will send him to Hellfire.”(Al-Tirmidhi, # 5239). Islam  encourages  people  to  plant  trees  and  all  useful  plants.  Indeed,  similar  to  all  acts performed  in  line with  the  Islamic world-view,  and when  done  intentionally  for  the  sake  of God, they are considered and rewarded as acts of worshipping.

3) Land: Protecting  the  land  from pollution  is  indicated  in  the many Hadiths  that demand encourage  people  to  keep  it  clean. One Hadith  states,  among  other  things,  that God  likes goodness, cleanliness, and generosity. The Hadith ends with a request by  the Prophet asking Muslims to clean their courtyards(quoted by Al-Tirmidhi, # 2799)

4) Water: It is God’s will that all living beings on earth are dependent for their existence on water: “…We made from water every living thing…” Qur’an, 21:30. It has provided religious justification  to  protect water  resources which  is  quite  rationale  given  the  fact  that water’s utmost value in arid middle east.At the same time sacredness of water that lied in the creation is one of the key reason why Muslims developed water saving life style.

5)  Another Hadith aims at protecting the Muslim community from offensive smells that result  from eating garlic or onion. The Prophet  [S.A.W.S]  said: “He who eats  from  this  tree meaning  garlic  –  should  not  get  close  to  our mosque.” ( Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Dawud). Interpretation  of  garlic  eating  from environmental perspective shows

6) Noise protection Islam took care of the human being and made sure that he should not be subjected  to  loud  and  annoying  noises  to  prevent  harm  to  him  both  physically  and psychologically. The Hadith  states  that  loud  noise  is  foolish  and  harmful.  In  the Qur’anic, Luqman advised his son saying: “…and  lower  thy voice; for  the harshest of sounds without doubt  is  the  braying  of  the  ass.” Qur’an,  31:19.  The  Islamic  Shari’ah  does  not  allow  loud voices in the mosques, even if it is Qur’an that is recited.

This section mainly dealt with how Islam views several environmental components to show how Islamic environmental ethics rooted in daily Muslim life

In  conclusion,  combination  of  two  paper  has  provided  unique  perspective  to  Islamic  Environmental  Ethics  which  shed  light  on  opportunity to see these issues from a non western style.


Syed Mujahid Ali Shah 
 is a sociologist and ecologist based in Nagar Syed@hotmail.de

Dr. Ahmed Jan is a German based ecologist environmental scientist.
Raja Tariq Abbas is a Gilgit based environmental scientist and development professional.
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