Opinion

Islamic Principles in Dealing with the Environment

By Riad Galil

Born and raised in Cairo of the Mu’ez (Old quarters of Cairo), I found myself surrounded by remnants of a glorious past.

My extended family and I used to gather on the rooftop of our home to have our usual meals. Both the Qalawun complex (a school, hospital, mosque and mausoleum) and Barquq mosque command the landscape around us.

These structures were established by the Mamluks in the middle ages. The Mamluk architectures in old Cairo reflect many devices that tend to effectively blend the built environment with the natural surroundings using some natural phenomena to improve the built environment. Such improvements helped to reflect the Islamic heritage.

The key to understanding the Islamic influence on the environment is the full appreciation of the Islamic concepts of God, the role of man on earth, and the role of the natural environment.

On the other hand, it is man who impacts the environment more than any other creature of God. Seyyed Hossein Nasr who is considered as the ‘founding father of Islamic eco-theology’, argues that “in the old days man had to be saved from nature, today nature must be saved from man in both peace and war”.

Islamic teachings provide a blueprint for an ecological sustainability that is workable and ethical. When we look at the amount of deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution and toxic waste in the majority Muslim countries, we find that Muslim communities are sometimes worse than many advanced nations in the world.

They tend to import inappropriate technologies to resolve local environmental issues. They overlook traditionally appropriate practices that were prompted by their Islamic teachings, and hence unnecessarily create difficulties and hazards.

The Muslim Mamluks have employed some ecological measures that enabled them to introduce a number of environmentally friendly measures to improve their built environments. Their attitude was dictated by their belief in Islamic ethics.

The environment holds a huge potential that man may wisely use for his benefit and other inhabitants of our earth making certain that enough resources for future generations were secured.

Muslims need to be aware of their environmental heritage so that they would both reap the benefits in this life and be rewarded in the Hereafter as they would have fulfilled their obligations as vicegerents of God on earth.

The primary sources of Islam; the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, contain many injunctions aiming at guiding the Muslim’s activities in this life so that on the one hand he/she would fulfil their obligations towards their God and on the other hand they would enjoy a good and healthy life with a promise of even better rewards in the Hereafter.

Qur’anic verses describing nature and natural phenomena outnumber verses dealing with commandments and sacraments. Some 750 verses, or one-eighth of the Book, exhort believers to reflect on nature, to study the relationship between living organisms and their environment, to make the best use of reason and to maintain the balance and proportion God has built into His creation.

The Qur’an and Sunna stipulate some principles that affect man’s attitude towards the environment. Fitra (initial state of creation), tawhid (Unity of God), khilafa (vicegerency), mizan (balance), and hikma (wisdom) are some important concepts that seem to lay the pathway for Muslims as they deal with their environments.

Fitra (The Creation) Principle

God created man as part of the primordial nature (fitra) of His creation [Qur’an 30:29]. Fitra is the intrinsic goodness in everything created by God. Man’s role is defined by that patterning . . . and the conscious expression of this rests with humankind.

Tawhid (The Unity of God) Principle

Muslims believe in one undividable God who has no partner nor does anyone or anything may resemble. Tawhid implies the unity and the equality of all God’s creation who should strive to mutually benefit one another. God considers every type of creation, particularly in the animal world, as nations much like human nations.

The Qur’an also emphasises the concept of the unity of God in many surahs (Qur’anic verses) indicating the supremacy of Almighty God over all of creation and that most creation willingly prostrate themselves to the will of God

Khilafa (The Responsibility) Principle

The Qur’an and the Sunna combine to remind mankind of their responsibilities towards maintaining and caring for the environment. God has created man to be His khalifa (vicegerent) on earth.

Such prerogative carries with it a heavy responsibility. Humans are “responsible for maintaining the unity of all God’s creation, the integrity of the earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment. As representatives of God on earth, Muslims should effectively preserve and care for the environment in order to protect God’s creation.

Mizan (The Balance) Principle

As God has created all things in quantified amounts, balance is required to maintain equity between species and their environments. The concept of balance draws the attention that moderation is required to maintain the balance in nature.

Violating the balance in nature has serious consequences. The destruction of the environment causes a severe imbalance in nature.

Hikma (The wisdom) Principle

“He giveth wisdom unto whom He will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good” [Qur’an 2: 269].

Undoubtedly wisdom is necessary for the right judgements to be passed so that future impacts of today’s decisions would perhaps be minimised.

The five main principles for humans to deal with their environments named above, Fitra, tawhid, khilafa, mizan and hikma represent the Qur’anic plan for the relation between man and the environment.

Each creation should be guaranteed respect and the right to live in security and dignity.

“Our God, the Creator, they said, is He Who gave form, shape and features to every entity. He created and vested each entity with its qualities and attributes which guide each creature to its inherent role in life” [Qur’an 20:50],

The Qur’an asserts the universality of creation that would place every creation as an important contributor into the overall functioning of life on earth as we know it. God determined that

“Everything, spiritual, animates and inanimate We create according to plan indicating the relations of objects to one another” [Qur’an 54:49].

The books of sirah are full of teachings pertaining to the good use of the environmental resources and other measures to help in maintaining the balance of nature. The Prophet advised his followers to restrict their consumption of the earth’s resources to their immediate needs without causing any waste. In a hadith the Prophet of Islam reprimanded one of his close Companions for using excessive amounts of water for their ablution.

Muslims should be thrifty in the use of the earth’s resources even if resources were abundant. The Muslim should consume enough amounts to meet his/ her needs and then think of ways to recourse the surplus to those in the world who may need it.  The concern for a lot of other humans is so much ingrained into the Muslim’s psyche that the rewards for kind and charitable actions are highly rewarded by Almighty God in both this life and in the Hereafter.

In pursuit of conserving the environment, the Qur’an issues clear and unambiguous instructions dealing with the conservation of land animals. Almighty God has decreed in the Qur’an that “The calendar introduced by God . . . divides the year into twelve months, four of which are sacred” [Qur’an 9:36].

These four months were further elaborated in Suratul Ma’eda (The table).

“Nor are you permitted to engage in the chase (killing) of wild animals or game”, while you are on pilgrimage –major or minor- (in the sacred months). God ordains what He will” [Qur’an 5:1].

For four months every year (three of which are consecutive and one stands alone), Muslims are not permitted, by order of God, to hunt land game.

Such halt of killing the land game would allow the animals a chance to rejuvenate and multiply so that its numbers would not dwindle or even become instinct as the situation is today with so many species disappearing from the face of the earth after extensive harvesting by people.

Mr Riad Galil OAM is Senior Imam at West Heidelberg Mosque and Chaplain both at RMIT University, City Campus as well as Deakin University, Burwood campus. Married with four children and nine grandchildren, he is based in Melbourne.

This article originally appeared on AMUST on February 27th, 2019.

Preserving Nature, Carrying Out Obligations to God

By: Nur Arinta

Islam is one of the religions in the world which has a large number of followers, and Indonesia is known as a country with the highest number of Muslims in the world. As a religion that is the guideline of human life, Islam also regulates matters concerning human to nature relations. Preserving nature not only protects the animals, but also helps protect ecological processes so that natural systems can run uninterrupted. A modern environmentalist named Mawli Y. Izzi Deen said that preserving the environment as part of ecology is an obligation within Islam. An assistant professor of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia also said in his essay entitled “Islamic Environmental Ethics, Law and Society,” that conservation of the environment must be done because the environment and all creatures are created by Allah SWT which is entrusted to humans on earth.
 
Furthermore Islam also teaches people to do good things for the environment. Prophet Muhammad once said, anyone who treats nature well with a sincere heart will get a reward from Allah SWT in the form of pahala. Even during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam has introduced the concept of "hima", namely the establishment of certain zones for nature conservation and protecting plants and wildlife, wherein it is not permitted to make buildings, neither make fields, create land, nor hunt.
 
Quoted from republika.co.id, there are five types of hima that apply at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The first type of hima is an area where people should not use it to herd livestock, but they are still allowed to cut trees in this area as long as the trees cut are old and have already produced flowers and fruit. The second type is an area where people are allowed to herd cattle and cut trees that have flowered and produce fruit, to help the seeding process naturally in the following season.
 
The third type is an area permitted to be a grazing area throughout the year, but is limited to the type of livestock and a quota system is applied. In this region, people may also cut grass. The fourth type is an area used as a bee sanctuary, where people can only herd cattle after the flower season is over. The fifth type functions as a forest conservation area. In this area trees may be cut only during emergencies. The last type is a forest conservation area to prevent desertification.
 
As the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, the approach through religious wisdom could be one method used in making efforts to raise awareness concerning the environmental conservation and wildlife. This can be done through community leaders, such as religious leaders or village leaders who are respected at the grassroots level.
 
The Chairperson of the Foreign Relations and International Cooperation Division of the MUI, KH. Muhyiddin Junaidi MA, stated "The Indonesian Ulema Council has formed an Environmental Breeding Institute, which has line of duty to issue fatwas or religious opinions about the needs to preserve wildlife and ecosystems in order to protect Indonesia's environment."
 
Based on this, the Indonesian Ulema Council as a leading religious institution in Indonesia stipulates Fatwa Number 4 of 2014 concerning Conservation of Endangered Animals for the Balance of Ecosystems. This fatwa orders to protect and preserve endangered species, both protected and unprotected, living in the wild or in captivity, having a small population and declining population in nature, and requiring conservation efforts to prevent extinction. Fatwa No. 4 of 2014 is to prevent species extinction caused by various threats experienced by animals which could cause extinction, which will disrupt the balance of the ecosystem, whereas it is supposed to be maintained.
 
This fatwa is comprise of recommendations aimed at the government, legislative bodies, regional governments, business people, religious leaders, and the wider community. The recommendation advice us to take steps to protect and preserve endangered species against extinction, one of which is law enforcement efforts to stop the hunting and trading of wild animals, especially protected species.
 
The Indonesian Ulema Council also has an environmental Da’i, namely the Da'i which specifically mentions the importance of protecting and preserving the environment. "MUI forms environmental Da’i because the environment is an aspect that cannot be separated from human. lt is not only fardhu kifayah (obligatory for some people), but also it is fardhu 'ain (must be done) for all humanity to protect the environment and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
 
Religion is the approach that can be chosen as a method of socialization and education, to influence the community to preserve animals and to prevent species extinction. As the teachings in every religion says that humans not only should have good relations with God, but also to other humans living harmoniously alongside nature. Therefore, if all parties can carry out their respective functions and roles, it is not impossible for us to fulfill the dream of the preservation of animals and ecosystems.

This article originally appeared on WWF -Indonesia on January 3, 2019.

Miracles of the Quran: Water

“And We sent down water from the heaven in proper quantity, and we made Earth is dwelling, and We are Able to take it away.”

Water on Earth came from outer space, particularly from ice in comets and meteors. When those comets enter our atmosphere the heat generated on entry vaporizes this ice into the atmosphere.

The Christian Bible says that God created water directly on Earth, however, the Quran says that God sent down water from outer space and then made Earth its dwelling:

And We sent down water from the heaven in proper quantity, and we made Earth is dwelling, and We are Able to take it away.

[Quran 23.18]

If God made Earth its dwelling (فَأَسْكَنَّاهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ ) then this means that water formed in outer space. In another verse, the Quran explains how water came down from outer space. The clouds are enslaved between the Earth and the heavens but the water itself came from the heavens above the clouds:

In the water which Allah sent down from the Heavens and brought with it life to Earth after being dead and gave life in it to every kind of land animal; And in directing the winds; And in the clouds that are enslaved between the Heavens and the Earth; [All these] are Signs for a people who comprehend.

[Quran 2.164]

So the water itself came from the heavens above the clouds. Here God is not talking about rain (matar or wadk in Arabic) instead God is talking about water (مَاءٍ).

In another verse, the Quran says that water originally came from the heavens (above the clouds) in the form of ice. There are mountains in the heaven that have ice inside them; those mountains could fall on Earth making a very bright flash:

Can’t you see that Allah makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a pile? Then you see rain come out from within? And He sends down from heaven mountains with ice inside them; that strike whomever He wishes or miss whoever He wishes; Its flash almost blinds you.

[Quran 24.43]

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God sent down from the heavens (above the clouds) mountains with ice inside them! The clouds are enslaved between the Heavens and the Earth but the water itself originally came from the Heavens (above the clouds) in the form of ice in mountains. They make a flash, this is the description of comets and meteors when they hit our atmosphere.

Rain hits everyone (no exceptions) however the Quran referred to mountains: “that strike whomever He wishes or miss whoever He wishes”. Of course, the meteor that killed the dinosaurs was the size of a mountain. If we get hit with a meteor the size of a mountain we too will die. It is Gods’ choice that we live or die.

How could an illiterate man who lived 1400 years ago have known that water originally came from ice in comets?

More than half your body weight is water. Animals and plants on Earth are mostly water. All life in our universe also needs water. When scientists search for life on exoplanets they only look for planets with water; no water means no life. However Muslims knew about this 1400 years before it was discovered.

Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the Earth were meshed together then We ripped them apart? And then We made of water everything living? Would they still not believe?

[Quran 21.30]

In the Quran, all life, on Earth and in the heaven, depends on water.

How could an illiterate man who lived 1400 years ago have known that all life in the universe also needs water?

Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface. This is also the same ratio as the word “Sea” and the word “Land” appear in the Quran. “Sea” appears 32 times and “Land” 13 times. The ratio of “Sea” to the total (Sea + Land) = 32/(32+13) = 71%.

This article originally appeared on TMV on January 11, 2019.

Bridging the gap between the three major faiths and nature

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As uncertainty shrouds our planet’s future. A resurgence of religious thought and action is underway. As part of our Voices for Nature series, JAKE LLOYD explores how three faith-based organisations are reimagining or rediscovering ways for earth’s four billion Jewish, Christian and Muslim people to repair their relationship with nature

In the Biblical account of creation, God makes the universe and everything in it with the joy and abandon of a child with a paint set. He separates light from dark. He flings stars into space. He gives form to plants and animals. 

Finally, He makes humans. But unlike everything that comes before, humans are accorded the special - if ambiguous - status of being made in God’s image.  

The story unfolds from here, and as it does we see human defiance and destruction place a growing distance between us and nature.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for doing the one thing they’re told not to. Cain murders his brother Abel, and flees further from the garden.

God vows to start afresh with a cataclysmic flood. But then even this, Noah’s descendent Abraham comes to the very brink of plunging a knife through the chest of his only offspring. 

A human penchant for destruction continues.

Fast forward from this most anthropocentric of creation stories, to the dawn of the Anthropocene. Now, among the Jews, Christians and Muslims of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’, questions of man’s place in God’s creation gather a new urgency.

Perhaps it’s just as well then that these faiths specialise not only in stories of struggle and failure, but in ideas of hope and redemption too. 

Below are three such ideas, that three environmental groups have put at the centre of their work, as they go about the task of repairing man’s relationship with nature.

Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century AD, the harsh desert of the Arabian peninsula was home to nomadic tribes who frequently came into conflict. A Hima - meaning 'protected area' - became a place of respite for everyone.

Tikkun Olam - Judaism

Debate and argument are a central part of Jewish religious expression. They have even been called “a Jewish national sport”. And so the precise meaning of an expression as nebulous as Tikkun Olam – or ‘world repair’ – is up for grabs to whoever argues most convincingly.

In this spirit, throughout its history Tikkun Olam has been claimed as a guiding principle of social policy, an endorsement of volunteerism, a decree to oppose idolatry, and an invitation to participate in a mystical good-versus-evil battle.

More recently, however, the USA’s Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) argues that it is a divine instruction to respond to climate change.

Rabbi Daniel Swartz from COEJL said: “Olam can mean eternity as well as world, so this is a reminder that we have to find solutions that are sustainable across generations, not just ones that work for the present at the expense of the future”.

With this in mind, COEJL and its member organisations work from the bottom up – reacquainting Jews with nature through outdoor education programmes around the world – whilst also targeting Jewish public policy, with its energy programmes attracting the endorsement of figures like Al Gore.

Gospel – Christianity

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic friar Francis of Assisi gained a reputation for talking to animals. In one story, he preached to birds when men would not listen. In another, he pleaded with a wolf to stop terrorising a neighbourhood. He also conversed with a squirrel about the sacraments.

Assisi saw nature as polluted by the sin of humanity, and so also in need of redemption. As patron saint of animals and ecology, he’s been a popular figure in the church ever since.

Nevertheless, the gospel is ordinarily marketed as ‘good news’ for people and their souls, rather than the planet and its future. But this might be changing.

“The gospel is about relationships”, Andy Atkins, the chief executive of  A Rocha UK says. “With God, with others, with ourselves and with the environment that sustains us”. Former head of Friends of the Earth, Atkins describes A Rocha as “a home for Christians who make the connection between their faith and the environment, supporting them to influence others.”

Two years ago they launched an ‘Eco Church’ scheme to recognise churches that put the environment at the heart of their mission: from installing solar panels, to preaching on environmental stewardship, and involvement in local conservation.

There are now nearly 900 such churches in the UK, and A Rocha aims for 4,000 by 2025. Look carefully and you might spot one of their recycled wooden plaques adorning an Eco Church near you. They also have two nature reserves in the south of England.

Hima - Islam

Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century AD, the harsh desert of the Arabian peninsula was home to nomadic tribes who frequently came into conflict. A Hima - meaning 'protected area' - became a place of respite for everyone.

Conflict was forbidden in these areas, and scarce natural resources were carefully and collectively managed for the good of all. With the arrival of Islam – which accorded a particular respect to animals – a Hima became a place of refuge for wildlife too. Some Himas were even designated as retirement homes for elderly camels.

And though the concept of a Hima was forgotten during the course of the twentieth century, it is now on its way back, thanks to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL).

Assad Serhal founded SPNL in order to protect the many migrating birds that rest in his native Lebanon. But when he re-discovered Hima, he found a way to bring communities together from across the country’s ethnic and religious groups, to engage in responsible land management, and take pride in their region’s biodiversity.

He has since been invited to work with other countries to establish Himas across the Middle East and Mediterranean.

Jake Lloyd is a communications consultant, and communications coordinator at Arukah Network. He helped his local church to join the Eco Church scheme mentioned above, and participates in a community energy project.

This article originally appeared on the Ecologist on April 18th, 2018. 

Can religion help save the planet's wildlife and environment?

Religious values are often consistent with conservation efforts. So it’s not surprising that a variety of religious organisations and conservationists are working together to help mitigate the devastating effects of global climate change, writes Curtis Abraham.

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos.

Dekila Chungyalpa visited Bodh Gaya, a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in Bihar, northwestern India in 2007. It is here where Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment and where Chungyalpa experienced an epiphany of her own that would create an unbreakable bond between religion and nature conservation.

The Sikkim-born conservationist was here to attend a talk on compassion towards animals given by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual head of one of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Chungyalpa aspired to be a vegetarian but failed consistently at each attempt. Then when the 17th Karmapa asked his audience to consider not eating meat for one meal, or a day, or a week and more, it was a revelation. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, became a vegetarian. Not only was it a spiritual awakening but also an intellectual one.

Live in harmony

“I experienced first-hand how a religious leader could, with only a few words, influence thousands of people to change their behavior. It opened up a whole new way of approaching conservation, which had simply not occurred to me before”, says Chungyalpa, an associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Two years later, Chungyalpa founded and ran the pioneering faith-based conservation program, Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos. Trying to live in harmony with nature is one of its basic tenets. Every religion has scriptures that expound such a view.

For example, in Genesis in the Bible, God speaks to Noah and tells him that he now establishes a covenant between himself and every living creature on the ark.

Similarly, in the Koran, there is specific mention that all animals, including creatures that fly with wings, are precious to Allah. Hinduism also has a deep reverence for nature, for different wild animals who have symbolic power and subscribe to the Dharmic law of Ahimsa, non-violence, as a way of life.

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Plans for conservation

The roots of nature conservation in the United States are deeply spiritual. In 1903, John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create the US Protected Area system, with the argument that this would protect the ‘creation of God’.

He saw nature and biodiversity as the best evidence of there being a benevolent God and that faith based argument helped established Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier National Parks. 

In recent years, the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) has pioneered the development of conservation projects based around the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions.

It was the brainchild of HRH Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, who invited the leaders of the five major world religions to discuss how could help save the natural world.

In 2012, the Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent conference was hosted by the ARC in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a celebration of the many faith groups across Africa who was launching their long term plans for conservation.

A spiritual faith

During the conference, fifty African religious leaders representing different faiths and nationalities announced a joint partnership to denounce the massacre of elephants and rhions and wildlife trafficking generally.

And, earlier this year, the Religion and Conservation Biology working group of the Society for Conservation Biology established the inaugural Assisi Award during their 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Cartagena, Columbia.

The award acknowledges organisations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth. 

Most people are religious. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of people in the world embrace a spiritual faith (there are some two billion Christians, 1.34 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and two hundred million Buddhists). 

In addition, many of the world’s most important nature conservation sites are also sacred. But these places also face overwhelming threats, including deforestation, pollution, unsustainable extraction, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such threats not only endanger the integrity of ecosystems but also leave the people who live there impoverished and vulnerable.

Wildlife declines

While religion can be a God-send in the battle to conserve nature, tens of thousands of wild animals have been poached (some to the brink of extinction) to satisfy our religious devotion.

African elephant ivory are carved into religious artifacts such as saints for Catholics in the Philippines and elsewhere. They are also crafted into Islamic prayer beads for Muslims and Coptic crosses for Christians in Egypt as well as amulets and carvings for Buddhists and Taoist in Thailand, and in China-the world's biggest ivory-consumer. 

Rhino horn also has its importance to Islam. In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982.

The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya,’ which are presented to 12-year old Yemeni (jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense). Yemeni men place great value on the dagger handles, which are commonly studded with jewels.

The elephant is revered in Buddhism (it is the symbol for Thailand). And, there is a pan Asian belief that ivory removes bad spirits. In China, religious themes are common in carved ivory pieces. Chinese Nouveau rich are frantically collecting ivory in the form of Buddhist and Taoist gods and goddesses.

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Eco-Buddhism

Furthermore, Buddhist monks in China perform a ceremony called kaiguang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons, just as some Filipino priests will bless Catholic images made of illegal ivory for their followers. 

WWF’s Sacred Earth program successfully targeted conservation initiatives in different priority places such as the Mekong, East Africa and the Amazon. 

The Himalayas was also another conservation priority area for the Sacred Earth Program (Chungyalpa’s childhood was spent exploring the wilderness of western Sikkim, an ecological hotspot in the lower Himalayas).The Buddhist monasteries and nunneries are in some of Asia’s most fragile and ecologically important landscapes. 

The Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. They contain the world’s largest reserve of freshwater outside the north and south poles. This area gives rise to many of the great rivers in mainland Asia including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween and Yangtse.

The combined human population in these basins is over 1.5 billion, almost 20% of the world population. At the same time, the region is also immensely vulnerable to climate change with temperatures in Tibet rising by 0.4 degree centigrade per decade-double the global average!

Senior monks

The combination of these factors means that as glaciers melt and monsoon patterns change due to climate change, over a billion people are at risk of experiencing face crop failures, water shortages, power losses, floods, and droughts at much higher frequencies.

“The awareness of protecting life and living environment in Buddhism is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha,” says Khenpo Chokey, a senior monk at Pullahari Monestry in Nepal, which runs several conservation and environment-friendly initiatives including tree planting, vegetable gardening and waste management.

Buddha taught the concepts of interdependence cause and effect (karma) and doing the right thing (dharma).The ‘Thripitaka’ (Three Baskets of Buddha’s teachings) the Buddha expressed his views on environmental protection.

In the Vinaya (rules laid down by Buddha) all forms of plants are to be protected and trees must not be cut. Monks and nuns observe the Rain Retreat during which they stay within the monastery/nunnery compound to minimize stepping on insects and sprouting grass. 

As the then director of the WWF Sacred Earth programme, Chungyalpa was asked by Ogyen Trinley Dorje to collaborate with his senior monks to create a set of environmental guidelines for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and centers in the Himalayas.

All monasteries are vegetarian

“The guidelines were unique in that they presented the science and solutions for major environmental threats facing the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau within the philosophical framework of Buddhism”, says Chungyalpa.

These efforts has resulted in the establishment of KHORYUG, an association of over 50 influential Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas (www.khoryug.info) (stretching from Ladakh in northwest India all the way to Bhutan).

These monasteries/nunneries, under the auspices of the 17th Karmapa, eventually developed their own conservation projects that directly engage Buddhist monastics: these included organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, reforestation, river clean ups.

Their efforts are having an impact. For example, there is the annual plantation of over 25,000 indigenous tree saplings locally, as well as a shift to solar energy as the primary source of water heating and kitchen facilities in twenty-one of the monasteries.

In addition, all Khoryug institutions are plastic-free and segregate waste for recycling. All of them have community clean up days where they clean public areas once a month. All monasteries are vegetarian partly due to Buddhist principles and partly due to climate change. 

Climate disaster management

More importantly, the last three years of training has resulted in a group of monks and nuns who are qualified to become trainers themselves and who now lead training conferences for other monastics and local community members on the topics of climate change, disaster management, and community emergency response team training. 

For example, Rumtek monastery – the largest monastery in the state of Sikkim – carried out their own 5 day climate disaster management training conference last year, with representation from over 75 percent of monasteries of different lineages attending. 

In addition, KHORYUG has put out three publications during this period: “Environmental Guidelines:, “108 Things You Can Do” and, most recently, Disaster Management Guidelines”

Curtis Abraham is a freelance writer and researcher on African development, science, the environment, biomedical/health and African social/cultural history. He has lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa for over two decades but is originally from Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York.

This article originally appeared on the Ecologist on September 27, 2017.

Ever Wondered What Islam Has to Say About Waste and Environmental Sustainability?

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“But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Quran 6:141)

When it comes to the topic of waste, there’s one thing for sure: Islam isn’t indifferent. The concept of waste (Israaf) comes up considerably in the Quran and there are no blurred lines. It’s crystal clear: it’s never excused. On a religious and spiritual level we are encouraged to use only what we need, not give into gluttony and to take care of our home.

Many environmentalists such as writer and activist Naomi Klein argue that our economic system is at odds with the well-being of the planet. Under our current capitalist and materialistic models, the Earth’s resources are used to no end.

On environmental sustainability and Islam, Salman Zafar says, “According to Islamic Law, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just human beings.” He goes on: the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah are a guiding light to promote sustainable development in Islamic countries as well as around the world. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) commands human beings to avoid doing mischief and wasting resources as these acts cause degradation of the environment. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given to the mankind on a guardianship basis, which implies the right to use another person’s property on the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed.”

This shows that our role and responsibility as Muslims and as citizens on this beautiful planet is very clear. But if you’re wondering as to how serious the issue of waste is, then keep reading.

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One of our biggest environmental issues is how much we consume, and the more we consume, the more waste we produce. Let’s talk numbers: every year, 1.3 billion tons of waste are produced worldwide. That number is expected to skyrocket to 4 billion by 2100. The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash daily! Have you ever thought about where your trash ends up after it’s picked up? Just because we don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

“And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters” (Quran 28:77)

We have to remember that waste doesn’t always translate into that stinky trash bin. The way we consume through living, eating, dressing and traveling – all aspects of our lives – can contribute to a wasteful lifestyle. If we want to be mindful of our planet and our role as Muslims, then we need to get this conversation going. We need to think about the lifestyle choices we make and how they impact our planet.

This article originally appeared on MuslimGirl on November 23, 2017.

Can The Halal Industry Contribute to a Better Environment?

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By Latifa Saber 

Many often link the halal industry to the food industry, but what a lot of people miss is that ‘halal’ goes way further than that. When we think about halal we mostly think about the slaughter process that is different for Muslims, but we seem to forget that it doesn’t stop there. Depending on what industry we’re talking about, the halal rules can differ. A main guideline when it comes to halal is that it should be good for humans, animals and the environment. What’s really interesting is that many of these ‘halal – rules’ are very respectable and could change many things that are quite harmful to our environment today.

Let’s take a look at the beauty industry for example and think about how halal is implemented when it comes to manufacturing cosmetics.  Halal beauty and personal care goes way further than banning pork derivatives from the products and having halal financial services. When we’re speaking of halal beauty we have to make sure that the products don’t own any pesticides. But that’s not all; besides the ingredient list the halal beauty sector also focuses on the manufacturing. This means that the environment and the people who work on the cosmetics are not to be forgotten. It is highly recommended to manufacture products locally, which reduces the effect on the environment. Also fair trade is a must! Exploitation of production workers is definitely a no-go. Last but not least: The creation of halal beauty products needs to be free from any type of animal cruelty.

So we’re talking about banning pesticides, stopping the exploiting of working forces, and fair-trade, all these standards are exactly what many environmental activists are pleading for these days. So what if these halal guidelines were a standard for all industries? Could this be an optimal solution for the many problems that live in the industry these days? Think of sweatshops exploiting workforces in third world countries, the use of pesticides or the abuse of animals to manufacture products.

The ideal answer would obviously be yes, but of course it isn’t that easy. Even though the standards are high when it comes to the halal guidelines, many of these industries lack a standardized approach, which makes it really hard to control it. And unfortunately there’s also this strange feeling towards halal products by some non-Muslims who still see it as some kind of Muslim hocus-pocus

But maybe being more open about it and having more transparency into the halal industry would get rid of these problems, which could lead to more industries applying these guidelines. Because if we look at the way our environment is often treated these days, it really screams for a new way of doing things. More specific it screams for a way in which we can enjoy products without exploiting people, abusing animals or disrespecting our planet.

This article originally appeared on mvslim on July 24th, 2017. 

Islamic Ecotheology: A Religious Call To Protect Ecosystem

By: Malik Gazi Bilal

The calls for ecological justice are intensifying faster and louder than ever. Environmental experts and climate scientists, after conducting vigorous researches, found that climate change is a functional reality which poses great threats to survival of humankind. Their research findings endorse, every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous and polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than their scientific projections. In such a vulnerable situation, together with governments, non-governmental organizations and different international environmental research committees, religious organizations and faith leaders, all across the world,  have also become conscious regarding their role and responsibility vis-à-vis establishing justice for earth, inter-generational justice, and justice for all creation.

Since, environmental crisis is basically the problem of “disequilibrium” of natural world through men’s exploitative behaviour. Therefore, alongside politico-scientific considerations, it also demands a systematic theological perspective that has potential to appeal spiritual and psychological dimensions of man’s “consciousness” towards the biological and physical composition of his (her) environment. The “awakening” of religious consciousness vis-à-vis ecological justice demands that faith-activists of all religions should recognize “ecological justice” as common responsibility and must work together to make this earth a beautiful abode.

Today, the world is witnessing the ever growing participation of faith leaders and appearance of “scripturally contextualized” ecological writings over burning environmental issues such as soaring greenhouse gas emissions, rising global temperatures, typhoons, floods, and killing droughts. Faith leaders, unhesitatingly, are accepting the fact that establishing a just society in principle and practice, would be impossible unless vigorous public discussions, through all channels of communication, are generated regarding how “ecological justice” is valued in religious scriptures and theological formulations. The “utopia” of “just society” would also not come true, if faith-based pro-environment movements for “global action on climate change” are not promoted at national and international level.

Since late 1960’s, Muslim scholars and environmental experts, have been adding their voice to a crescendo of religiously-inspired call for “global action on climate change”- a movement towards developing an Islamic ecotheology. Making “theological formulations” relevant to contemporary ecological issues, Muslim scholars have been engaged in different environmental projects thereby developing a sense of interconnectedness between man and his (her) surrounding ecosystem. Transforming their “less-heard” voice into a meaningful “movement”, on 17-18 August 2015, Muslim faith leaders, ecologists and politicians from more than 20 countries, gathered at a seminar in Istanbul and launched unanimously agreed-upon Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change– a document appealing world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to take immediate, well-mechanized and relevant action against ecological disequilibrium. This declaration followed a similar intervention by the Vatican group earlier this year when Pope Francis issued his 192 page long-awaited encyclical on climate change which warns of “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems and serious consequences” if the world fails to act on the mechanics of climate change.

The discussions generated around the issue of ecological injustice and Islamic response laid the basis of Islamic ecotheology.  Now, the point of concentration is what is this Islamic ecotheology and how does it work?

In my understanding, Islamic ecotheology is a concept that Islam has its own well-structured environmental framework. The philosophical underpinnings of Islamic ecotheology basically include all those concepts and precepts that have been frequently referred to in shari’ah (Islamic law) vis-à-vis God’s design for creation of natural world (ilm al-khalaq)and man’s responsibility for its utilization, maintenance and preservation. Interestingly, Muslim ecotheologists- scholars dealing environmental problems in light of theological formulations- have found that there are about 750 verses in the Qur’an that are, directly or indirectly, related to creation of natural world, the laws that govern it and its impact on quality of human life. For example, the Qur’an has mentioned word maa’ (water) at more than 60 places and introduced it as the origin of whole biological life (21:30). It has also provided every minute detail regarding its source, its forms, its cycling, and its impact on entire ecosystem.

Muslim ecotheologists also maintain that many chapters of the Qur’an are named after specific animals and natural incidents, such as: ‘the Cow’, ‘the Cattle’, ‘the Thunder’, ‘the Bee’, ‘the Ant’, ‘the Daybreak’, ‘the Sun’, ‘the Night’, ‘the Fig’ and ‘the Elephant’ which indicates that Islamic theology doesn’t recognize man a “living being” independent of his (her) environment and the laws that operate therein. Islam advocates that “physically” all ecological factors such air, water, earth, plants and animals support human life. Therefore, man’s attitude towards his/her environment should be based on the principles of justice (‘adl), wisdom(hikmah) and compassion (rahmah). They are also of the opinion that Islam has characterized all natural phenomena as divine signs of God (ayaat-ul-Allah); manifesting His knowledge, wisdom and power. Therefore, it would be right to claim that environment offers profound and constant opportunities to man to be aware of God’s presence and any maltreatment to environmental factors would tantamount man’s negligence towards giving due “respect” to God’s noticeable signs.

However, giving respect doesn’t entail that man cannot take advantage from the nature and its abundant resources positively. Rather, it means while benefiting from the nature, he (she) has to abide by certain principles which form basis of the Islamic ecotheology. These principles can be described as following:

Trusteeship (amanah):

To understand the concept of trusteeship, it is important to understand the nature of relation between the God, man and earth. From the Islamic point of view, whole of earth and all its abundant resources are seen as a divine gift from God and man as the vicegerent (khalifah) of God on the earth (2:30; 6:165; 35:39). The principle of man’s vicegerency tells us that absolute ownership of resources of the earth belong to God and man has been positioned as trustee having right to creatively use it, maintain it and deliver back to God in the best possible conditions. The following Qur’anic verse emphasizes the point, “Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend of that whereof He hath made you trustees… (57:7).” The meaning of this verse has been appropriately conveyed by Ali ibn Abi-Talib, who said, “partake of it gladly so long as you are the benefactor, not despoiler; a cultivator, not destroyer…man’s abuse of any resource is prohibited”. Hazrat Ali’s explanation suggests that man has been endowed with “special status” over the rest of creation, but, it doesn’t give him (her) liberty to exploit the earth and use its resources extravagantly.

In the contemporary times, modern techno-centric man, fully dependent on energy resources, has abandoned the principle of “trusteeship” in theory and practice. Consequently, he (she) started behaving like an “owner” instead of a “trustee”. This changed nature of relationship from “owner” to “trustee” has become the root cause of environmental disequilibrium. Therefore, rebuilding the concept of “trusteeship” rather than “absolute ownership” while applying the modern technology to earth and its resources can prove one of the effective ways to improve earth’s conditions and protect the ecology from man’s exploitative behavior.

Conservation and Moderation:

Wastefulness (israf) of resources is one of the major contributing factors to present vulnerable conditions of man’s “living” on the earth. Researchers, experts and policy makers have been tirelessly working to generate public consciousness regarding benefits of moderate and conservative approach while consuming natural resources. However, for the Muslims “conservation” of resources is not a reactionary method to avoid “resource dearth” in future; rather, it an “active process” which has been described as essential component of faith. Muslims as “revolutionary community” have been cautioned that “but waste not by excess: for Allah loves not the wasters (6:141)” and “Surely the squanders are friends of Satan (devil) and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord (7:31).”In the light of these verses, exceeding limits in “consumption” and living lavishly at cost of others- that include all biological and physical elements of earth- are considered as grave sins and also violation of “divine balance” in Islam.

The principle of conservation can be further understood in the light of Prophet’s golden saying that has been reported in many hadith books.  It is reported from Abdullah bin Amr that messenger of God passed by S’ad while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this extravagance?” S’ad said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river (Sunan Ibn Majah).” If the essential message of this Prophetic tradition, which is nothing but “conservation”, is applied in a broader context, its practical benefits would be bewildering.

Corruption and Vandalism:

According to Islamic doctrines vis-à-vis creationism, God (khaliq or creator) has created everything in its best form and that too with “balance” as is mentioned in the Qur’an, “Who made all things good which He created (32:7).”  After giving perfection of “form and purpose” to creation, God commanded man, the only one amongst whole creation who has been given power and control, to keep it that way, “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order (7:56).” In light of these commands, it is evident that Islam opposes mischief (fasad) and corruption (zulm) in all forms. However, some may argue here that these verses only talk about interpersonal relations, but, many scholars such as Tariq Ramadan, Sayyed Hossein Nasr, and Mohammad Aslam have broadened the scope of these verses to adopt wider issues of the environment wherein man lives.

It is worth to note here that there stands a well-established maxim, “La dhararwa la dhirarafi’l Islam” in the Islamic jurisprudence which states, “harm may neither be inflicted nor reciprocated in Islam”. This maxim is general in application and includes all kinds of harm whether it involves individual, society or environment. Thus, whatever causes harm to environment should be seen as forbidden (haram) and punishable act and all necessary measures should be taken to prevent this harm from happening.

Cleanliness and Hygiene:

Islam doesn’t consider cleanliness only a desirable attitude rather an indispensable part of faith. According to Qur’an, “God loves those that turn to Him in repentance and purify themselves (2:222).” Since, Islam places great impetus on cleanliness, in both physical and spiritual dimensions, that is why we see all great works on hadith(collection of Prophet’s narratives) and fiqh(Islamic jurisprudence)  start with discussions related to cleanliness (taharah) which was methodologically a novel practice in the history of world literature. In effect to cleanliness, there are numerous Prophetic sayings such as, “cleanliness covers half of faith (cited by Imam Muslim)” and “Surely God is clean and loves the clean, so clean your courtyard (Sunan Ibn Majah)”. The Prophet is also reported to have said, “Surely the clothes glorify, (but) when they are dirty and unclean they do not glorify (Mizan al-Hikmah).” What all could be understood from these Prophetic traditions is nothing but “completion” of faith is impossible without having proper sense of cleanliness.

Apart from cleanliness of one’s body, Islam demands cleanliness of the houses, roads, streets, public parks, health centers and educational institutions in order to enhance the living standards and value structures of society. For example, he is reported to have said, “you must clean your houses and do not follow in the footsteps of Jews (practicing ruhbaaniyat i.e. abandoning worldly responsibilities, reported in Al-Tirmidhi)” and “Removing harmful things (which include impurities and filth) from the roads is a charitable act (Bukhari and Muslim)”. The Prophet has also admonished against creating problems for other living beings and considered it one of the reasons to incite God’s curse. He has said, “Beware of three acts that cause others to curse you: relieving yourselves in a watering place, on foot paths or shaded places and public parks (Sunan Abu Dawud)”. In view of the significance of cleanliness in Islam, Muslims are ordained to take these instructions in conjunction with the protection of the environment and establishing ecological justice.

Ecological Responsibility and Acts of Kindness:

There are numerous sayings of the Prophet that promote care and compassion vis-à-vis establishment of “ecological justice” such as protecting animals, preserving the productiveness of the soil, using water sparingly, planting a new tree if cutting down another for a just reason, and not polluting streams with sewage. In a tradition reported by Anas bin Malik, the Prophet(PBUH) has encouraged Muslims to look after God’s creation also referred to as God’s family (ayaal al-Allah) including plants and animals. He is reported to have said, “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field, which later nourishes a human, a bird, or beast, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him (Bukhari).” While denouncing unnecessary cutting or destruction of plants, the Prophet said, “He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], God will send him to hellfire (Sunan Abu Dawud).” The environmental consciousness of the Prophet is brilliantly described in his own saying, “If the qiyamah (last hour) comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it (Musnad Ahmad).

As far as the concept of “animal care” is concerned, Tariq Ramadan in insightful book In the Footsteps of the Prophet has outlined some key sayings of the Prophet about judgment day. For example he has quoted Prophet’s saying that, “whoever kills a sparrow or a bigger animal without respecting its rights to exist will be accountable to God for it on the Day of Judgment (Sunan Nasa’i).” It has been also reported that once companions asked Prophet “Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied “There is reward for serving any living being (Bukhari).” And yet in another tradition, it is mentioned that “A woman entered fire because of a cat which she had tied, neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth (Bukhari).”

These Prophetic sayings, which came more than 1400 years ago, not only promote an ethical sense towards ecological responsibility, but, also reinforce the scientific concept of “chain of life” wherein all living species, including man, depend on each other for their survival. In this regard, God reminds us of His divine balance (here referred to as ‘measure’), “And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof (55:7-9).

Conclusion:

To conclude, I propose Islamic ecotheology considers environment very sacred and equates serving environment with other forms of Ibadah (worship) such as prayer and fasting. This implies that even if there is no threat of “resource crisis”, Muslims must still take care of earth and its resources, protect animals and plants and, more importantly, improve conditions of“life” on earth by paying due consideration towards their environment with the sense of both duty as well as morality. For that, they need to develop a strong “eco-consciousness” and establish different environmental groups and institutions in order to promote global awareness of damage that is being done to environment. Since good environment promises good life, therefore, it becomes imperative for every single Muslim to maintain the “goodness” of life. Imam Jafar Sadiq has said, “There is no joy in life unless three things are available: clean and fresh air, abundant pure water and fertile soil”.

This article originally appeared on The Companion on April 4th, 2017. 

The Spiritual Significance of Jihād in Islamic Economics: The Need for a New Economic Paradigm

By: Waleed El-Ansary

I begin with three questions: What is the spiritual significance of jihād?  What does this have to do with Islamic economics? Why does a proper understanding of jihād show the need for a new economic paradigm for the modern world?[1]Regarding the first question, the meaning of jihād has unfortunately been obscured by the Western image of Islam as the “religion of the sword.”[2]Although jihād relates to the defense of the Islamic world from invasion by non-Islamic forces, and thus represents a form of just warfare (tragically inverted by violent extremists),[3] it also has a much broader meaning as a form of economic and spiritual activity. Upon returning from the battle of Badr, which threatened the existence of the Islamic community, the Prophet of Islam said, “You have returned from the lesser jihād to the greater jihād.” This greater battle, which describes the inner meaning of jihād, is the struggle to integrate the whole of life around a Sacred Center. In fact, jihād is derived from the root j-h-d, whose primary meaning is “to strive” or “to exert oneself,” and corresponds to similar doctrines in most of the world’s major religious traditions.[4] Within Christianity, this inner struggle is indicated by Christ’s statement, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.”[5]

“Applied to Islamic economics and in answer to the second question, the Qur’ān teaches that to struggle for a living is tantamount to defending the community in battle.”

Applied to Islamic economics and in answer to the second question, the Qur’ān teaches that to struggle for a living is tantamount to defending the community in battle.[6] Before the Battle of Badr, the Prophet saw a young man with a strong physique running to his shop through the area that the Prophet was marshalling his men for battle. Someone remarked that he wished the youth would use his strength to ‘run in the way of God’ by joining them to defend the Muslim community from its enemies. The Prophet responded, “If this young man runs with the intention of not depending on others and refraining from begging, he is in the way of God. If he strives for the livelihood of his weak parents or weak children, he is in the way of God. If he tries to show his health out of pride, he is in the way of the devil.”[7]

This saying of the Prophet demonstrates that exertion to support oneself and family is a form of jihād that has a spiritual significance and should be performed as “an act of worship as if [one] were praying.”[8] Far from merely serving to maintain one’s physical and material wellbeing, work for pious Muslims involves the edification of human nature in all its fullness, requiring that right actions in economic activity be combined with right intentions in order to actualize their spiritual dimension, following the “Straight Path” (al-sirāt al-mustaqīm). In fact, the Divine Law in Islam gives religious meaning to all acts that are necessary for human life.[9] Accordingly, work must somehow support us in attaining our highest aspirations as human beings, including our spiritual destiny, rather than prevent us from realizing them by engaging in completely tedious and degrading activity that prevents us from realizing our human dignity.

Division of Labor in Islam

The division of labor and coordination of economic activity required by Islamic (and many other religions’) economic systems must have a spiritual and not simply a corporeal significance. Some division of labor is required to provide any society with its necessary and useful goods and services, requiring that some members of the community perform various tasks, functions and professions. Other collective and civic duties (fard kifā’i), such as building orphanages and hospitals, are analogous. If no members of the community fulfilled these needs, each member of the community would be held spiritually accountable. Such division of labor, both in the personal and collective sense, is a duty under Islamic law, not simply a pragmatic possibility.

“The division of labor and coordination of economic activity required by Islamic (and many other religions’) economic systems must have a spiritual and not simply a corporeal significance.”

Moreover, all forms of labor and service must allow space for the expression of human creativity, and the realization of personal satisfaction in its intrinsic meaning and usefulness. Thus, each member of society can perfect his or her God-given talents, and become good stewards of the vitality and worthwhile heritage of the community, as well as Nature itself. However, an extremely high or overspecialized division of labor that employs too few of man’s faculties can have serious social costs by constraining the proper development of human talents and skills that benefit individual workers, their families, and society. Adam Smith stated:

“In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations… has no occasion to exert his [creative talent and improve his] understanding… He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become… but in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.”[10]

A division of labor that stultifies the minds of laborers leads to a lopsided and unjust form of development that fails to provide most people with psychological and spiritual fulfillment. A disequilibrium between meeting the corporeal, but not spiritual needs of mankind, can only persist in the short or medium-term. “Equilibrium on the socio-economic plane is impossible to realize without reaching that inner equilibrium which cannot be attained save through surrender to the One and living a life according to the dictum of Heaven.”[11]

The Role of Islamic Intellectual Sciences

“Islamic metaphysics and sciences of nature based on sacred scripture and its subsequent inspired commentaries applied to everything in the productive processes—from architecture and urban planning to the artistry of clothing, and the design of personal living and communal working space. The same principles of traditional sciences applied to everything, including social organization and the treatment of animals, plants, and the environment.”

While Islamic laws of religious and economic practices set the conditions for providing mankind’s needs for products and services, it is the Islamic intellectual sciences, with their vision of man’s integral place in the cosmos—grounded in physical, psychological and spiritual reality—that allow for modes of work that can meet the needs of man for both bread and the Spirit.[12] Islamic religious laws provide the necessary approach, but Islamic intellectual, productive, and artistic sciences are also necessary, because the norms and principles of art, which are also derived from the Quranic revelation, govern the making of things in a traditional Islamic economy.[13] The Qurʾān is not only the source of rituals, ethics, and social institutions, but is also the source of the knowledge of reality. From this point of view, what humankind makes, or humankind’s art, should also communicate a spiritual truth and presence analogous to Nature, which is God’s art. “The ethical aspect of work in this case embraces also the aesthetic.”[14] Production and service are conceived as spiritual disciplines in which work is not only a means of livelihood but also a product of devotion. As Coomaraswamy asserts, “Every man is a special kind of artist,” the artist is not “a special kind of man.”[15] 

A necessary condition for making things in traditional Islam is consciousness of one’s mortality and complete dependence on the Absolute, a kind of “spiritual poverty” (faqr) or humility.[16] Spiritual preparation involving prayers and spiritual contemplation were an integral part of the creative process for traditional Muslim craftsmen, whose products combined utility and beauty with spiritual truth and presence.[17]

Islamic metaphysics and sciences of nature based on sacred scripture and its subsequent inspired commentaries applied to everything in the productive processes—from architecture and urban planning to the artistry of clothing, and the design of personal living and communal working space. The same principles of traditional sciences applied to everything, including social organization and the treatment of animals, plants, and the environment. The link between work, spiritual education, and sacred ambiance forged by the Islamic intellectual sciences were crucial to meeting all of mankind’s needs by ineluctably integrating religion, economics, arts and crafts, and indeed all of civilization. This approach to work must conform to the nature of things, and bringing us into conscious alignment with reality, because “[A]ction by definition manifests God, and … the creature can therefore do nothing that does not in some way affirm God.”[18]

The traditional Islamic guilds of various trades and crafts transmitted the Islamic doctrines and practices on the division of labor, production, and market exchange that allowed man to live in harmony with himself, his community, and nature. This observation is not intended to suggest a restoration of the specific practices of the historic Islamic economic models, but they can serve as a source of inspiration for restoring ethics and the edifying dignity of work to our contemporary economic practices.

“The link between work, spiritual education, and sacred ambiance forged by the Islamic intellectual sciences were crucial to meeting all of mankind’s needs by ineluctably integrating religion, economics, arts and crafts, and indeed all of civilization.”

Honorable and noble intentions, in addition to making a living, were clearly important in the traditional Islamic economic system, tightly integrating ethics and economics. The guild approach to production, service, and social organization entailed a system of coordination between members. Traditional craftsmen accepted the duty to supply their goods at just and stable prices, since the appropriate division of labor and its fruits was a duty, not just the unintended result of an “efficient” market.[19] To avoid over-supply or under-supply of the market at a particular time, a master craftsman would postpone or accelerate taking on extra apprentices while other qualified craftsmen had insufficient or excess work, respectively. Maintaining this equilibrium of supply and demand in Islamic economies was critical, not only for meeting the craftsmen’s physical needs through reliable employment and steady income, but also for satisfying the guildsmen’s spiritual need for dignity and pride in the service and products they provided consumers.

Law and Jjihād for Ethical Economics

Traditional Islamic (and other religious) societies provide a model of the integration of ethics and economics through their organic union of market and non-market institutions. For example, Islamic law encourages charity in many forms, whether through permanent endowments (such as waqf) or specific charitable donations (such as zakāt), which spiritually purify one’s wealth—and gives rise to an Islamic “gift economy,” through which needs of the disadvantaged are met outside the “market economy.”

E.F. Schumacher, who corresponded extensively with Muslim philosophers and scientists on religion and economics,[20] identified three objectives of work related to the hierarchy of spiritual and other needs in any religious approach to economics:

First, to provide necessary and useful goods and services.

Second, to enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards.

Third, to do so in service to, and in cooperation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our egocentricity.”[21]

In Islam, all three of these objectives are forms of jihād applicable to what humanity does and what humankind makes, and are necessary for an ethical economics.[22] Islamic economic law is relevant to all three of Schumacher’s objectives. The first objective defines necessary and useful goods and services while excluding “noxious markets” such as pornography and gambling (or speculation). And Islamic economic law establishes the external conditions for fulfilling the second and third objectives. However, the intellectual and esoteric dimensions of Islam are necessary for realizing the latter objectives, perfecting our talents as stewards, and working cooperatively to liberate ourselves from our egocentricity.

Of course, all economists recognize Schumacher’s first objective of work, and Adam Smith acknowledged the second objective to some extent, noting the potentially degrading and dehumanizing effects of an extremely high division of labor. But other classical economists such as David Ricardo and James Mill strongly opposed this view, denying the existence of such harmful effects. They asserted that all types of work are homogeneous in terms of human development.[23] These thinkers also denied the possibility of work as a form of spiritual jihād that could liberate anyone from egocentricity and realize their spiritual destinies. They only acknowledged the first objective of work—production and service. These various positions have critical implications for the link between ethics and economics and the extent to which economic realities can be governed by their own logic, pointing toward an answer to the third question on the need for a new economic paradigm. As Robert Foley has pointed out, the modern economic approach bases itself on a view of

. . . modern society as made up of two spheres: an economic sphere of individual initiative and interaction, governed by impersonal laws that assure a beneficent outcome by pursuit of self-interest; and the rest of social life, including political, religious, and moral interactions that require the conscious balancing of self-interest with social considerations.[24]

This is sometimes called the “separate domain” argument, namely, that the motivations of the “actors,” whether ethical or not, have nothing to do with whether a market economy generates “beneficent” outcomes. In response to such propositions, Gandhi stated that, “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” is one of the greatest delusions of our time.[25]

“A prevailing preoccupation with the accumulation of wealth is self-defeating, often converting the joy and blessings of wealth into a sort of envious misery—because somebody else will always have more.”

From a religious point of view, we are not merely human beings “having” and “doing” things, we are humans aspiring to “be” all that we can be, which includes transcending the state we find ourselves in—to realize our highest potential as human beings, not just as intelligent animals that consume and reproduce and destroy our environment for our grandchildren. Ignoring questions of intrinsic meaning in work and spiritually productive cooperation leads to a destructive growth in production, consumption and pollution (corruption of the earth, or fasād fi’l ard to use the Quranic expression), and a diminution of the potential of workers, craftsmen, and artists (and all other providers of useful goods or services) to realize their dignity as human beings made in the image of God. A prevailing preoccupation with the accumulation of wealth is self-defeating, often converting the joy and blessings of wealth into a sort of envious misery—because somebody else will always have more.

Worldviews and Islamic Economics: Material vs Spiritual

From the perspective of Islamic economics, solutions to the mounting crises in our current environmental, economic and social/psychological domains (such as crime, suicide and the moral degradation of our culture) require changing our way of life, of the way we look at the world, and the way we look at ourselves—ultimately the way we understand reality.[26] Accordingly, the root cause of our environmental economic and socio-economic ailments is the prevailing mechanistic and materialistic worldview, with a scope of scientific inquiry absurdly limited to the grossly physical realm. This truncated worldview ignores the higher orders of reality that ultimately determine man’s destiny and current well-being. Instead, it generates scientific, technological, political, economic and other social structures that do violence to man and nature, by ignoring nearly everything necessary for a harmonious and just society. These structural injustices, in turn, generate patterns of economic instability and environmental degradation that manifest themselves in specific financial and economic crises, on the one hand, and ecological catastrophes on the other.

“From the perspective of Islamic economics, solutions to the mounting crises in our current environmental, economic and social/psychological domains (such as crime, suicide and the moral degradation of our culture) require changing our way of life, of the way we look at the world, and the way we look at ourselves—ultimately the way we understand reality.”

This abbreviated worldview and its corresponding structures also promote the erosion of non-market values, leading to “the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.”[27] When “everything is for sale,” markets may corrupt and degrade the very goods that are being marketed:

Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Auctioning seats in the freshman class to the highest bidders might raise revenue but also erode the integrity of the college and the value of its diploma. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens but corrupt the meaning of citizenship… [W]hen we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. [28]

Degradation in this context means treating something

…in accordance with a lower mode of valuation than is proper to it. We value things not just “more” or “less,” but in qualitatively higher and lower ways. To love or respect someone is to value him/her in a higher way than one would if one merely used [them like prostitutes].[29]

Central to this argument “is the idea that goods differ in kind; it’s therefore a mistake to value all goods in the same way, as instruments of profit or objects of use.”[30]

Islamic economics is therefore defined as “applied ethics,” understood broadly as applying both individually and structurally, which acknowledges the aesthetic aspect of work, and spells out the consequences of violating spiritual, ethical and aesthetic principles in our economic affairs. If such principles are necessary for socio-economic and environmental equilibrium, then ignoring or diverging from those principles makes no sense and subverts and destroys any hope of a just, harmonious, efficient, and environmentally sustainable economy.[31] The “separate domain” argument is not only false; it is pernicious. At stake is the starting point of economic theory, for an economic system that is unsustainable in the long-term and intrinsically unstable in the short-term is unintelligible in its own terms, just as disease is not intelligible except in terms of health, the loss of which leads to death.

“Islamic economics is not reducible to a combination of modern economic theories and Islamic economic law any more than traditional Islamic medicine can consist of a distorted combination of conventional allopathic medicine with elements of Muslim medical ethics.”

Islamic economics is not reducible to a combination of modern economic theories and Islamic economic law any more than traditional Islamic medicine can consist of a distorted combination of conventional allopathic medicine with elements of Muslim medical ethics. Moreover, a similar hybrid approach to economics (often espoused in popular studies and publications on Islamic economics) is inadequate for anything beyond the treatment of symptoms. Such an attempt at synthesizing Western and Islamic economics fails because they cannot be integrated, and cannot adequately address the structural issues between traditional Islamic science, technology and production processes and those of modern, Western, and scientistic secular materialism.

Another related problem is that current Islamic economics literature does not adequately refute the claim that mainstream, or “neoclassical,” economic theory can accommodate any “instrumentally rational,” that is, internally consistent set of values or tastes. If that claim were true, then the Islamic sciences would have nothing to say about how neoclassical theory reduces needs to wants and values to tastes.[32] But this reduction eliminates the distinction between “necessary and useful goods and services” in the first objective of work (let alone the distinction between intrinsic “good” and “evil”), thereby rationalizing trade-offs with Schumacher’s second and third objectives of work—perfecting our gifts as stewards of humanity and nature, and submitting the lowest elements of our souls (egos) in obedience to God’s will for our ultimate felicity. This agnostic economic view of ethical neutrality reinforces the secularization and degradation of the human spiritual jihād through engagement in ethical production, service and exchange processes.

“An honest debate over the analytical tools for evaluating the ethical implications of economic assumptions and policies is critically needed. Fortunately, the Islamic sciences of nature and ethical social cohesion have important implications for such a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory.”

The neoclassical claim of accommodating choice and preferences, without regard to ethics, fosters libertarian policies that claim to be ethically neutral, but, in fact, embrace hedonism as the prevailing economic policy while avoiding substantive philosophical debate over this covert objective. This obfuscation in honestly describing economic theory leads to prescriptive failure in economic policy. An honest debate over the analytical tools for evaluating the ethical implications of economic assumptions and policies is critically needed. Fortunately, the Islamic sciences of nature and ethical social cohesion have important implications for such a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory. This problematic theory was largely imported from Newtonian mechanics and nineteenth century physics, and frozen in place, while ignoring the revolutionary discoveries of more modern physics refuting Newton, such as those of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger. [33]

The jihād that Islamic economists must now undertake is to intensify debate among scholars and the public at large regarding the fact that the Westernized modern worldview of economics is in desperate and urgent need of a new economic paradigm—a paradigm based on fostering an economic system that meets all of the needs of mankind for engaging in their jihād of work in a way that mediates the objectives of work described by Schumacher, and recognized in traditional Islamic societies for centuries.

Dr. Waleed El-Ansary is University Chair in Islamic Studies at Xavier University, where he teaches courses on comparative religion, Islamic studies, and religion and science. He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic and Religious Studies from George Washington University and M.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, science, and economics. He has authored numerous publications, including “Islamic Environmental Economics and the Three Dimensions of Islam” in his co-edited volume Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of A Common Word. His recent work includes a book sponsored by a UNESCO-based organization, the Aladdin Project. 

This article originally appeared on Maydan on March 23rd, 2017.

[1]Thanks to Darrell Blakeway for reviewing and editing this offering.

[2] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London and New York:  KPT, 1987), 28.

[3] See Waleed El-Ansary, “The Economics of Terrorism: How Bin Laden Has Changed the Rules of the Game,” in Joseph Lumbard (ed.), Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars, 197-241.

[4] See for instance Whitall Perry, A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom (Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1971), 391-412.

[5] Matthew, 10:34 (a challenge to slay one’s ego and love one’s neighbor above all, and despite the harm he or she may have done to you).

[6] See for instance Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, A Muslim’s Reflections on Democratic Capitalism (Washington, D.C.:  American Enterprise Institute, 1984), 5.

[7] Al-Ghazzali, Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn (New Delhi:  Kitab Bhavan, 1982), vol. 2, 54.

[8] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam (San Francisco: The Aquarian Press, 1994), 98.

[9] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam in the Modern World: Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012), 55.

[10] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776, V.1.178. It is worth noting that Smith’s reservation regarding the division of labor does not appear in the first edition of the Wealth of Nations, but was added in subsequent editions. Smith seems to have had second thoughts about the salubrious effects of the minute division of labor.

[11] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Review of Ethics and Economics—An Islamic Synthesis,” Hamdard Islamicus 5/2 (Summer, 1982), 89–91: 89.

[12] “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).

[13] See for instance Amanda Coomaraswamy and Roger Lipsey, Selected Papers—Traditional Art and Symbolism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978); or Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam: Language and Meaning (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2009).

[14] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London: Kegan Paul International, 1994), 43. He also notes that ḥusn, the root of iḥsān (excellence) in Arabic, also means both “beauty” and “goodness” . . ..

[15] See Rama Coomaraswamy (ed.), The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2004), 124.

[16] For the man who has acquired faqr, its immediate consequence is “detachment with regard to all manifested things, for the being knows from then on that these things, like himself, are nothing, . . .  .” René Guénon, “Al-Faqr or ‘Spiritual Poverty’,” Studies in Comparative Religion 7/1 (Winter 1973), 16–20:16.

[17] Yusuf Ibish, “Traditional Guilds in the Ottoman Empire: An Evaluation of their Spiritual Role and Social Function,” Islamic World Report (1999): 6.

[18] Frithjof Schuon, The Eye of the Heart (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom Books, 1997), 15.

[19] See for instance Volumes 17 to 19 on prices (al-asʿar; sing. siʿr) in Ali Gomaʿa (ed.), Revealing the Islamic Economic Heritage (Takshīf al-Turāth al-Islāmī al-Iqtisādī) (Cairo: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1997).

[20] See Waleed El-Ansary, ed., Not by Bread Alone: E.F. Schumacher and the Perennial Philosophy (Bloomington: World Wisdom, forthcoming, 2018).

[21] E.F. Schumacher, Good Work (New York:  Harper & Row, 1979), 3-4.

[22] As Nasr points out in an essay on Islamic work ethics, “Work carried out in accordance with the Sharīah is a form of jihād and inseparable from the religious and spiritual significance associated with it.”  Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World, 35.

[23] For an excellent survey of classical and neoclassical approaches to work in the history of economic thought, see Ugo Pagano, Work and Welfare in Economic Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1985).

[24] Robert Foley, Adam’s Fallacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 1.

[25] Quoted in E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 24.

[26] See for instance Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s“Islam and the Preservation of the Natural Environment,” lecture at Georgetown University, Qatar, Center for International and Regional Studies, January 6, 2009.

[27] Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 7.

[28] Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, 9.

[29] Elizabeth S. Anderson, “Is Women’s Labor a Commodity?” Philosophy and Public Affairs 19/1 (Winter 1990), 72–92: 77, as quoted in Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 94.

[30] Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 95.

[31] See for instance John Medaille, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Market Place (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2007), Part I.

[32] See for instance Lutz and Lux, The Challenge of Humanistic Economics (Menlo Park, California:  The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1979).

[33] For a critique of the analytical tools of neoclassical economic theory in light of the Islamic sciences of nature, see Waleed El-Ansary, “The Quantum Enigma and Islamic Sciences of Nature: Implications for Islamic Economic Theory.”.

An open letter to faith based organisations represented at COP 22 in Marrakesh

COP 22 The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) is being held in Bab Ighli, Marrakech, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Greetings!

The Paris protocol is now in force but may I just remind you that where we need to take giant strides this is only one small step for humankind. The COP process is vital and necessary but what we need overall is a paradigm shift that will enable us to leave a liveable Earth for our children. Divesting in fossil fuel investment to the exclusion of everything else is like plugging a leak in a dam that is about to burst. Let us take note that big oil is pushing a pipe line through North Dakota in the face of stiff opposition and the British Government is inviting bidders for new offshore drilling licences. And I wonder if anyone is talking to the Middle Eastern oil producers about divestment.

The voices of faith communities are now beginning to be heard in the global arena in matters of vital concern for us all. From tentative beginnings COP 21 in Paris witnessed the burgeoning presence of Faith Based Organisations (FBO's) in the public arena to the extent that we have earned ourselves our very own acronym. FBO's are now on the map and ask to be heard. This is unprecedented and long overdue though it must be said that people of faith did run the world for millennia keeping it in reasonable shape for past generations to thrive in. The organisation of the Climate Conscience Summit by the far sighted Government of Morocco in Fez on 3 November, is a commendable event. It not only recognises the emergence of once marginalised faith communities but also assures the continuing consolidation of this movement.

As you are no doubt aware human induced climate change now poses a deadly threat to all life on planet Earth. Although FBOs have the potential to be a positive force for change there are other fault lines defined by special interests which have the capacity to impede progress. Looking at this fairly and squarely in the face it has to be said that much of the responsibility for change lies in the hands of corporations and banks that wield enormous power and have access to resources. They perpetuate a counter narrative to the COP process we need to address. In a sceptical editorial that appeared in the influential Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Monday 14 December 2015, on the first week day edition after the Paris summit, it made the following comment:

"The moment to be wariest of political enthusiasms is precisely when elite opinion is all lined up on one side ... if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it."

This is verging on the rude and displays an arrogance of monumental proportions. The WSJ is located like the UN headquarters in New York and I wonder if one is listening to the other or do they just stare at each other over the sand bags. The best place to experience the chasm that exists between big business and the COP process is to visit the World Economic Forum that is held in Davos, Switzerland each year. Take your snow boots with you as it is held in deep winter. There is a serious need here for the two groups that think they run the world to be talking to each other.

The G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, China just about eight weeks ago was heralded by both China and the USA announcing their ratification of the Paris climate proposals. However one doesn't have to read too hard between the lines to notice some feet dragging is going on. For example there were some rumblings in Hangzhou concerning timelines for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. In some countries tampering with existing subsidies is tantamount to political suicide because in the final analysis it is the voice of the people that matter.

Sustainable Development (SD) warranted frequent references in the final Hangzhou communiqué. But it is just about dawning on policymakers that SD becoming a reality requires a capital intensive transition which is bound to interfere with the carbon reduction programme. We are in a double bind and a huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of the politicians because it is they who have to straddle the fine line that exists between cutting carbon emissions to the required proportions which on the one hand requires a degree of austerity and on the other responding to people's demands for prosperity. This puts the onus on developed countries to rethink their economics beyond COP and SD and apply the brakes to slow down growth to enable the rest to have a fair share of the cake. This is no time to be pointing our fingers at the United States as it is preoccupied in electing a new leader and I only refer to that country as a template for the rest of the world. The campaign for the presidency clearly reflects the universal fact that the climate change agenda is always subordinate to the growth agenda.
 

Morocco is unique amongst Muslim countries in the lead it is giving to bring the climate agenda to the notice of the people and following it up with an agenda which is both international and local in scope. The hosting of COP 22 takes care of the international and the local which is of primary importance becomes apparent in government policy where there is an undertaking to provide renewable energy to hundreds of mosques in all parts of the country by installing solar panels. I would urge the Moroccan Government to catch the wind and embark on an education programme that reflects Islam's basic conservationist approach to life. In this regard we offer our experience built over more than thirty years of work.

We have a shared responsibility and this is where the burgeoning FBO movement has a vital role to play. The collective will of people of faith can be a force to be reckoned with and as an interface between people and policy makers there is much this movement can deliver. As a lobby we can be strong enough to influence public policy but we also need to engage in demonstrable change if we are going to be taken seriously.

Yours sincerely

Fazlun Khalid

Fazlun Khalid is the Founder and Director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (EcoIslam), Birmingham UK; Convenor of the drafting team of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change .Fazlun Khalid Founder Director IFEES/EcoIslam

 

Caretakers of the Earth: An Islamic Perspective

NASA

By Omar Bagnied 

Environmental stewardship is an integral part of Islam. We’re currently experiencing a revival in practice and scholarly engagement in this important area. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, as one example, has notably developed a contemporary understanding of ecological principles in Islam as antedating modern environmentalism. In a logical and compelling way, he has inspired many to re-engage the subject through his book “Green Deen,” and I will present some of his suggestions at the end of this article.

Quran and hadith contain numerous textual evidences in support of environmental stewardship. The Quran says, “It is He who has appointed you vicegerent on the earth…” (Quran 6:165). And indeed, the Muslim’s character (khulq) is one that is to be inclined to moderation and conservation rather than excess and wastefulness. The role of human beings in general, and Muslims by extension even more so, as caretakers of the environment, is stressed in seven Quranic verses that tie stewardship (khalifa) to the earth (fil ardh). There is a responsibility charged to human beings to carry out this trust (amana). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, the exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Saheeh Muslim).

Walk Gently and Share Resources

Although the earth is created to serve the purposes of man, it should never be degraded in any way – contaminated or immoderately exploited. Its resources are available to humanity, but are to be used in ways that are sustainable and without harmful impact to the environment and the ecological balance. The Quran tells us, “The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk gently upon the earth…” (Quran 25:63). Islamic teachings oppose using resources in excess or in pursuit of an opulent lifestyle; extravagant excess by some typically deprives others of a basic standard of decent and secure living.

There should always be justice (‘adl) in resource distribution. Allah SWT instructs us about the sharing of resources, using the example of the tribe of Thamud: “And let them know that the water [of their wells] is to be divided between them, with each share of water equitably apportioned” (Quran 54:28). Inequitable distribution of water has been a catalyst for conflict in several Muslim-majority countries. Consulting the prophetic example could offer a starting point to inspire solutions. There are no fewer than four hadith that speak to this. The first, transmitted via Abdullah Ibn Abbas, affirms that “humans are co-owners in three things: water, fire and pasture.” Another, relayed in Mishkat al Masabih, warns “No one can refuse [to share] surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man.” Still another, transmitted via Muhmmad al-Bukhari, relays, “There are three types of people whom Allah will not look at on the Day of Judgment, nor will He purify them, and theirs shall be a severe punishment. One of those is a person who possessed superfluous water on a path and withheld it from travelers.”

The fourth hadith, transmitted via Muhammad al-Bukhari, tells the story of the Ruma Well, which during the time of the Prophet was owned by a man who was charging a high price for people to use it. The Prophet said “For anyone who will purchase the Ruma Well and use its water jointly with other Muslims, a wonderful place in the Garden of Eden will be prepared.” The Prophet’s companion Uthman bought the well and made its use free for all people of Medina. Uthman would continue to maintain the well as he ascended to leadership as the third khaliph.

Land Preservation and Sanctuary for Wildlife

The Prophet was also a pioneer when it came to land preservation and providing sanctuary for wildlife. He designated special areas where water, wildlife, and forestry use would be restricted (haram) or left alone altogether (hima). These are precedents for what’s currently referred to as a nature reserve or preserve. The Prophet believed that animals, land, and water were not the possessions of mankind, but rather provisions from Allah to use in moderation and wisdom. The Quran says, “…waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters (Quran 7:31).

In line with protecting wildlife, the Prophet has instructed us that hunting is for valid reasons such as obtaining food or when necessary for the safety of humans, but never for sport or pastime. He mentioned: “If anyone wrongfully kills a sparrow or anything greater, God will question him about it” (An-Nasa’i).”

Recycling and the Balance of Nature

Recycling should be a reflex. In many places it’s as easy as placing non-food remains in the appropriate bin. And where composting is available (which can be anywhere food is grown), most waste can be reused as nutrients to fertilize the soil for further growing of fruits and vegetables. Things that we typically throw in the trash can be re-used in one way or another. Metals, plastics, and glass should not be going to landfills as they can be reused or recycled. The paper that comes from a chopped-down tree is worth far more than a single use.

The balance (mizan) of nature is complex and intricate and must be maintained. And all living things have a symbiotic relationship, and that interdependence should be mutually beneficial. Corrupting the balance of nature has far-reaching consequences. The Quran tells us, “Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return [to guidance]” (Quran 30:41).

Reinstating a Clean Environment

Our industrialized societies emit large amounts of carbon every day. Trees were once able to absorb the lower-level amount of emissions, but the balance (mizan) of greenery to carbon-fueled activity has tipped toward the latter. Carbon dioxide emissions, which account for roughly 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., come from burning fossil fuels, generating electricity, vehicle fuel emissions, manufacturing, and burning of waste. Exposure to even low levels of carbon dioxide can cause a wide array of health hazards, particularly respiratory complications. The imbalance that humanity has created has also resulted in a warmer atmosphere that catalyzes extreme weather occurrences like hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and droughts.

We should approach the need to reinstate the balance and clean up the environment with urgency but also optimism. We now, more than ever, have access to information, resource optimization, renewable energy, and recycling infrastructure. More and more people feel motivated and the tools are available. Wholesale lifestyle changes aren’t practical as they are not likely to be made, but incremental adoption can provide tremendous benefit.

Abdul-Matin details a number of smart suggestions that can help us change, and address the sources and circumstances surrounding climate change. And we should not forget what Allah SWT tells us: “…truly, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (Quran 13:11). Abdul-Matin points out that we can change our global narrative from one of scarcity to emphasizing that we have all we need if we use the resources equitably and in moderation. Both organic and halal food can become affordable and readily available when demand sensibilities change and folks refuse to buy unhealthy foods. There are ways to not only eat smarter, but also to build with greater efficiency. Islamic infrastructure, like mosques, can naturally optimize resource efficiency. Mosques in hot-dry climates are optimally built with heavy, thick materials and minimal openings (windows, doors) to keep hot air out. Mosques in hot-humid climates are better served by shade via plants, awnings, and courtyards, as well as good ventilation. And if mosques in cold climates are appropriately weatherized they can optimize energy efficiency by preventing air leakage.

As Muslims we should, naturally, be a community that consumes less, and uses the bounty provided on the earth in ways that are healthier, more efficient, and more equitable. Through this we facilitate more fair access to resources, preservation of public health, and cultivation of local economies. These practices promote social harmony, as well as charity (zakat and sadaqah) by shunning excessive consumption and the disharmony (fitna) that results. Recycle, repurpose, reuse, and reflect on Allah’s bountiful blessings. Look around and observe, in nature and in the environment, the multitude of signs of Allah, and the beautiful interweave of ecosystems and species that make up a oneness of creation, all beholden to the order and sustenance put in place by the creator.

Omar Bagnied is currently teaches environmental education with the Anacostia Watershed Society in Washington DC.

This article originally appeared on The Message on September 26th, 2016. Photo credit from NASA  

Green Ramadan Steps

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By Khaled Dardir

1. Start Ramadan by making the right intentions.

What is your intention this Ramadan? Create realistic goals for yourself, and your community!

2. Have a healthy Ramadan through proper diet.

Ramadan is a time to detox ourselves: mind, body and soul. Add more vegetarian options, do not over-eat, use locally sourced foods. Avoid fizzy drinks, or anything high in sugar content, as an alternative use honey. Avoid deep fried foods or enjoy in moderation (once a week). Start and end your fast with green or herbal tea to cleanse the stomach after a day of fasting in order to help flush the toxins out.

3. Give up your CO2 contribution by traveling light and smart.

You can walk or ride your bike to the nearest mosque and earn both spiritual reward and help the planet. No need to drive 5 times a day for every prayer.

4. Spend meaningful energy, conserve wasteful energy.

Consider conserving more water when making wudu. Conserve electricity by shutting off the television and computer and opening the Holy book.

5. Charity is more than giving money to a good cause.

For Zakat, consider a local organization that is doing good work to protect the under privileged or the environment. Starting an initiative at your school, workplace or local mosque to make a real difference.

6. Host an Eco-Iftar that will be the talk of the town.

Show you care for the environment, host an Iftar that produces no waste, recycles, uses biodegradable cutlery and dishware or invite others to bring their own dishware! Most importantly, serve a healthy locally sourced Iftar meal.

7. Green your Eid, celebrate in style.

By all means, treat yourself to a nice new outfit, just be sure you are supporting local industry, and that the dyes used are not polluting the water streams. When giving Eid gifts to children, highlight the importance of using it responsibly: buying nothing unnecessary or that will harm planet, your body or community, consider paying it forward earn extra reward.

8. Commit random acts of kindness

Try smiling at people that pass by, greet the street guards, or just randomly express your gratitude for a friend. Volunteer your time at the local mosque, or in the community for an initiative you are passionate about or start a new one!

9. Celebrate Ramadan by breaking a bad habit

We all face our own challenges and bad habits. Ramadan is the perfect time to end that sugar or nicotine addiction, watch less TV, walk more, give up bad language, fix your sleeping cycle.

10. Reflect on what you’ve achieved this month.

By staying focused, observing your behaviour, lifestyle and habits you will have become much more mindful and aware by the end of the month. Make sure you stay consistent!

Khaled Dardir has recently completed a Master of Science specializing in the chemistry and is currently enrolled as a student in Mishkah pursuing a bachelors in Islamic Studies. He is the founder and Chief Coordinator of the non-profit organization The Building Blocks of New Jersey whose mission is: “To aid self development, promote activism, and bolster community building”

Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the Environment

  By: Francesca De Chatel

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].” [Al-Bukhari, III:513].

The idea of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) as a pioneer of environmentalism will initially strike many as strange: indeed, the term “environment” and related concepts like “ecology”, “environmental awareness” and “sustainability”, are modern-day inventions, terms that were formulated in the face of the growing concerns about the contemporary state of the natural world around us.

And yet a closer reading of the hadith, the body of work that recounts significant events in the Prophet’s life, reveals that he was a staunch advocate of environmental protection. One could say he was an “environmentalist avant la lettre”, a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management, and one who constantly sought to maintain a harmonious balance between man and nature. From all accounts of his life and deeds, we read that the Prophet had a profound respect for fauna and flora, as well as an almost visceral connection to the four elements, earth, water, fire and air.

He was a strong proponent of the sustainable use and cultivation of land and water, proper treatment of animals, plants and birds, and the equal rights of users. In this context the modernity of the Prophet’s view of the environment and the concepts he introduced to his followers is particularly striking; certain passages of the hadith could easily be mistaken for discussions about contemporary environmental issues.

Three Principles

The Prophet’s environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences. This belief is nowhere formulated in one concise phrase; it is rather an underlying principle that forms the foundation of all the Prophet’s actions and words, a life philosophy that defined him as a person.

The three most important principles of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa(stewardship) and amana (trust).

Tawhid, the oneness of God, is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith. It recognizes the fact that there is one absolute Creator and that man is responsible to Him for all his actions: “To God belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth, for God encompasses everything [4:126].”  The Prophet acknowledges that God’s knowledge and power covers everything. Therefore abusing one of his creations, whether it is a living being or a natural resource, is a sin. The Prophet considered all of God’s creations to be equal before God and he believed animals, but also land, forests and watercourses should have rights.

The concepts of khalifa, stewardship, and amana, trust, emerge from the principle of tawhid. The Qur’an explains that mankind holds a privileged position among God’s creations on earth: he is chosen as khalifa, “vice-regent” and carries the responsibility of caring for God’s earthly creations. Each individual is given this task and privilege in the form of God’s trust. But the Qur’an repeatedly warns believers against arrogance: they are no better than other creatures.  “No creature is there on earth nor a bird flying with its wings but they are nations like you [6:38]”; “Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of man; but most people know not [40:57]”.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) believed that the universe and the creations in it – animals, plants, water, land – were not created for mankind. Man is allowed to use the resources but he can never own them. Thus while Islam allows land ownership, it has limitations: an owner can, for example, only own land if he uses it; once he ceases to use it, he has to part with his possession.

The Prophet recognized man’s responsibility to God but always maintained humility. Thus he said: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it,” suggesting that even when all hope is lost for mankind, one should sustain nature’s growth. He believed that nature remains a good in itself, even if man does not benefit from it.

Similarly, the Prophet incited believers to share the earth’s resources. He said: “Muslims share alike in three things – water, herbage and fire,” and he considered it a sin to withhold water from the thirsty. “No one can refuse surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man” [Mishkat al Masabih].

The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) attitude towards sustainable use of land, conservation of water and the treatment of animals is a further illustration of the humility of his environmental philosophy.

Sustainable Use of Land

“The earth has been created for me as a mosque and as a means of purification.” [Al-Bukhari I:331] With these words the Prophet emphasizes the sacred nature of earth or soil, not only as a pure entity but also as a purifying agent. This reverence towards soil is also demonstrated in the ritual of tayammum, or “dry wudu” which permits the use of dust in the performance of ritual purification before prayer when water is not available.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) saw earth as subservient to man, but recognised that it should not be overexploited or abused, and that it had rights, like the trees and wildlife living on it. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet created inviolable zones known as hima and haram, in which resources were to be left untouched. Both are still in use today: haram areas are often drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater table from over-pumping. 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.

The Prophet not only encouraged the sustainable use of fertile lands, he also told his followers of the benefits of making unused land productive: planting a tree, sowing a seed and irrigating dry land were all regarded as charitable deeds.“Whoever brings dead land to life, that is, cultivates wasteland, for him is a reward therein.” Thus any person who irrigates a plot of “dead”, or desert land becomes its rightful owner.

Conservation of Water

In the harsh desert environment where the Prophet (peace be upon him) lived, water was synonymous to life. Water was a gift from God, the source of all life on earth as is testified in the Qur’an:  “We made from water every living thing” [21:30].  The Qur’an constantly reminds believers that they are but the guardians of God’s creation on earth and that they should never take this creation for granted: “Consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter” [56:68-70].

Saving water and safeguarding its purity were two important issues for the Prophet: we have seen that his concern about the sustainable use of water led to the creation of haram zones in the vicinity of water sources. But even when water was abundant, he advocated thriftiness: thus he recommended that believers perform wudu no more than three times, even if they were near to a flowing spring or river. The theologian El-Bukhari added: “ The men of science disapprove of exaggeration and also of exceeding the number of ablutions of the Prophet.” The Prophet also warned against water pollution by forbidding urination in stagnant water.

The Treatment of Animals:

“If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation” [Mishkat al Masabih]. These words reflect the great reverence, respect and love that the Prophet always showed towards animals. He believed that as part of God’s creation, animals should be treated with dignity, and the hadith contains a large collection of traditions, admonitions and stories about his relationship to animals. It shows that he had particular consideration for horses and camels: to him they were valiant companions during journey and battle, and he found great solace and wisdom in their presence as the following tradition reveals: “In the forehead of horses are tied up welfare and bliss until the Day of Resurrection.”

Even in the slaughter of animals, the Prophet showed great gentleness and sensitivity. While he did not practice vegetarianism, the hadiths clearly show that the Prophet was extremely sensitive to the suffering of animals, almost as though he shared their pain viscerally. Thus he recommends using sharp knives and a good method so that the animal can die a quick death with as little pain as possible. He also warned against slaughtering an animal in the presence of other animals, or letting the animal witness the sharpening of blades: to him that was equal to “slaughtering the animal twice” and he emphatically condemned such practices as “abominable”.

Conclusion

It is impossible to do justice to the full scope and significance of Prophet Mohammed’s environmental philosophy in this short article. His holistic view of nature and his understanding of man’s place within the natural world pioneered environmental awareness within the Muslim community.

Sadly, the harmony that the Prophet advocated between man and his environment has today all too often been lost. As we face the effects of pollution and overexploitation, desertification and water scarcity in some parts of the world and floods and violent storms elsewhere, it is perhaps time for the world community as a whole, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, to take a leaf out of the Prophet’s book and address the current environmental crisis seriously and wisely.

This article was originally appeared on The Islamic Bulletin

Delivering on the Promises of Paris

Why the World’s Muslims Are Demanding Climate Action Now

Naser Haghamed CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, an independent humanitarian and development organisation with a presence in over 40 countries worldwide.

The global Muslim community - made up of around 1.6 billion followers from world leaders to academics, from teachers and healthcare workers to business people and investors - has incredible collective power. Islam is the fastest-growing religion: 1 in 5 people today are Muslim, and Muslims will make up around 30% of the global population in 2050. As the newly appointed CEO of the world’s largest Islamic humanitarian and emergency relief NGO, I have witnessed this collective power harnessed to achieve immense and noble things, from providing shelter and relief to victims of floods and earthquakes to supporting refugees from war-torn countries. However, one longstanding crisis constantly threatens to undermine our efforts to make the world a safer place to live in: climate change. With world leaders gathering in New York on April 22nd to reaffirm the commitment they made to end the fossil fuel era in Paris last December, it is time for a reminder of just how important it is that they turn their promises into action without delay.

We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that climate change is a problem for the next generation whose effects won’t be felt for years. Climate change is devastating the world. Now. Many Muslim majority countries are on the front lines: a recent report from the Asian Development Bank showed that in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and the fourth largest country in the world by population, climate change and the floods it causes are turning the poor into the ‘ultra-poor’. Most of the Middle East and North Africa is expected to become hotter and drier due to climate change, worsening droughts and exposing millions to water shortages. These changes provoke migration to other countries themselves facing resource deficiencies aggravated by climate change, thereby increasing the risk of violent conflict. This, and the ever-growing death toll among the world’s poorest who have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions, are unjust realities with which we are all too familiar at Islamic Relief.

Whilst more and more Muslims are experiencing the ravages of climate change first hand, more Muslims and governments are in turn starting to join the fight against climate change. Last August, Muslim scholars, experts and activists from over 20 countries called on the world’s Muslims to act on climate, with a particular demand to governments to move away from fossil fuel sources of energy and towards societies where 100% of energy is provided by renewable sources such as solar and wind - resources which many Islamic countries have in abundance - as early as possible. There is nothing radical in the claim that acting on climate change is a fundamental part of Islam: we know from the Qur’an that Allah has made each of us a steward (khalifah) of the earth - a ‘precious home’ with finite resources - in order to maintain its delicate equilibrium (mizan). The fossil fuels that once brought us prosperity are now destroying this equilibrium and our prosperity along with it.

Islamic Relief took to the streets in 2015 to demand an ambitious Paris Agreement

In January this year, the Islamic Development Bank agreed with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to use Islamic finance to combat climate change and food insecurity. Days later, in February, the world’s largest solar power plant opened in Morocco and could provide enough energy to power over 1 million homes by 2018. At the beginning of April, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince announced the country’s intention to create a $2 trillion megafund to help it transition to the post-oil era. Islamic Relief has also done its bit, building solar-powered homes in places like Bangladesh - the most disaster prone country in the world - and installing water harvesting systems in Kenya. However, the scale of the problem is so large that it will require a huge increase in efforts from Muslims and non-Muslims alike in solidarity.

That is why, together with 270 faith leaders, I have today issued an urgent call to faith communities around the world to divest their money from fossil fuels and reinvest it in renewable energy solutions. Together, we will reduce emissions in our homes, workplaces and centers of worship, standing in solidarity with those communities already facing the severe consequences of climate change. Such is my conviction, that on April 22nd, the day that a record number of countries will meet at the UN Headquarters in New York to sign the Paris Agreement, Islamic Relief Worldwide will be helping to launch a global Muslim network dedicated to tackling climate change issues in the Islamic world and will present the Islamic Climate Change Declaration to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft. To show they are equally serious, countries must implement the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, phasing out the astonishingly high fossil fuel subsidies that the International Monetary Fund estimated would be $10 million every minute in 2015, and endeavoring to peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to give us the best chance of going 100% renewable and to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

We must urge world leaders to make a real difference to prevent climate change and help people of all faiths and none to adapt to the climate change that we are already experiencing, in accordance with Islamic teachings. Much is already being done by both governments and citizens, but we are not fulfilling our collective potential. With the World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul in May and the implementation-focused sequel to last December’s successful conference in Paris taking place in Morocco in November, 2016 has to be the year that the world starts delivering on its promises in earnest, before we lose further lives in the fight against climate change.

Follow Naser Haghamed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/irworldwide

This article appeared in the Huffington Post on April 18th, 2016. 

Islam and Environmentalism Today

By: Tarik M. Quadir

As a child growing up in a small town in Bangladesh, I remember being very careful not to hurt bugs, ants, birds, animals and even plants because it would be a sin against God to do so. Even the earth was not to be dug or hurt unnecessarily because one day when we die we will be returned to the earth, and the grave itself would punish us for our unnecessary cruelty toward it. Islam, my religion, had formed my view of nature and made me a little environmentalist two decades before I became aware of the environmental crisis. This realization inspires me to this day to take a religious approach to environmentalism. Today, as Islam is often maligned by some as a religion of hatred and violence, it is worth remembering that this religion possesses immense potential as a source of healing for this beautiful planet that is our home.To begin with, according to the Quran, the various species on the earth "form communities" like us, 6:38, "every entity celebrates God's praise," 17:44, and they are all "signs of God," 42:29, and thus, all have transcendent meanings and purposes. Moreover, the Quran uses the same term "aya" to refer to both the entities in nature and the verses of this revelation. In other words, we are immersed in the "cosmic Quran" by which God sustains not only our bodies, but also our souls. In fact, the Quran speaks of nature as reminders and beacons of God, more than the central scriptures of any other major world religion. Moreover, intrinsic worth is "greater than" that of any arrogant human, 40:57, and forbids us from activities that may upset the balance in nature, 55:8. Most importantly, humans were sent with the charge and capacity to be God's representatives, 35:39, and all of nature, including our own faculties, were given to humankind as trusts for which we will be held accountable if we misuse them, 102:8.

LOVING EVERY CREATION

These teachings were also manifest in the examples set by the Prophet Muhammad. The prophet forbade dirtying public spaces and water sources and thus established the institution of "harim" (forbidden space) for that same purpose. Likewise, he established sanctuaries for animals and plants. He forbade waste of any natural element even if it is available in plenty and urged sharing of basic necessities. The prophet strongly encouraged the planting of trees, saying, "There is no believer who plants a tree or sows a field from which a human, bird or animal eats, but it shall be reckoned as charity." He encouraged showing mercy and compassion to all beings, saying, "O people, have mercy for those who are on the Earth, then He who is in heaven will have mercy on you."

Apart from the prophet's extraordinary environmental sensitivity, the idea of nature as a sign of God, and thus, as conveyer of transcendental meanings, can give us insight into what may be missing in today's mainstream environmentalism.

Today, most environmentalists do not see environmentalism as a religious or spiritual cause. Accordingly, most mainstream environmentalists do not see that the root of this crisis lies in the unprecedented level of materialistic values of modern societies that sustain the economic system and government policies that they seek to change. Even when they realize this, they do not see that the root of this level of materialism lies in the secularized perception of nature generated by modern science, the kind of science most of them view as their greatest hope.

Without denying the benefits of modern science and technology, we must understand their limitations, especially in their role in grinding out all notions of transcendent value, meaning and purpose of nature. Unless the materialistic values of greed for wealth, power and sensual pleasures are not sufficiently restrained, efforts to change economic models and government policies cannot succeed in solving the problem. The worldly solutions that mainstream environmentalists seek, very helpful as they are, can only delay environmental catastrophes by a few decades, but not in the long run. Aware of this prospect, many veteran environmentalists are calling for a paradigm shift in values, but still within a secular framework.

ISLAMIC SENSIBILITY OVER NATURE

Let us remember that the flame of greed is deeply ingrained in human souls. From a religious perspective, only that which can reach our souls at a deeper level, and not just better economic models and policy changes, however well intended, can keep the flame of greed sufficiently restrained to let nature survive, and even thrive. As the Prophet Muhammad and even the creation story of Genesis, says, humans are made in the "image of God," the one who has no limitations. Made in God's image and yet unaware of this, there is something in us that is never satisfied by anything of this finite world – we hunger for the infinite. Unless this hunger is sufficiently turned toward the one who has no end, it can only end with humans devouring the world. From a spiritual perspective, this is what has been happening over the last 300 years since the scientific revolution gave us a mechanical worldview and thus stripped nature of its status as a sign of God. Instead of seeing nature as a spiritual means for knowing God, modern science taught us to see nature, including ourselves, only in purely physical terms.

Muslims should acknowledge and proclaim this deficiency in mainstream environmentalism and join people of all faiths in demonstrating the crucial role all religions can play in reawakening humanity to eternal meanings of nature. They should "compete in good works," 5:48, with people of other faiths as the Quran advises them to do. In these very difficult times for the earth as well as for millions across the world, more than ever, Muslims should pay heed to these words: "The servants of the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, 'Peace'!" 25:63.

* An assistant professor of environmentalism and of contemporary Islamic thought at Necmettin Erbakan University in Turkey, the author of "The Traditional Islamic Environmentalism."

This article was originally published on Daily Sabah on March 7th, 2016. 

Muslims Can Welcome New Papal Decree

Pope Francis acknowledges Sufi mysticism when he stresses God’s presence in all nature in his environmental encyclical, writes Rashied Omar.

Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical entitled Laudato Si (“Praise be to you”): “On Care For Our Common Home”, which was released on June 18 is undoubtedly one of the most important interventions in the campaign for environmental justice in the 21st century.

It is not surprising that the 184-page document, released in eight languages, took more than 18 months to draft.

This second papal encyclical has already had a significant impact on shifting the global debate in favour of those who advocate that humanity should act with greater care for our common home. This is clearly in evidence at the discussions taking place at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) which is convening in Paris until Friday.

Moreover, Laudato Si has had a ripple effect within the inter-faith community. The imminent release of Laudato Si inspired the issuing of a statement in June by more than 330 rabbis in a letter on the climate crisis entitled: “A call to action to prevent further climate-fuelled disasters and work toward eco-social justice.”

Laudato Si no doubt has also inspired the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change released in Istanbul in August.

Muslim scholars, such as Joseph Lumbard, who have engaged with Laudato Si, have concurred that the important themes in Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment resonate well with the teachings of Islam on the environment.

Here I would like to highlight two of them that were also evident in the exegesis and commentary on Laudato Si, by Father Peter-John Person.

First and foremost, one of the most significant aspects of Laudato Si is that it frames the issue of environmental conservation within a framework of justice. In Pearson’s interpretation, Laudato Si is a document about justice with a focus on the environment, rather than the other way around.

Pope Francis sees the issue of climate change through the eyes of the poor and this is the key hermeneutic or interpretive lens.

In other words, the pontiff wants the economic, social and environmental world orders to be fairer to the poorest.

Laudato Si criticises consumerist, profit-seeking economies, and emphasises acute sensitivity to debt, inequality, and poverty, and suggests differentiated responsibilities based on wealth and ability. Compassion and justice require voices to speak up for the most vulnerable and marginalised – those often left voiceless, those who have been pushed into poverty, those who have been denied access to food, water and other basic human rights, those who stand to suffer the most from climate change, while having contributed the least to the problem.

The social, economic and environmental dimensions cannot be considered in isolation, but should be treated integrally as a complex joint crisis. These social justice concerns resonate fully with the teachings of Islam.

It is most eloquently depicted in the Qur’an in Surah al-Rahman, chapter 55, verses 5-7, where God proclaims:

“God has raised the cosmos,

And set up (for all things) the balance.

So do not transgress the balance.

Weigh, therefore, (your deeds) with justice,

And cause no loss in the balance!”

From an Islamic perspective, the environmental crisis humanity is facing today can be viewed as a symptom of a deeper spiritual malaise.

This spiritual malaise has come about through extravagant and consumerist lifestyles that have transgressed the balance between humans and nature. An imbalance or altering of the mizan (balance) has taken place at the individual, social and global levels and this is now being reflected in the environmental crisis.

Such a perspective is also evident in the nomenclature and mission of The Claremont Main Road Masjid’s environmental programme: Muslims for Eco-Justice.

A second new theme that Laudato Si takes up is that of acknowledging the existential rights of those with whom we share this planet, namely animals and plants, etc, and more importantly, recognising their spiritual essence.

In the sixth chapter of the encyclical, Francis writes that humanity can “discover God in all things”. Hence, the pontiff asserts, “there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face”.

Interestingly, in order to drive home and substantiate this point, in footnote 159 of the encyclical, Francis credits a 9th century Muslim Sufi mystic Amir al-Khawas for the concept of nature’s “mystical meaning”. In his theology, al-Khawas was obviously inspired by the abundance of Qur’anic verses that depict the natural environment in this manner.

Joseph Lumbard in his response to Laudato Si has provided the following examples of Qur’anic verses wherein God affirms the spiritual essence of our natural environment. The Qur’an proclaims, “whatsoever is in the heavens and on the earth glorifies God” (59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1).

“The stars and the trees prostrate” (55:6), “the thunder hymns His praise” (13:13), and “unto God prostrates whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the beasts” (22:18). In these and many other verses, the whole of creation is presented as a divine symphony, for “there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is clement, forgiving” (17:44).

According to an Argentinian priest, Father Augusto Zampini, “it is certainly unusual for a Pope to cite a Muslim Sufi in support of his theology of environmental transcendence, but those who have known Pope Francis since his days in the slums of Argentina know that this shows his personal touch on the encyclical”.

By quoting al-Khawas, Zampini argues Francis is “inviting all human beings to transcend, to go out of themselves and therefore to improve the relationship that we have with other people, with the Earth, with God”.

Moreover, Zampini contends that through his citing of a Muslim mystic “Pope Francis is trying to foster ecumenical and interfaith dialogue about shared spirituality”. Such a view is confirmed by the following quote from Laudato Si in which Francis emphasises the importance of interconnectedness and shared spirituality:

“Everything is connected. Concern for the environment this needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

In conclusion, it is my considered view that through Laudato Si, Francis has inaugurated a constructive platform for credible faith and secular leaders to enter into renewed dialogue on the critical question of climate change and discuss ways in which we can bring ourselves closer to living in harmony and reverence with nature.

Moreover, by locating such a conversation within the broader framework of Francis’s theology of compassion for the poor, which offers a powerful social critique of our global culture of consumerism, covetousness, and opulence – inter-religious dialogue should find even greater resonance among Muslims.

It is my sincere hope that more Muslim scholars will take up the dialogical challenge presented in Laudato Si in a spirit of reverence and hospitality comparable to that with which the 12th century Muslim leader, Sultan al-Kamil, welcomed Saint Francis of Assisi, from whom the current pope takes his name. Muslims can and should engage substantively with Laudato Si in order to build broad solidarity with meaningful global commitments for the collective good, through responsible stewardship of the earth.

* Rashied Omar is imam of the Claremont Main Road Mosque located in Cape Town, South Africa.

This article was originally published on IOL on December 8, 2015. 

Muslims and Indigenous Peoples Share Values

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By: Shahina Siddiqui

As we celebrate Islamic History Month, some have asked me about the theme Know Each Other and why the emphasis on the indigenous community? My response as chairwoman of this project is to look inwards. To me, the spirit of multiculturalism is best served when we step out of our comfort zone to take advantage of the amazing opportunity we have here in Canada to learn, experience, grow and broaden our horizons.

We may have come as settlers, or from war and conflict seeking relief; many of us came as economic immigrants looking for a better life. Some of us are refugees seeking sanctuary. Regardless of the why, I believe it is essential we learn of the indigenous history, the challenges and achievements of the First Nations of Canada. Muslims have so much in common with indigenous peoples, but we also unfortunately have stereotypes about each other that must be dispelled.

Both indigenous and Canadian Muslims are propelled by our traditions to look at humanity through the prism of the Creator's gift of compassion, mercy and humility. We can take the strengths and excellence of our various traditions and cultures and blend them toward an evolving Canadian culture that is truly just.

We, the new Canadians, need to remind ourselves the keepers of the national soul are the indigenous peoples, who are the original custodians of this land. We must preserve the core of indigenous values and seek to complement that with our cultural diversity, thus enhancing the spirit and heart of Canada.

How can we appreciate and contribute to Canada if we do get to know the original custodians of this land -- the mothers and fathers who so generously accepted wave after wave of immigrants from foreign religious orders, social customs, languages and races? How can we not learn and recognize the early immigrants, instead of appreciating their indigenous host, had inflicted cultural and social injustices that resulted in untold misery and pain that still continues?

Canadian Muslims have to open their hearts and their minds and welcome indigenous communities in our homes, centres and places of worship. Based on our shared core values of human dignity, human rights and justice, and as stewards of all of creation, we should collaborate on issues of common good, defeat racism and help our families, and especially our women, to flourish.

Poverty, addictions, domestic abuse, sexism, racism and religious bigotry are serious challenges facing Canada. Once we find common grounds by interacting at both the personal and communal level, we will set the stage for collaborations on issues and projects. Let us form citizens' groups in our neighbourhoods, identify common goals and start working on them. We can draw on each other's strengths and inspire our youth to be torchbearers of justice and truth.

For starters, we must vote and thereby recommit to protecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms from the politics of fear and racism that is threatening our social cohesion.

Shahina Siddiqui is the chairwoman of Islamic History Month Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2015 A11

Together we Flourish: A Shared Place to Connect, Share, and Grow

Community Garden By Lina Chaker, youth at Rose City Islamic Centre

It started out with a team of 5 young girls who have never grown any food before.

With a seed in one hand and ambition in the other to create a safe, utilitarian space for residents to gather and promote interconnectedness, we were motivated to discover what we could do to transform an under-utilized area into a place that stimulates growth, connection, and sharing both food and experiences.

From a local community garden in Windsor, the Ford City Community Garden, we learned that food can act as catalyst for furthering social relations in any given area.

The sense of community and increased engagement of neighbours emerged from something as simple as a tomato plant. This inspired me to work with a number of other young adults to create a similar garden in East Windsor, called Together We Flourish.

Food has an unprecedented power of uniting everyone – it is an element that everyone can relate to: Humans rely on food to fuel their days.

Thus, the community garden at Together We Flourish serves as a to not only growing produce, but stirring personal development and growth in people. Along with sharing food comes the sharing of personal narratives and experiences. From this, it is our vital hope that this will encourage social interdependence.

We have come a long way, and had real struggles. In addition to not having prior knowledge of growing food, the lack of monetary support provided to the garden was a significant barrier to achieving our goals. We analyzed our situation and made funny and engaging vlogs documenting our strategic methods of getting things done without proper tools.

It was clear that ambition alone was not enough to get things done. We have networked with community garden collectives as well as with interested private citizens in an effort to educate ourselves and determine improvements and identify opportunities for growth.

Nearing the end of our third summer, we are now exploring other ways of pushing our vision forward: “to strengthen the sense of community and interconnectedness between all Windsorites through collaborative projects and initiatives. We want to help Windsorites live happier and healthier lives through engaging youth and providing the public with unique activities while growing together – in numerous ways”

The aspiration of making the garden a safe public place for community building has led to the establishment of a new project being hosted at the garden called Breaking Barriers.

It’s not just a veggie garden – it never was. Our prime focus has always been about to eliminating social barriers to inclusion that prevent individuals, particularly youth, from reaching their potential and maximizing their community involvement.

This article was originally featured on Greening Sacred Spaces in September 2015.

An Islamic Response to Pope Francis’ Encyclical

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By Joseph E. B. Lumbard

(June 21, 2015) – Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (“Praised Be”), is a clarion call to all of humanity.

It also provides an important opportunity to expand the conversation regarding the relationship between religion and the environment.

Many scientists maintain that we have reached “decade zero” for addressing climate change.

We thus have no choice but to mine the riches of all the world’s traditions to create new paradigms and new solutions to environmental degradation.

As the encyclical states, “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

According to the latest results from the Pew Research Center, by 2050, over 60% of the world’s population will be Christian or Muslim: 29.7% will be Muslim and 31.4% will be Christian.

Muslims and Christians have no choice but to come together to work for the common cause of humanity in confronting this unprecedented challenge.

Moreover, to take root in humanity any sustainable ecological worldview must incorporate and address the teachings that much of humanity seeks to follow.

As Pope Francis observes, the solutions cannot come from science and technology alone.

Among the world scriptures, the Quran provides a unique resource for building a new ecological paradigm.

Grounded in the Abrahamic tradition, it presents a harmonious view of nature reminiscent of the Far East.

In the Quran, “whatsoever is the heavens and on the earth glorifies God” (59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1). “The stars and the trees prostrate” (55:6), “the thunder hymns His praise” (13:13), and “unto God prostrates whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the beasts” (22:18).

In these and many other verses, the whole of creation is presented as a Divine symphony, for “there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is Clement, Forgiving” (Q 17:44).

The extinction of species and the eradication of pristine environments are like the removal of a section from this orchestra of which we are all a part.

The Quran thus enjoins us to “walk not exultantly upon the earth” (17:63) and to view the whole of nature as “signs for a people who hear” (10:67; 16:65; 30:23), “signs for a people who reflect” (13:3; 30:21), and “signs for a people who understand” (2:164; 13:4; 16:12, 67; 30:24; 45:5).

Yet, in our rapacious approach to nature, we have failed to reflect and thus become like those of whom the Quran says, “they have hearts with which they understand not; they have eyes with which they see not; and they have ears with which they hear not” (7:179).

Unable to see, listen and understand, we have become like one of whom the Quran warns, “when he turns away [from God’s signs], he endeavors to work corruption upon the earth, and to destroy tillage and offspring” (2:205).

The Papal Encyclical provides an unprecedented opportunity for the people of the world’s faith traditions to turn away from the corruption we have wrought and open our hearts to one another and to the plea of Mother Nature.

For her fate will be determined by the decisions of our generation. By drawing upon the shared teachings of our traditions, humanity can again learn to honor the immutable rights of rivers, animals and trees, as well as human beings suffering inhumane working conditions.

By bearing witness to our own transgressions, we can reverse our course and ensure that the rights of God’s creation prevail over the transient interests of corporations.

As Pope Francis observes, we have no choice but to take this direction and to work with one another.

For Muslims and Christians, the place of human beings is not to subdue the earth.

It is to hear the patterns already established within nature and live in harmony with them, had we but eyes to see and ears to hear.

In both Christianity and Islam, human beings are presented as stewards of the earth.

In the Quran, this responsibility is both an honor and a trial.

Verse 6:165 states, “God it is Who appointed you stewards upon the earth and raised some of you by degrees above others, that He may try you in that which He has given you.”

From this perspective, being stewards of nature is about our responsibility toward God, not our dominion over creation.

Neither the Bible nor the Quran has any place for what Pope Francis calls “a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”

We will thus be held accountable for the degree to which we have carried out our function as stewards.

As the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “The world is a green and pleasant thing. God has made you stewards of it, and looks at how you behave.”

Given the state of the environmental crisis and the alarming increase in environmental degradation, one cannot but conclude that contemporary humanity has failed this test.

The world and our children can no longer afford the cost of our failures.

It is thus time that people of all faiths unite and in the words of Martin Luther King, “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.”

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Joseph E. B. Lumbard is Chair of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Program at Brandeis University and a former adviser on interfaith affairs to the Jordanian Royal Court. He received his PhD and MPhil in Islamic Studies from Yale University, and a BA and MA in Religious Studies from George Washington University.

**[First published on Huffington Post and reprinted on IQRA.ca with permission of the author].

Why be Green?

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By: Dr. M. Nazir KhanThe earth and its natural resources are being ravaged by mankind. But why should people care?  Are there any practical ways to make a difference? And will people actually bother to change their current lifestyle to protect the environment before it is too late?

Every human being must at some point ask himself or herself, “why does my existence matter?” And the answer to our own purpose in life will directly determine how we see our role with respect to the planet we inhabit. When we see life as a journey to worship the Creator, we are in harmony with the rest of creation engaged in that worship. The Qur’an notes that there is nothing in nature “except that it is engaged in the glorification and praise of God, though you do not understand how it praises Him” (Qur’an 17:44), and that “every star and every tree is in prostration to God” (Qur’an 55:6).  Recognizing the earth as a fellow worshipper of God imbues it with inherent sanctity. And even more sanctity is conferred upon it by the Prophet Muhammad’s statement, “The earth has been made a place of worship and source of purification” (Sahih al-Bukhari). In other words, the whole planet is considered one giant terrestrial mosque, to be respected and sanctified.

The Qur’anic account of creation also demonstrate the value of caring for the earth. Human beings are part and parcel of the earth, having been created from its soil (Qur’an 20:55). And during its own creation, the earth was filled with blessings by God (Qur’an 41:10), and therefore one who desecrates the earth commits a violation against God.  The Qur’an in fact even explicitly condemns the one “who spreads corruption on the earth and destroys its vegetation and animals, for verily God does not like corruption.” (Qur’an 2:205). Of course, the earth will not remain a silent victim of man’s depraved rampage across its face. The Qur’an informs us that on the Day of Judgement, the earth will undergo a cataclysmic convulsion in which it will empty out all of its burdens (including landfills and the culpable corpses that made them) and it will finally “tell of its stories”, bearing witness to the sins of mankind (Qur’an 99:1-5).

Evidently, Islam establishes the importance of caring for the environment. But more importantly, Islam uniquely provides human beings with the values that will be conducive to the preservation of the environment. Lots of people talk about the environment, but few are compelled to walk the walk. In a 1972 study that interviewed 500 people, 94% acknowledged that picking up litter was a personal responsibility, but only 2% picked up the litter planted by the researcher on the way out.1 When it comes to climate change, proposals generally try to get human beings to make sacrifices in the present for the sake off bettering the distant future. The problem of course, is that people are not sufficiently motivated by their worldview. If you want people to make drastic behavioural changes, you need very compelling reasons.

Islam provides the individual with the optimal worldview to appreciate the gravity of his role as a custodian of the natural world and his culpability before God if he fails to uphold that trust.  Viewing life as a meaningful spiritual endeavour compels one to look at one’s actions and lifestyle critically. On the other hand, a person who views life without a higher purpose or ultimate objective could be free to maximize personal profit and pleasure, even if it be at the expense of the environment and future generations who will inherit it. In addition to such personal nihilism, the destruction of the environment is also accelerated by ideologies we have inherited, which are tied to our notions of scientific industrialism and capitalism. The values of modern civilization draw heavily from the 17th century Enlightenment in Europe, which preached the triumph of science and technology in bettering mankind. Inventing new machines are paradoxically seen to liberate man, even as their emissions may likely eliminate him. A world that champions industrial progress and technological development as the pinnacle of all good may find it very difficult to swallow human responsibility for the present environmental crisis. And a consumerist society propelled by constant advertising to greedily accumulate the latest products is the key ingredient in rendering our planet inhospitable for life, as Naomi Klein argues in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

British Columbia Logging
British Columbia Logging

The scope of the problem

The fact that pollution is devastating the environment is no secret. What has emerged in recent years however, is a scientific consensus on the urgency of correcting the problem in the wake of new climate change predictions. As a result of burning fossil fuels, by 2012 there was 42% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than before the industrial era.2 That build-up in the atmosphere has accelerated global warming to such an extent, that arctic sea has reduced by as much as half in comparison to 50 years ago, and the polar ice caps may be completely melted by 2020.3 The Earth is rapidly looking like a mirror image of our inhospitable neighbour, Venus, which seems to have been Divinely placed next door as a deliberate forewarning.

Of course, the pollution is not merely destroying our planet, it has clear harmful effects on our health as well. In medicine, the harms of in-door air pollution and inhalation of toxins have been well-known, but recent data provides striking evidence on the harmful effects of outdoor pollution. The European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) project studied the health of 900 000 subjects across Europe and correlated with the amount of outdoor air pollution. It was found that exposure to air pollutants and traffic increased the risk of lung cancer, 4, stroke5 and exposure during pregnancy was associated with restricted fetal growth resulting in low birth weight infants6 – among numerous other detrimental health effects. Living in a dense urban area results in breathing in significantly more particulate matter and toxins, and the study revealed that this has an association with lung cancer, stroke, and even pregnant women giving birth to low birth weight infants. One may be particularly alarmed to note then, that on a scale of 0 to 500 (which the WHO considers twenty times greater than what is safe), a city like Beijing receives a whoppingscore of 755. And in the United States, 3 million tons of toxic chemicals are released into the air annually. According toa study conducted at Cornell University, 40% of human deaths worldwide are attributable to the effects of air, soil, and water pollution. As the Qur’an advises, “Don’t kill yourselves! God has been Ever-Merciful to you.” (Qur’an 4:29)

Pollution includes not only the corruption of the air, but the corruption of land and sea as well. “Corruption has emerged on land and at sea as a consequence of mankind’s actions, that God may give them a taste of their actions in order that they may return” (Qur’an 30:41). The sheer quantity of garbage that is produced is unfathomable. For instance each year, Americans generate approximately 250 million tons of trash which is largely buried underground in landfills. These landfills inevitably leak contaminants into the surrounding terrain and in some cases, contaminate groundwater as well. In addition, landfills contribute to the production of harmful methane gas which adds to the buildup in the atmosphere described earlier.

The Earth also has a limited and finite quantity of natural resources. All human beings rely on the natural sources of food, clean drinking water, and energy, however these resources are being disproportionately consumed in a reckless and unsustainable manner. 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, contributing to a tremendous increased incidence of disease, and yet a deplorable amount of water is wasted daily. The average Canadian uses almost double the amount of water used by the average Japanese, for instance. Food should not be wasted either when 1.2 billion suffer from hunger, and 9 million die of starvation annually (majority of whom are children). And yet, in the United Kingdom, “30-40% of all food is never eaten”, according to BBC radio. Sustainable development also entails reducing energy consumption and using renewable sources of energy.  The dependence on oil consumption to drive our greedy corporate empires has been a prime incentive in countless wars (e.g.Jones 2012) and installing brutal dictators in oil rich countries who will ensure the continued exploitation of the natural resources to foreign powers.

Garbage Wave
Garbage Wave

What are simple steps to protect the environment?

Any common sense approach to protecting the natural world must take into account two key considerations: reducing pollution and avoiding overconsumption of resources. Human destructive tendencies with respect to the environment invariably fall into either wastefully consuming its beneficial resources, or filling it with harmful pollutants and garbage. Interestingly, the Qur’an targets these two essential considerations in its guidance, prohibiting man from wasteful overconsumption (laa tusrifu -7:31) and prohibiting spreading pollution and corruption (laa tufsidu - 7:56).

1. REDUCING GARBAGE (laa tufsidu)

It is easy for the average person to be more conscientious about the amount of garbage he or she produces, and engage in recycling paper and plastic products and composting organic waste. Studies looking at the effectiveness of recycling programs have found that the more convenient recycling is made, the more likely people are to do it (eg.Mueller 2013). Recalling the fact that the Prophet Muhammad said, “Removing a harmful thing from the path is an act of charity” (Sahih al-Bukhari), it becomes a moral responsibility to work to reduce the massive accumulation of garbage being deposited in this earth. In the United States, recycling efforts divert 60 million tons of garbage from landfills annually, reducing garbage by 32% (US Environmental Protection Agency), and similar effectiveness has been noted in the UK.

2. AVOIDING WASTAGE (laa tusrifu)

There is much room for improvement when one reflects on the amount of overconsumption and wastage of food and water that one commits on a daily basis. The Qur’an states, “It is He who has produced beautiful gardens, some trellised and some untrellised, and date-palms and crops of different varieties. Eat of its produce during the season and pay the dues to the poor on the day of harvest. And waste not by extravagance – verily, God does not like the extravagant” (Qur’an 6:141). Recognizing that we are all part of a global community, we must demonstrate compassion towards the poor and needy. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever goes to sleep full while his neighbour is hungry is not a believer” (Mu’jam al-Tabarani).

Amazingly, the Prophet Muhammad singled out the wastage of water as a particular focus of concern fourteen hundreed years ago. When his companion Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas was performing ablution with lots of water, the Prophet told him, “Do not commit wastage.” Surprised, Sa’d asked, “Is there such thing as wasting water for ablution?” The Prophet replied, “Of course, even if you are standing at a flowing river” (Musnad Ahmad). Today, it is well known that water is the most precious resource and that the wastage of water directly contributes to the ongoing scarcity of clean drinking water which confronts 4 billion people in the world. An astounding amount of water is wasted needlessly in showering/bathing, leaving the tap running, toilet flushing, car washing, and so on (read more about water conservation here). It is incredible to note that the hadith tradition has preserved the fact that the Prophet used only 1 mudd (750 ml) of water for ablution and only 1 saa’ (3 litres) for bathing (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Unfortunately, not everyone is alike when it comes to caring about the environment. According to the intriguing results of the 2012 Greendex survey, people in poorer countries have a smaller negative impact on the environment but feel guiltier than those in wealthy nations. As George Monbiot comments, “The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become.” The Qur’an informs us that on the Day of Judgement, humankind will be answerable for the slightest blessings enjoyed in this life (Qur’an 102:8). The Prophet mentioned that man will be asked by God concerning the water he was provided with and the health he was blessed with (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).

Indeed the task of taking care of the environment and reversing man’s destructive impact seems like a monumental task. A person may feel discouraged and wonder, “What can I do to make a difference? I’m just one person!” But Islam provides an incredibly optimistic and empowering viewpoint – each individual has an important role to play, and no amount of good is too trivial to matter. The Prophet said, “Even if the Day of Resurrection is about to commence, and you’re holding a sapling in your hand – plant it!” (Musnad Ahmad).

References

1.

BICKMAN, L. (1972) “Environmental attitudes and actions.” J. of Social Psychology 87: 323-324.

2.

Refer to the 

Global Carbon Project

.

3.

Refer to Webster, M. A., I. G. Rigor, S. V. Nghiem, N. T. Kurtz, S. L. Farrell, D. K. Perovich, and M. Sturm (2014), Interdecadal changes in snow depth on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, 5395–5406.

4.

Raaschou-Nielsen, Ole et al. Air pollution and lung cancer incidence in 17 European cohorts: prospective analyses from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE).The Lancet Oncology , Volume 14 , Issue 9 , 813-822.

5.

Stafoggia M, Cesaroni G, Peters A, et al. Long-Term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Incidence of Cerebrovascular Events: Results from 11 European Cohorts within the ESCAPE Project. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014;122(9):919-925. doi:10.1289/ehp.1307301.

6.

Pedersen, Marie et al. Ambient air pollution and low birthweight: a European cohort study (ESCAPE) The Lancet Respiratory Medicine , Volume 1 , Issue 9 , 695 – 704.

This article was originally featured onSpiritual Perception  in January 2015. 

Photo Credits: Overpopulation, overconsumption – in pictures