In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, men and women are viewed as God’s vicegerents on Earth. (2:30) God created nature in a balance (“al-mizan”) and mankind’s responsibility is to maintain this fragile equilibrium through wise governance and sound personal conduct.
The Quran also describes the believing men and women as those who “walk on the Earth in humility.” (25:63) Scholars have interpreted this verse, and others like it, to mean that Muslims are to protect nature’s many bounties given to them by the Almighty. Preservation is therefore more than a good policy recommendation – it is a commandment from God.
There are more than 700 verses in the Quran that exhort believers to reflect on nature.
For example, the Quran states: “And it is He who spread out the earth, and set thereon mountains standing firm and (flowing) rivers; and fruit of every kind He made in pairs, two and two; He draweth the night as a veil over the Day. Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who consider.” (13:3)
According to Islamic beliefs, the Earth is a sanctuary in which mankind was made to dwell in comfort. The vast oceans, forests and mountains that make up this bountiful planet have been subdued by God for our enjoyment and productive use.
Further, God compels Muslims in the Quran to respect and revere the environment when He says, “Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth.” (40:57)
The Prophet Muhammad told his followers they would be rewarded by God for taking care of the Earth. He said: “If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 8:41) He also compared Muslims to a “fresh tender plant” that bends, but does not break, when afflicted with life’s inevitable calamities. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 7:547)
Another tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, or hadith, quotes him as saying: “If the Hour (Judgment Day) is about to be established and one of you is holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.”
An example of Muslims taking ownership of their divine obligation to protect the environment was seen recently when the people of Tanzania reversed a growing trend toward ecological destruction through a policy of sustainable fishing and environmental preservation based on the principles of the Quran.
Prior to implementation of the educational program, over-harvesting by fishermen on the Muslim-majority island of Misali had threatened the area’s aquatic ecosystem. But thanks to an indigenous campaign to remind local inhabitants of Islam’s respect for nature, those who earn their living from the sea learned the benefits of protecting the region’s biodiversity.
In Islamic history, Ottoman civilization provides us with another example of the seriousness with which Muslims have traditionally taken their environmental obligations. Ottoman viziers, or ministers, advising the sultan on matters of administration and policy regularly encouraged moratoria on matters deemed potentially damaging to future generations.
Innovations in technology, for example, were hotly debated among scholars, all of whom recognized the importance of considering the long-term impact on both society and the environment.
In Islam, even the Earth has inalienable rights endowed by its Creator.
Sound ecological principles are not limited to Islam, and should be acted upon by practitioners of other faiths. Together we can tackle the environmental problems that besiege our planet.
On this year’s Earth Day, people of all faiths should take time to examine their own faith tradition’s advice for taking care of the Earth that we share.
Photo Credit: katerha
This article was originally published April 7, 2011 in advance of the 35th anniversary of Earth Day.