environmental islam

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

Seven Ways You Can Save the Planet

Save the Environment

By Shehnaz Toorawa

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you as His stewards over it. He sees how you acquit yourselves…” (Muslim).

Allah tells us in numerous verses of the Quran, that He has created everything on Earth—animals, rain, plants, oceans, stars, the sun, the moon—for the benefit of humans. With these favours comes the role of Khalifah, or guardianship.

The Quran tells us,“He it is Who has placed you as viceroys of the earth and has exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test of) that which He has given you” (6:165).

Today the planet is in a mess. Deforestation, desertification, water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion, extinction of species and the dwindling of resources indicate that humans are not fulfilling their role of Khalifah adequately. What can we do to fulfill our responsibility to protect the Earth? Here are seven small, but effective steps each of us can take to begin the process:

1. Buy less, consume less, waste less. On average, an individual in a developed nation consumes twice as much grain, twice as much fish, three times as much meat, nine times as much paper, and eleven times as much gasoline as an individual in a developing nation. (1)

Yet, shopping malls, TV commercials, flyers, billboards, and the fashion industry continually tell us we don’t have enough and we need to buy more. The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of the world’s private consumption spending.(2) The Quran correctly describes our materialistic society in the verse, “The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) until you visit the graves” (102:1-2).

While North Americans squander wealth and waste it in luxuries, 825 million people in the world are undernourished (3), 2.4 billion live without basic sanitation, and one billion lack adequate shelter.(4) Destruction of forests, desertification of grasslands, water pollution, depletion of fossil fuels, and the collapse of fisheries around the world warn us that the world’s resources are limited—certainly not enough to support the lifestyle habits of an average North American. In the Quran, God warns us not to take more than our share of the world’s resources:“…Do not squander (your wealth) wastefully. Surely the squanderers are the fellows of the Devils” (17:26).

In a world of limited resources, we have an obligation to resist consumer culture and squelch the urge to buy, consume, and eventually waste. The words of the Prophet (pbuh) are a beautiful example of how to live:“Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path” (Bukhari).“The best livelihood is the bare minimum” (Ahmad).

The Quran reminds us that we will be accountable for every item we own and resource we use:“Then (on the day of judgement) you will certainly be questioned about all the favours you enjoyed” (102:8).

Next time you’re in line at the cash register, ask yourself if you really need what you’re buying or if you can live without it.

2. Reduce your shower time to five minutes. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Excess in the use of water is forbidden, even if you have the resources of a whole river” (Tirmidhi).

Ever noticed how long you spend in the shower? A five-minute shower consumes 100 litres of water. (5) That may not sound like much, but consider that less than one half of one percent of all water on Earth is fresh water for human use. The rest is sea water or frozen in polar ice caps.(6) Every person on Earth has a share in this water, yet 20% of the world’s population already lacks access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water.(7) While the average Canadian uses 335 litres of water per day, the average sub-Saharan African survives on 10-20 litres per day.(8) The Prophet (pbuh) would perform ghusl, a complete bath, with one Sa’ of water—that’s just 1.6 litres. In a world where water scarcity and pollution are increasing, every drop counts.

3. Buy locally grown food, without the packaging Where does the food you eat come from? The local farm or a land far away? In the United States, the average food item travels 2,500–4,000 kilometers.(9) The farther food travels before it reaches your plate, the less money the rural farmer retains. Multinational corporations that haul, package, and process the food collect a larger portion of the profit.

The farther food travels, the more energy it consumes for pesticides, preservatives, ripening, packaging, processing, transportation and sales. Eating local food results in a healthier diet, more equitable profit distribution, less energy consumption and less environmental pollution.

4. Take the transit or walk more often Cars not only guzzle the world’s dwindling supply of fossil fuels, but the burning of those fuels contributes to urban smog, acid rain, and other air quality problems. Cars produce large volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The average car produces about 2.4 kilograms of CO2 for every litre of gasoline‚ or three to four times its own weight in CO2 every year. (10) This means more air pollution, more extreme weather and storms, more water contamination and more diseases.

Public transit, cycling or walking are simple ways to reduce energy consumption, improve air quality and lead a healthier lifestyle. If you normally drive to work, take the transit once a week for a refreshing change.

5. Install energy-saving bulbs and appliances in your home North Americans consume 30% of the world’s energy—an amount similar to that consumed collectively by all developing countries, holding more than 80% of the world’s population. While we may flick the light switch without a second thought, 2 billion people in the world lack access to electricity or other modern energy supplies.(11)

While it may be impossible for North Americans to forego the luxuries of electricity, heat, stoves, dishwashers and microwaves, we can reduce our energy consumption through efficiency. Europeans have done it—although they lead a similar lifestyle, people in the United States and Canada consume 2.4 times as much energy at home as those in Western Europe. (12) Home appliances are the world’s fastest-growing energy consumers after automobiles, accounting for 30 percent of industrial countries’ electricity consumption.(13) The good news is that energy-efficient lighting and appliances have become common in the North American market. Making your home energy efficient is an easy and effective way to reduce energy consumption without sacrificing convenience.

6. Eat more vegetables Vegetables capture energy for growth directly from a renewable source—the sun, while meat production in industrial countries requires a high input of non-renewable fossil fuel energy. When farmers raise animals on pasture, they require little grain, consume little energy and their manure becomes valuable agricultural fertilizer. Today, in most industrial nations, rather than being pasture-fed, corporations raise animals in factory farms that consume huge quantities of grain, water, hormones, and electricity and produce tonnes of toxic wastes. Producing one calorie of beef or poultry requires 11–17 calories of feed.(14) Producing 8 ounces of beef requires 25,000 litres of water.(15) This means that a diet high in grain-fed meat requires two to four times more land than a vegetarian diet. Health is another consideration—the crowded conditions of factory farms along with an absence of waste recycling make livestock easy targets for disease.

The Prophet (pbuh) allowed us to eat meat and, like all other foods, meat is one of Allah’s favours that He permits us to enjoy. However, we need to apply the principle of moderation, a key aspect of the Prophet’s lifestyle, in our diet. Eating more vegetables, without abandoning meat, can make a significant difference in the amount of natural resources each of us consumes. Next time you bite into that steak, think of the energy that went into producing it.

7. Recycle and compost Canadians generate approximately 1.7 kg of waste per person per day.(16) When we use recycled materials along with recycling and composting our household waste, we significantly reduce our energy consumption and waste production. Producing aluminium from recycled material, for example, requires 95 percent less energy than manufacturing it from raw materials.(17) Keep in mind that having a recycling box or a compost bin doesn’t justify consuming more and wasting more. Reducing consumption is still the best way to reduce our impact on the environment.

Where do you Stand? Calculate Your Ecological Footprint The ecological footprint is a tool that assesses the environmental impact of an individual, a region or an activity. Your ecological footprint indicates the amount of biologically productive land area required to support your lifestyle based on the amount of resources you use and the amount of wastes you produce. Calculations show that the planet has available 1.9 hectares of biologically productive land per person to supply resources and absorb wastes—yet the average person on Earth already uses 2.3 hectares worth. These “ecological footprints” range from 9.7 hectares claimed by the average American to 0.47 hectares used by the average Mozambican.(18) Calculate your ecological footprint and discover your impact on the planet at http://www.redefiningprogress.org/. The results may shock you!

Shehnaz Toorawa is a teacher with a degree in education,  professional writing and geography. She also holds a Shariah degree from the American Open University. She is a busy homeschooling mother of three and is active in the Toronto community and currently host a blog called myinkspiration.

Endnotes: (1) Gregory Mock, “How Much Do We Consume,” World Resources June 2000, 22 Feb. 2006 http://earthtrends.wri.org/features/view_feature.php?theme=6&fid=7. (2) The Worldwatch Institute, “The State of Consumption Today,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/02/04/. (3) Ibid. (4) Molly O’Meara Sheehan, “Urbanization,” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/topics/people/urbanization/. (5) Environment Canada, “Quickfacts,” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/e_quickfacts.htm. (6) Maude Barlow, Blue Gold (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 2002). (7) Diane R. Ward, Water Wars (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002) (8) Environment Canada, “Quickfacts.” (9) The Worldwatch Institute, “Watching What We Eat,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/06/02/. (10) Natural Resources Canada, “Climate Change—We’re All Part of the Solution,” 25 Jan. 2006, 22 Feb. 2006 http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/communities-government/climate-change.cfm?attr=28#cct. (11) People and The Planet, “Energy: Supply and Demand,” 16 Jan. 2003, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=559. (12) The Worldwatch Institute, “Making Better Energy Choices,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/07/07/. (13) Ibid. (14) The Worldwatch Institute, “Watching What We Eat.” (15) People and The Planet, “Deadly Impact of Growing Demand for Meat,” 7 Jul. 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=2277. (16) Environment Canada, “An Environmental Citizen…Who Me?” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.ns.ec.gc.ca/udo/who.html. (17) The Worldwatch Institute, “Making Better Energy Choices.” (18) The Worldwatch Institute, “The State of Consumption Today.”

Photo credit from slightly everything

Going green not new in Islam

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By: Amal Al-Sibai

The green movement is now sweeping nations that have finally opened their eyes to the detrimental effects of human behavior on the planet and the erratic climatic changes that have occurred as a result of human activities. This trendy movement calls for green buildings, green schools, water conservation, and using public transportation to reduce the number of cars on the road and thus reduce the harmful vehicle emissions that contribute to air pollution.

Environmental preservation, respecting the Earth and its resources, and going green is not new in Islam but Muslims have lost their connection with Islamic traditions and have forgotten their bond to the Earth.

Before the name environmentalist was even coined, Islam taught us that mankind is connected to the Earth and must live in balance with what he/she takes from it.

This verse from the Holy Qur’an elevates the status of the Earth and shows its importance in human existence as it was part of human creation and will be the resting place after death: “Thereof (the earth) We created you, and into it We shall return you.”- Surah 20:55

The tree, the prime symbol of environmental protection, is likewise highly valued in Islam. Planting a tree was encouraged by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and was considered an act that would reap the planter great rewards from Allah.

The Prophet said, “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charity (sadaqah) for him.”

Planting a tree and spreading the benefits that the community would enjoy from the tree was considered so important that the Prophet said, “If the Day of Judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.”

Modern day science confirms the wisdom behind the Islamic emphasis on planting and nurturing trees. Trees in the environment act as an air filter, keeping our air cleaner by absorbing harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is one of the major contributing elements to the greenhouse effect and global warming. Trees trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and make carbohydrates that are used for plant growth. They give us oxygen in return. A fully-grown tree can absorb roughly 22 kgs of carbon dioxide a year. The tree in turn releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings. Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in large cities.

Did you know that trees could help save energy and reduce the cost of your electricity bill? Planting trees around your home can help cool your home in the summer. Researchers claim that the overall effect of the shade provided by a healthy tree is equivalent to an air-conditioner running for 20 hours a day! Trees shade buildings, streets, and homes. If enough trees are planted in cities, the overall microclimate improves and total energy use for cooling is reduced.

The recent outbreak of water shortages in Jeddah is a sharp reminder that our vital natural resources are finite. Islam has instructed Muslims against wasting and exploiting the treasures of the Earth. It is part of our Islamic tradition to use water wisely and we should teach it to our children.

In Islam, it is recommended that water be used sparingly, even while performing the religious duty of ablution — wudoo. The Prophet criticized excessive use of water and he was known to use only half a liter of water during ablution.

He said, “Do not waste water, even if you perform your ablution on the banks of an abundantly-flowing river.”

Cleanliness of the body and surroundings is imperative in Islam. It is truly tragic and confusing to witness the extent of waste and garbage thrown by the seaside, in parks, on the streets, and in neighborhoods in almost every city of the Kingdom. Littering is clearly admonished in our religion yet most members of the society take it lightly to throw garbage out the car window for example.

If the following Hadith was taught and applied in our daily lives, the present scenes of our streets and natural attractions would be much different, “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).”

Balance and harmony is to be sought after in Islam, and any disruption in the equilibrium of the planet will have profound negative effects on human health. Muslims have a responsibility to protect the environment, as stewards of the Earth.

Islam teaches that all things were created in perfect balance and measurement. There is a purpose behind all living and non-living things; and each has an important role to play in the balance. Allah gave human beings certain knowledge, which allows us to use the natural world to meet our needs, but we are not given free license to exploit it at whim. We are not masters who rule over the earth, but servants of Allah with a responsibility to maintain the balance, which He has created.

Allah has said in the Holy Qur’an, “O children of Adam! Eat and drink but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” - Surah 7:31

Originally published online on April 15 2012 in the Saudi Gazette newspaper, Muslim Link (www.saudigazette.com.sa/).