‘Going Green’ in the 6th Century - Prophet Muhammad: the Environmentalist


By: Sariya Contractor

An advertisement created by an organization that works for the environment shows the blood covered body of an injured baby seal.

The bright redagainst the white snow is a jarring illustration of human callousness.

The beautiful blue-black eyes of the baby seal mesmerize the viewer with its silent appeal for protection and justice — an appeal that perhaps is too late, this little seal is already dead.

But this little seal is making a wider appeal — one that has implications beyond its own loss of life.

Can it stir a heart among the humans who took its life? I guess this is what the clamor of voices seem to indicate as people demand a ban on indiscriminate and senseless hunting and killing of animals along with the calls for poachers to face capital punishment. Maybe the voiceless seal has had its say, and some animals may yet lead a safer life.

Al Gore's documentary — "An Inconvenient Truth" — is another soul-searching expression of the mess humankind has got itself into through its absolute lack of concern for the beautiful blue planet called home.

Natural systems have been destroyed. Pollutants are everywhere — the air, water, and even the soil we grow our food in. Forests are fast disappearing. Magnificent birds and animals have become extinct, and we now have a food chain with missing links.

A list like this can be almost boringly long, a never ending sermon of errors and selfishness. A vicious cycle which if left unchecked will come back in full circle to the very doorsteps of the species that set it off.

And this realization of the self-destructive capability that uncensored progress has made human beings more cognizant of and considerate for the ecological system that they are part of.

Many environmental problems are irreversible, but a lot can be done and is being done to minimize their effects. Green movements are slowly gaining momentum. People around the world are being more conscientious of the environmental after-effects caused by their actions.

Rallies, public protests and mass e-mails to heads of states and the "let's save the planet" bandwagon means serious business.

But being concerned with the environment is not just a matter of contemporary significance and it is not a fad that will blow away. Rather, it is a legitimate concern that can have far reaching ramifications for all humanity if left unaddressed.

Creating a Balance

Concern and care for the environment is also a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and therefore a duty on all Muslims.

Prophet Muhammad guided mankind to an ideology in which the human need for development has underpinnings of justice, generosity and good governance. Therefore, human progress must be fair to all concerned, be it man, woman, animal, or plant.

Prophet Muhammad encouraged simplicity of life. This trait is a good example he set for us in "going green". This means no fancy jargon or complex techie thingies that might save energy but cost the world. We should seek just simple doable solutions to problems that were once avoidable but today are at least still controllable.

Three paradigms seem central to the Prophet's explanation of humanity's relationship with the environment.

Humility: An understanding that all of creation belongs to God.

Justice: Deeds must be just and fair to all concerned.

Sustainability: Avoidance of all extravagances and measured use of any natural (or other) resource.

The entire world and perhaps even other hereto undiscovered worlds are God's creation. They are a manifestation of His might, His wonder and His power — not of humanity's doing, but only granted to humans by God in His mercy. And so inherently all of creation must be respected and treated with equity.

Once this concept of respect is firmly grounded in our thoughts, attitudes and actions, we can progress further to realize how respect can ensure that we are just in all that we do.

As per the Quran, human beings are God Almighty's vicegerents on this world and inheritors of the earth. God says in the Quran:

{It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth.} (6:165)

A vicegerent has power and authority, but also has responsibility towards every living being it has authority over, a balance in which the relationship is symbiotic; all efforts are conscientious and any achievements are sustainable.

God says in the Quran what means:

{And the heaven, He raised it high, and He made the balance.} (55:7)

The Prophet has said that:

"The world is beautiful and green and verily Allah has installed you as a vicegerent in it in order to see how you act…" (Muslim, 2742)

The responsibility therefore comes with a test attached to it, a duty to ensure that all deeds must be fair, all acts commendable. It is within this framework that Prophet Muhammad's philosophy of care for the environment can be explored and understood.

Even the most taken for granted amenities of life are a blessing from God Almighty, be it the water we drink or the air we breathe as the water could have been bitter to taste while the air may have been poisonous fumes unsuitable for breathing.

These resources and any other must be used in moderation. Processes must be sustainable, ensuring that our heirs have enough for their use and so forth.


Being Just to Animals

Animals and birds form communities like our own and they will be gathered unto their Lord. Any ill-treatment of them will have to be accounted for; any kindness to them will be blessed.

The Prophet has said:

"The Compassionate One has mercy on those who are merciful. If you show mercy on those who are on earth, He who is in heaven will show mercy on you" (Abu Dawud, 4941)

God forbade purposeless killing of any animal or bird, be it as tiny as a sparrow. The only purpose for which an animal may be killed is for consumption. Hunting for sport is classified as senseless and is wrong. If these rules were adhered to, the life of the baby seal in the beginning of the article may have been spared.

Provocation of animals to fight for sport or entertainment causes pain and harm to the animals and was strongly condemned by the Prophet. The matador who infuriates a bull, leading it on a wild goose chase ending in its death, is just as cruel as the people chasing a bull through the streets.

These and other such acts are demeaning to an animal and deny it the respect it deserves and would have no place in an ecologically conscious settings. There is a narration which tells us that Ibn Umar, the son of Umar ibn Al-Khattab who was the second Muslim caliph, stopped some young boys from target practice on a chicken.

In dealing with domestic animals, kindness was the Prophet's way. He narrated stories where sinners were granted forgiveness on account of some trifling act of kindness they may have shown to an animal. Other narrations mention individuals who were sent into Hell as punishment for cruelty to animals.

He said:

"May Allah condemn the one who branded the donkey" (Muslim, 98) and that it was a sin for a man to imprison animals which were under his power.

It would be interesting to see the response of contemporary battery farmers who breed chickens to live their entire lives in cages so small that they can barely turn around.

In another narration, some of the Prophet's companions captured the chicks of a bird. The irate mother spread her wings and tried to get her babies back. Seeing her, the Prophet asked:

"Who grieved this for its young ones? Return its young ones to it" (Abu Dawud,2675)

To end, it would be appropriate to illustrate the Prophet's fondness of trees. He said that:

"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" (Al-Bukhari, 2320)

He forbade the cutting of trees during war. He has also said that if you are planting a tree and something as serious as doomsday comes upon you, continue planting the tree.

This was the Prophet's way, which requires respect from humankind for the rest of creation that we share this planet with.

This article was originally published on on December 21, 2014.