respect of animals

Environmental Justice in Islam

Sunrise By Khaled Dardir

Is what am I doing harming another living being on Earth?

Is being equal the same as being “ecoual”?

For thousands of years man has had a symbiotic relationship with the environment. We took only what was needed, and did not take any excess from the land. Did the Prophet (PBUH) say anything about saving our planet? Did he promote any ideas or practices to ameliorate the growing concern about the future of the Earth and its resources? The Prophet (PBUH) was probably the first environmentalist, born over 1400 years ago, he took care of every creature he came across.

Indeed, all of nature, in the Islamic view, is in a state of continuous worship. Trees and grasses, fish and animals, are all bending in a sweet, invisible breeze that wafts their worship back toward their creator. Human beings can learn from this process of unwavering devotion and seek harmony with it by joining with other creations in worship of Allah.

What Allah left for us is a trust; everything is a blessing. Islam expresses great concern for the environment. A number of verses in the Qur’an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad  have addressed this topic.

Ibn Mas'ood  reports, "While we were on a journey with Allaah's Messenger  he went a short distance from where we had encamped. There we saw a small bird with two of its chicks and caught them. The bird was fluttering when the Prophet came back, so he    asked, 'Who has distressed it by taking its chicks?' Then he asked us to return the chicks. There we also saw an anthill and burnt it out. When the Prophet saw that, he asked, 'Who has burnt it?' When we informed him that we had done it, he said, 'Only the Lord of fire has the right to punish with fire.’ This was the character of the Prophet (PBUH); he understood the difference between eco and ego. He did not treat other creatures negatively because he was bigger or thought himself to be more important. On the contrary, he went out of his way to protect and serve every living entity which crossed his path. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, "A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, "This dog is suffering from thirst as I did." So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him." The Companions said, "O Allah's Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?" He replied: "There is a reward for serving any living being." (Bukhari)

Today people say “we are top of the food chain” -  that’s ego. We should say we are “eco-ual” The ecosystems are built on a delicate balance created by Allah (swt); a balance so delicate that if one creature is wiped out or removed for whatever reason the system fails and major catastrophes await.  So how are we responsible for disturbing this ordained balance? How could we hurt our one and only planet? We are doing it directly and indirectly. We are directly hurting ourselves and the creatures around us by clearing forests, mining, drilling for oil, etc. Indirectly we are poisoning ourselves and the environment via genetically modifying our food, pesticides, plastics, ruining our water supplies, etc. We need to see the big picture as Muslims. Is what am I doing harming another living being on Earth?

We are a species that would sacrifice our health for money, then we reach a point where we must spend that money to make ourselves healthy again. We do the same to the environment. We rape the land seeking its value, then when use our profits to fix our errors. Allaah has set severe punishments for those who damage and abuse natural resources. He says (what means): “Eat and drink from the provision of Allaah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption." [Quran 2:60] When you understand the cyclical nature of the environment, you see how you can turn problems into solutions.

The Quranic solution to the problem our environment is facing is, in a word, holistic. Living a truly Islamic life requires avoiding the evils of extravagance and the indulgence in materialism. The way that harmony can be grasped is by living within our means with the other creations Allah bestowed upon us.

If I destroy a person’s property that is called vandalism, but when corporations clear hundreds of acres of land, destroying the lives of millions of creatures we call it progress. This land is not inherited from our ancestors it is borrowed from our children and is a trust left to us by Allah (swt). The Prophet said, "Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment."  The listeners asked, "O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?" He replied, "That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away." (An-Nasa'i)

Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, "A woman entered the (Hell) 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)

Today, with the increasing awareness of the dangers facing our planet and the great interest in green ideas, a reflection on the guidance of the Prophet in this area proves relevant. What is distinctive about the Prophet's approach to environmental issues is the connection he establishes between green practices and the Hereafter reward, which, represents for Muslims, an incentive greater than any worldly gain or reward. Thus, his lessons prompt a greater care for the Earth and more effort to conserve its resources. We are responsible for the effects of our actions, our purchases, and our lack of involvement in serving any living creature in need.

This planet and body is a TRUST from Allah. Make dua that Allah allows you to continue taking care of that trust.

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”

Photo Credit: paul bica