sustainability

Wetlands: Our Collective Responsibility

By: Muaz Nasir

Saturday, February 2nd 2019 marks World Wetlands Day, where government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community, take this opportunity to learn, share and take action aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2nd 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea (1).

World Wetlands Day was established in 1997 to raise awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet. The theme for this year is Wetland and Climate Change, and draws attention to the crucial role wetlands play as a natural solution in building resilience to climate change.

What are wetlands?

Often an overlooked component of the ecological system, wetlands provide us with clean water, protect us from floods and droughts, offer food and livelihoods to millions of people and store more carbon than any other ecosystem. They also support a rich diversity of plants and animals, as well as migratory populations of birds and fish. Yet, the value of wetlands remains largely unrecognized by policy and decision makers (1).

“Wetlands play an important role in the health of our country and our communities. They remove sediments, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water. They are very effective at storing carbon. And much like a giant paper towel, they absorb and hold water to buffer our cities and farms from floods and droughts – both of which are growing more common and extreme in recent years.” Hillary Page, Director of Science and Stewardship, Nature Conservancy of Canada

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Why are they important?

Since 1900, over 64% of the world's wetlands have been lost, with nearly 50% of this loss happening since 1970. Canada is home to nearly 25% of the world’s wetlands but 70% have either been destroyed or degraded. In the worst cases, such as some areas on the prairies, as much as 90% of our wetlands have disappeared (2).

There contributing causes for the disappearance or degradation of these valuable ecosystems include farming, urban development and resource extraction; which result in wetlands being drained and converted for other purposes (3). The negative impacts are cumulative and can have significant impacts to the surrounding environment. Every time a wetland is lost the entire watershed loses value to humans, animals and plants (4).

The loss or destruction of wetlands can result in:

  • Loss or degradation of wetland habitat and a loss of plant and animal biological diversity

  • Deterioration of wetland water quality

  • Reduction in water supply and water storage

  • Loss of flood plain land and floodplain protection

  • Increased soil erosion and desertification

  • Reduced range of recreational opportunities

“Wetland-dependent species are in serious decline. Since 1970, declines have affected 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species.” International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Wetlands in Islam

Recent theological research has highlighted the importance of wetlands as Hima or ‘living sanctuaries’, that deserve to be protected based on their ecological importance to current and future generations. The Islamic concept of Hima has been practiced since the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he designated a Hima around the area of Madinah to ensure the protection of vegetation and wildlife. This approach has been expanded today, and has been interpreted to include the protection of ecologically significant or sensitive areas, including wetlands.

Hima has been recognized as a Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) System, which promotes sustainable livelihood, resource conservation, and environmental protection for all. The Hima system is considered as one of the most widespread systems of traditional conservation that is based off of consensus and mutual benefit. Proponents of the application of Hima to wetlands cite passages from the Quran that clearly identify the responsibilities Muslims have as stewards over all environments, and ensuring their health for future generations (5).

“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” Quran 6:165.

What you can do:

  • Explore wetland areas in your community and enjoy the natural diversity of plants and animals that thrive in this environment.

  • Learn more about the importance of wetlands, and educating others on their role and importance.

  • Become involved in wetland restoration projects in your community by reaching out to your local conservation authority.

  • Raise the issue with at your local planning committee to ensure development does not adversely degrade wetlands.

  • Visit the World Wetlands Day website for more information and resources on how wetlands can help mitigate the impacts of the climate change.

Sources:

  1. Global Wetlands Outlook: https://www.global-wetland-outlook.ramsar.org/

  2. Nature Conservancy of Canada:

    http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/manitoba/stories/wetlands-are-disappearing.html

  3. Ducks Unlimited: https://www.ducks.ca/our-work/wetlands/

  4. Wetlands Alberta: http://www.wetlandsalberta.ca/wetland-loss/

  5. Hima as ‘Living Sanctuaries’: An approach to wetlands conservation from the perspective of Shari’a law: https://ac.els-cdn.com/S187704281304425X/1-s2.0-S187704281304425X-main.pdf?_tid=3953607b-370f-4b9d-b1dd-f90e3729cac8&acdnat=1548949103_c7e087d4a0fd8a16325fee5ff8b02eaa  

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

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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.

Pasture
Pasture

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 onislam.com on December 21, 2014.