Concept of Garden in Islamic Culture

alhambra-gardenThe Arabic words Hadiqah, riyad, janna, raudah refer to the garden in its classical sense, with different nuances. The words bustan, munia, ruzafa, buhaira, 'ars refer to the large agricultural or leisure estates generally located on the periphery of towns. These terms and others go to show the diversity of meaning in the concept of garden in the Islamic culture.

In Islamic Culture, the garden is above all the essence of elements of Creation: Creation itself is a garden. This garden is at the heart of all the flowering Islamic civilization: beauty, mathematics, architecture, spirituality, poetry, botanic sensibility, hydraulics, biodiversity… But at the same time it also hides the secret of Islam, and all the gifts in this world and in the next: contemplation, peace, gratitude, conviviality, sensuality and including eternal rest.

Undeniably, the Islamic garden has been enriched by numerous influences over the centuries, especially those coming from the Nabatean and Persian civilisations. However, it is incorrect to think that the spiritual and conceptual nucleus of the Islamic garden is of foreign influence.

The Garden is above all the essence of elements of Creation

The Garden is above all the essence of elements of Creation

The presence of water, the fragrances, the shade, the fruits within reach of a hand and the pavilions of leisure offer more than just a charming visual spectacle. They transcend this: they offer a rich interpretation of The Sacred Book, the Prophetic traditions and the Sufi works.

There is no doubt that the idea of the garden as a representation of the spiritual garden or Paradise is not new. 2 700 AC the Babylonians described Paradise in the epic poem of Gilgamesh in this way: 'In these immortal gardens stands a tree… this tree is next to a sacred spring'.

It is also notable the symbolism of the garden in Genesis as synonymous with Paradise, although it was possibly the Persians who most nurtured spirituality in the garden, being as they were the forerunners of landscaping in the Islamic world. It is used in the same way in the Quran more than 120 times: 'Whoever obeys God and his Chosen One will be chosen to live in gardens beneath which flow rivers, and where they will live eternally' (Quran 4:13).

The Garden in capital letters is seen repeatedly in the Prophet's Sunnah. In a hadith the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) told: 'The greatest door to the Garden is the awareness of Allah and good character.'

However, the garden in its spiritual meaning is more than merely a recreation or imagination of the Garden of the Hereafter. It is associated with death, or eternal rest, as is apparent from the name given to a cemetery (rauda, one of the terms for garden). It also embodies the flowering of the human spirit, as seen in the word Raudiyah, or the discipline to educate the soul until it transforms into a fragrant garden which offers flowers and fruits.

For this reason it is not unusual for Muslims to use the term 'win the Garden' between themselves, referring to the spiritual wealth associated with seeking perfection in behaviour.

The Holy Quran: A New Ecological Paradigm

Among the world scriptures, the Holy Quran provides a unique resource for building a new ecological paradigm. Grounded in the Abrahamic tradition, it presents a harmonious view of nature reminiscent of the Far East. In the Quran, "whatsoever is the heavens and on the earth glorifies God" (59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1). "The stars and the trees prostrate" (55:6), "the thunder hymns His praise" (13:13), and "unto God prostrates whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the beasts" (22:18). In these and many other verses, the whole of creation is presented as a Divine symphony, for "there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is Clement, Forgiving" (17:44).

Common Cause of Humanity

According to the latest results from the Pew Research Center, by 2050, over 60% of the world's population will be Christian or Muslim: 29.7% will be Muslim and 31.4% will be Christian. Muslims and Christians have no choice but to come together to work for the common cause of humanity in confronting this unprecedented challenge. Moreover, to take root in humanity any sustainable ecological worldview must incorporate and address the teachings that much of humanity seeks to follow. As Pope Francis observes, the solutions cannot come from science and technology alone.

The extinction of species and the eradication of pristine environments are like the removal of a section from this orchestra of which we are all a part. The Quran thus enjoins us to "walk not exultantly upon the earth" (17:63) and to view the whole of nature as "signs for a people who hear" (10:67; 16:65; 30:23), "signs for a people who reflect" (13:3; 30:21), and "signs for a people who understand" (2:164; 13:4; 16:12, 67; 30:24; 45:5). Yet, in our rapacious approach to nature, we have failed to reflect and thus become like those of whom the Quran says, "they have hearts with which they understand not; they have eyes with which they see not; and they have ears with which they hear not" (7:179). Unable to see, listen and understand, we have become like one of whom the Quran warns, "when he turns away [from God’s signs], he endeavors to work corruption upon the earth, and to destroy tillage and offspring" (2:205).

Relevance of the Papal Encyclical

Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si ("Praised Be"), is a clarion call to all of humanity. It also provides an important opportunity to expand the conversation regarding the relationship between religion and the environment. Many scientists maintain that we have reached "decade zero" for addressing climate change. We thus have no choice but to mine the riches of all the world's traditions to create new paradigms and new solutions to environmental degradation. As the encyclical states, "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all."

The Papal Encyclical provides an unprecedented opportunity for the people of the world's faith traditions to turn away from the corruption we have wrought and open our hearts to one another and to the plea of Mother Nature. For her fate will be determined by the decisions of our generation. By drawing upon the shared teachings of our traditions, humanity can again learn to honor the immutable rights of rivers, animals and trees, as well as human beings suffering inhumane working conditions. By bearing witness of our own transgressions, we can reverse our course and ensure that the rights of God's creation prevail over the transient interests of corporations. As Pope Francis observes, we have no choice but to take this direction and to work with one another.

For Muslims and Christians, the place of human beings is not to subdue the earth. It is to hear the patterns already established within nature and live in harmony with them, had we but eyes to see and ears to hear. In both Christianity and Islam, human beings are presented as stewards of the earth. In the Quran, this responsibility is both an honor and a trial.

Verse 6:165 states, God it is Who appointed you stewards upon the earth and raised some of you by degrees above others, that He may try you in that which He has given you. From this perspective, being stewards of nature is about our responsibility toward God, not our dominion over creation. Neither the Bible nor the Quran has any place for what Pope Francis calls "a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

We will thus be held accountable for the degree to which we have carried out our function as stewards. As the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said, "The world is a green and pleasant thing. God has made you stewards of it, and looks at how you behave."

Conclusion

Given the state of the environmental crisis and the alarming increase in environmental degradation, one cannot but conclude that contemporary humanity has failed this test. The world and our children can no longer afford the cost of our failures. It is thus time that people of all faiths unite and in the words of Martin Luther King, "rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world."

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Islamic Principles on Sustainable Development

A huge number of verses in Qura’n and several sayings of the Prophet Muhammad indicate the great importance that has been given to environmental concerns and the responsibility of man to the environment. The concept of sustainable development in Islam can be defined as “The balanced and simultaneous realization of consumer welfare, economic efficiency, attainment of social justice, and ecological balance in the framework of a evolutionary knowledge-based, socially interactive model defining the Shuratic process”The Shuratic process is the consultation or participatory ruling principle of Islam.

The over arching principle in the use of nature is derived from the prophetic declaration that states: "There shall be no damage and no infliction of damage". The right to benefit from the essential environmental elements and resources such as water, minerals, land, forests, fish and wildlife, arable soil, air and sunlight is in Islam, a right held in common by all members of society.  Each individual is entitled to benefit from a common resource subject to establishing the degree of need, (needs have to be distinguished from wants) and the impact on the environment.

Earth is mentioned 61 times in the Qura’n. According to Islam, the universe has been created by Allah (God) with a specific purpose and for a limited time. The utilization of natural resources (ni‘matullah – the gifts of Allah) is a sacred trust invested in mankind; he is a mere manager and not an owner, a beneficiary and not a disposer. Side by side, the Islamic nation has been termed as) ummatan wasatan) the moderate nation in the Qur’an, a nation that avoids excesses in all things. Thus, Muslims in particular have to utilize the earth responsibly for their benefit, honestly maintain and preserve it, use it considerately and moderately, and pass it on to future generations in an excellent condition. This includes the appreciation of its beauty and handing it over in a way that realizes the worship of Allah.

The utilization of all natural resources – land, water, air, fire (energy), forests, oceans – are considered the right and the joint property of the entire humankind. Since Man is Khalifatullah (the vicegerent of Allah) on earth, he should take every precaution to ensure the interests and rights of others, and regard his mastery over his allotted piece of land as a joint ownership with the next generation. 

Land Reclamation

Prophet Muhammad said, "Whosoever brings dead land to life, for him is a reward in it, and whatever any creature seeking food eats of it shall be reckoned as charity from him". The Prophet in another occasion said, "There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him"; and, "If anyone plants a tree, no human nor any of the creatures of Allah will eat from it without it being reckoned as charity from him". This testifies the importance the Prophet in the early days of Islam has given to reclamation of land and the equal rights of all God’s creatures to benefit from the resources of earth. 

Wildlife Protection

Wildlife and natural resources are protected under Shariah (Rules of Islam) by zoning around areas called “hima”. In such places, industrial development, habitation, extensive grazing, are not allowed. The Prophet himself, followed by the Caliphs of Islam, established such “hima” zones as public property or common lands managed and protected by public authority for conservation of natural resources.

Water Rights

In the Shariah, there is a responsibility placed on upstream farms to be considerate of downstream users. A farm beside a stream is forbidden to monopolize its water. After withholding a reasonable amount of water for his crops, the farmer must release the rest to those downstream. Furthermore, if the water is insufficient for all of the farms along the stream, the needs of the older farms are to be satisfied before the newer farm is permitted to irrigate. This reflects the sustainable utilization of water based on its safe yield.

Environment Protection

The rights to benefit from nature are linked to accountability and maintenance or conservation of the resource. The fundamental legal principle established by the Prophet Muhammad is that "The benefit of a thing is in return for the liability attached to it.” Much environmental degradation is due to people's ignorance of what their Creator requires of them. People should be made to realize that the conservation of the environment is a religious duty demanded by God. God has said.  “And do good as Allâh has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allâh does not love the corrupters”, (Al Qasas 28:77.(

Waste Generation

Islam calls for the efficient use of natural resources and waste minimization. God says in Qura’n: “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess; “He” loves not the excessive”, (Al-A'raf 7:31). "And do not follow the bidding of the excessive, who cause corruption in the earth and do not work good”, (Ash-Shu'ara 26: 151-152). “And do not cause corruption in the earth, when it has been set in order”, (Al-A'râf 7:56).

Water Pollution

Water also plays another socio-religious function: cleaning of the body and clothes from all dirt, impurities, and purification so that mankind can be presentable at all times. Only after cleaning with pure (colorless, odorless and tasteless) water, Muslims are allowed to pray. One can only pray at a place that has been cleaned. In light of these facts, Islam stresses on preventing pollution of water resources. Urinating in water (discharging wastewater into water stream) and washing or having a bath in stagnant water are forbidden acts in Islam. The Prophet said: "No one should bathe in still water, when he is unclean”. 

Water Conservation

The teachings of Prophet Muhammad emphasize the proper use of water without wasting it. The Prophet said: “Don’t waste water even if you are on a running river”. He also said: “Whoever increases (more than three), he does injustice and wrong”.  

Sustainable Forestry

Islamic legislation on the preservation of trees and plants finds its roots in Qura’nic teachings of Prophet. They include the following:Whoever plants a tree and looks after it with care, until it matures and becomes productive, will be rewarded in the Hereafter” and “If anyone plants a tree or sows a field and men, beasts or birds eat from it, he should consider it as a charity on his part". He is also reported to have encouraged tree planting as a constructive practice, saying that even if one hour remained before the final hour and one has a palm-shoot in his hand, he should plant it. Even at times of war, Muslim leaders, such as Abu Baker, advised their troops not to chop down trees and destroy agriculture or kill an animal.

Public Participation

The protection, conservation, and development of the environment and natural resources is a mandatory religious duty to which every Muslim should be committed. This commitment emanates from the individual's responsibility before God to protect himself and his community.  God has said, "Do good, even as God has done you good, and do not pursue corruption in the earth. God does not love corrupters”.

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Islamic Perspectives on COP22

COP22We are on the eve of COP22 (UNFCCC Climate Change Summit), to be held this November in Marrakesh. It is therefore time to reflect briefly on this issue, from an Islamic perspective. By now everyone is well aware of the cause of severe climatic disturbances which affect us all and the poorest and most vulnerable in particular: sheer greed and unbridled, reckless, consumption.

Islam has always provided the keys to a harmonious life in which humans refuse to take more from nature than they need for their sustenance and enjoyment. Islam has repeatedly warned about the imbalances and inequalities that would arise if one were not to follow its recommendations.

God created the world in balance (mizan): habitats, ecosystems and all forms of life. A balance that only humans are capable of breaking, due to their capacity to corrupt the Earth (fasaad), as repeatedly mentioned in the Quran. So much so that man’s actions have led to the climate change we are witnessing in the form of chronic drought, devastating floods and all manner of extreme meteorological phenomenon.

Mankind as Vice-regent

Man, as vice-regent, or God’s representative on Earth – “Lo I am about to put a vice-regent on Earth” (Quran, 2:30) – has the highest degree of responsibility, al-Amanah, with respect to the rest of Creation: his peers and other living and non-living things. Therefore, he is responsible for exercising justice on Earth. This concept of justice is firmly rooted in the Islamic tradition, although it is not always exercised:

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not personal inclination, lest you not be just.” (Quran, 4:135).

Islam considers mankind to be stewards of resources endowed by Allah

Islam considers mankind to be stewards of resources endowed by Allah

In this practice, environmental justice is vital, based on fair and equitable management of the natural resources that have been created and which are available to all without exception: animals, plants and people. It is necessary to create sustainable and lasting economic models, distinct from the current financial debauchery, which reaches all sectors of the population and all regions of the planet with equanimity.

Islam Loves Nature

Islam is the Green Civilization. A civilization which loves nature and which is conscious of its value and fragility. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) set an example as to how to relate to the world, and consistently urged restraint in our dealings with nature. He was especially careful in the use of water, this resource which is so rare and scarce in certain regions of the planet. His zeal reached such a degree that he encouraged people to carry out their ablutions with as little water as possible, even if they were bathing by a river. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) prohibited the killing of animals that were not intended for the table, and the felling or uprooting trees without just cause. He also called for frugality in eating, urging people not to consume more than necessary and what the body is able to assimilate, thereby preventing disease and the hoarding of food.

Conclusion

This brief overview invites us to become aware and to take individual and collective action, based on the most genuine Islamic principles, which are true for all mankind. If we achieve the goals of COP22, which is to be held under the slogan “Act”, we will achieve a COP23 of “Liberation”.

Islam and Animal Rights

All living beings – humans, birds, animals, insects etc – are worthy of consideration and respect. Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of God's creation. Mankind is responsible for whatever it has at its disposal, including animals whose rights must be respected. The Holy Qur'an, the Hadith, and the history of Islamic civilization offer many examples of kindness, mercy, and compassion for animals. According to Islamic principles, animals have their own position in the creation hierarchy and humans are responsible for their well-being and food.

Islam strongly asks Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The Holy Qur'an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) often chastised his Companions who mistreated animals, and spoke to them about the need for mercy and kindness. 

Holy Quran and Animal Welfare

The Holy Quran contains many examples and directives about how Muslims should treat animals. The Quran describes that animals form communities, just as humans do: 

"There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end"(Quran 6:38).

The Quran further describes animals, and all living things, as Muslim – in the sense that they live in the way that Allah created them to live, and obey Allah's laws in the natural world. 

“Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praise all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise, and Allah knows well all that they do.” (Quran 24:41)

 "And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures" (Quran 55:10).

Animals are living creatures with feelings and connections to the larger spiritual and physical world. We must consider their lives as worthwhile and cherished. 

"And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures" (Quran 55:10).

These verses serve as a reminder to us that wildlife, like humans, are created with purpose. They have feelings and are part of the spiritual world. They too have a right to life, and protection from pain and suffering.

Ahadith and Rights of Animals

Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) exhorted Muslims to show kindness and compassion towards animals and birds, and repeatedly forbade cruelty towards animals.

"Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgment."

“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being."

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) once passed by a camel that was so emaciated that its back had almost reached its stomach. He said, "Fear Allah in these beasts who cannot speak." (Abu Dawud)

Humans were created by Allah, the Almighty, to be custodians and guardians of the Earth. Killing without need- that is killing for fun- is not permissible.

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)

A group of Companions were once on a journey with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and he left them for a while. During his absence, they saw a bird with its two young, and they took the young ones from the nest. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back. He said, "Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her." (Muslim)

In Islam, hunting for sport is prohibited. Muslims may only hunt as is needed to meet their requirements for food. This was common during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and he condemned it at every opportunity.

Few Points to Ponder

We need to seriously ask ourselves – is the Muslim community upholding the rights of animal despite explicit orders from Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAW)? What should our role be, not only in the debate on such subjects, but in conservation and protection of animals and the environment as a whole? Have we disenfranchised wildlife? How do the laws of the country in which we live stand up to the Islamic principles? And finally, how does Islam help us to find solutions to the dilemmas we face?

It is not impossible to demand greater action and consideration for the natural world. Bolivia has gone as far as to legally grant nature equal rights with humans and has introduced the Law of Mother Earth which reportedly assigns 11 new rights to nature, including: ‘the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.’ Ecuador has also changed its constitution to give nature "the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution". 

These laws are considered radical, but what it enshrines does not ask for much, indeed only that animals, and nature are given equal respect and care- as much as is expected of us in Islam. Individuals and governments have an important role to play in educating the public animal welfare and establishing institutions to support animal well-being.

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Green Ahadith – Ecological Advice from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is one of the most, if not the only one who reached a pinnacle of success by not only verbally teaching, but stringently applying Islamic principles of ecological welfare. His concern for preserving nature was so consistent that history reports the only time he cut down plants were the palm trees in Madina to impede the Jewish tribe Banu Nadhir.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, categorically taught people to live on less, to protect animal and plant life, and to worship the Creator by being merciful to the creation. What is also distinctive about Prophet Muhammad's advice is the connection between ethical practices and the eternal effects in the life after death, which represents a greater incentive for Muslims to care for the earth and its resources.

What makes a successful leader? Many world leaders and religious figures have advocated protection of planet Earth in their struggle to reach the top, but most have ultimately failed to create a long-lasting conservation plan. I wanted to share these Prophetic sayings (ahadith) which I believe are excellent indicators to reflect the Islamic faith as a relevant environmental 'movement'.

A believer is like a growing tree

"The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind quietens down, the plant becomes straight again…" narrated by Abu Hurayra (Radi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu), Bukhari

Prophet Muhammad was teaching new Muslims that their life on the path of faith must always progress and beware of climatic changes, just like a young tree. There will be tough times when the storm seems to never end. But patience and persistence in planting roots no matter what the trouble, will heal both one's own branches and protect the nearest plants.

Plant a tree even if it's your last deed

“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it."Al-Albani.

Renewable reward of planting trees

"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 charitable gift (sadaqah) for him."Imam Bukhari.

Conservation of resources

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, happened to pass by a Companion, Sa’d (Radi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu), as he was performing ablution (wudhu) next to a river. At this, the Prophet said, "Sa’d what is this squandering?"
Sa’d replied: "Can there be an idea of squandering (israf) in ablution?"
The Prophet ﷺ said: "Yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river.” –
Ibn Majah.

Environmental sanitation

"Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: [1] relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place." – Narrated by Mu`adh, hasan, by Al-Albani

Hygiene and cleanliness (tahara) is so integral to Islam that it is actually a major sub-branch of Muslim belief. Without physical hygiene, prayers are broken. Without clean facilities pollution ruins cities, and without any effort to improve one's own purity, it becomes more difficult to prevent external corruptions like littering.

Significance of street clean-ups

"Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah)." Narrated by Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari (Radi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu)

Sustainable living 

Abdullah ibn `Abbas reported that the Prophet said, "The believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbor is hungry." Authenticated by Al-Albani

Eat a little less every day

Excessive eating is abhorred in Islam. For the days of Ramadan, fasting is precisely a command in order to learn control and when to say 'no'. Prophet Muhammad did not encourage eating a three course meal nor a heavy meal. Every meal should be shared between two and choosing between take-outs and home-cooked, a healthier diet is always the better option (less meat, more greens). In the Islamic law system (Shariah), a person should stop eating as soon as the hunger pangs cease.

“Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.

Waste minimization

When asked about how the Prophet of Islam used to live in his house, the Prophet's wife, `A'ishah (Radi Allahu Ta'ala Anha), said that he used to repair his own shoes, sew his clothes and carry out all such household chores done without complaint or want for more. (Authenticated by Al-Albani).

The idea behind this was to show Muslims that menial tasks (mehna) were not degrading for God's Prophet (peace be upon him). Reusing and repairing things instead of always buying new is not a sign of poverty, they are a sign of power. By performing household duties, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was saying we can build foundations on less 'stuff', we are in control of what we consume and we don't need more.

Caring for animals

"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." Imam Bukhari.

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, provided for animals, as did Abu Huraira (Radi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu) who narrated this hadith. Abu Huraira's name translates as the 'father of kittens', named so because he was known to carry kittens in the draped sleeves of his robe.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard a bird's nest of eggs.

Key takeaway

Hopefully this will inspire everyone reading to follow through on the Eco-Sunnah. Adopt an animal, reuse your wudhu water, eat much less. Be a leader.

Note: The original article can be viewed on The Eco Muslim website at this link

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Tackling Litter in Jordan

Garbage_JordanIn the recent past, Amman was among the cleanest cities in the world. These days, like many other countries, Jordan experiences littering of all waste types in its public areas, which has serious impacts on the environment, the economy, the aesthetic appearance of the regions that experience littering, and the public health.

The "Invisible Trash"

Littering which has become a national scourge is omnipresent in Jordan. Drive along any road in Jordan and you will see all types of  litter, including cans, cigarette butts, plastic bags, tissues, sandwich wrappers, and old tyres. To outline the problem, an observational study was carried out by the writer in 2011 in Wakalat Street. The study made manifest the erroneous perception of cleanliness in public areas.  The interviewee reported the area as “clean” and overlooked litter that had accumulated on roadsides and had filled plant pots. 

Daily scene of “invisible trash” despite the spreading of trash cans along the Wakalat Street.

Daily scene of “invisible trash” despite the spreading of trash cans along the Wakalat Street.

Reasons behind Littering

In the past few years, similar changes in population patterns have led to dramatic changes in all forms of human activities. As expected, this has led to the production of ever-growing quantities of wastes. Among the factors that contribute to increase littering are the nature of the Municipal council, lack of waste management infrastructure, an increase in the poverty rate, influxes of refugees, and, most importantly, changes in citizens’ behavior have all contributed to increase littering.  

The aforementioned study revealed another reason for littering, which was an erroneous perception of what “cleanliness” constituted. Furthermore, a gap between theoretical and practical aspects of environmental knowledge led to Jordanians’ failure to see how environmental problems applied to their daily lives. Thus, they are unlikely act on them appropriately.

Carelessness in discarding the trash in the middle of streets in Zarqa

Carelessness in discarding the trash in the middle of streets in Zarqa

Social Perception

Jordanians define littering in terms of ethics or acculturation. They perceive littering as lack of civility, education, or as a result of carelessness, as well as something that is haram (forbidden) in Islam.

Strategy to Combat Littering

Individuals and NGOs are working hard to organize many anti-littering and clean-up campaigns. Encouraging behavioral change is a challenging task due to pressing socioeconomic issues such as poverty and unemployment.

Perhaps the most distinctive level of the protection framework is public participation. Therefore, conservation efforts should include the support and participation of citizens, researchers, municipalities, industry, and other sectors. To give practical solutions to prevent littering in Jordan, it is important that they fit our cultural background and come from our pioneer heritage which should be merged with modern knowledge. The following are applicable solutions to the tackle litter problem in Jordan:

  • Adequate Municipal Waste Infrastructure

The municipal waste infrastructure has not been able to keep up with rapid growth and the influx of refugees. Sustainable disposal infrastructure and facilities as well as recycling stations are a prerequisite to solving the grim reality of the litter problem.

  • General Awareness

Fortunately, Jordanians are aware that the issue is increasing. However, volunteers become discouraged when their hard work disappears under a fresh layer of litter. Thus, a comprehensive behavioral change package should be carried out at the national level.

Despite the inclusion of environmental topics in school curricula and conveying it through the media, there is a disconnection between theoretical and practical aspects. Therefore, environmental stewardship must be made relevant to daily life. Moreover, the ideas of cleanliness have to be emphasized in the media as it is rooted in Arab-Islamic culture. More environmental stewardship programs should be adopted in schools; a leading example is the eco-schools program run by JREDS. Such programs should be extended to universities, with a community service course being integrated into graduation requirements and including a cleaning up theme.

  • Ownership

Jordanians take great care of what that they feel ownership over. The Jordanian sense of ownership of public spaces should be expanded. Nationalism should be presented as being responsible for the country and its environment.

  • Effective Law Enforcement

In 2012, GAM launched an ongoing campaign to discourage littering behavior by charging 20 JD fines for littering. It resulted in a drop in the number of littering violations by 13% within the space of a year (2014-2015), confirming the importance of implementing legislation to tackle the problem of littering. As littering is illegal in Jordan, a campaign for publishing the country litter laws that ban litter should be launched. Moreover, financial incentives for cleaning up should be adopted.

  • Community Recycling Bank 

Empowering local communities to solve their own environmental problems is essential to influence the actions of the public towards the desired goal. Recycling initiatives can be locally sustained by individual actors and should be used as income generators for the families involved. Recyclable material would be separated at the household level, then stored in a simple community recycling bank to be sold to scrap traders. Such an initiative would eliminate waste by transforming it from a nuisance to a resource.

  • Business Owners’ Responsibility

Businesses that create litter such as fast-food restaurants should play an active role in stopping litter. Their social responsibility to society and their customers’ demands that they encourage the proper disposal of food wrappers through campaigns and incentives. Furthermore, officials must oblige real estate and factory owners to maintain their land in public view and keep it free of construction and industrial waste.

  • Informal Waste Reclamation

Waste Reclaiming is the collection and reuse or sell the waste materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills by the municipal system. Creation a business model that adopt, organize, and cooperate with informal Waste reclaimers, will help in solving the waste problem and expanding Jordanian employment opportunities.

Conclusion

Today, we are in deep need for modern sustainable techniques derived from our heritage, compatible with our civilization, identity, and the climate of our country, and in consistent with the beliefs of Islam, which state to preserve the balanced relationship with the rest of the elements of creation.

 

References

  1. Abboud, N. (April 2011), Personal interviews.
  2. JT. "Princess Basma Launches Campaign to Combat Littering." Jordan Times. N.p., 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 July 2016.
  3. Namrouqa, Hana. "'Over 4,000 Littering Violations Recorded on Amman's Streets in July'" Jordan Times. N.p., 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 July 2016.
  4. UNESCO Office in Amman." UNESCO Campaign to Combat Use of Plastic Bags in Jordan. UNESCO, 30 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 July 2016.
  5. Hardin, Rozilla. "Roadside Litter Is a Local Problem." Elizabethton. Elizabethton, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 July 2016.
  6. Water .. "Jordan: Tackling Marine Litter." Revolve Water. ., 2014. Web. 2016.
  7. Dahshan, Jad. "No to Littering." Jordan Times, 09 June 2015. Web. 20 July 2016.
  8. Makansi, Elena. "No Time To Waste Can This Littered Country Transform Itself?" Family Flavours Details. Web. 21 July 2016.
  9. Namrouqa , Hana. "'13% drop registered in littering violations in Amman' ." Jordan Times. Dec 30,2015. Web. 20 July 2016.
  10. SWEEPNET. "Country Report on the Solid Waste Management in JORDAN." (2014): 9. Web.

Animal Welfare: Guiding Principles in Islam

Survival and sustainability of animals are key principles in Islam. We are not their creator, only their caretakers, and have no right to engage in practices that will bring about their extinction or even their suffering. Animals have God-given roles to play on the earth and we are not entitled to stop or hinder them, except in the case of defending ourselves or our property from danger. We are not entitled to destroy the environments in which animals live, as this also impacts their ability to survive.

Animals, humans, and plants all live together in an interrelated ecosystem, dependent on one another for care and survival. Humans and plants provide food for animals. Animals in turn provide food for humans and fertilizer for plants. Animals also provide commercial products for humans, such as wool, hair, fur, leather, tallow, meat, eggs, milk, cream, butter, cheese, and honey. Some animals provide protection, transportation or assist with farm labor. Others merely provide companionship. And in all of them we delight in their beauty and charming behaviors.

 

Guiding Principles

Through verses in the Quran and recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, we can learn the guiding principles of proper animal care according to Islam.

“Do you not see that God has subjected to your use All things in the heavens and on earth And has made His bounties Flow to you in exceeding measure, Seen and unseen?” [Quran 31:20]

“And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures” – Quran 55:10

All living creatures have an equal right to Earth. Islam views animals as highly valued creations of God. They are living beings with rights and responsibilities similar to those of humans. Animals play critical roles in the development of human society and Islam teaches that they are created specifically in our service. We are obligated to care for and protect all living creatures as a sign of gratitude for the blessings God provides us through them. God created animals as communities — or societies — exactly like humans, and declares in the Quran:

“There is not an animal that lives on the Earth, Nor a being that flies on its wings,
But forms part of communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, And they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” [Quran 6:38]

“Show mercy to those on earth, and He who is in heaven will show mercy unto you.” Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

The Prophet Muhammad gave his followers many commands and prohibitions regarding animals. He warned them that anyone causing an animal to die of starvation or thirst will be “punished by God in the fire of hell,” and he instructs animal owners to provide mercifully for their well-being. He says, “Show mercy to those on earth, and He who is in heaven will show mercy unto you.” Referring to the wretched, thirsty dogs in their community, his followers asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, is there a reward in doing good for these animals?” He replied, “There is a reward in doing good to every living thing.”

 

Guidelines for Animal Care

On the basis of statements by the Prophet Muhammad, recorded more than 1400 years ago, animals have rights which mankind must extend to them. To treat our animals humanely, we must:

  • Provide the specific foods they naturally prefer;
  • Provide fresh water continuously;
  • Provide comfortable safe lodgings that protect them from weather and predators;
  • Separate them from the aggressive behaviors of each other;
  • Bring males and females together during mating seasons;
  • Never harvest them for food faster than their ability to breed new generations;
  • Never overburden them beyond their natural abilities; and
  • Never neglect them or cease caring for them at any time, but especially in sickness or old age.

 

Wonderful Examples

One time, passing by a camel that was so malnourished that its back was almost reaching its stomach, the Prophet of Islam said to those nearby, “Fear Allah in these beasts who cannot speak!”

“There shall be no unfair loss nor the causing of such loss” — Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

The Prophet Muhammad once forbade his followers from setting fire to an anthill. He related to them that an earlier prophet of God was once bitten by an ant and ordered the burning of the whole ant colony. However, God rebuked this prophet by means of a revelation in which God said, “Because an ant stung you, you have destroyed a whole nation that celebrates God’s glory.” Perhaps this is why God reveals this same message clearly in the Holy Quran:

“Seest thou not that it is Allah whose praise all beings in the heavens
and on earth do celebrate, and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise, and Allah knows well all that they do.” [Quran 24:41]

A man once gathered some baby birds from their nest and the Prophet ordered him to return them to their mother, saying that the man had hurt the feelings of the mother bird by taking her babies. He likewise forbade anyone from needlessly and wrongfully cutting down trees which provide shelter to humans or animals, especially in the desert. It is clear from this that mankind is prohibited from destroying the habitats of God’ creatures.

War is another form of destruction, or corruption, in the land. The Holy Quran teaches that God hates any form of corruption, especially noting the crimes of destroying plants and killing captured livestock:

“And when he turns away, he hastens through the land
to cause corruption therein and to destroy the crops and cattle And God loves not corruption.” [Quran 2:205]

In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammad taught his followers, “No human being kills (even) a sparrow without right, except that God will ask him about it on the Day of Judgment.” His followers then asked him, “O Prophet of God! What is its right?” He said: “Its right is that you slaughter it and eat it, not that you decapitate it and throw it away!”

 

Stewards of the Earth

Caring properly for the animals of the earth is a duty God assigned to humankind, as “khalifah” or stewards of the earth. The following is a story illustrating the proper care of our animals according to Islam. Recorded in The Essential Rumi, this lesson is related by Mawlana Jalal Al Din Muhammad Rumi, the famous and beloved 13th-century Sufi teacher and poet:

“A Sufi had been travelling and after he stopped at an Inn for the night, and had meditated for a while, he told the servant who took care of the animals to be sure that he mixed a lot of barley with the straw that was to be his donkey’s supper. ‘And please make sure you wet the (uncooked) barley with warm water. He’s an old donkey and has trouble chewing.’

“Then the Sufi asked, ‘Did you remove his saddle gently and put salve on the sore he has? Did you currycomb his back — he loves that.’ The instructions continued and the servant became annoyed. He ended the conversation with the claim that he had taken care of thousands of animals, with no complaints, and that everyone who stayed at the Inn was ‘treated as family.’

“The Sufi went to sleep but had terrible nightmares about his donkey being attacked by wild beasts and falling, helplessly, into a ditch. And although the details of the dream were wrong, what it conveyed of danger to the donkey was true. His donkey was being totally neglected, without care, food or water all night long. The caretaker had spent the whole night carousing with his friends.

“The moral of this story: Do the careful, donkey-tending work yourself. Don’t trust that to anyone else.

“The nightmares of the Sufi testified to his doubts about the animal’s well-being, but he was tired and it was late, so he slept. When your compassion and concern extends to another creature, do not trust its care to those who do not have the same concerns.” – Jalal Al Din Rumi, The Essential Rumi

“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, While an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being.” — Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

 

Note: The article first appeared on EdenKeeper, a site dedicated to our faithful stewardship of creation and exploring the relationship between faith and environmentalism. The original article is available at this link.

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Significance of Rural Culture in Islam

Rural culture developed magnificently during medieval times in the Islamic Mediterranean countries. It has left its mark on many aspects of daily life in the countryside, from Sicily and the Spanish Levant to the Maghreb and the Eastern regions. Al-Andalus was a perfect example. Not only are Arabic words present in every movement, skill and tradition throughout much of Spain, but the actual rural landscape forms part of this heritage. And the same can be said about age-old customs for the distribution and use of water, for sowing, grafting, harvesting and storing, and many of today’s extensive, organic farming methods.

Alcorque, aceña, acequia, alberca, almatriche, almazara and aljofaina are just a few of the Spanish words of Arabic origin that refer to rural culture, and Arabic farming systems such as albuferas (lagoons), olive groves and terraces give the Mediterranean landscape its characteristic appearance.

But what is especially outstanding is the way in which the medieval Muslims managed common natural resources both fairly and sustainably, to use a word that is much in vogue today. This was based on Islamic tradition regarding justice and distribution of goods. The Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah, as well as traditions attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, frequently mention the importance of equity and transparency in distribution and trade.

The following Quranic verse, posted at the entrance to Harvard University, lays the foundations for an unmistakable concept of social justice:

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (Qur’an, 4-134).

Although in short supply today, solidarity was much appreciated in the Muslim world during the early centuries. The second Caliph of Islam, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, stated that if a person died from poverty, the inhabitants of the town were required to make up for his death as if they had all been guilty of his murder.

Natural resources had to be fairly shared throughout the community. As the Hadith states, “Muslims share three things: water, pastures and fire”. And day labourers taken on for specific tasks had to be paid immediately, as stipulated by the Prophet of Islam, who ordered that their wage should be paid “before their sweat dries”. On the subject of food, it is of note that the famous Spanish saying, still in use today fortunately, “where three can eat, so can four”, comes in its literal form from a well-known hadith.

Also of interest is the close relationship our forebears had with nature. For Muslims, tending the land is an amanah, a responsibility, because during their time on earth they are mere khalifah (or vice-regent), and are obliged to use the land with moderation and balance. In Islam, work in itself is an act of adoration, and if the work involves cultivating the land, the benefit multiplies. There is a hadith that states, “No Muslim plants or sows something, so that a bird, a man or an animal can eat from it, without there being a benefit for him”.

A person who farmed land in the public domain or that belonged to no-one had a special right over it, as stipulated by the Prophet in the 7th century, many centuries before the famous sentence by Emiliano Zapata, “Land belongs to whoever works it”.

But, perhaps, where regulation and sharing were most important was in the use of water. Al-Andalus was again an example, though not the only one. There were public persons such as the sahib al-saqiya, the water sharer, or the qada al-miyah (water mayor), and the official al-amin al-maa. The term amin in Arabic, the person who is trustworthy, came to be used in irrigated farming in the Christian parts of Spain, in the form alamín in Castile, and alamí in Valencia.

This is just a brief outline, but it gives an idea of the moral and ethical values that, in general, governed the rural life of Muslims in medieval times.

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Food Waste and the Spirit of Ramadan

iftar-party-food-wasteIn recent years, enormous generation of food waste during the holy month of Ramadan has been a matter of big debate in Muslim countries and elsewhere. As per conservative estimates, around one-fifth of the food purchased or prepared during Ramadan finds its way to garbage bins or landfills. This translates into thousands of tons of precious food which could have been used for feeding tens of millions of hungry people in impoverished countries of Asia, Africa and elsewhere. The staggering amount of food waste generation during Ramadan urgently demands a strong strategy for its minimization, sustainable utilization and eco-friendly disposal. 

Gravity of the Situation

Middle East nations are acknowledged as being the world’s top food wasters, and during Ramadan the situation takes a turn for the worse. The holy city of Makkah witnessed the generation of 5,000 tons of food residuals during the first three days of Ramadan in 2014. Around 500 tons of food is wasted in the United Arab Emirates during the holy month of Ramadan. In Bahrain, food waste generation in Bahrain exceeds 400 tons per day during the holy month. Same is the case with Qatar where almost half of the food prepared during Ramadan finds its way into garbage bins. The scenario in less-affluent Muslim countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan is not different. According to Malaysia’s government agency Solid Waste And Public Cleansing Management Corporation, more than 270,000 tons of food in thrown into garbage bins during Ramadan.

Needless to say, the amount of food waste generated in Ramadan is significantly higher than other months, as much as 25%. There is a chronic inclination of Muslims towards over-indulgence and lavishness in the holy month, even though the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) asked Muslims to adopt moderation in all walks of life. Socio-cultural attitudes and lavish lifestyles also play a major role in more food waste generation in Ramadan in almost all Muslim countries. High-income groups usually generate more food waste per capita when compared to less-affluent groups. In Muslim countries, hotels and restaurants are a big contributor of food wastes during Ramadan due to super-lavish buffets and extravagant Iftar parties.

The Way Forward

The foremost steps to reduce food wastage in Ramadan are behavioral change, increased public awareness, strong legislations, creation of food banks and community participation. Effective laws and mass sensitization campaigns are required to persuade the people to adopt waste minimization practices and implement sustainable lifestyles. Establishment of food banks in residential as well as commercial areas can be a very good way to utilize surplus food in a humane and ethical manner. Infact, food banks in countries like Egypt, India and Pakistan have been operating successfully, however there is a real need to have such initiatives on a mass-scale to tackle the menace of food waste.

Dubai has laid down new guidelines to cut food wastage and streamline the donation of excess food prepared at banquets and buffets. The "Heafz Al Na'amah" is a notable initiative to ensure that surplus food from hotels, Iftar parties and households is not wasted and reach the needy in safe and hygienic conditions.

Super-lavish buffets and extravagant Iftar parties are big contributors of food waste in Ramadan

Super-lavish buffets and extravagant Iftar parties are big contributors of food waste in Ramadan

During Ramadan 2015, Dubai Municipality launched an initiative called 'Smart Homes,' which will continue this year. The initiative encourages Dubai residents to reduce waste during the holy month. Smart Homes is a waste gathering technique in electronic containers that measures the amount of waste produced by each home. The initiative mainly targets residential areas dominated by Emirati residents due to their large family gatherings," he said. Homes that produce the least amount of waste during the holy month are rewarded with cash prizes and certificates that encourage them to reduce waste.

In addition to such initiatives, religious scholars and prayer-leaders can play a vital role in motivating Muslims to follow Islamic principles of sustainability, as mentioned in the Holy Quran and Hadith. The best way to reduce food waste during Ramadan is to feel solidarity towards millions and millions of people around the world who face enormous hardships in having a single meal each day.

Islam and Environment Protection

Environment protection is an important aspect of Islam. Being stewards of the Earth, it is the responsibility of Muslims to care for the environment in a proactive manner. There is a definite purpose behind the creation of different species, be it plants or animals. Muslims are encouraged to reflect on the relationship between living organisms and their environment and to maintain the ecological balance created by Allah. Protection of the environment is essential to Islamic beliefs and mankind has the responsibility to ensure safe custody of the environment.

Environment Protection and Resource Conservation 

The Islamic perspective on environment protection reflects a positive image about Islam and how it embraces every single matter the humans face on earth. The Islamic attitude towards environment and natural resource conservation is not only based on prohibition of over-exploitation but also on sustainable development. The Holy Quran says:

"It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth … that He may try you in what He has given you." (Surah 6:165)

"O children of Adam! … eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters." (Surah 7:31)

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) encouraged the planting of trees and the cultivation of agriculture which are considered as good acts. This is illustrated in the following traditions: Narrated by Anas bin Malik (RA) that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: "There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him."‏ (Bukhari).

Islam is against the cutting or destruction of plants and trees unnecessarily as is evident in the following Hadith: Abdullah ibn Habashi reported that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: "He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], Allah will send him to Hellfire." (Abu Dawud). The lote-tree grows in the desert and is very much needed in an area which has scarce vegetation. The devastation caused by deforestation in many countries causes soil erosion and kills many of the biodiversity of the earth.

The approach of Islam towards the use of natural resources was brilliantly put forward by the Fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali ibn Abi-Talib (RA) who said “Partake of it gladly so long as you are the benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer. All human beings as well as animals and wildlife enjoy the right to share Earth’s resources. Man’s abuse of any resource is prohibited as the juristic principle says ‘What leads to the prohibited is itself prohibited”.

When Abu Musa (RA) was sent to Al-Basrah as the new governor, he addressed the people saying: "I was sent to you by 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA) in order to teach you the Book of your Lord [i.e. the Qur’an], the Sunnah [of your Prophet], and to clean your streets." Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) forbade that a person relieve himself in a water source or on a path or in a place of shade or in the burrow of a leaving creature.  These values highlight Islam’s stress on avoiding pollution of critical resources and importance of cleanliness.

Spreading Environmental Awareness

There are various ways which you can raise environmental awareness in your personal and professional circles. The popularization of social networking among young generation makes it easier and attractive to spread environmental awareness using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. A simple and effective method which I use is the distribution of QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) in my college campus.

Another great idea would be to start your own school, college or workplace campaign for planting trees. Students, faculty members and co-workers can be motivated to donate a nominal amount of money towards plantation campaign. Keeping plants around your home, school or workplace is not only aesthetic and decorative but also keep you healthy and improve indoor air quality. According to Hazrat Jabir (RA) reported that Prophet Muhammad [S.A.W] said: “No Muslim, who plants a shoot, except that whatever is eaten or stolen from it, or anyone obtains the least thing from it, is considered [like paying] almsgiving on his behalf until the Day of Judgement." (Muslim)

Conclusions

Environmental awareness and protection of natural resource is an integral part of Islamic beliefs. As viceroys of Allah on this earth, we have to utilize natural resources in a sustainable manner in order to ensure that Allah’s Bounties to continue. The principle of conservation is beautifully illustrated by the rule which says that while making ablutions (wudu) we should be abstemious in the use of water even if we have a river at our disposal. As humans, we are keepers of all creation, including soil, air, water, animals and trees. A major objective of Islamic teachings and Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) traditions is to build and maintain a healthy and clean environment which is devoid of any source of pollution and misuse. 

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Attitudes towards Waste Management – The Case in Oman

Plastic-recycling-bin-OmanResponses to the Oman waste management questionnaire were interesting, enlightening, and often unexpected. The Omani interviewees gave thoughtful answers and additional insights and opinions that stemmed from their sociocultural backgrounds as well as from their individual experiences. Often, statements and assertions from these respondents were found to be corroborated by evidence from other types of research, such as the study on the composition of refuse found in dumpsites in Muscat, or the feeding habits of camels cited earlier.

Food waste

On the topic of food waste, respondents generally had a strong belief that such waste was immoral. When asked about the reasons for their convictions, many of them attributed it to Islamic teachings, and recited from memory well-known statements (hadiths) from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prohibiting food waste, and verses from the Holy Qur’an such as verse 7:31: “…eat and drink, but do not waste by excess, for Allah does not love those who waste.

Water bottles

It seems that the use of non-reusable water bottles was on an exigency basis and was not the default choice for any of the respondents. However, it should be noted that all the households in this sample were either working class or middle class. Responses from a set of wealthy households might yield very different results on this issue.

Household waste

Regarding other sorts of household waste, respondents seemed to be aware that much of what ended up in their trash was packaging from purchased goods, whether food or non-perishables. As some respondents remarked in their responses, they recognized that the use of plastic bags instead of reusable bags at shops and supermarkets contributed to the plethora of plastic in their own household rubbish. One respondent in particular posited a clear causal link between the abundance of packaged, processed foods and the fact that packaging waste made up the bulk of what was in her household garbage bin on a daily basis.

Recycling programs

The majority of respondents were surprised and interested to hear that there were recycling programmes in Oman, but some were not optimistic that these programmes would soon be available in their neighbourhoods. The possibility of recycling electronics, batteries and/or printer ink was not suggested by any of the respondents, so it seems that they were unaware of any alternative to simply dumping such toxic items.

Influence of Islam

In line with the strong religious influence to which most respondents attributed their attitudes on the subjects of consumption and waste, several of them in their responses to the final question of the survey recalled this well-known hadith: “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his constituents. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them … Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.”

Key Takeaways

This study has presented results based on a pilot study with a very small sample of respondents. However, if we evaluate these responses in terms of what is already documented about Oman, its society, culture and economy, we can draw some useful inferences.

It is taken for granted that, as demographic, Omani men already play a key role in consumption patterns and waste management. As leaders and decision makers in government, in business and in private sector organizations, they establish the vision and best practices of their enterprises and institutions; as heads of households and families, they make and influence consumer choices for the household and the extended family. What our survey has hinted at is that Omani women have strong opinions about consumerism and waste management, too. Furthermore, as a demographic they seem poised to contribute a greater share of the input in this discourse.

Omani women comprise approximately 25 percent of the paid labour force in Oman, and the level of this participation is expected to keep growing. Meanwhile, their substantial contribution as unpaid service providers (in their roles as caregivers, homemakers, household managers, husbandry providers for small livestock, etc.) has yet to be truly measured. Yet like their male counterparts, as managers of their own households and the individuals who make and/or influence consumer choices for the household, they have significant potential influence on how waste is managed at the household level and the community level.

Another takeaway from this survey is that the role of religion is a crucial one. We saw that respondents directly credited Islamic teachings with shaping their attitudes and opinions on consumption and waste. Indeed, in the body of authentic Islamic texts one finds directives on land stewardship; prohibiting wastage and excess consumption; prescribing conservation of land, water, plant and animal life; and even reducing, reusing, sharing and recycling.

Thus we would extrapolate from these results that the Omani society is ready to engage actively in initiatives to promote more responsible consumption habits and sustainable waste management involving the four Rs. Omani culture has a strong tradition of conservative use, re-use, repurposing and recycling. Many of the traditional practices of family and community living now thought to be ‘outdated’ are actually highly efficient and ecologically sound. Omani men, women and children have the example of their grandparents to guide them in reviving and re-establishing local, traditional, sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices of careful consumption and waste management.  

Recommendations

First of all, this pilot study ought to be taken further and a full scale survey of attitudes and awareness on this topic should be conducted along the lines of the 2015 Sultan Qaboos University Department of Geography investigation on climate change awareness and perceptions in residents of Muscat. Equipped with the information gleaned from such a study, we propose that it will be found that conditions are ripe for the implementation of a network of well-designed, integrated and efficiently executed recycling programmes that are accessible to the Omani population where they live, work and go to school.

Back to Basics

Collective memory to the rescue: Consider returning to some of the ‘old ways’ – the ways the previous generation used to shop for, store, prepare, and dispose of food and other consumables. At the level of the household, families can avoid buying packaged pre-processed foods, use drinking water supply services which provide refillable containers/dispensers instead of buying bottled water, bring their own reusable shopping bags and request that purchases from shops not be placed in plastic bags.

Omani society is ready to engage actively in initiatives to promote sustainable waste management

Omani society is ready to engage actively in initiatives to promote sustainable waste management

Households could aim for ‘zero waste’ by applying the four Rs and participating in composting where possible. This is already being done in local rural areas, and it is a practice that is being restored in urban areas of developed countries in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.

Changing the Rules

Use consumer clout to change the practices of business and industry: It is known that businesses which serve consumers are very sensitive to customer demands. With the food service and hospitality industry, individual consumers in Oman can effect change by demanding less wasteful and more sustainable practices and options from the industry (e.g., compostable packaging, less packaging, appropriate portion sizes and eco-friendly food containers in restaurants, and filtered water instead of bottled water in restaurants and hotels).

Conclusion

This article has evaluated the results of a pilot survey of attitudes and awareness of food waste and related issues, highlighting some relevant past practices and positing that ‘collective memory,’ together with individual and communal will-power, can be harnessed to reverse the current trend and regain control of Oman’s burgeoning waste problem. The solution is local, but it has definite regional and potential global application.

Note: This is the third and final article in our special series on 'Waste Management in Oman'. The first two parts are available at Waste Management Perspectives for Oman and Waste Management Awareness in Oman

References

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  2. Chatty, D. 2000. ‘Women Working in Oman: Individual Choice and Cultural Constraints.’ Int. J. Middle East Stud. 32(2000): 241-254.
  3. ILO and Sultanate of Oman. 2010. Memorandum: Decent Work Country Programme 2010-2013. 1-25 <available on http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/program/dwcp/download/oman.pdf
  4. Al Buloshi, A.S. and E. Ramadan. 2015. ‘Climate Change Awareness and Perception amongst the Inhabitants of Muscat Governorate, Oman.’ American Journal of Climate Change, 4, 330-336.  http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ajcc.2015.44026 (accessed 27/08/2015)
  5. Abdul-Matin, I. 2010. Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  6. ten Veen, R.C. 2009. 199 Ways to Please God. UK: Fastprint Gold.