The conservation of natural resources has historical depth. Archaeological findings from ancient civilizations, such as the Incas, Indians and Egyptian, show that some animals had special religious significance in their cultures and ideologies. In modern times, vested interests have made sure to increase the animal population for the pleasure of hunting although can’t be considered conservation nevertheless it did affect the number of these animals. The human activities in the past century have jeopardized the population of many animals, making the establishment of conservation crucial to the continuity of wildlife species, thus maintaining the fine balance between biodiversity and wildlife.
Wildlife and Biodiversity in the Arab World
When examining the biodiversity in the Arab world, we will find it is highest in Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia with more than 5000 species. According to studies the density of mammal species ranges between 21-50 animal species per 10,000 km2 in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, and Tunisia, it is further found that it is with a high range of 51-100 in Lebanon and a range of less than 20 in the remaining countries. The major threat facing many species in the Arab world in the future will be due to the effects of climate change.
Many cultures enforced procedures to ensure their wildlife resources do not become extinct, and the Arab world was no different. Before going in an depth discussion it is worthwhile to look at the Islamic Shariah (Islamic Jurisprudence) and what it had to offer in regard to wildlife protection and environmental conservation.
According to Hamed. the Islamic Jurisprudence includes items such as:
- ihya (land reclamation),
- iqta (land grants),
- ijarah (lease of public land),
- awqaf (charitable endowments),
- hima (national reserves), and
- hisbas (the office of public inspection).
What is Hima
Hima (also pronounced Hema) is the conservation system that existed in pre-Islamic times but it only thrived and was well structured under Islamic rule, the word hima means protected or forbidden. Hima can be explained as a system of resource protection in line with the Islamic Jurisprudence, in which pastures, trees or grazing lands are declared as forbidden and access to them and their use is denied by the owner.
Early Implementation of Hima
During the Pre-Islamic period, tribal landlords would apply the procedure of hima for the purpose of protecting resources of a land but would claim the exclusive use of this land as well, Islam has canceled this individual ownership. Muslim scholars point to the pastoral civilization of 7th century Arabia in which the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had nationalized pastures, forests and water, and abolished the pre-Islamic practice of making private reserves for the exclusive use of individuals.
He dealt with monopoly or (imperfect competition) by ruling that indispensable resources, such as pasture, woodlands, wildlife, certain minerals, and especially water, cannot be privately owned in their natural state, nor can they be monopolized under the Islamic law. He also reserved the valley of an-Naqi near the holy city Madina for horses of the community, and is recorded to have reserved the surroundings of Madina as a hima (protected zone) for the preservation of vegetation and wildlife; hunting was forbidden within four miles and the destruction of woody vegetation within twelve.
Islam and Natural Resources Management
Muslim historians, however, assert that the Shariah have addressed this matter as early as the 8th century. They claim that a large portion of the water laws known today in Muslim countries were actually well developed by the 13th century by the Shariah experts of that time. The principle of “No-Injury,” for instance, has been used to deal with the issues of equitable resource allocation on one hand and preserving the carrying capacity of common natural resources on the other.
Under Hima the following was applied:
- Grazing is prohibited and cutting is permitted during specific times
- Grazing and cutting is allowed only after flowers and fruits are produced. This allows natural seeding of the soil for the next year.
- Reserve for bee-keeping.
- Grazing is allowed all year, the number and type of animals is specified.
- Reserve for forest trees. Cutting is only allowed for emergencies or acute needs.
- Reserving a woodland to stop desertification
Role of Technology
When talking about conservation it is important to highlight the role of technology in maintaining the numbers of many species from declining by monitoring. Some of the wildlife conservation attempts in the Arab world include tracking of Sooty Falcons from Oman using satellite and conservation of turtles and monitoring of whales in Qatari waters.
The basic concepts outlined in the Hima code of procedures offers solutions to wildlife conservation issues in the Arab world. As Hima’s roots and early foundation stems from the Islamic world, it offers an attractive opportunity to further explore its guidelines and modify it to apply to the needs of modern times.
Dhaheri, D. S., & Javed, S. (2016, June). Retrieved from Argos System: http://www.argos-system.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/r1680_f34_ArgosForum82_EN_BD.pdf
Gari, L. (2006). A History of the Hima Conservation System. Environment and History, 12(2), 213-228.
Hamed, S. E.-D. (1993). Seeing the environment through islamic eyes: Application of Shariah to natural resources planning and management. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 6(2), 145-164.
Tolba, M., & Saab, N. (2009). Arab Environment Climate Change. Beirut: Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED).