Revisiting the earliest days of rural, pastoral- and agriculture-based societies offers thought-provoking answers to solve today’s crises. At the highest levels of international concern, Islam’s formalized system of “Hima,” or Nature Conservation, is receiving optimistic attention. One of the reasons why Hima is an interesting solution for today’s conservation needs is because it developed under a similar set of crises.
Relatively speaking, the ratio of human population to accessible natural resources in the days of Moses was just as dire as today’s challenges. It is possible to recognize the development of Hima by following the early days of Prophet Moses, God’s peace be upon him, as the following history is related in the Torah, the Bible and in the Quran.
The Elevation of Hima in Islam
In Islam, believers are warned repeatedly to obey the set limits, and recognize the prescribed boundaries, or “hudood,” of the Hima as formalized in the following verses of the Holy Quran:
Those are limits (hudood) set by Allah: those who obey Allah and His messenger will be admitted to gardens with rivers flowing beneath to abide therein (for ever); and that will be the supreme achievement. But those who disobey Allah and His messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a fire to abide therein: and they shall have a humiliating punishment! [Quran 4:13-14]
In Makkah, the area around the Ka’abah, or the “Sacred House,” is the most famous Hima or “Sacred Precinct” in Islam. Behaviors, rights and responsibilities associated with the Hajj Pilgrimage are highly formalized for this Hima in the Quran:
O ye who believe! violate not the sanctity of the Symbols of Allah, nor of the Sacred Month, nor of the animals brought for sacrifice, nor the garlands that mark out such animals, nor the people resorting to the Sacred House, seeking of the bounty, and good pleasure of their Lord. But when ye are clear of the Sacred Precincts and of pilgrim garb, ye may hunt and let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment. [Quran 5:2]
A Model for Natural Resource Management
In his article, Hima as a Model for Natural Resource Management in West Asia and North Africa, Dr. Odeh Al-Jayyousi covers Islam’s elevation of the Hima system. Defining the hima as the Arabic translation for “a protected place” or protected area Al-Jayyousi explains that in the original concept, access to this place was declared forbidden by the individual or group who owned it. However, mandatory public sharing, with codified community cooperation and joint protection eventually became the norm.
In the Arab peninsula, where the natural environment is characterized by aridity, fluctuation and uncertainty, cooperation over shared resources becomes essential to securing the livelihoods of local communities. Through public participation (shura) and reaching consensus through consultation, the community-based management model of hima contributed positively to saving and protecting natural resources, wildlife, rangelands and forests for 5000 years, and providing the enabling environment for managing conflicts. The deep understanding of the cycles of nature, seasonal variations and carrying capacity informed social innovation in community-based natural resource management.
Islam contributed to the value system and ethical dimension of hima along with the rational imperative and judgement for measuring trade-offs between human rights and nature conservation. The Prophet Mohammad declared that free access to public water is the right of the community and said that “people are partners in three resources: water, pasture, and fire.” The notion of social justice and equity (adl) for all people, regardless of their culture or belief system, is the cornerstone of Islamic values. Islamic law has devised and formalised specific rules for formulating public policies and making trade-offs between public and private interest. Maslaha (public interest) may lead to an understanding of sustainability in its broader terms. [Dr. Odeh Al-Jayyousi Hima as a Model for Natural Resource Management in West Asia and North Africa]
Need for Authentic Convictions
Wide-scale adoption of Islam’s concept of Hima could effectively slow down the runaway machine that has become global development. With well-protected boundaries, and strongly enforced penalties, the Hima system has at its core the goal of preserving life.
New fuel-efficiency would be a built-in benefit when conservation is backed up by Islam’s teachings against waste, damage, and abuse. Hima boundaries are further protected by the Islam’s guideline that “whatever leads to something prohibited is also prohibited.”
However, although most countries have currently established environmental protection agencies, S. A. Hamed sums up the dilemma we need to consider, when confronting the drunk drivers of the Earth’s riding mowers:
“Unless communities are well-informed and consulted during the development planning process, new projects and programs will not benefit from local knowledge and may never gain the support of the community.
Movement towards environmentally sustainable development by any society involves more than establishing an environmental protection agency, raising environmental awareness, or providing technical training. It requires comprehensive efforts on all fronts to strengthen the sustainable development institution as a whole and to shift the priorities of the society at large.
No significant progress in history was ever accomplished without an ethical emphasis, sincere loyalty, genuine affection, and authentic convictions.” [S. A. Hamed, “Capacity Building for Sustainable Development: The Dilemma of Islamization of Environmental Institutions,” in Islam and Ecology, p. 409]
As responsible stewards of God’s creation, sharing our faith is critical in promoting conservation ethics in our families and throughout our communities. These qualities, “ethical emphasis, sincere loyalty, genuine affection, and authentic convictions,” are as miraculous as water in the desert, because we can all share them in common, even among diverse faiths and belief systems. With them, and with each other we can work together successfully to restore creation to its rightful glory.