There is an inseparable relation between the environment and our soul. It will be great if Muslims in particular and the wider world in general learn from the Holy Scriptures, like the Holy Qur’an and Hadith, to try to wage an eco-friendly jihad (noble effort) to promote environmental balance and stability. This will be the true jihad to please God and ensure easy entry to heaven, in the existing world, not to speak of the hereafter. Thus, we can taste the bliss of heaven on this planet before we chance upon the eternal paradise.
Quran and Environmentalism
The Holy Qur’an offers a completely integrated view of the universe, where the human soul and the environment, mind and matter are all part of one living, conscious whole. Therefore, it exhorts man to live a balanced, moderate and an eco-friendly life without causing any harm to nature. It says, for instance: “And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Qur’an, 2:60), and elsewhere: “And do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors.” (Qur’an 28:77).
From the Qur’anic perspective, corruption on the earth is not confined to only political crimes, such as frauds, theft, rape, illegal banking or other prevalent malpractices. Deforestation, dumping toxic wastes and indiscriminate use of pesticides are also grave corruption on the earth and hence brazen violation of Islamic values. This corruption is today rampant at all levels of public and social life in this age of consumerism and covetousness. It is indeed a matter of grave concern for the entire human kind.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Environmentalism
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) left a noble example of being eco-friendly and going green in his life. He spent his entire life in an eco-friendly effort, helping humankind, caring for other creatures of God, preserving the earth, planting trees and protecting the environment. Right from his young age, he was inclined towards preservation of trees. When he was just 12, he travelled to Syria with his uncle and took shelter under a tree. Today, after more than 14 hundred years, the same tree is still alive in the northern deserts of Jordan. This tree, which sheltered the Prophet, is the only living tree in hundreds of square miles of emptiness. It speaks eloquently of the Prophet’s utmost care for the preservation of trees.
The Prophet was keen on planting trees and exhorted his Companions, too, to do so. He said, “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded” (Source: Musnad). This saying is sufficient to apprise us of the eco-friendly nature of Islam. Planting a tree is a sadaqah jariyah (continued charity) in Islam, for the poor and the rich alike. Whenever a human being or even an animal shelters under the shade of a tree or relishes a fruit that it produces, the planter will earn rewards, even after his or her death.
There are more such beautiful traditions of the Prophet that serve as gentle reminders for us to reflect on Islam as an environment-friendly faith. These traditions exhort us to care for all creatures, to protect the environment, to conserve water, to preserve the nature and to care for all living beings, including trees and animals.
- “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.” (Bukhari)
- One day Prophet (s.a.w.) passed by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas (r.a) while he was performing wudu’. The Prophet (saw) asked Sa`d: “What is this wastage?” Sa`d replied: “Is there wastage in wudualso?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.”(Ibn Majah)
- Likening a believer with a growing tree, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said: “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…” (Bukhari)
- Considering tree-planting a renewable source of reward, the Prophet said: “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.” (Bukhari)
- Reminding Muslims of how important it is to keep the environment sanitary to maintain the community, the Prophet (s.a.w.) stated: “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: First, relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place……”
- Similarly, the Prophet (saw) gave paramount importance to street clean-ups, when he said: “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).” (Narrated by Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari, Riyadh As Saliheen)
State of the Affairs
However, despite this, some Muslims seem unconcerned with the preservation of planet Earth planet, assuming that this duniya (world) is a temporary world that will be fated to doom and destruction at the end. A hadith is often quoted to support this notion. Prophet Muhammad said, “I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short time, and after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind.” (Source: Ahmad, Tirmidhi).
The question is: does this hadith tell us that this world is irrelevant, useless or worthless? If the world is like a tree in the desert under which we shelter for a period of time and then move on, then surely we cannot intend to live under it forever. However, a tree is a resting place, offering shade to travellers. Shade is one of the many benefits trees offer. Shade itself is referred to in another hadith.
The Prophet described seven types of people who earn the most-needed shade on the Day of Judgment. For the Prophet of Islam, a tree was not only a resting place, but also an infinite mercy of God that one should leave behind for others. Shade is an actual expression of the mercy of Allah the Almighty. Hence, the parable of the duniya (world) as a tree under which we stop to rest for a while does not imply that it is worthless.
Besides, the Prophet and his Companions also practically taught us how to protect the rights of animals. They took special care of crippled animals, rescued strays and guarded birds’ nests. One of the Companions was named ‘Abu Huraira’ (‘father of kittens’) because he was very fond of kittens. The Prophet accorded great value to animals.
Driven by his care and compassion for the animals, the Prophet himself narrated a story to his Companions so they could drive inspiration from it: “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.” (Source: Bukhari)
Need of the Hour
There is a pressing need to take a fresh look at all the related Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions in an effort to find solutions to the increasing degradation of environment on planet Earth. It is also of vital importance to revisit other references to explore the wisdom of our faith traditions and find ways to live in full harmony with the environment.
After all, it is the moral responsibility of the adherents of all faith traditions to protect this earth and its climate in accordance with the teachings of our faith traditions. And if we do not take serious steps today to preserve the ecological balance, tomorrow our children will inherit a ruined earth.