Islam, Economics and a Blueprint for Sustainable Development

Islamic economic thought is heavily based on the concepts of fairness and justice. Trade is encouraged- but only within the guidelines of the Shariah (Islamic law). As a result, the Islamic economic system is largely value-driven and fits within the principles of sustainability.

A key Islamic principle concerns how “everything belongs to God, and wealth is held by people in trust”. [1] This means that human beings have a God-given duty to care for the Earth. In turn, this links with the idea of Khilafa (stewardship).  The Holy Qur’an states,

“Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return” (Ar-Rum, 30:41).

Thus, Islam clearly sets out a sustainable economic and development model. This is as, “it is the responsibility of humans to strive for harmony in our relations with the natural world”. [2]  In turn, the Islamic notion of development is highly environmentally conscious. It emphasizes the necessity of mutual relationship with the natural world. Thus, the Islamic model contrasts with the dominant free-market capitalist paradigm.

Environmental sustainability is closely aligned with the Islamic economic vision. Environmental sustainability involves, “the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the earth’s supporting ecosystems”. [3] Methods to achieve environmental sustainability include recycling, reforestation, renewable energy and the conservation of natural resources.


Environmental sustainability reflects the Islamic concept of mizan (balance) as it promotes sustainable consumption. Effective recycling can be achieved through the creation of drop-off facilities within easy reach of residential and commercial neighbourhoods. In addition, reforestation can be encouraged through government sponsored tree-planting programmes.

Renewable energy is a viable alternative to coal-powered facilities and reduces overall pollution levels. Possible renewable energy sources include biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity, solar and wind. The wide range of renewable energy options ensure considerable scope throughout the world. Therefore, renewable energy meets twenty-first century sustainability concerns.

Also, conservation is another method for ensuring long-term environmental sustainability. The establishment of protected areas helps conserve both nature and wildlife. Conservation can be achieved through the creation of protected reservations for wildlife and laws that protect species at risk of extinction. This is vital given the considerable impact of biodiversity loss and mass extinction events.

Moreover, Islamic political discourse perceptively, “links faith, reason and empathy to ensure… ecological insight”. [4] The notion of ecological insight is based on a deep-seated connection to nature. In the long term, the introduction of  environmental education in schools can foster increased ecological awareness. Hence, the need to stress, “the beauty and majesty of nature and the cosmos”. [4] In turn, reverence for nature imparts moral values like co-operation, humility and self-control within growing minds.

In the long term, environmental education can fuel ijtihad (environmental innovation). This encourages the development of a new generation of Muslim scholarship with the capacity to respond to changing conditions. On a practical level, this can be demonstrated through the establishment of eco-friendly mosques in Morocco and the centrality of energy-efficient strategies. On a larger scale, such policies necessitate the creation of a, “Green Endowment Fund (Waqf) to support a transition to sustainable economy”. [4] Thus, producing the dynamism required to change urban planning for the better and emphasize Islamic ethics.


Overall, the achievement of full environmental sustainability is heavily dependent on the common good. As Islamic economic thought provides a framework for ethical politics, it is essential to current concerns about sustainability.

Note: This article is in memory of David Gibbs, an inspirational teacher


[1] Allawi, Ali A. 2009. The Crisis Of Islamic Civilization. 1st ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

[2] McDermott, Mat. 2018. “Humans Are Trustees Of Allah’s Creation: Islam & The Environment”. Treehugger.

[3] Evans, Marni. 2020. “What Is Environmental Sustainability?”. The Balance Small Business.

[4] Al-Jayyousi, Odeh. 2018. “How Islam Can Represent A Model For Environmental Stewardship”. UN Environment.

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About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA, and an international consultant, advisor, ecopreneur and journalist with expertise in waste management, waste-to-energy, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainable development. His geographical areas of focus include Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biomass energy, biogas, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. He has participated in numerous conferences and workshops as chairman, session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is the Editor-in-Chief of EcoMENA, and is a professional environmental writer with more than 300 popular articles to his credit. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability in different parts of the world. Salman Zafar can be reached at or

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