Islamic beliefs, traditions and values provide an effective and comprehensive solution to the current environmental challenges faced by the human race. Islam has a rich tradition of highlighting the importance of environmental protection and conservation of natural resources. According to Islamic law, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just human beings.
The Holy Qur’an and Sunnah are a guiding light to promote sustainable development in Islamic countries as well as around the world. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) commands human beings to avoid doing mischief and wasting resources as these acts cause degradation of the environment. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given to the mankind on a guardianship basis, which implies the right to use another person’s property on the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed.
The Holy Qur’an and the Environment
The Holy Qur’an has a number of specific references to ecology and also contains some important principles for environmental conservation. The first principle which guides Islamic teaching on environmental sustainability is the concept of trusteeship. Being a khalifa (or guardian), a man should take all necessary steps to ensure that the entrusted property is passed on to the next generation in as pure a form as possible. According to Islam each man is the custodian of nature, and must live with harmony with other creatures. It is the duty of all Muslims to respect, nurture and care for the environment.
Corruption of all kinds, including environmental corruption, which includes industrial pollution, environmental damage, and reckless exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources are disliked by Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala).
Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And Allah loveth not those who do mischief” (Surat Al Ma’eda, verse 64)
“And do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith” (Surat Al A’raf, ‘the Heights’, verse 85)
Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters (Surat Al-A’raf 7: 31).
“And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters”, (Surat Al Qasas 28:77)
“Children of Adam, dress well whenever you are at worship, and eat and drink (as we have permitted) but do not be extravagant: God does not like extravagant people.” (Surat Al-A’raf 7:31)
According to the Holy Qur’an, environmental conservation is a religious duty as well as social obligation, and not an optional matter. The exploitation of a particular natural resource is directly related to accountability and maintenance of the resource.
The Hadith and the Environment
Hadiths or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) also deal extensively with various aspects of environment including resource conservation, land reclamation and environmental hygiene. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) discouraged overconsumption, luxury and lavishness and encouraged moderation in all walks of life.
The most popular Hadith on environment states “The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it” which reiterates Quran teaching that human beings have been given the responsibility of guardianship over the natural environment.
The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) clearly forbade destruction of trees and crops even during war times as long as their existence remains advantageous to the enemy. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) gave high degree of importance towards sustainable cultivation of land, waste minimization, humane treatment of animals, preservation of natural resources and protection of wildlife. Some of the sayings of Prophet bless and Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) on environmental sustainability are:
“The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Muslim)
“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)
“Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded,” (Musnad)
The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) recognized that natural resources should not be overexploited or abused. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet created inviolable zones, known as Haram and Hima, in which resources were to be left untouched. Haram areas were drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater from overpumping. Hima applied to wildlife and forestry and designated an area of land where grazing and woodcutting was restricted, or where certain animal species (such as camels) were protected.
Prophet Muhammed (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) established a hima to the south of Madina and forbade hunting within a four mile radius and destruction of trees or plants within a twelve mile radius. The creation of inviolable zones shows the importance placed by Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) on sustainable use of natural resources and protection of wildlife and agricultural land.