Environmental Destruction and Environmental Ethics in Islam

November 11, 2017
By Dr. Khursheed Ahmad Wani
Kashmir Monitor

Man has forgotten the paths of mystics, seers and saints who had blessed the world by their mystical tradition of humanity. The harmony and beauty of nature is preserved due to the enlightenment that God gives through these saints. The harmony of man and nature is destroyed because of the destruction of harmony between Man and Allah. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a general sense of environmental catastrophe, brought by industrial civilization. This crisis of environmental pollution, resource shortages and ecological disparities caused ecological imbalance. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) revealed the life-threatening nature of chemical pesticides and questioned the dominating concept of conquering nature. Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (1968) brought to light the pressures that the population explosion put on nature. The first report on Limits to Growth sounded a warning against the falsehood of limitless growth. The earth day was born in the USA in 1971, with a huge demonstration against pollution by campaigners for conservation of the Earth's resources. In the same year, Greenpeace launched its campaign against nuclear weapons and in favour of the environment. The first United Nations environmental conference, held in Stockholm in 1972, symbolized the universal rise of environmental consciousness. However, environmental ethics were born 1400 years ago as a logical outcome of the Qur'anic understanding of nature and man. This is a helpful idea to Muslims concerned with environmental problems, and should be more widely reflected in the Muslim community (umma) worldwide.

There has been tremendous acceleration in the exploitation of natural resources all over the world over the years. The heritage that man inherited in the shape of green and the dense forests is rapidly facing extension, and with it plant and animal species are also facing rapid extension. The entire atmosphere in fact is getting destroyed, thanks to the insatiable greed of man himself. If one were to talk of Kashmir alone, much of the forest wealth has gone into furnishing the drawing rooms of the Millionaires who operate from their air conditioned chambers. Was any attempt ever made to educate poor little villager that what he was parting today would spell of disaster for him tomorrow? And educating him would also block the way of the profiteers who reap the biggest harvest by encroaching on the wealth bestowed by nature. All resources on Earth are considered as a joint-usufruct which should be used and shared equally between all human beings, as well as all other creatures on the Earth, in accordance with their material and spiritual needs. Such equity in sharing must continue now and in the future, so that the planet Earth may not be endangered nor the interests of its future generations are disrupted or adversely affected. According to IbnMajah, Anas reported that the Messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), said: ‘If any one deprives an heir of his inheritance, Allah will deprive him of his inheritance in Paradise on the Day of Resurrection’. God says in the holy Qur’an, ‘It is He Who has produced you from the Earth and settled you therein’ (Qur’an 71: 17–18). With regard to God’s saying: “And He has made the ships to be of service unto you, that they may sail the sea by His command, and the rivers He has made of service unto you. And He has made the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and He has made of service unto you the night and day. And He gives you all you seek of Him: If you would count the bounty of God, you could never reckon it.” (Quran 14:32-34). All human beings and, indeed, livestock and wildlife as well, enjoy the right to share in the resources of the earth. Man’s abuse of any resource, such as water, air, land, and soil as well as other living creatures such as plants and animals is forbidden, and the best use of all resources, both living and lifeless, is prescribed. Hamid Al-Ghazali described the Holy Qur'an as an ocean. As at the bottom of the ocean, pearls remain hidden, so also are hidden the wonderful meanings behind the Qur'an verses which incorporate the necessary elements for developing the new required environmental ethics. Islamic principles and law can serve as a plan for alternative political and social models for the society which currently suffers from environmental degradation and social injustice.

The Quran forbids spoiling or abusing the Earth in any way that would make it deviate from the purpose God created it for: ‘They hasten about the Earth, to do mischief there; and God loves not the workers of mischief’ (5: 64). 'There is not an animal on Earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you' (Qur'an 6: 38). Destroying or damaging the natural habitat of species unable to shield themselves against human attack constitutes the height of what the Qur'an labels fasadfi'l-ard (corruption on Earth).

Nature has been created in order, balance and with extraordinary aesthetic beauty, and all these aspects of nature while enhancing man's life here, should be honoured, developed and protected accordingly. Nature's rights over humankind include the rights to protection from misuse, degradation and destruction. Greed, affluence, extravagance, and waste are considered a tyranny against nature and a transgression of those rights. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also declared in a hadith, 'If any Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and a human, bird or animal eats from it, it shall be reckoned as charity from him'. Even if doomsday was expected imminently, human beings would be expected to continue their good behaviour. The Prophet said: 'If the day of resurrection comes upon anyone of you while he has a seedling in hand, let him plant it'.

The planetary system, the earth and its ecosystems all work within their own limits and tolerances. Islamic teaching likewise sets limits of human behavior as a control against excess and it could be said that the limits to the human condition are set within four principles. They are the Unity principle (Tawhid); the Creation Principle (Fitra); the Balance Principle (Mizan); and the Responsibility Principle (Khalifa).

There are clear principles to work out in terms of implications for accounting and governance following Ijtihadwith general relevance in respect of concerns to govern our environment. The spiritual sympathy with nature needs to be developed at the earliest to prevent further degradation. Nature should not be judged according to human needs and brotherhood with nature, trees and wildlife need to be created. Natural resources are depleting at a very faster rate and conservation of natural resources is the need of the hour. Conservation is the most cost effective and environmentally sound way to reduce our demands for water, energy, plant and animal products. Islam is deeply concern with the environment from a holistic perspective. The teaching of the Qur'an and Hadaith must echo in the minds of the Muslim community (Umma) in dealing with the existing degradation and future dangers facing the environment because all of us are in the same leaking boat, and the sea is rising and stormy. By following simple steps at individual level we may contribute a lot to the society. We should not only understand what conservation is all about but also implement measures to conserve water, energy and biodiversity at all levels. We should create the ways and means of environmental awareness to the society. It is not only at home, we can use simple steps at schools, colleges, and university, offices and public places to save resources. As individuals, groups and community let us wake up before it is too late.

(The author is Assistant Professor in Department of Environmental Science, ITM University, Gwalior.)