Islam and the Environment

by Gar Smith

Despite the apocalyptic premise of Samuel Huntington's
book, The Clash of Civilizations (which prophesies an
inevitable war between the armies of the God and the
armies of Allah), Islam and Christianity have much in
common. In their view of the natural world, both the
Bible and the Qur'an share many of the same stories,
heroes and ethical concepts. But there are some
differences. The Qur'an might even be said to be the
"greener" of the two holy books.

The world "Earth" (ard) appears no less than 485
times in the holy book of the Qur'an. Shari'a, the
word for Islamic Law, literally means "source of

One familiar story from the life of the Prophet
recounts how, during a journey, one of Muhammad's
companions removed a baby pigeon from a nest. Muhammad
confronted the thief and gently returned the bird to
its nest. "For charity shown to each creature with a
wet heart, there is a reward," the Prophet declared.

In the words of Allah, "There is not an animal in
the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but
they are nations like you." (6:38)

Islamic cleric Mufty Imam Tajuddin H. Alhilaly,
argues that all living things "are partners to man in
existence and they deserve their own respect."

As befits a faith born in the desert, water is
honored as "the secret of life." Islam forbids the
wastage of water "and the usage thereof without
benefit.... The preservation of water for the drinking
of mankind, animal life, bird life and vegetation is a
form of worship which gains the pleasure of Allah."

Imam Alhilaly infers from this passage that Islam
also forbids "factory outpours to go to waterways or
to the ocean, as this would pollute the water and
threaten marine life.

"Air is the property of Allah the Exalted," the
imam states. "Hence, contaminating the air with smoke
is an encroachment on nature and a threat to the life
of mankind and all other living things."

The Qur'an does, however, endorse the
transformation of wilderness into agriculture and
cattle pastures. The Qur'an proclaims that it is Allah
who "sends down water from the sky, and therewith we
bring forth buds of every kind. We bring forth the
green blade from which we bring forth the
thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from
the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches, and
gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate."

"The earth is our first mother," says Imam
Alhilaly. "Therefore it has certain rights over us.
One of these rights is making it come alive with green
vegetation and other plant life.

"The Prophet said that he who is kind and
merciful towards animals, Allah will be kind and
merciful towards him.... We must deal with animals
with utmost beneficence and compassion and strive to
ensure the preservation of the different species,"
Imam Alhilaly instructs. "It is forbidden in Islam to
kill a animal for mere play. Islam has forbidden
wastage of animals and plants in peacetime and in

Tradition has it that if someone kills a bird for
amusement, the bird will demand justice from that man
on judgment day.

In an essay on the "Significance of Environment
in Islam" in the April 1998 issue of the Islamic Voice
, Akhtar Mahmood, a professor of biochemistry at the
University of Punjab, notes that "Islam discourages
luxurious and lavish living." Muslims see the
existence of luxury as "an expression of social
injustice, as few can afford luxurious items at the
expense of the deprived masses."

In an article posted on , F.
Kamal notes that the two fundamental books of Muslim
faith - the Qur'an (the Holy Book) and the Hadith (the
parables and examples from the life of the Prophet) -
both teach that kindness to animals is an "article of
faith for Muslims." The Prophet advised people never
to curse beasts of burden and commanded his followers
to treat these animals with gentleness and kindness.

The Muslim holy books tell of a woman who "was
tortured and was put in Hell because of a cat which
she had kept locked till it died of hunger." In
another tale, a prostitute's sins are washed away
because she gave drinking water to a thirsty dog.

Kamal observes with some pride that these stories
were recorded "1,400 years ago - long before it became
fashionable or 'politically correct' to care about
animal rights."

In the centuries following Muhammad's passing,
Islamic scholars introduced the idea of hima - a
protected zone. Many Islamic countries now set aside
certain wild areas that cannot be developed or
cultivated. These have become modern wildlife

"Much of the foundations of modern science are
built on Muslim scientific roots," Kamal states. But
Islamic science, Kamal noted, was not "a cold pursuit
devoid of any ethical considerations. It was not a
confrontation against nature but a search for Allah's
signs, limitless bounty and mercy.

"One of the most destructive causes of pollution
is consumer waste," Kamal writes, citing the Qur'an
(17:27): "Lo! the squanderers were ever brothers of
the devils and the devil was ever an ingrate to his
Lord." Devout Muslims, Kamal says, "do not disorder
their world... in search of self-gratification, greed,
waste and ingratitude to their Lord."

In his article "Islam and the Environment,"
Arafat El Ashi, director of the Muslim World League in
Canada, [191 The West Mall, Suite 1018, Etobicoke,
Ontario M9C 5KB, Canada, (416) 622-2184, ] observes that "Human life is
sacred in the sight of Islam. No one is permitted to
take the life of another person except as
life-for-life. Suicide is a crime in Islam."

Under Islam, El Ashi states, "it [is] incumbent
on every Muslim to contribute his/her share in
improving greenery. Muslims should be active in
growing more trees for the benefit of all people."
Even during battle, Muslims are required to avoid
cutting trees that are useful to people.

The Prophet instructed the faithful that any
Muslim who plants a crop that feeds another person,
animal or bird, will receive a reward in paradise.
Cutting down trees is seen as an abomination.

How important is the planting of trees? In the
words of the Prophet: "When doomsday comes, if someone
has a palm shoot in his hands, he should plant it."

* Environmental Protection in Islam, King
Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

* The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and
Environmental Science (at Harvard University's Center
for the Study of World Religions) offers information
ranging from religious instruction to organic
gardening and solar energy. []

* Islam and Vegetarianism [501 Front St., Norfolk,
VA 23510,]

Copyright Earth Island Journal


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