Islam has a rich tradition of highlighting the importance of environmental conservation. According to basic Islamic teachings, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just human beings. Islam integrates the concept of environmental conservation into the philosophy of life for every believer. By doing so, people can lessen their actions that damage the environment to guarantee the right for future generations to benefit from natural resources.
The Principle of Guardianship
The first principle which guides Islamic teaching on environmental sustainability is the concept of trusteeship. Being a khalifa (or guardian), a human being 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 Islamic thought, nature is a divine trust and men are the trustees.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said :
“The world is a green and pleasant thing. God has made you stewards of it, and looks at how you behave.”
“The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it.”
“Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded.”
“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part.”
In the Holy Qur’an, Muslims are instructed to look after the environment and not to damage or alter creation.
“Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.” Qur’an 30:30
The revelations by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) show the importance of water in the Islamic thought. Both the Qur’an and Sunnah emphasize the rationale of using water. If water dries up, life will end. This is true because water is the most important element in the life of an organism. In history, all ancient civilizations were established near water, clearly indicating that people cannot live without water.
“Partake of it gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer.
“Don’t waste water even if you are on a running river.”
Obligation of Environmental Conservation
God has granted human beings with abundant natural resources which necessarily involves an obligation on our part to conserve these resources both quantitatively and qualitatively. It follows that human being have no right to cause the degradation of the environment and distort its intrinsic suitability for human life and settlement.
“God it is who appointed you stewards upon the earth and raised some of you by degrees above others, that He may try you in that which He has given you.” Qur’an 6:165
The above verse reveal that human beings have been given the responsibility of stewardship and granted with God’s trust in order to care for and serve as a channel for his blessings to all creation. Humans are invested with special status and responsibility as trustees on earth and must fulfill the requirements of that trust.
In the Qur’an, God identifies nature as a tapestry of signs for man to reflect upon his existence. God bestowed mankind with vice-regency on Earth, entrusting humanity with the duty to protect and restore balance in the environment and to protect the signs for future generations to live and prosper. Thus, in Islam the utilization of the resources is the right and privilege of all people and all species.
Hence, man should take every precaution to ensure the interests and rights of others since they are equal partners on earth. It is the responsibility of each and every generation to make the best use of nature, according to its needs, without disrupting or adversely affecting the interests of future generations. Therefore, man should not abuse, misuse, or distort natural resources. Each generation is entitled to benefit from them, but is not entitled to own them.
Looking around at the current state of environmental degradation and extent of negative impact due to climate change, one cannot but conclude that contemporary humanity has failed this test. The world can no longer afford the cost of our failures. It is time that people of all faiths unite and stand for a common cause for humanity.
The Holy Qur’an offers a clear guidance for our future, applicable not only to the Muslims, but to every one of us, in a simple yet divine revelation penned ages ago:
“Walk not exultantly upon the earth.” Qur’an 17:63
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