“The roots of our ecological crises are axiomatic: they lie in our belief and value structures which shape our relationship with nature, with each other and the lifestyles we lead.” (Ziauddin Sardar, Islamic Futures, New York; Mensell Publishing Limited, 1985, p.218)
We are living in an era of spectacular scientific and technological advancement. We have dominated the earth, the skies and the deepest deeps. Our life has become more cozy and comfortable. Economic indices say that our l standard has been enhanced. But the other side of this glittering brilliance is so miserable. The paradox of development reminds us of the story of Midas, the greedy king who persuaded the Greek deity Dionysus to bless him that he might turn everything he touches into gold. Alas! His drinking water, food and even his beloved wife turns into gold the moment he touches them. With no time he realised he can’t eat or drink gold or make love with a golden statue. He rushes to Dionysus to withdraw the gift he was blessed with, which made his life so miserable.
Modern science has brought the humanity beyond their dreams. But man is becoming more and more restless. He is sleepless even in the safety of his bastion fortress. He has lost the warmth and affection of his family relations. Society has ceased to deserve the very name as each individual tends to live in watertight compartments with his selfishness and egotism. Ecology is the worst sufferer. Polluted water and air, poisonous food products, unpredictable climatic calamities… yes, the touch of Midas. The very survival of human being as a species on this planet is in the shadow of doubt.
Can we rely upon the capabilities of modern science and dominating ideologies to save us from the imminent catastrophe? History denies. It was the same ideologies and modern science which led us to the present peril. What we face is not a mere question of technology, but a crisis of values.
The whole ecological imbalance represents the spiritual and teleological crisis of modern civilization itself. It is deep rooted in the spiritual rootlessness of our culture. It arouses questions about the fundamental nature of man, the nature of the universe he exists in, and of the ultimate nature of Reality. Environmental issues are embedded in the worldview we cherish. Materialistic ideologies deal with the relation of man to man, but not man to nature. For them nature is nothing more than an entity to be exploited for man. In Islam environmental ethics is the endemic part of its worldview.
The environmental philosophy of Islam is holistic. It relates man not only with man but with nature with his ultimate relation with the Devine. The environmental philosophy of Islam is based on the following principles:
1. Oneness of God (Tawheed)
Tawheed is the axis on which Islamic philosophy revolves. Believers accept God as the only source of values. They are responsible to Him for all his actions. The Holy Qur’an says:
“And to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and that is in the earth; and Allah encompasses all things.”[4:16] All what we have in nature are the creations of the same God and ill-treating one of His creations is a sin. Islam considers all of God’s creations to be equal and ill-treating one of His creations is a sin. The principle of Tawheed dictates that not only human beings but also animals, land, forest, water and air, etc, have their rights.
2. Khilafah and Amanah (Vicegerency and Trusteeship)
Human nature is the other key facet of the worldview of Islam. Man enjoys a role as God’s vicegerent (his representative) having a freedom and far-reaching power latent within him. “We did indeed offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof. But man undertook it (the trust)...” (The Qur’an – 33:72) As the trustee of God man is expected to fulfil the trust in the manner that the giver of the trust would expect of him. “There is no trust if the trustee has no power, and the trust implies that the giver of the trust believes and expects that the trustee would use it according to the wish of the creator of the trust, and not otherwise.” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an; Text, Translation and Commentary, Maryland; Amana Corporation, 1989. p. 1080).As per this principle it is the fundamental duty of humanity to protect and preserve nature to the basic design of the Almighty.
3. Shari’ah (The ethics of Action)
No moral or ethical issue is only an abstract idea in Islam. They are codified in the Shari’ah to be preached, practised and incorporated into the laws of the land. The Shari’ah seeks to provide a framework, an environment within which men as individuals and as a society can fulfil the role of trustee. It gives practical shape to the ethical norms.
4. Justice and Moderation (‘Adl and I’tidal)
Justice, the supreme attribute of God, is also synonymous with Order and Equilibrium.
“Who has created seven heavens in harmony? No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again. Seest thou any flaw?” (The Qur’an – 67:3) It entails submitting oneself to the will of God, accepting the mandate of trusteeship and striving to be a moderate community (ummat-e-wast). Thus have We made of you a community justly balanced… (The Qur’an – 2:143). The principle of moderation prevents man from excesses even in religious activities. Islam prohibits even the overextended rituals of worship, celibacy, exaggerated fasting, and pessimism. Islam insists the same moderation and balance in utilising natural resources. It prevents undue exploitation of natural resources.
5. Accountability (Belief in the Day of Judgment)
Belief in the Day of Judgment is the driving force in Islam which guides the believers to fulfil the trust that he had taken on. The thought of an approaching judgment stops him from leading a life according to his mundane urges. It puts a brake on self-cantered lust and passions.
MAN AND NATURE IN ISLAM
1. Nature is the best sign (Ayat) of the Almighty
“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day, and in the ships that sail the sea with that which profits men, and in the water which Allah sends down from the sky and quickens therewith the earth after its death and scatters therein all kinds of beasts, and in the change of the winds and the clouds pressed into service between the heaven and the earth – are indeed Signs for the people who use their understanding.” (The Qur’an – 2:164)
2. Everything is created in due proportion and measure. Divine perfection is manifested in the very harmony and balance of the universe.
“Who has created seven heavens in harmony? No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again. Seest thou any flaw? Aye, look again, and yet again, thy sight will only return unto thee confused and fatigued, having seen no incongruity.” (The Qur’an – 67:3&4)
3. Everything is created with a definite purpose, value and wisdom. No part of nature is created in vain or purposelessly.
“And WE created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in sport. WE created them not but for an eternal purpose, but most of them understand not.” (The Qur’an – 44:38,39)
Man is unique among the creations of God. It is only man to whom the angels are commanded to prostrate themselves. “Indeed, WE have honoured the children of Adam, and WE carry them by land and sea, and provide them with good things and have exalted them far above many of those whom WE have created”. (The Qur’an – 17:70) “When thy Lord said unto the angels: lo! I am about to create a mortal out of mire, And when I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, then fall down before him prostrate.” (The Qur’an – 38:72,73) Man’s superiority, control and power over nature and the rest of creation was thus a part of the trust (khilafa). So man is obliged to show that he is indeed worthy of keeping it.
1. Nature is for man, not an enemy to him. Islam encourages man to make use of natural resources for his benefit. “Eat ye and pasture your cattle. Verily, in this are Signs for those endowed with reason.”(The Qur’an – 20:54) “And when the Prayer is finished, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah’s grace, and remember Allah much that you may prosper.” (The Qur’an – 62:10) “Verily, WE sent Our Messengers with manifest Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance that people may act with justice; and WE sent down iron, wherein is material for violent warfare and diverse uses for mankind, and that ALLAH may know those who help HIM and HIS Messengers without having seen Him. Surely, ALLAH is Powerful, Mighty.” (The Quran – 57:25)
2. Man should be moderate in his consumption of resources. The ethic of moderation saves from the ills of reckless consumerism and the senseless extravagance of human and natural resources. It ensures ecological justice. “O children of Adam! Take your adornment at every time and place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not wasteful; surely, HE does not love those who are wasteful….” [The Quran – 7:31]
3. Islam prohibits even slightest attack against nature. The Prophet has said: “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation” Islam instructs its followers that they should avoid cutting down trees even during wars.
4. Islam encourages positive contribution to nature. It is why the Prophet (may Allah bless and greet him) has said:
“When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hands, he should plant it.”