Moving Towards Ecology-Conscious Lifestyles
Islam approaches the topic of ecology as a faith-based stewardship of the earth, with humans supposed to serve as the earth’s stewards. The entire universe is God’s creation. It is God Who created the plants and the animals in their pairs and gave them the means to multiply. According to Islam, the Earth and everything in it belongs, not to humans, but to God.
Islam offers exhaustive scriptural foundations for an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, of a ‘green’ lifestyle that is in accordance with environmental protection and with Islam’s ideal of humankind’s stewardship on earth.
According to Islam, human beings’ role on earth is that of a vicegerent or trustee of God. Human beings are not masters of this Earth; it does not belong to them to do whatsoever they wish. It belongs to God, and He has entrusted humankind with its safekeeping. Humankind’s function as vicegerents is only to oversee the trust, and we are answerable for the way we use or abuse the things created by God, such as rocks, sand, soil, trees, animals, water, minerals, sea, oceans and even the air we breathe!
Unity, trusteeship and accountability, three central concepts of Islam, are also the pillars of the environmental ethics of Islam. The importance that Islam places on ecological wisdom and the role of human beings in taking good care of the creation is reflected in numerous statements attributed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Thus, for instance, the Prophet said: ‘Whosoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded’, and ‘If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and men and birds eat from it, all of it is a charity on his part’, and again, ‘The world is green and beautiful, and God has appointed you as His stewards over it.’ Environmental consciousness is born when such values are adopted and become an intrinsic part of our mental and physical make-up. And these are not remote, other-worldly notions. They concern us here and now.
A classical Muslim jurist, Izzad-Din Ibn Abdas-Salam, formulated what may be called a bill of legal rights for animals in the thirteenth century. Similarly, numerous other jurists and scholars developed legislations to safeguard water resources, prevent over-grazing, conserve forests, limit the growth of cities, protect cultural property, and so on.
Islam’s environmental ethics then are not limited to metaphysical notions. They provide a practical guide as well. Muslims need to turn to these values and to this way of understanding themselves and their environment. The notions of unity, trusteeship and accountability should not be reduced to matters of personal piety. They must guide all aspects of their life and work. Muslims need to introspect about how as individuals, families and communities, they can lead environmentally-friendly lifestyles and work to protect nature and its resources that have been created by God. We have many NGOs working for the economic, educational and social uplift of people, but sadly almost none to promote the cause of protecting the ecology.
There are many ways that each one of us can do our bit to care for the environment (which includes nature as well as other species of living beings). Do we really need to use plastic cups and plates at functions? Do we really need to waste paper and cloth for banners, posters and hoardings and cause environmental disturbance? Do we really need to splurge money in expensive weddings and leave behind mountains of garbage and heaps of leftover food? If we are building a home, does it have provision for rainwater harvesting? If we are building a mosque, have we planned space for trees and plants? Each such decision we take at an individual level is one major step towards nurturing the common home of the whole of humanity—planet Earth.