Care for the Environment Is a Sacred Duty. Live an Ecological-Spiritual Life
Several faith traditions affirm that this universe has been created by God for human beings and all other creatures to live together in full harmony and in an ecological and spiritual symbiosis. They exhort us to be careful about the bounties of Nature that nourish and sustain us. However, man’s baser instincts and selfish desires, coupled with modern technologies, seek to conquer, and control them. As a result, much damage has been done to the beautiful environment and ecology of the universe.
Environmental protection is now a matter of grave concern for the entire humankind. In the ravaging situation of the current coronavirus pandemic, people of all faith traditions should wake up to the Divine call for the preservation of Nature that has been repeatedly given in their respective scriptures.
Stressing the need for ecological conservation and care for the environment, Islam exhorts us to live a balanced, moderate and sustainable life without causing any corruption to the Earth (fasad fil ardh). This Divine injunction is reflected in the following verses of the Qur’an:
“Do not seek to spread corruption in the land, for God certainly does not like the corruptors.” (28:77)
“And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (2:60)
In the Qur’anic view, corruption on earth or fasad fil ardhis not confined to only political crimes such as frauds, theft, rape, illegal banking or other conventional crimes and prevalent malpractices. In fact, the above Quranic verses guide us to put an end to all forms of earthly corruption, which are rampant at all levels of public and social life in this age of consumerism and covetousness. Deforestation, toxic waste, pesticides, and wanton cutting of trees are also considered grave corruptions and flagrant violations of the Divine commandments and hence they stand completely against the universal Islamic values. Thus, the Qur’an offers a completely integrated view of the universe, where the human soul and the environment, mind and matter are all part of one living, conscious whole.
While the Qu’ran is the Word of God, the Nature is the Work of God. Therefore, the Qur’an describes the natural world as the handiwork of a unitary benevolent Power. From the Quranic perspective, there is an inseparable relation between the environment and our soul. If we try to focus on this, we will learn from the Qur’an as to how to lead an ecological-spiritual life which can give us the bliss of heaven on this Earth before we chance upon the eternal life in Paradise, if God wills.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) left great traditions and beautiful examples of leading an ecological-spiritual life. He engaged in eco-friendly endeavours, caring for all creations, preserving the earth, planting trees, and protecting the environment. Right from his young age, he was inclined towards the preservation of trees. When he was just 12, he travelled to Syria with his uncle and took shelter under a tree. Today, after more than 1400 years, the same tree is said to be still alive, in the northern deserts of Jordan. This tree, which sheltered the Prophet, is the only living tree in hundreds of square miles of emptiness. It speaks so well of the Prophet’s utmost care for the protection of the environment!
The Prophet was keen on planting trees and exhorted his Companions to do likewise. He spoke of rewards for those who do so. He said, “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures, and bears fruit is rewarded” (Source: Musnad).
There are numerous other Prophetic traditions which greatly emphasize the need to care for the environment, conserve the ecology, preserve natural resources, protect wildlife, show kindness towards animals and birds, plant trees and live an ecological-spiritual life. Here, I would like to share some beautiful Prophetic traditions that serve today as a gentle reminder for us to reflect on the need to care for the environment and practice Islam as an environment-friendly faith:
“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him.” (Source: Bukhari)
One day, the Prophet (pbuh) passed by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas (r.a) while he was performing wudu’. The Prophet (pbuh) asked Sa`d: “What is this wastage?” Sa`d replied: “Is there wastage in wudu also?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.”(Source: Ibn Majah)
Likening a believer with a growing tree, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind quietens down, the plant becomes straight again…” (Source: Bukhari)
Reminding Muslims of how important it is to keep the environment sanitary to maintain the community, the Prophet (pbuh) stated: “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: First, relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilize), in a walkway or in a watering place……” – (Narrated by Mu`adh, Hasan)
The Prophet (pbuh) gave paramount importance to street clean-ups, when he said: “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).” (Source: Riyad us-Saliheen)
According to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a tree is not only a resting place, but also an infinite mercy of God that one should take care of. Planting a tree is a sadaqah-e jariya, an everlasting charity in Islam. Whenever a human being or even an animal shelters under the shade of a tree or relishes a fruit that it produces, the planter earns rewards, even after his death. For the poor and rich alike, planting a tree is an easy and way to earn the reward of sadaqah-e- jariya.
The Prophet (pbuh) and his companions also gave us practical guidance on how to protect animals’ rights. They took special care of crippled animals, rescued strays, and guarded birds’ nests with eggs. One of the Prophet’s Companions was named ‘Abu Huraira’ (father of kittens) because he was very fond of kittens. The Prophet (pbuh) accorded great value to the animals in his bid to protect the ecological welfare system. Driven by his care and compassion for the animals, the Prophet himself narrated a story to his companions so they could drive inspiration from it:
“A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.” So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him.” The Companions said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for serving any living being.” (Source: Bukhari)
Thus, the Holy Qur’an and Hadith exhort us to reflect on the need for the protection of the environment. There is a pressing need to take a fresh look at all the related Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions to mitigate the increasing degradation of environment on this planet. It is also of vital importance to revisit other references to explore the wisdom of our faith traditions, finding ways to live in full harmony with the environment. After all, it is the moral responsibility of the adherents of all faith traditions to protect this earth and its ecology in accordance with the Divine teachings of our faith traditions. If we do nottake serious steps today for the preservation of the ecological balance, tomorrow our children will inherit an earth steeped in corruption, disorder and hugely depleted natural resources.