Apr 14, 2014

Environmental Issues Series: Why should Muslims care about the Environment? - Part 1

By Tara Alomari

Why should Muslims care Part 2 | Water Conservation Part 1 | Water Conservation Part 2 | Animal Rights Part 1 | Animal Rights Part 2


There are over 700 verses in the Quran that command us to reflect on nature. Why do you think this is so? Many scholars actually consider the natural world to be a reflection of the Quran- and vice versa - in the sense that the world is filled everywhere we look to signs of Allah’s presence and majesty. It is no coincidence that the “verses” of the Quran are called “Ayat” or signs, just like the signs in the heavens and the earth. This establishes, beyond a doubt, the importance of the natural world for our understanding of the Creator. What, then, is our role in regards to it?

Allah has given us the role of Khalifas of creation, but what does Khalifa means exactly? What benefits does this role give us and what does it demand of us? The word “Khalifa” has been translated many different ways and can be understood to encompass the roles of stewards, vicegerents, leaders, and protectors. Like all positions of power, we have the ability to become the dictators and oppressors of Allah’s creation. Allah says in the Quran:

And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, 
"Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority." 
They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, 
while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" 
Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." 
(Surah Al-Baqarah 2: 30)

This verse, which establishes the special position that Allah has put us in on this earth, should give us hope despite its description of our known failure to live up to it. This is because, even though the angels knew we would spread corruption, spill blood, and be terrible dictators rather than responsible, humble stewards, Allah had a reason, despite all of that, to give us this lofty position. If we are to live up to the role which Allah has created us for in this dunia, then we have to stop being heedless of our actions and embrace our responsibilities towards this fragile world with humility and graciousness towards the One who created the whole, incredible world.

Furthermore, this is THE essentially Muslim issue. To care about the environment is to reclaim our place, our honor, and our duty. Unfortunately, caring about the environment is often seen as a Western issue, or the concern of new-age hippies and dreamers. “We’ll deal with our own problems and then we’ll think about the environment” is what too many Muslims say and think. They do not realize that poverty, economic injustice, and health (social and personal), are all linked to environmental sustainability. Everything really is interconnected.

The many problems of the Ummah will never be solved unless they have an environmentally sustainable basis. For example, the widespread famine and various conflicts that we see at present in the Horn of Africa will never be solved in the long-term by collecting people in refugee camps and giving them food rations. This is obvious. These are necessary short-term medications that treat the symptoms of the problem, but a real solution must reverse the desertification of the land that has taken place. Desertification is the man-made process whereby the natural resources of a land (meaning the plants, trees and wild animals) have been consumed faster than they can replenish themselves, causing once green trees and rich, wet soil to turn to barren skeletons on parched clay and sand. It is often the result of exploitative farming practices and over grazing, as the case has been in the Horn of Africa, where it has led to widespread crop failure and subsequently starvation and increased conflict over resources.

This demonstrates very nicely the next point, which is that Allah created the world in “Al-Mizan”. What is Al-Mizan? In one sense, it is the scale of deeds (bad and good), which we will all be presented with on the Day of Judgment. However, it also refers to a part of the reality that infuses our world. Allah says in the Quran:

And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance [Al-Mizan]. 
That you not transgress within the balance. And establish weight in justice 
and do not make deficient the balance. And the earth He laid [out] for the creatures. 
(Surah Ar-Rahman 55: 7-10)

Here Allah defines Al-Mizan, or the Balance, describing the creation of the heavens and the creation of the earth, which is laid out for whom, He says? (Hint: it is not for us.) The preservation of Al-Mizan, the sustaining balance of life on earth, is not merely a good thing to do; it is a commandment from Allah.

The use of Al, meaning “the”, demonstrates that this word is used in an absolute or ultimate sense. It is “THE BALANCE”, not “the balance of___”. So, we can understand that it encompasses all of the great balances of life, including the dynamic balance of nature, through which the cycles of life, water, carbon, etc., perpetuate the existence of life on earth. If any of these cycles which make up the great Balance are upset, then life cannot be sustained. True justice, equity, equality, and other human virtues are vital to upholding Al-Mizan, not just amongst human communities, but also for ensuring the quality, safety, and dignity of all life on earth. When humans fail to meet their role as Khalifas on earth, what ensues is an unbalancing of the Balance, or, in other words, climate change.

Stay tuned for the next part of this article!


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This was great to read, thank you.

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