Islam and environmentSADIA DEHLVI, Dec 7, 2010, 12.00am IST
The ecological crisis is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Perhaps, this reflects a deeper spiritual malaise where a sense of the sacred is lost.
There is a need to understand the underlying philosophical causes for our rapacious attitude towards the environment. Faith leaders could play a positive role in saving Planet Earth, for we are all created and nourished by the same source.
In the Quran, God speaks of creating everything in balance, and warns that transgression of the balance shall have disastrous consequences. Muslims understand humanity as part of the extraordinary cosmic symphony. However, what differentiates us from the rest of creation is our role as vice-regents of earth. Allah refers to humanity as the best of creation that He endowed with the gifts of nature, giving humanity the power of knowledge and free will. As trustees, the children of Adam are expected to rise above greedy impulses and turn the earth into a manifestation of the Garden of Eden in anticipation of the promised Gardens of Paradise. In contrast, we could reject this 'water principle' and use the 'fiery principle' to turn the earth into a kind of hellfire. This implies succumbing to anger, greed, envy and other negative aspects.
There are over 6,000 verses in the Quran, of which more than 500 deal with natural phenomena. Allah repeatedly calls on us to reflect on His signs, which include all aspects of nature such as trees, mountains, seas, animals, birds, stars, the sun and the moon – and our own hearts. Islamic jurisprudence contains regulations concerning the conservation and allocation of scarce water resources; for the conservation of land with special zones of graded use; for the establishment of rangelands, wetlands, green belts and for wildlife protection and conservation.
Prophet Muhammad had declared a 30 km area around his city of Madinah a protected grove, prohibiting the cutting down of trees within its borders. He prescribed picking up litter from the streets as an act of faith. He forbade the cutting of cedar trees in the desert that provided shade and shelter to animals. He calls upon us to be what God intended us to be, which is in harmony with nature.
Prophetic teachings inform that followers of earlier prophets had specific places of worship but the whole of earth was sanctified for his followers, 'All of the earth has been made to me as a mosque'. The act of ritual prayer in Islam precisely reconnects human beings to the sanctity of the earth. It begins in a standing position, then in a position of prostration where the forehead; a symbol of human pride is pressed to the earth from which we originated. The Quran confirms that God created Adam from clay, making man just another part of the physical world.
Human beings have the capacity to subvert the world, far more than any other living species. We also have the capacity to uphold the physical world. Islam believes that all human souls come from a garden; and at the end of time each soul will either enter the garden or the fire. We could turn the world into something that becomes hotter, greedier, and more destructive or we can turn it into something that is calm that reflects the Divine purpose.
Prophet Muhammad famously said, 'Even if the Day of Judgment should arrive and you are holding a sapling in your hand, plant it'. This indicates that one should never lose hope and continue one's best to be at peace with the earth till the very end.
The writer convenes Sufi gatherings. firstname.lastname@example.org