Humans have a special place in Allah’s plan. We are more than just friends of the earth. We are its keepers.
“When they are told, ‘Do not spread corruption in the land,’ they reply, ‘We are only peace-makers!’ Indeed, it is they who are the corruptors, but they fail to perceive it” (Surah Baqarah, Ayah 11-12).
It is sad to see, especially in the UK, that throwing an empty can or a finished cigarette filter on the road has become a normal habit. To help combat this growing normality, this article aims to provide a bigger picture regarding our duty as “Khalifa” on this Earth.
The term “Environmental Protection” as it is understood today is relatively new in its form. It arose out of necessity in the last third of the 20th century in response to the fact that human behaviour had an increasingly negative impact on the environment.
Human behaviour led to the awareness that the unity that we can call the “environment” is ultimately the victim of what we can call “pollution, impoverishment, and deforestation”.
The environment also has other names that can take its place, such as nature, the natural order, the original pattern, the original state, etc. We, as a human community, are inextricably woven into this structure.
The word that is used in the Qur’an to describe the environment or nature is “creation” (Khalq). “Khalq” is used in 261 verses in the Quran, in its root and in various grammatical forms. The first revelation of the Quran contains the verb “khalaq” (to create), which is derived from this root. The approximate meaning of this verse is: “Read in the name of your Lord who created…” (Al-’Alaq, 1).
Be among those who understand
The clear implication here is that we are part of the totality of the creation process for which Allah alone is responsible. The Quran is therefore the manual of the way of life for the human community and how it should behave within all creations.
The core of Quranic teaching on the matter of the environment can be described as ‘Ilm Ul-Khalq (Knowledge of Creation), which preceded the science of ecology by 14 centuries.
Islamic teaching provides an opportunity to understand the natural order and determine human responsibility.
“Remember when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to place a successive human authority on earth'” (Surah Baqarah Ayah 30).
Khalifa is the role of a steward, an important duty that Allah has given to humans. There are many verses that describe human duties and responsibilities, for example the Qur’an sums up the human role: “And it is He Who made you governors (khalifa) on earth” (Al-An’am, 165).
Humans have a special place in Allah’s plan. We are more than just friends of the earth. We are its keepers. Even if we have equal partners in everything else with other elements in this world, we have duties that go beyond this. We are neither the masters nor the masters of creation.
We can deduct from this principle that creation, even if it is complex and finite, only works because all of its parts do what their task is – or because, in the language of the Qur’an, they prostrate before the Creator. The human role – unique with a will of its own and therefore able to intervene in the behavioural patterns of creation – is that of a guardian. However, this responsibility places limits on human behaviour and should lead to an awareness of one’s own vulnerability.
We moved away from the natural pattern
Until a comparatively short time ago, the human race – both rebels and conformists, the ignorant and the enlightened, both in small, self-organized communities and in huge empires, in scattered tribes or in times of organized civilization – unwittingly lived within natural, unwritten borders. There was an intuitive tendency to exist within the Fitra. This was an existential reality, neither idyllic nor utopian.
We obviously no longer live within these limits. Several events or developments in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries allowed the human species to move away from the natural pattern of which it has always been a part of. In addition to the emergence of unlimited finance and the European urge to appropriate the world on a global level, there was the appearance of the Cartesian worldview. This contained a dualism between mind and matter and allowed the development of the sciences along purely mechanistic lines. Cartesianism brushed aside the accumulated wisdom of ages.
Since then, humanity began to worship itself. In Descartes’ own words, humans were “Lords and masters of creation”.
How Muslims must behave in regards to the environment
As a Muslim, it is common knowledge that spirituality can never only exist in a form of mere privacy, but must always refer to “being in the world” in order to be authentic. In particular, this can also be related to our relationship with our environment.
We humans are beings with special characteristics that allow us to serve the Earth. One of these characteristics is the ethical knowledge that can guide us to care about the environment. Other qualities include the knowledge that we were given our duties to the world. Human love for the elements of the environment symbolizes a caring relationship, as practiced by the Prophet (saw), who had a tremendous character. This love extends to the living creatures who inhabit the world with us and were made by the same and only Creator.
Allah has given us certain obligations to other living beings. We will be held responsible on Judgment Day for how we treated them. The Prophet said: “Allah punished a woman for locking up a cat until she died of hunger. She neither fed them nor allowed them to get their own food” (Rijad us-Salihin).
Islam is a way of life, so look after your environment
The ethical attitude towards the environment within Islam is in large part influenced by the fact that Islam is not just a collection of dogmas, but a way of life. Islam was sent not only as a belief in a God, but also to create a community that follows moral and ethical rules and observes certain rules of conduct that are within the framework of the natural order.
The office or position of Muhtasib has developed in the context of Muslim history. This public post was subordinate to the respective local qadi. The Muslims who filled this office, whose duties actually included controlling the markets and maintaining access to them, also had a duty to protect local resources. This included maintaining the water supply, protecting against unjustified pollution of open waters, or monitoring the disposal of waste. In Muslim Andalusia, for example, it was illegal to deliberately pollute rivers and streams above settlements and cities. It was also important to keep the streets clear of debris to prevent the spread of disease and vermin.
Our duty to care for the environment goes to the extent that even in times of war, cutting down trees was forbidden.
Responsible use of resources
One of the most important aspects of this matter is the responsible use of resources. From the beginning, there were fundamental laws in Islam as well as complex individual regulations on how to deal with the necessary things of nature. Many of these rules go back to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, and were later adapted to the respective ecological conditions. The two most important elements of these regulations concern the use or the use of water and land. These form the necessary basic elements for all human life and activity.
Environmental protection is not a modern term. Allah and his messenger (saw) have told us to be responsible and serve Allah’s creation.
May Allah help us to become better Human Beings by using nature to get closer to Allah, rather than destroying it. Ameen.