This article is written by Neeshad Vs.
Viewing “Laudato Si” (“Praised Be”) Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment as an important opportunity to expand the conversation about the relationship between religion and environment, I am writing this post to highlight the Islamic perspective on the issue. Last week encyclical from Pope Francis has been widely hailed for its urgent call to action on climate change. As we have reached the tipping point of the issue climate change, we have no choice but to return back to the riches of spirituality to create new paradigms and new solutions to environmental exploitation and degradation. As the encyclical states, ‘We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all’.
Every religion has its traditions to protect the environment. The degree to which they are observed only varies. Islam too considers human beings responsible for environmental damage done to Earth. The religion believes that environmental protection is the only way to maintain the balance of life. It integrates the concept of environmental conservation into the philosophy of life for every Muslim believer. By doing so, the people can lessen their actions that damage the environment to guarantee the right for future generations to benefit from natural resources.
On reading the Qur’an, every Muslim understands that we humans will be held accountable for our successes and failures as stewards and hence, we must all strive to improve our roles as stewards. As reported in Muslim hadith, the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, quotes :
“The world is a green and pleasant thing. God has made you stewards of it, and looks at how you behave.”
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
The Qur’an says that Allah (God’s name in Islam) is the Creator of the world. Human beings are on the world as trustees or ‘viceregents’, they are told to look after the world for Allah and for the future.
“The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it. The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded. If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part.”
In the Qur’an, Muslims are instructed to look after the environment and not to damage or alter creation.
“Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.”
“Don’t waste water even if you are on a running river.”
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
The revelations by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) show the importance of water in the Islamic thought. Both the Qur’an and Sunnah emphasize the rationale of using water. If water dries up, life will end. This is true because water is the most important element in the life of an organism. In history, all ancient civilizations were established near water, clearly indicating that people cannot live without water.
“Partake of it gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer.”
The Hadith asks Muslims to look after the earth because it is all Allah’s creation and it is part of a human’s duty to Allah to protect and conserve the environment. God has granted men with the abundant resources . This necessarily involves an obligation on men’s part to conserve these resources both quantitatively and qualitatively. It follows that men has no right to cause the degradation of the environment and distort its intrinsic suitability for human life and settlement.
“God it is who appointed you stewards upon the earth and raised some of you by degrees above others, that He may try you in that which He has given you.”
The above verses reveal that human beings have been given the responsibility of stewardship and granted with God’s trust in order to care for and serve as a channel for his blessings to all creation. Humans are invested with special status and responsibility as trustees on earth and must fulfill the requirements of that trust. According to Islamic thought, nature is a divine trust and men are the trustees.
In the Qur’an, God identifies nature as a tapestry of signs for man to reflect upon his existence. God bestowed mankind with vice-regency on Earth, entrusting humanity with the duty to protect and restore balance in the environment and to protect the signs for future generations to live and prosper. Thus, in Islam the utilization of the resources is the right and privilege of all people and all species. Hence, man should take every precaution to ensure the interests and rights of others since they are equal partners on earth. It is the responsibility of each and every generation to make the best use of nature, according to its needs, without disrupting or adversely affecting the interests of future generations. Therefore, man should not abuse, misuse, or distort natural resources. Each generation is entitled to benefit from them, but is not entitled to own them.
In line with Paris UN Climate summit, Pope Francis will be in Paris too, fighting for the actions he deems morally necessary to care for our single human family. On this stand Islamic faith leaders and followers should stand firm in commitment against climate change.
Looking around at the current state of environmental degradation and extent of negative impact due to global warming, one cannot but conclude that contemporary humanity has failed this test. The world can no longer afford the cost of our failures. It is time that people of all faiths unite and stand for a common cause for humanity.
As God offers in the Qur’an a clear guidance for our future, applicable not only to the Muslim, but to every one of us, in a simple yet divine revelation penned ages ago:
“Walk not exultantly upon the earth.”
 Hadith is the collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
About the author : Neeshad Vs is a youth environment advocate and campaigns extensively on social platforms to raise the awareness about climate change, water and sustainability. He is the Global Community Manager with CliMates, currently based in Doha, Qatar. Furthermore he helps build networks and work on climate justice issues worldwide to spread truth and destroy denial on climate change. He is an active member with numerous social initiatives like QGBC (Qatar Green Building Council), WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education), Greenpeace India, Eco Mena and 350 India.