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Thinking Islamically About Our Environment

It is our collective duty to ensure the protection of our environment.

By Moeen Ahmad / 28 May 2013

"O humankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may become God-fearing. (Worship none but) the One who (alone) has made the earth a furnished habitation for you, and (who alone has made) the heaven a (sheltering) edifice, and who (alone) has sent down from the sky water, whereby He brought forth with it the (varied) fruits of (the earth) as a provision for you. Therefore, you shall not set up rivals to God when you know (well that such deities cannot exist) [2:21-22]."

In these two verses of the Qur'an, Allah Most High is directing mankind's attention to the factors that sustain our entire existence.

Firstly, our attention is directed to Allah Himself. And we are reminded that He has created us. He is the One responsible for our very existence and those before us. In worshipping Him, we are reminded of His presence in our lives, an important cue that helps us do good deeds and avoid bad ones, even as our alarm clocks help us wake up to study for a test we cannot fail.

Our attention is then shifted toward natural phenomena, such as the lands on which we walk, the sky which hovers above us, and the water and fruits we consume every day. Interestingly, each is interrelated: The sky with its protective ozone layer provides just the right atmosphere necessary for plants on the ground to grow. It also houses rain clouds, from which water-the source of life-descends and allows human life to flourish. We cannot function without water and food, and water and food cannot exist in useful fashion without e earth to pool and root in, and without the sky's protective canopy. And all cannot function together without Allah, the Creator of each and their integrative world.

The linkage between Allah, Most High, and the natural phenomena mentioned in the verse remains as crucial today as it ever has been in the course of human history. Humans, especially Muslims, must realize that the environment does not exist independently from the very mercy of our Creator.

The sky and its ozone layer, which we continually desecrate with our super-efficient pollutants, find themselves under attack by the very humans they protect. Our toxic waste, which we merrily dump into precious bodies of water, threatens water systems across the world with destruction. It's as if the entire human race has revolted against the mercy of Allah and attacked the very things that sustain our existence.

Thinking Islamically about the environment means remembering Allah's favor and mercy upon us. It means thinking about nature as an entity in need of care, and not one we can mechanically manipulate without considering the consequences of our actions. It means using another blessing of Allah, our intelligence, to come up with creative and effective solutions to improve the ways in which societies discard their toxic waste. Most of all, it means thinking about natural phenomena as blessings of Allah, and viewing our care of the environment as a form of 'ibadah, precisely as these verses instruct us to do.

In our verses above, Allah directs His command to an-Nas, or all people in general. It is our collective duty to ensure the protection of our environment. It is our collective duty to abide by modern mechanisms of curbing pollution and waste, such as recycling programs and "green campaigns" (and I do not mean the "green" movement that has been "corporatized" to fool us, as another sales trick), and other valid programs intended to render energy more efficient.

It is an irony of mankind that the more we know about the nature of the earth, the more we do to destroy it. "Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned..." [30:41]. Modern scientific knowledge about the earth and the devastating impact humans have had on it has not done enough to sway the hearts of the people, Muslim or not, to care for our environment.

On a logical and rational level, we have failed to heed the lessons science has taught and is continually teaching us about the environment and its rapid deterioration. If anything, then, can save us, it must be the exhortations of Almighty Allah to pay attention and be mindful of His many blessings, of which the environment is a part.

The blessing and curse of modern scientific knowledge is that in enlightening humans with knowledge about the natural world, it has made us more arrogant instead of humble. It has inspired us to experiment recklessly with the natural world instead of treating with great care and caution.

What is most needed is an infusion of scientific knowledge with lessons and principles from revelation. We need to recall the origin and role of the created world before we attempt to manipulate it in our favor. Thinking about nature and the natural world as an inanimate entity independent from any divine order or control has blinded us from the reality of its essence and role in the lives of human beings.

Moreover, and more importantly, it's led us into the gross and severe error of separating the created from the Creator. The ruthlessness and thoughtless disregard with which we treat the environment cannot be supported by any verse or hadeeth. Only in recalling the origin of our " " order, which is to say, our "created" order, can we fully understand and implement the blessed command: "O people! Worship your Lord... "


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