If you are young and reading this, you are owed an apology. Your generation will have to bear the brunt of an environmental crisis the likes of which humanity has never seen. And much of the blame lies in your parents and grandparents’ generations, which failed to act when the evidence became clear that our industrial path of civilization was wreaking dramatically harmful effects: dangerous weather patterns, deforestation, extinction of species and destruction of habitats.
According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released late last year, if humanity doesn’t find a way by 2030 to stop global temperatures from rising to 2 degrees above the pre-industrial levels, we could be facing the end of our coral reefs and other major ecosystems.
This scenario seems bleak, yeah?
From an Islamic perspective, ambivalence or despair to the ongoing catastrophe doesn’t seem to be the best approach. We all remember the famous hadith that suggests a positive attitude to the worst of situations, when the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
Contemporary Environmental Ideologies
Environmentalism began in the 1970s when the rising costs of the industrial system became obvious and citizen movements rose in response. Environmentalists today come in many fashions. There are those ‘productionists’ who just see Nature as a supply of raw materials for products and goods and tend to suggest surface level changes to keep consumption running.
Others focus more on sustainable development, which is an acknowledgement that development is necessary for human civilization but not without heavy costs for the environment and hence development should always carry below the breaking point for our ecosystem. On the fringe are environmentalists who glorify nature to such a degree that they advocate almost complete deindustrialization.
The bottom line in almost all environmentalist approaches is that while they may advocate necessary changes, they are essentially reactive movements. Many of them are still influenced heavily by a modernist worldview that sees nature as a machine for human’s utility, meaning it’s fair to exploit the environment for our gain.
All views are quite alien to how Muslims have traditionally viewed the environment. Muslims rarely accepted that humans are somehow separate or disconnected from the larger Divine order of Nature. In other words, nature is sacred for Muslims.
Islamic Spiritual Approach to Environmentalism
As a sacred domain, Muslims saw humans as being discharged with a responsibility from Allah to take care of it. The Qur’an states:
“And when your Lord said to the angel: Verily, I am going to place a khalifah on the earth.” (Al-Baqarah 2:30)
As khalifat (vicegerent) Allah on Earth, man must, according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “be active in the world, sustaining cosmic harmony and disseminating the grace for which he is the channel as a result of his being central creature in the terrestrial order.”
With this perspective, the idea of just simply using and abusing nature for mankind’s short term demands would not come into question. Muslims can understand how climate change and other dangerous ecological damage are directly connected to our actions rather than be in denial.
Allah says in the Qur’an :
“Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].” (Ar-Rum 30:41)
Muslims, and humanity in general, should desperately look to reclaim this traditional view of the inherent sacredness of nature. It will let us see repairing environmental damage as our collective responsibility, and gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty and grandeur that the natural world offers.
How Should Your Spirit Connect to the Environment?
The first step to feeling this appreciation is to actually dedicate time to observing and interacting with a natural environment, from a garden to a forest to a beach. Most of us get so caught up in our daily urbanite routines that nature is reserved for a holiday getaway. Appreciation comes with pondering over nature as signs of Divine design.
Following this, the best way to express one’s appreciation is through action. Get involved in some localized activity that allows you to connect with others and understand your native environment better. This can be a trash clean up session at a park, community gardening, recycling campaign or even hosting a nature walk through a forest. Your most immediate responsibility is to your immediate surroundings.