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Islam and Peaceful Coexistence with the Environment

 In Islam, all things have been created with purpose and in proportion and measure, both qualitatively and quantitatively, (al-Qamar 54: 49).

Concerning the environment, which is also God’s creation, its role is dual: to worship its Creator and Master and to be subjected to man whom it surrounds.

As for the former, God says, for example:

Seest thou not that to Allah prostrate all things that are in the heavens and on earth, – the sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the trees, the animals, and a great number among mankind? But a great number are (also) such as unto whom the chastisement is justly due. And such as Allah shall disgrace, – none can raise to honor: for Allah carries out all that He wills. (22: 18)

Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, declares the Praises and Glory of Allah: for He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (61:1)

As regards the subjection of the environment by God to man’s use, it is certainly a manifestation of God’s immeasurable mercy over man. Lest he shall become unable to smoothly and responsibly carry out his duties as khalifah (vicegerent).

God did not send man to the earth until he became fully prepared for his life mission, nor did He send him before the earth became fully equipped and set to accommodate him.

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The Holy Quran says:

O ye people! worship your Guardian Lord, Who created you and those who came before you that ye may become righteous; Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance; then set not up rivals unto Allah when ye know (the truth). (2: 21-22)

It is Allah Who hath created the heavens and the earth and sendeth down rain from the skies, and with it bringeth out fruits wherewith to feed you; it is He Who hath made the ships subject to you, that they may sail through the sea by His Command; and the rivers (also) hath He made subject to you. And He hath made subject to you the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses; and the Night and the Day hath He (also) made subject to you. And He giveth you of all that ye ask for. But if ye count the favors of Allah, never will ye be able to number them. Verily, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude. (14: 32-34)

And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect. (45: 13)

The relationship between man and the environment should be as sincere and upright as practical and rightly poised. Any deviation from this sensible and middle-path philosophy will invariably result in pushing man to the extremes on either side, all of which, however, are resolutely rejected by Islam.

Not only does this doctrine apply to man’s relationship with the environment, but also to everything else related to each and every segment of his existence. This is so because Islam as a universal code of life, and with it the whole Islamic community (ummah), is made justly balanced:

…that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves. (2:143)

Man must respect the environment in that he is dependent on it. As God subjected the environment to man, He likewise made it an indispensable field of the vicegerency activities entrusted to man.

In other words, man cannot but coexist with the environment, giving away and receiving in return proportionally to what he offered.

From this partnership, man is bound to attain peace, happiness and prosperity in this world, plus salvation in the Hereafter, or frustration, disgrace and chastisement in both worlds.

For this reason will it be apt to depict this world as a plantation, or a farm (mazra’ah), which must be diligently taken care of, should its owner harbor any hope of an abounding harvest on the Day of Judgment.

The Quran proclaims:

But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief. (28:77)

Man’s rights over nature are rights of sustainable use based on moderation, balance and conservation. Nature’s rights over man, on the other hand, are that it be safe from every misuse, mistreatment and destruction. Greed, extravagance and waste are considered a tyranny against nature and a transgression of those rights.

Ali ibn Abi Talib, the forth Muslim Caliph, once told a man who had developed and reclaimed abandoned land:

“Partake of it gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer”.

The creation of nature and its perfect equilibrium preceded the creation of man. Nonetheless, no sooner had man come into existence than he became an integral part thereof.

The guardianship of nature, besides, became placed in his care, constituting the essence of his vicegerency assignment.

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About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].