We are born into an established world, but we enter a relationship with our natural environment with an awareness produced by social life. We approach our natural environment with a style of behavior and thought that we got from our family and close social circle since our childhood. Consequently, we do not see many things not seen or avoided by our social circle. In spite of there being many things in our environment that we need to pay attention to and protect, usually we do not even notice them.
For either we did not set them up or, seeing them every day, we have become accustomed to them. Only when they no longer exist or become unusable do we notice the air that we breathe every moment; the sun whose light and heat we are dependent upon; greenery that produces oxygen for the air and gives us psychological pleasure; the clear, blue sky that gives us inner expansion; and the sea that attracts people with its emerald green color. We notice them and comprehend at that moment what great value they have for humanity.
This natural order was created by Allah and bestowed upon us. (See Quran 14/32; 16/12, 14; 22/65; 29/61; 31/20; 35/13; 39/5; 45/13.) This is a clear sign of the value Allah gives to man. While the Quran declares that all animate and inanimate creatures on the earth and in the heavens have been created with a certain measure and balance (Al-Hijr 15/16-20; Al-Qamar 54/49), it also points out that man should not destroy this measure and balance while utilizing nature (Al-Rahman 55/7-12). Entering a relationship with nature in a measured and balanced way will result in man’s being able to benefit from nature for the longest period of time.
Industrial pollution is causing the desertification of land, drying up our rivers and lakes, and pollution in the seas has killed fish living there; all while forests are destroyed for the sake of urbanization and products are created in the name of civilization, which harm the air. If precautions are not taken against these, the scene confronting us will be terrifying. As an Native American leader once said, we did not inherit this world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. Just as we have made the world into a harmful place for ourselves with our irresponsible approach, we are about to leave an uninhabitable world to our children.
It should not be thought that Islam only gives us a number of responsibilities on religious subjects like belief and worship and then leaves other areas of life untouched. Islam gives commands, recommendations and warnings in relation to every aspect of human life. Consequently, there are a number of commands, recommendations and warnings regarding our topic, too. We can list them as follows:
Islam teaches Muslims to respect all creatures and to not disturb their lives. Every Muslim believes: “The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare his glory: there is not a thing but celebrates his praise” (Bani Israil 17/44). In view of this, we can say that Muslims will not/cannot irresponsibly destroy the environment and unconsciously use nature. This matter is an important point in regard to the development of environmental awareness. The relationship with the environment of a person who has this awareness will be measured accordingly. At least he will see the creatures in his environment as his friends and helpers. While benefiting from them, he will be careful not to destroy balance. The statement in the Quran thatwaste is sinful and spendthrifts are brothers of Satan (Al-Araf 7/31; Bani Israil 17/26-27, 29-30; Taha 20/81), and the warning of the Prophet that even running water should not be wasted while taking ablution (Ibn Mace, Ikame, 193) are important bases for the development of environmental awareness among Muslims.
A Muslim believes that Allah’s names are present within himself and that he manifests them. One of God’s names is Quddus. Quddus means holy, clean and pure. As a manifestation of this name, Allah constantly cleans natural pollution that appears on earth by means of the ecological system He set up. Thousands of animals that die and plants that dry up every season are chemically changed and cleaned up. In addition, the earth is swept by means of the winds and washed by the rains. At this point a Muslim, as a reflection of the name Quddus, acts with the belief that he, himself, and his environment must be kept clean and does what is necessary. If thought of in relation to this subject, possessing environmental awareness and preventing environmental pollution can be evaluated as taking on the virtues of Allah.
The Holy Quran declares that Allah has given the duty of re-constructing the world to man. It is said in one verse, “Allah created you in the earth and wants you to build it up” (Al-Hud 11/61). The word “isti’mar” that passes in this verse has been given two meanings by commentators. One of them is: “Allah made you re-constructers of the earth” (Ibn Kesir, Tefsir. 2/450). The second is: “Allah wanted you to re-construct the earth” (Ibd’l-Jevzi, Zadu’l-Masir, Beirut 1984, 4/133). While the first commentary expresses that Allah created man in a form to re-construct the world, the second expresses that He wanted man to re-construct the world. Based on the above verse, Islamic scholars said that it is mandatory for society to do constructive work such as making housing, opening water canals and planting trees (Abu Hayyan, al-Bahru’l-Muhit, Beirut 1992, 6/175). Of course, humans will re-construct the world as a natural or religious duty. But this should be done without damaging nature. Muslim morality demands this.
Muhammad (pbuh) was an example to Muslims on this subject. Knowing this command well, the Prophet participated in construction activities and tried to make the city where he lived into a developed state. In addition, he declared the Medina and Taif regions as haram in addition to Mecca and prohibited cutting down trees and hunting there. Adiy b. Zaid (ra) related that the Prophet declared a 30 km. area on every side of Medina (approximately 1000 square meters) as a protected grove and prohibited the cutting down of trees and the breaking off of branches (Abu Davud, Menasik, 96). In addition, when the Prophet stopped at Zuraybu’t-tawil, a pasture of the Bani Haris tribe near Medina, on his return from the Zu-Qard expedition, they described it as a place where their animals grazed and their women walked around. Our Prophet said, “Whoever cuts down a tree here should definitely plant another in its place” (Belazuri, Futuhu’l-Buldan, Beirut 1987, 17; Ibrahim Canan, Islam ve Çevre Sağlığı, Istanbul 1987, pp. 59-60). When the Taif people were about to become Muslim and sent a delegation to Medina, an article was put in the text of the agreement that the Prophet had prepared to the effect that the Taif region valleys were under protection, that it was prohibited to damage the ground cover there or hunt animals, and that those who did not conform to this law would be punished (Muhammad Hamidullah, Islam Peygamberi, Istanbul 2003, 1/500; Muhammad Hamidullah, al-Vasaiq, Beirut 1969, pp. 236-38, 240; Ali Riza Temel, “Islam’a Gore Insan Cevre Iliskisi,” Insan ve Cevre, p. 77). During the caliphate of Omar, Sa’d b. Abi Vakkas (ra) punished someone who did not conform to this law based on this decree (Abu Davud, Menasik, 96). Again, the Prophet forbade the cutting down of the cedar tree in the desert where travelers and animals found shade and he cursed those who cut it (Abu Davud, Adab, 159).
In addition, Muhammad gave orders and recommendations to keep the city where they lived clean, and he was careful about the protection of plants and animals. At this point, commands by the Prophet to clean the masjid and make it smell good with perfume (Tirmizi, Jum’a, 64), to keep the courtyards clean (Tirmizi, Adab, 41), not to make urine in still waters (Buhari, Wudu, 68; Muslim,Taharet, 94-96; Abu Davud, Taharet, 36), and not to dump garbage near drinking water (Servet Armagan, “Islam Cevre Hukukunun Genel Esaslari,” Islam ve Cevre, p. 250) should be remembered. Also to be recalled is the news that the man would go to heaven who took water from a well in his shoe and gave it to a dog whose mouth was dried and whose tongue was hanging out from thirst (Buhari, Bed’u’l-halk, 17, Adab, 27) and the news that the woman would go to hell who shut her cat in the house and allowed it to die from hunger (Buhari, Azhan, 90).
These examples show that our exalted Prophet was an example to his followers on the subject of protecting the environment and keeping it clean, as he was on every subject. In addition, these hadiths encouraging the planting of trees are perfect signs of his encouraging sensitivity towards and awareness of the environment: “If you have a sapling and time to plant it close to Doomsday, plant it” (Buhari, Edebu’l-müfred, Cairo 1379, p. 168); “Whoever plants a tree, Allah will write as much merit for him as the produce from the tree” (Ahmed b. Hanbel, Musned, 5/415); “Whoever revives an empty, arid, infertile piece of land will be rewarded for it by Allah. As living creatures benefit from it, charity will be written for the one who revived it” (Munavi, Feyzu’l-kadir, 6/39); “If a Muslim plants a tree, the fruit of that tree that is eaten is definitely charity for that person. Fruit stolen from that tree is again charity for him. Fruit eaten by wild animals is also charity. What birds eat is also charity. Whatever fruit is eaten is charity for the one who planted the tree” (Muslim, Musakat, 7-10, 12; Buhari, Adab, 27; Hars, 1).
For the entire text, please see Dr.Muhsin Toprak, İslam´ın Çevre Bilincine Katkısı (Islam´s Contribution to Environmental Awareness), Yeni Ümit Dini İlimler ve Kültür Dergisi (New Hope Religious Sciences and Culture Magazine)
Toprak, Muhsin. This article was published originally in Yeni Umit Magazine.