“Corruption and disorder have appeared on land and in the sea because of what the hands of people have earned.” (Ar-Rûm 30:41)
The ecologic terms deriving from the Greek words oikos (house) and logos (wisdom); are used in the science of studying plants and animals, and the relation between their animate and inanimate surroundings.
The industrial revolution of the West in the 19th century, resulted in rapid technological advancement and growth but the increasing industrialization also eventually led to the blind destruction of the environment. The release of manufacturing waste into nature, increasing air pollution and unplanned urbanization lead scientists to consider the ever growing environmental issues. The term “ecology” was initially used by the German Zoologist Ernst Haeckel in 1986.
These modern themes of ecology in environmental science, which supposedly emerged in America with E.A Birge and H.C. Cowles in 1891; F.A Forel in Sweden 1892; and E.B Warming in Denmark 1896, was in fact recognized in the East much earlier.1 With his concept of ‘Economy of Nature’ Biruni, an Islamic scholar who lived during the 11th century, pointed out the natural balances of nature, the ‘eco system’ as we know it today. (see Mehmet Bayraktar, Islam and ecology. Ank. 1992)
The principle topics of ecology are; the nourishment of living creatures, their habitation, and the environment in which they can survive and grow. These topics were studied extensively by Ibn Khaldûn, who lived during the 14th century, and who laid the foundations for sociology.2
This article shall seek to educate the reader on the duties of a Muslim towards the environment, as laid out in the Qur’ân and Prophetic sayings. Thereby, as we study the concepts for the foundations of modern ecology, we will clearly see that this concept in fact emerged fourteen centuries earlier in a system already present in the East.
Allah clearly states that the universe was created in total harmony and balance: “Allah is He Who has created the heavens and the earth, and sends down water from the sky with which He brings forth fruits for your provision. And He has made the ships serviceable for you, so that they run upon the sea by His command; and He has made the rivers serviceable for you; And He has made the sun and the moon constant in their courses, [and so] serviceable for you; and He has made the night and the day of service to you.”3
“Surely, We have created each and every thing by [precise] measure.”4
“And the heaven - He has made it high [above the earth], and He has set up the balance; So you must not go beyond the balance”5
In fact, Allah is the Creator of beauty and excellence, and as a result His creation can be nothing less than excellent and beautiful.
The Qur’ân describes how Allah created the universe with absolute precision and balance. It then goes onto detail how Allah presented services owed to His creation as a duty upon mankind, and with great poignancy the Qur’ân refers to this duty as a ‘Trust.’6
Unfortunately, the balance of the universe has been spoilt by humans who, over a period of time have distanced from the Divine Commands; absolving themselves from the Divine duties bestowed upon them. Therefore the eco-system has suffered great damage. “Corruption and disorder have appeared on land and in the sea because of what the hands of people have earned (of evil deeds).”7
The manmade corruption of the existing balance is a total betrayal of trust, but all the while Islam, portrays humans as believers among the whole of the existence on earth that glorifies and praises the Creator, and asks for His forgiveness.8
During his lifetime, the Prophet of a religion so susceptible to the balance of nature also conveyed orders aimed at protecting the eco-system. These orders regarding the environment that we as modern humans, only realized in the twentieth century, were in fact conveyed fourteen centuries ago. Not only did this Noble Prophet (pbuh) guide followers towards a duty of care towards the environment, he (pbuh) went into detailed matters concerning this duty.
The Prophet (pbuh) announced a twelve mile area from the boundaries of the City of Medina, as a conservation area, and prohibited people from harming any animals, flowers or trees within this area.9 A place called Al- Ghabe, outside this twelve mile area, had already been allocated for the people to cut restricted amounts of wood to provide for their needs. However, those who wanted to cut a tree could only do so under the condition that they planted another.10
In ² Tâif, another city close to Mecca, the Prophet designated Wajj Valley that had its own mountain pasture, as a conservation area and ordered: “The thorny trees and bushes of Wajj valley are forbidden [to you from being cut down] and the animals there are not to be hunted. Whoever disobeys these orders will have his clothing removed, and be whipped. If, regardless of his punishment, the person continues to disobey, he will be caught and then brought to the Messenger of God.”11
The Prophet, who throughout his life planted five hundred trees, advised Muslims to plant the sapling of a tree, even if they feared the Day of Judgment had arrived, and said: “Whoever cuts down a tree in the dessert which travelers, and animals use for shade will be thrown headfirst into the hellfire by God.”12
The Prophet also gave great importance to environmental cleanliness, in fact he continuously stressed that any kind of purification was a part of faith. Therefore, if he saw an impurity on the road, he would avoid passing the same spot until it had been cleaned. He condemned any person who relieved themselves in public places, where others walked, or rested in the shade.13
All those centuries ago, the Prophet showed a great interest in planned urbanization, one of the main topics of environmental science, and defined a specific distance between the houses being built at that time, and personally appointed the road widths within the city. Considering the requirements of that period, and allowing for the flow of traffic, the roads within the city planning were defined as 5.5 meters wide.14
Paradise, the place where those Muslims who fulfill the duty of ‘Trust’ in this world hope to unite, is a kingdom of greenery where the clear rivers flow, a place where all its habitants live in total harmony.15
It is evident that the main issues of ecology that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the West, were in fact presented 13-14 centuries earlier by Islamic sources. Ignoring these environmental issues, which make up some of the commands in Islam that embrace every aspect of life, is contradictory to both the characteristics and order of the ecosystem.
This so called modern system, that every year releases 57% of the world’s carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, refused to sign an agreement for the “Protection of the various plantation and creatures living on earth” due to the opinion that such a scheme would damage their country’s economic structure…if only these leaders would recognize the distinction and value of these previous civilizations, and understand that “God is beautiful, and loves beauty” then the world would be a much better place.
1 E. Britannica vol 7/ 914
2 Muqaddimah 1/107; E. Britannica vol 7/914
3 Ibrahim 14:32-33
4 Al-Qamar 54:49
5 Al Rahmân 55:7-9
6 Al-Ahzab 33:72
7 Al Rûm 30:41
8 Al Isra 17:44; Al Taghâbun 64:1 Al Jumuíah 62:1
9 Bukhâri, Jihad 71; Muslim, Hajj 458
10 Bukhari A³íimah
M. Hamidullah, The Prophet of Islam 2/332; Al-Wasaiq 236
12 Abu Dawûd, Adab 5239
13 Muslim, ²ahâra 68
Bukhâri, Mazalim Mazalim 29; Muslim, Musaqat 31; The Prophet of Islam 1/297
15 see M.F Abdulbaki Al- Mu’jem-ul Mufahras Paradise