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23 April 2011

Eco-Friendly Islam

The earth is in danger and the lives of our coming generations are under serious threat. And it is all due to the misadventures of human beings.

"Evil has become rife on the land and at sea because of men's deeds." (Surah Ar-Room, 41)

This is the summary of the most serious crisis of our time. This is so serious that the very existence of human race is at stake. Look at the following facts and figures.

The six hottest years in recorded history have all occurred in the last decade. WHO estimated that in 2000 over 1.5 lakh people died due to the direct impact of climate change. This figure is increasing rapidly.

In 50 years the earth will be 3 -5 degrees hotter than it is today, leading to the melting of a large portion of polar ice caps, and a rise of up to 14 feet in global sea levels leading some islands to disappear.

It is estimated that between 150 and 200 species become extinct every day. Once a species is lost it is gone forever and within the next 10 years we may lose 20% of all the remaining species on earth.

The hole in the ozone layer is approximately l0 million square miles. With a thinned ozone layer, the world becomes a more dangerous place, with reduced agricultural productivity, higher risk of skin cancer, and reduced immunity. 150 million cases of skin cancer and three million deaths are projected during the course of the 21stcentury.

According to WHO, air pollution is causing around 2 million premature deaths every year,

An area of a rainforest the size of a football field is being destroyed each second.

More than seven children die each minute as a result of water pollution.

Every year 25 million people die from diseases caused from polluted water and unhealthy environments.

The situation in our country is not much different.

By 2050, many cities will witness 4°c raise in maximum temperature.

Western and central regions of the country will see a 15-day reduction in the monsoon season, while rainy days will increase by 5-10 days in the North and North-East.

By 2050, most states may offer climatic opportunities for year-round malaria vector breeding.

Glaciers in the Himalayan range are retreating at a rate of 18m per year. The melting snow will increase the incidents of flooding and mudslides.

Air pollution in India causes 527,700 deaths a year. Only china has more number of premature pollution-related deaths than India.

In India 1.03 crore people die annually, of which nearly 7.5%, 78 lakh deaths, are related to water. The water availability per person will decline to 760 cm in 2050. It was 3,450 cm in 1951.

The 6500 km Indian coastline is vulnerable to rising sea levels. A meter sea level rise will inundate 1700 - square - kilometer agricultural land affecting 7.1 million people.

It is the responsibility of all of us to stand up and do something to save the planet. Islam stipulates that being the vicegerent, we are responsible for protecting and using the natural resources in a moderate and sustainable manner. The major reason for these crises is the policy failures and misdirected industrialisation. That has created havoc. The mad race for luxuries and prosperity in the developed world coupled with the exploitative and hypocrite policies of their governments is the root of the whole disaster. But apart from government and policymakers, individual human beings are also responsible for these crises. And even today, every one of us can do a lot to save the planet.

Islam has given a very perfect system of Environmental Ethics. It is high time we practiced this system of ethics and presented it to the humanity.

Individual ethical behaviors and life style related practices that can be promoted for a healthy environment can be mainly divided in three parts.

1. Controlling and regulating the Consumption,

2. Reducing and managing the Wastage, and

3. Protecting the Ecosystem.


Over consumption is among the leading reasons of the environmental crises. The capitalist society has purpose fully promoted lavish and luxurious lifestyles by glorifying the products and making extravagance the status symbol. This has resulted in tremendous pressure on water, energy and other resources. It has also resulted in the huge production of waste that is also a cause of environmental crises.

5% of the world's population use up to 25% of the entire planet's energy resources and the wealthier 16% (mostly the US, Europe and Japan) use up to 80% of the world's goods.

If everyone lived in the world like the average American, we would need five planets.

In the United States, there are more cars than the licensed drivers. It means people are possessing more than one cars.

A person in the U.S. causes 100 times more damage to the global environment than a person in a poor country....

Islam teaches us to be moderate in consumption. While it has not stopped us from using Allah's bounties for our pleasure and comfort, it has definitely discouraged indulgence in extravagance and lavishness.

The Qur’an has squarely condemned extravagance at no less than 23 places.

The Holy Qur’an says, "Children of Adam! Take your adornment at every time of Prayer; and eat and drink -without going to excesses. For Allah does not like those who go to excess." (Suarh A'araf, 7:31)

This insinuates that while utilising the natural resources, we need to be watchful- Our approach to consumption should be characterized by restraint and moderation. By our consumption pattern we should not cause harm to the long term interest of the humanity and our coming generations.

The Holy Qur’an spells out how our extra resources should be utilised.

"Fulfill your obligations towards your relatives and the wayfarer. Do not be a spendthrift because the spendthrifts are the brethren of Satan and Satan has been ungrateful to his Lord." (Surah Bani Israil, 26-27)

It means our consumption should not be selfish. It should give due consideration to the needs of the fellow human beings and the impacts that the consumption is going to make on others.

Here are a few basic guidelines that Islam provides about consumption.

1. We must try to reduce our dependence on materials and goods. Islam taught us to live a simple life. Allah says, "Know welt that the life of this world is merely sport and diversion and adornment and an object of your boasting with one another, and a rivalry in the multiplication of riches and children. Its likeness is that of rain; when it produces vegetation it delights the tillers. But then it withers and you see it turn yellow, and then it crumbles away. In the Hereafter there is (either) grievous chastisement (or) forgiveness from Allah and (His) good pleasure. The life of this –world is nothing but delusion." (Surah Al-Hadeed, 57:20)

Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said. "'The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveler, who takes a rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way." (Tirmizi)

The House of the Holy Prophet was not more than a humble hut with clay walls and roofs of palm leaves and camel skin. His house contained a rope cot, a pillow filled with palm, the animal - skin flooring, a water bag and some weapons (Bukhari, and Muslim). The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) instructed us not to compete in worldly riches and life status rather to compete in virtues. "When you see a person who has been given more than you in money and beauty, look to those, who have been given less." (Muslim) The Holy Prophet warned that over-possession may create troubles for us on the Day-of Judgment. "It is difficult for a man laden with riches to climb the steep path that leads to bliss," (Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) did not talk to a person who had built a magnificent building until he demolished it and said, every building would become a liability for its owner (on-the Judgment Day) except one which was unavoidable." (Abu Dawood) ,

2. We should use extra money for the welfare of poor and needy. This will automatically curtail the extravagant consumption. The Holy Quran stipulates that ideally, we should spend in the way of Allah whatever is more than our needs. "And they ask, what ought we to spend (in the way of Allah)? Say, Spend -whatever is beyond your needs."(Surah Al-Baqarah 2:219)

Zakat is not the only Charity that is expected from a Muslim. He is expected to be generous in helping the poor and needy. "And they feed, for the love of Allah, the poor, the orphan, and the captive.(Surah 76:8)

The Prophet's Companions were known for their immense generosity. Ali Bin Talib and his wife, daughter of the Holy Prophet, Fatima fasted for three days and each day they gave all the food they had in charity. Ka'ab Bin Malik and Saa'd Bin Abi Waqas would have given all their wealth in charity, but the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) commanded them to keep a portion for themselves and families. (Bukhari & Muslim)

3. One big reason of lavishness and consumerism is the wrong notion that the status and respect of human being is associated with his /her possessions and lifestyle. Islam has discouraged rather deplored this thinking and has given an altogether different benchmark for status and dignity. According to the Holy Quran Taq-wa or fear of Allah is the criterion of supremacy for human beings.

The Holy Quran says:
Human beings, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes So that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-aware. (Surah Al Hujarat, 49:13).

Mualana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, in his acclaimed book Maza Khasart - aalam bi fnhetatil Muslimeen maintains that in early Islamic history and even in the late medieval period, the status and nobility was attached with philanthropy and patronage of academic activities. The nobility and status was judged by as to how many people ate in one's dining hall and how many rare books his library had.

One major Islamic regulation that controls consumption is the uncompromising and stringent prohibition of Interest. Availability of easy consumer credit is among the major factors that have accelerated the crazy race of consumption in our age. Islam has strictly prohibited interest and the Qur’an has declared that those who indulge in interest are at war with Allah.

O believers! Fear Allah and give up that interest which is still due to you, if you are true believers. But if you do not do so, then you are warned of the declaration of war against you by Allah and His Messenger." (Surah Al Baqarah, 2,278-279)

Islam has not only prohibited the interest, it has discouraged debt (even without interest) for consumption. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) used to say in his prayer: "O Allah! I seek refuge with You from sin and heavy debt. Someone said to him: "How often you seek refuge from heavy debt"! He said: "When a man gets into debt, he speaks and tells lies, and makes a promise and breaks it." (Bukhari and Muslim) Musnad Ahmad has narrated that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) refrained from offering the funeral prayer for one who had died owing two dinars, until Abu Qatadah (R.A.) promised to pay it off for him. So the debt in Islam is interest free and confined to addressing dire necessities only. It is not for maintaining a lavish and luxurious lifestyle.

4. We should insist on environment friendly products and should avoid products and companies that are spoiling the environment and ecological balance. Masalahah or public good has been considered on important principle of Islamic Jurisprudence. The Holy Quran has said that good in this world is also something that is to be desired. "Then there are others who say, "Our Lord, give us what is good, in this world and also what is good in the Hereafter and save us from the torment of Fire." (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:511). The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: "Seek what brings benefit to you and depend on Allah." The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) has also categorically emphasized, "No harm shall be inflicted or tolerated in Islam" (Ibne-Majah). Based on this, Islamic Jurists have taken Maslehah as an important principle of jurisprudence, (Usul-ul-Fiqah). It means anything that may cause harm to public will not be allowed. So we should try to shun all those things that directly or indirectly, cause damage to environment and thereby long-term well-being of the humanity. We should discourage unhealthy, interventions in nature and should avoid GM food, non-organic food etc.


Wastage is a major cause of environmental crises. Overuse of the resources is the natural result of a consumerist lifestyle.

The United States and some other developed States throw away nearly a third of their food each year.

Waste generated each year in the U. S. would fill a convoy of 10 - ten garbage trucks 145,000 miles long (over halfway to the moon).

For packaging (cans, bottles, cartons, etc.) alone, the U.S. uses approximately 50% of its paper, 75% of its glasses, 40% of its aluminum and 30% of its plastics.

Every year some 45,000 tons of plastic wastage are dumped into world's oceans. One million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals are killed each year by plastic trash.

A study of food waste by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that in 1997 some 27 percent of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the U.S. was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up more than 60 per cent of the waste.


The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) attached great importance to water, and prohibited the excessive use of it even when taking the ablutions, "When he saw that Saa'd was using a lot of water, he said: "What is this? You are wasting water." Saa'd replied asking: "Can there be wastefulness while taking the ablution?” To which he replied: "yes, even if you take them on the bank of a rushing river." So we should use water economically.

As Muslims, we are prohibited from polluting water. He said, "None of you should pass his urine or bathe in a water source." (Bukhari)


We are prohibited from wasting the food. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said:
"The Shaytaan is present with everyone of you in everything he does, he is even present when he eats food, so if anyone of you drops a mouthful, he should remove away anything filthy on it and eat it and not leave it for the devil: and when he finishes, he should lick his fingers for he does not know in what portion of his food the blessing lies." (Sahih Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: "If one eats from the dish and licks it, the dish will pray that Allah may free him from Hell as he frees it from the devil."

Over eating is also a kind of wastage. We are ordered to take food moderately. Moderation in eating, apart from its evident health benefits, has great environmental benefits also. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "A believer eats in one intestine, "whereas a non-believer eats in seven intestines." (Sahih Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "It is also extravagance that whatever tempts is compulsorily eaten." (Ibn Majah)


Islam has prohibited keeping the lands barren and unused. Right to property of a land is restricted. And if somebody is not using the land under his possessions productivity, he may loose his right.

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "One who makes a barren land productive, it becomes his property and there is no right for oppressor.” (Abu Dawood)

Islamic jurists have given a principle that if someone takes possession of a land and does not make it productive in three years (some jurists say the exact period will be decided by the Stale) he should lose the possession.

It means the value of important natural resources should be recognised. And their potential should not be wasted.

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) prohibited wasting any kind of assets. "Allah dislikes three things; arguing unnecessarily, casting the assets, and begging frequently." (Sahih Bukhari)

Energy is an important asset of our time. The impact of its misuse is universal. So this Hadeeth implies that we should do our best to avoid its wastage. And use Electricity, oil and other energy resources cautiously.


First Islamic Caliph Abu Bakr's letter to a commander of armed forces, Yazeed Bin Abi Safiyan, expounds the emphasis Islam has given to the ecosystem protection. These instructions were related to wars and it shows how Muslims are expected to safeguard the ecosystem even amid the extreme emergencies like wars.

He writes:
"I give you ten instructions. Do not kill a woman, a child or an old man. Do not cut a tree with fruits, do not ruin the lands, do not slaughter any animal except for food, do not bum the honeybees, and not even make them disintegrate, do not indulge in malpractice regarding the spoils of war, and do not show cowardice." (Mu'atta Imam Malik)

Half of these instructions (five out of ten) are related to ecosystem protection.

1. We have been categorically prohibited from unnecessarily cutting trees and running cultivation. The Holy Quran has termed this a Fasad (Mischief) just like killing the human race is a Fasad.

"When he gets power he directs all his efforts towards spreading mischief in the land, destroying harvests and killing the human race whereas Allah does not like mischief." (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:205)

Muslims are instructed to plant and grow trees and thereby help in maintaining the ecological balance.

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "A Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field, from which man, birds and animals can eat, is committing an act of charity." (Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) asked us to plant the trees even if the doomsday is knocking. "If you have a plantlet, be certain to plant it, even if doomsday starts to break forth."

"Whoever reclaims and cultivates dry, barren land, will be rewarded by God for the act. So long as men and animals benefit from it He will record it for him as almsgiving."

2. Wherever needed we should maintain the protected areas and sanctuaries and should respect their protection. After migrating to Medina the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) planted trees and date groves. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, he created conservation areas; where hunting or cutting any tree or plant was strictly prohibited. These sanctuaries were called Hima. A strip of land approximately twelve miles wide around Medina was declared a Hima. Imam Bukhari has given some details about this Hima. According to Bukhari, "It is called Hima al-Naqi." Extending this policy, Caliph Omar declared another two areas Ash-sharaf and Ar-Rabadha as Hima." (Bukhari, Narration Saab Bin Jaththama).

3. We should not kill animals unnecessarily and should behave with them mercifully.

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "If without good reason anyone kills a sparrow, or a creature lesser than that even, the living creature will put his plaint to God on the Day of Judgment, saying; "So-and-so killed me for no purpose.

Narrated Abdullah Bin Omar: Allah's Apostle said: "A woman was tortured and was put in Hell because of a cat which she had kept locked till it died of hunger.'' Allah's Apostle further said, (Allah knows better) Allah said (to the woman), "you neither fed it nor watered when you locked it up, nor did you set it free to eat the insects of the earth.” (Bukhari)

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W, sent curse to the person, who targets a living being just for exercise." (Bukhari and Muslim)

Islamic jurists have emphatically prescribed using animal fights as entertainment shows, using them as targets for shooting games and their exercises and hunting for just fun. Use of animals should be restricted to genuine needs like food, transportation and agriculture.

Islam encourages an environment friendly lifestyle. The consumerist lavish, luxurious, ostentatious and unsustainable habits are alien to Islamic cultural set-up. This is the product of materialistic and hedonistic western life pattern and its influence. With the environmental crises becoming grimmer, it is the responsibility of Muslims to come forward and play an effective and proactive role in protecting the environment. Being the vicegerent of Allah and the custodian of His trust, it is part of their religious duties. For that we should develop and promote the environment friendly habits and lifestyle as preached by Islam.

(The writer is Asstt. Professor in a Hyderabad Engineering College)

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