From prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa and Australia to the ravaging storms that sweep across the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, millions of people are becoming victims of the devastating effects of global warming. The human-induced increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere poses an existential threat to the environment and induces irreversible global climate change. As mankind continues to release toxic gases into the atmosphere, natural disasters will occur more frequently and violently. More marine ecosystems will be damaged and countless other geographic, economic and social consequences will wreak havoc on our planet.
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
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]. (Quran 30:41)
Today, about 1400 years after the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad ﷺ, this verse speaks exactly of our present situation — a serious conflict between people and nature. Allah SWT instructs us just as He instructed those before,
كُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا مِن رِّزْقِ اللَّهِ وَلَا تَعْثَوْا فِي الْأَرْضِ مُفْسِدِينَ
Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the Earth, spreading corruption. (Quran 2:60)
A Muslim’s Duty Towards the Environment
The Islamic tradition is rich in references regarding our accountability as Muslims to act as stewards of the environment. Stewardship prescribes that humans learn to live in harmony with, rather than work against nature, as our Prophet ﷺ stated,
إن الدنيا حلوة خضرة وإن الله تعالى مستخلفكم فيها، فينظر كيف تعملون
‘The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves’. (Muslim)
It is part of our ibadah (worship) to preserve the bounties of the world as much as we can for future generations. Allah SWT stresses that true devotion to him involves safeguarding the welfare of His creation and having humility on the earth. The earth is what we prostrate on, it purifies us when there is no access to water and it is what we are made from.
مِنْهَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ وَفِيهَا نُعِيدُكُمْ وَمِنْهَا نُخْرِجُكُمْ تَارَةً أُخْرَىٰ
From the earth We created you, and into it We will return you, and from it We will extract you another time. (Quran 20:55)
Whether we look at the entire chapters in the Qur’an dedicated to certain animals and natural incidents, such as ‘The Bee’, ‘The Thunder’ or ‘The Daybreak’, or the magnificent descriptions of the earth’s landscapes, Allah SWT emphasises the beauty and significance of nature. Frequently, Allah SWT takes oaths by some natural phenomena, for example by ‘the dawn’ [Qur’an 89:1] or by ‘the fig and olive’ [Qur’an 95:1]. Even paradise is described as eternal blissful gardens — an appropriate reward for those that care for and protect the temporary gardens of dunya (this world) and the life which inhabits it. As the Islamic approach to the environment is holistic and explicit, Allah SWT mentions multiple times that the natural environment is a sign for us to recognise and affirm our belief in Him.
وَاللَّهُ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَسْمَعُونَ
“And Allah has sent down rain from the sky and given life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed, in that is a sign for a people who listen.” [Qur’an 16:65]
As such, a swift and radical reappraisal is called for. Humankind simply cannot afford the slow progress we have seen since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005 — when it was made clear that the earth’s core physical systems are in danger of abrupt and irreversible changes. Climate change is now a part of the political conversation in a way it has never been before and we must raise awareness, challenging the ignorance that perpetuates this corruption against our planet.
How can we reduce our carbon footprint?
Here are some simple ideas.
1) Conserve water.
In the Qur’an, water is introduced as the origin and the source of life. For example, Allah SWT says,
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ
‘…And We have made of water everything living…’ [Quran 21:30]
Water is mentioned over 60 times throughout the Qur’an and is a recurring topic in many of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ). One of these sayings includes the Prophet’s (ﷺ) advice to the effect of, ‘Do not waste even if performing ablution on the bank of a fast-flowing large river’ (Al Thirmidhi).
If wastefulness is discouraged when a resource seems abundant, how then can we afford to waste what we know is limited? Climate change has altered weather patterns, now causing extreme droughts and the depletion of utilisable freshwater resources. Simultaneously, the world population is increasing, giving rise to a greater demand for water, and in our current system the poor often end up paying disproportionately high prices for it. To conserve water as much as we can, we are encouraged to be modest in our usage of it.
2) Minimise Food and Electricity Wastage
Whether it’s remembering to unplug our devices or taking the bicycle out instead of the car, minimising the wastage of electricity is crucial. Some other simple ideas include; turning down heating or cooling even slightly, hanging clothes out to dry rather than using the tumble dryer and abandoning plastic bottled water.
Furthermore, when we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package it. Currently, an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of food are wasted in Australia each year, according to the National Food Baseline report, which amounts to an average of nearly 300 kilograms per person.
Buying and eating food in moderation so as not to waste it and reducing the amount of meat consumed in a week are both actions which can significantly reduce one’s carbon footprint.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنشَأَ جَنَّاتٍ مَّعْرُوشَاتٍ وَغَيْرَ مَعْرُوشَاتٍ وَالنَّخْلَ وَالزَّرْعَ مُخْتَلِفًا أُكُلُهُ وَالزَّيْتُونَ وَالرُّمَّانَ مُتَشَابِهًا وَغَيْرَ مُتَشَابِهٍ ۚ كُلُوا مِن ثَمَرِهِ إِذَا أَثْمَرَ وَآتُوا حَقَّهُ يَوْمَ حَصَادِهِ ۖ وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ.
And He it is who causes gardens to grow, [both] trellised and untrellised, and palm trees and crops of different [kinds of] food and olives and pomegranates, similar and dissimilar. Eat of [each of] its fruit when it yields and give its due [zakah] on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess. (Quran 6:141)
3) Plant trees
Trees provide food and shelter for animals, they purify the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen and regulate the temperature within urban environments.
In Islam, planting a tree is considered to be an act of worship, for which special prayer is recommended. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said,
مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَغْرِسُ غَرْسًا، أَوْ يَزْرَعُ زَرْعًا، فَيَأْكُلُ مِنْهُ طَيْرٌ أَوْ إِنْسَانٌ أَوْ بَهِيمَةٌ، إِلاَّ كَانَ لَهُ بِهِ صَدَقَةٌ
“There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Bukhari)
4) Heal Greed
Greed has allowed the relentless processes of accumulation, growth and inequality and involves striving for immediate profits with little regard for the environment. All over the globe, corporations have translated their economic power into political power and without criminality have free rein to ravage the environment.
And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, “My Lord has honored me.” But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.” No! But you do not honor the orphan. And you do not encourage one another to feed the poor. And you consume inheritance, devouring [it] altogether, And you love wealth with immense love. No! When the earth has been leveled — pounded and crushed — And your Lord has come and the angels, rank upon rank, And brought [within view], that Day, is Hell — that Day, man will remember, but what good to him will be the remembrance?(Qur’an 89: 15–20)
Zakat (the third pillar of Islam) is a form of charity and almsgiving, where Muslims pay 2.5% of their total savings and wealth to the poor. In its literal sense, it means purification, for it purifies one’s heart from greediness and creates a sense of discipline. Not paying it is tantamount to corruption and plain usurping of spirituality, commerciality, morality and legality.
Islam values private possession, but it does not endorse greedy capitalism, a phenomenon that is indubitably a driving force of unchecked greenhouse emissions and therefore rapid climate change. Besides being an effective way to eradicate social misery, Zakat is a healthy form of internal security of human nature against greed and social dissension. In removing corruption in hearts through the awareness of the significance of virtues, we can begin to lay the foundation for these large-scale changes.
We Need to Act Now
It is clear that environmental awareness and the protection of natural resources is an integral part of Islam. There is a delicate balance on the earth and as Muslims, we are obligated to preserve this balance.
وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ. أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ. وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ
“And the sky has He raised high, and has devised (for all things) a balance, so that you might never transgress the balance: weigh, therefore (your deeds) with equity, and do not upset the balance.” (Qur’an 55:7–10)
The situation has become so dire that even Makkah, where the Hajj (the fifth pillar of Islam) is performed, is set to become a danger zone. Scientists predict that heat and humidity levels will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053 and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086. We must recognise that now is a critical time in determining the fate of our planet and we must embody the teachings of our religion to ensure a sustainable future. Our Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ) said,
إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا
“If it is the Last day of life and you have a small plant, make sure you plant it”. (Musnad Ahmad)
UNSWMSA is hosting an informative talk where you can learn more about Islam’s perspective on Climate Change.