Last Updated on 16th April 2021
Lubna Laiq, Environmental science student, Suriname
Sustainability is a commonly used term in this day and age. The Cambridge Dictionary describes the noun as “the quality of being able to continue over a period of time”. In relation to the environment; this concept is very broad, which makes it possible for various insights to be applicable.
The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In short, using the earth and its resources in such a way that no permanent damage is caused to the environment, allowing future generations to also enjoy it. Through sustainability, the earth will be able bear the total of our consumption in the long run.
In a sustainable world, the three Ps of sustainability – people, planet and profit (knows as the triple bottom line) – would hypothetically be in balance with each other, so that we do not exhaust the earth.
Islamic beliefs and values provide humanity with effective solutions to today’s environmental challenges. Islam has a rich tradition of emphasising the importance of protecting the environment and conserving natural resources. According to Islamic beliefs, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest and light (like human beings) – all belong to living things.
“And the heaven He has raised high and set up a measure, that you may not transgress the measure. So weigh [all things] in justice and fall not short of the measure.’’ (Surah al-Rahman, Ch.55: V.8-10)
The Holy Quran and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammadsa provide a guiding light to promote sustainable development. Allah the Almighty commands mankind to avoid causing mischief and wasting resources, as these acts lead to degradation of the environment. The privilege of exploiting natural resources was given to the human race with the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed.
Corruption of all kinds, including environmental corruption such as industrial pollution, environmental damage and reckless exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources, is not appreciated by Allah. According to the Holy Quran, environmental conservation is both a religious duty as well as a social duty. The exploitation of a particular natural resource is directly related to the accountability and maintenance of the resource.
“[…] And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order. This is better for you, if you are believers.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.86)
“[…] and neglect not thy lot in this world; and do good [to others] as Allah has done good to thee; and seek not to make mischief in the earth, verily Allah loves not those who make mischief.” (Surah al-Qasas, Ch.28: V.78)
A huge threat that prevents environmental sustainability is the production of waste. Research shows that the annual amount of household waste generated in the EU since 2012, has been around 500 kilograms. Shockingly, not per family, but per person. A massive culprit in this regard is plastic, especially packaging materials and disposable items. An effective mantra that can help us cut down our amount of waste is the 3 Rs principle, namely: “reduce, reuse & recycle”. Not only for the environment, but also for ourselves, it must be pleasant to spend less and make optimal use of the products and materials we own. Strive to live by “the less, the better” ethos. By reducing our own use of plasticware, we can partly contribute to solving this issue.
Traditions of the Holy Prophetsa also extensively cover various aspects of the environment, including conservation of natural resource and environmental hygiene. The Holy Prophetsa discouraged overconsumption, luxury and opulence and pursued moderation in all walks of life.
Prophet Muhammadsa clearly forbade destruction of trees and crops, even during war, despite the fact that they could be advantageous to the enemy. The Holy Prophetsa attached great importance to sustainable cultivation of land, minimisation of waste and humane treatment of animals.
In Sahih Muslim, we read: “Whoever plants a tree and watches it diligently until it ripens and bears fruit is rewarded.”
Hazrat Anasra bin Malik narrated:
“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift [sadaqah] for him.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Furthermore, a narration of Hazrat Anasra that mentions seven acts the Holy Prophetsa said would be beneficial to a person even after death, include the following: digging a canal, digging a well and planting a tree. (Majmah-uz-Zawa‘id, Kitab-ul-Ilm)
What is distinctive about Islam’s approach to environmental issues is the connection it establishes between “green” practices and the reward in the Hereafter. For Muslims, this represents an incentive greater than any worldly gain or reward. This prompts care for the earth and more efforts to conserve its resources.
The Holy Quran contains plenty of agricultural information, which is now largely confirmed by modern science. Plants and herbs with medicinal properties are mentioned. Allah the Almighty speaks of His creation and the nutrition available from natural products.
In the Holy Quran, chapter 6, verse 100, Allah the Almighty states:
“And it is He Who sends down water from the cloud; and We bring forth therewith every kind of growth; then We bring forth with that green foliage wherefrom We produce clustered grain. And from the date-palm, out of its sheaths, come forth bunches hanging low. And We produce therewith gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate – similar and dissimilar. Look at the fruit thereof when it bears fruit, and the ripening thereof. Surely, in this are Signs for a people who believe.”
Among the foods mentioned in the Holy Quran are also garlic, ginger, onions, cucumbers, bananas and figs etc. Hereof we learn that plants are already part of our diet, simultaneously this is an encouragement to eat mindfully and healthily.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), 1/3 of the earth’s surface is used for agricultural purposes (including forestry, plantations and livestock). The current agricultural production is in fact sufficient to feed all of the world’s population, if there was a fair and correct distribution. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as much of the production is wasted. 88 million tons of food are wasted every year in the EU alone – costing an estimated 143 billion euros. (www.eurofoodbank.org/en/food-waste)
To counteract such waste, Islam has given man teachings. For example, Hazrat Abdullah ibn Abbasra reported that the Holy Prophetsa said:
“The believer is not he whose stomach is filled while his neighbour goes hungry.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)
This teaching aids in ensuring food is distributed amongst the poor and doesn’t go to waste either.
“[…] eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely, He does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.32)
By consciously deciding to avoid overconsumption and to use local and seasonal vegetables, we can head towards the right direction. If we combat waste, we can certainly contribute to improving the world from, our own homes.
Water is a huge enlivening theme in the Holy Quran. Allah the Almighty tells us how He creates life through water and supports it through the rains, streams, rivers and oceans. The Holy Quran states:
“Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were [a] closed-up [mass], then We opened them out? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?” (Surah al-Anbiya, Ch.21: V.31)
“[…] And thou seest the earth lifeless, but when We send down water thereon, it stirs and swells and grows every kind of beauteous vegetation.” (Surah al-Hajj, Ch. 22: V.6)
The use of water is very diverse and immeasurable. This includes households, agriculture, industry, recreation and transport. In the Holy Quran, God uses the analogy of life and death for Muslims to recognise the value of water. More than 60% of the human body consists of water. 71% of the globe is covered with water, which amounts to over a trillion litres. Out of this, 2.5% is freshwater, while less than 1% is usable for humans. These figures exhibit how extensive and fascinating the creation of the Almighty is.
“And Allah has sent down water from the sky, and has quickened therewith the earth after its death. Surely, in that is a sign for a people who would fear.” (Surah al-Nahl, Ch.16: V.66)
May Allah enable us to consciously and correctly deal with all of His creation, fulfilling our responsibility of making the world a livable and sustainable place.