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How Islam Protects Environment

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SYED SULTAN MOHIDDIN discusses how Islamic teachings ensure protection of environment. Islam stresses that man, who has been given control over nature, must not exploit it in a way that may disturb the fragile equilibrium in Nature


Islam stands above all the contemporary religions in the world, to speak forcefully about the importance of preserving and maintaining the ecological balance. The word “Earth†(ard) appears no less than 485 times in the holy book of the Qur’ān. The men and women are described as Allah’s vicegerents on Earth. “Lo! We offered the trust upon the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it and man assumed it†(Qur’ān: 33:72). By this act of acceptance, humans have accepted the responsibility for the custody of the environment. This trusteeship is seen by Islam to be so onerous and burdensome that no other creature would ‘accept’ it. Mankind’s responsibility is to maintain the fragile equilibrium in the Nature through wise governance and sound personal conduct. This responsibility is clubbed with the supremacy bestowed upon the human beings. “Do you not see that God has made subject to you (humans) all that is on the earth†(Qur’ān, 22:65). However, the supremacy given to humanity over the other creatures is subject to scrutiny: “Then We made you heirs in the land after them, to see how you would behave!†(Qur’ān, 10:14). In this verse, there is a stern warning that – though Man has the freedom to do what he wills with the power conferred to him by Allah, he would certainly face the consequences if he tries to take destructive advantage of the power given to him.


Allah clearly warned the humans not to tamper with His divine balance (here referred to as ‘measure’). “And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof.†(Qur’ān 55:7-9). For this reason, irresponsible deforestation and needless killing of even the smallest of God’s creatures are strongly forbidden in Islam.

The Qur’ān does, on the other hand, permit the transformation of wilderness into agriculture and cattle pastures. The Qur’ān proclaims that it is Allah, who “sends down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind. We bring forth the green blade from which we bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant punches, and gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate.â€

Islam teaches that all creatures are equal. Be it an invisible amoeba or a gigantic whale in the ocean, every creature serves a defined purpose in the larger scheme of Allah. “There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a creature flying on its two wings, but they are (forms part of) communities like you.†(Qur’ān: 6:38). This verse also reinforces the scientific concept of ‘chain of life’, with each species depending on another and mutually maintaining the balance of life on earth.

The holy Qur’ān reminds us of the multitudes of the benefits from other living beings. Allah asks us to ponder as to how Honey from bees gives nourishment apart from its sweet taste. While leeches and maggots were scoffed at, as being the tools of medieval medicine, recently they have made resurgence in modern medicine. For example, leeches are being used in microsurgery to control swelling in order to promote the healing necessary to reattach severed fingers. It is discovered that the leeches produce an anticoagulant, an anaesthetic and some antibiotic properties through their saliva – all in one package. Maggots have been used in MDT (Maggot Debridement Therapy) to treat certain types of wound healing. They release proteolytic enzymes to aid in debridement (removal of unwanted matter, enzymes with antimicrobial properties, and compounds like allantonin, urea, ammonium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate – that promote wound healing. Scientists have even managed to extract anticoagulant drugs from the venom of Pit viper and cobras. The plant kingdom too has paved the way for an extraordinary number of modern drugs. Aspirin – is the product from the salicylic acid, an extract from the willow tree. Quinine which is effective to treat Malaria is produced from the Cinchona trees. Even the miraculous antibiotic drug Penicillin which has cured millions of people around the world is prepared from the mold (fungus) Penicillum.


The significance of afforestation was taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) 1400 years ago. There are many sayings of the Prophet, which ordain the Muslims to proliferate the vegetation in the world. “If any Muslim plants a tree or sows a field, and a human, bird or animal eats from it; it shall be reckoned as charity from him.†(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim).

The planting of vegetation is such a virtuous deed in the sight of Allah that it is encouraged even if it be a person’s final act on Earth. The prophet said: “Even when the Day of Judgement comes (upon you), if anyone has a palm sapling in his hand, he should plant it.†(Ahmad)

Even during battle, Muslims were instructed to avoid cutting trees that are useful to the people.

We see today, ecologists crying from the rooftops on the need to protect fresh water. The Glorious Qur’ān tells the significance of water in explicit terms. “Verily…in the rain that God sends down from heaven, thereby giving life to earth after its death…†(Qur’ān 2:164). “Have you seen the water which you drink? Was it you who sent it down from the rain cloud, or did We sent it? Were it Our will, We could have made it bitter; why then do you not give thanks?†(Qur’ān 56:68-70)

Owing to the importance of water as the basis of life, God has made its use the common right of all living beings. All are entitled to use it without monopoly, usurpation, despoilment, wastage or abuse. God commanded with regard to the people of Thamud and their camel.

“And tell them that the water shall be shared between them…†(Qur’ān 54:28)

One Hadith is enough for us to understand the importance given by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) for the judicious use of the nature’s most precious resource.

It is related that the Prophet passed by his companion Sa’d, who was doing ablution and said:

“What is this wastage, O Sa’d?â€

“Is there wastage even in washing for prayer?†asked Sa’d;

The Prophet replied: “Yes, even if you are by a flowing river.â€


It is a supreme miracle by God that he has created the living creatures and made them depend on each other for sustenance. Every single form of life is the product of a special and intricate development by God, and each warrants special respect. God says: “Then let man consider his nourishment; that We pour down the rain in showers, and We split the earth in fragments, and therein make the grain to grow, and vines and herbs, and olives and palms, and gardens of dense foliage, and fruits and fodder – provision for you and your cattle.†(Qur’ān 80:24-32)

In addition to their importance as nourishment, plants enrich the soil and protect it from erosion by wind and water. They conserve the water by detaining its runoff; they moderate the climate and produce the oxygen which we breathe. They are also of immense value as medicines, oils, perfumes, waxes, fibres, timber and fuel.

About the question as to who has rights over herbage and the other resources that are vital to the survival and well-being of humankind, the Prophet explicitly said: “The people are partners in three things: water, herbage and fire (for fuel).†(ibn Maajah). In the Qur’ān, in the verse 22 of Surat al Baqarah, Allah said the phrase lakum (for you) – which contains the message that the earth is not for one generation but for every generation – past, present and future – and that would include humans as well as other creatures on earth. Therefore, the rivers, minerals and other natural resources are the property of all. This should be distributed fairly and justly especially, even when the river passes through various countries.

Today, the rich and powerful countries, which barely constitute 10 percent of the world population are consuming over 90 percent of the world’s resources – petroleum, iron, coal etc., And this unbridled greed has resulted in the occupation of dozens of countries by the imperialist forces. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) warned the usurpers by giving the example of water. “(Among the)…three types of people with whom God, on the Day of Resurrection, will neither exchange words, nor look at…is the one who possesses an excess of water but withholds it from others. God will say to him: “Today I shall withhold from you My grace as you withheld from others the excess of what you had not yourself created†(Saheeh Al-Bukhari).

The compassion shown by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) to even worms and insects is exemplary and science has realized very late, the prominent role played by them in ecological balance. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) forbade that a fire be lit upon an anthill, and related that an ant once stung one of the prophets, who then ordered that the whole colony of ants be burnt. God admonished him by saying “Because an ant stung you, you have destroyed a whole nation that celebrates God’s glory.†(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)

The Prophet forbade killing of bees and nay captured livestock, for killing them is a form of corruption included in what God has prohibited in His Book,

“And when he turns away, he hastens through the land to cause corruption therein and to destroy the crops and cattle: And God loves not corruption.†(Qur’ān 2:205)

Hygiene and sanitation were given utmost priority by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). He prohibited urination and defecation anywhere near a water source or on a path, or in a place of shade, or in the burrows of living creatures. The values underlying these prohibitions should be understood as applicable to the pollution of critical resources and habitats in general. Effluents and exhaust fumes, and similar pollutants should be treated at their sources with the best feasible means of treatment, and care should be taken in their disposal to avoid adverse side effects that lead to similar or greater damage or injury. The underlining principle in Islamic perspective is, “Damage shall not be eliminated by creating a similar damage or a greater damage.â€

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) once said: “The world is green and beautiful, and God has appointed you his guardian over it.†(Saheeh Muslim)

In order to keep the environment free of pollution and make it pleasant, the Prophet has said, “Picking up a bone from the way is a Sadaqahâ€. He further said, “Removing a harmful and dangerous thing from the way is also Sadaqahâ€. Any student of the life of the holy Prophet will see that he was a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management. He constantly preached the importance of maintaining a harmonious balance between humans and nature. He had shown a perfect model for the preservation of ecological balance. For the protection of the land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet created inviolable zones known as hima and haram. In these zones, the natural resources should be left untouched. Hima means ‘protected place’ designed to be a sanctuary; where grazing and woodcutting are restricted and where certain animal species are protected. The Hima is the most widespread and long-standing indigenous, traditional protected area institution in the Middle East. These have become modern wildlife reserves. The concept of the hima largely disappeared in the post colonial Muslim states. Today, Islamic scholars and other organizations are reviving that traditions and creating himas throughout the Muslim world. Haram areas are often drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater table from over-pumping.

In the Islamic viewpoint, the relationship between man and nature is akin to a just ruler and his subjects. He is expected to act in a responsible manner as defined by the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Misuse of his power would change his position from being a leader… to a tyrant. The result of tyranny can only be a revolt against the tyrant. This is what is happening between the ‘man the tyrant’ and ‘nature the tyrannised’! The acid rains, the melting of Ice Sheets in the Polar Regions…making the sea levels to rise and threatening the inundation of many islands, the unbridled release of Chloro Floro Carbons making the Ozone layer to deplete are only a few cases of manmade calamities.

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Interesting, I think there is a similar concept called stewardship in Christianity (actually, that doesn't strike me as all that surprising, given the similarities to Islam on this point.)


Wikipedia notes the same point of convergence in its article on Stewardship: (you are not allowed to post links yet)"you can't post links until you reach 50 posts_en.wikipedia(contact admin if its a beneficial link)/wiki/Stewardship#Religion"]you can't post links until you reach 50 posts_en.wikipedia(contact admin if its a beneficial link)/wiki/Stewardship#Religion[/url]

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Pagans believe that humans are not set apart from nature. They do not have stewardship of it, they are simply a part of it, like everything else. The gods and goddesses are all part of nature too, and there is nothing above it, below it or outside it. To destroy nature is destroying ourselves.

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I'm not sure there is a right or wrong way to think about this issue, since it is more a matter of conceptualization than one objective truth that our ideas must adhere to. I think as long as the outcomes are the same, the intellectual path to get there is of secondary importance.

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