The message of Islam in this matter is that of moderation and responsibility which guides human beings to live in perfect equilibrium with the environment.
Gar Smith, activist, academician and author of the book The War and Environment Reader, says in a comparison between the Qur’an and the Bible: “The Qur’an might even be said to be the “greener” of the two holy books. The word “Earth” (ard) appears no less than 485 times in the holy book of the Qur’an”.
Why should we preserve the environment?
There is a general rule in Islam that bids Muslims not to “cause harm or return harm”.
According to the Islamic sources, Allah has made this world in perfect equilibrium and human’s excessive exploitation of natural resources will result in damaging this balance:
“And We spread out the earth and cast in it firm mountains, and We grew in it every kind of balanced thing” (15:19).
When the balance is disturbed, the result will be the many environmental crises that we are faced with nowadays. These include pollution, global warming, natural resource depletion, waste disposal, climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, ocean acidification, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, water pollution, and so on..
As such, the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just human beings. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given to the mankind on a trusteeship or guardianship basis, with the right to use them on the promise that it will not be damaged or destroyed until the day they are reclaimed by their Creator.
Accordingly, environmental conservation is a religious duty as well as social obligation, and not an optional matter. The exploitation of a particular natural resource is directly related to accountability and maintenance of the resource.
Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith” (7:85)
Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters (7:21).
“And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters”, (28:77)
“Children of Adam, dress well whenever you are at worship, and eat and drink (as we have permitted) but do not be extravagant: God does not like extravagant people.” (7:31)
Besides what is stated by Allah in the Qur’an, there are also many Hadith narrations from the life of the Prophet regarding this same topic. The most popular Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on environment might be what is translated as:
“The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Muslim)
“Allah is pure and likes purity and cleanliness. Therefore, keep where you live in clean”.
Water and forest preservation
Islam forbids the wastage of water and the usage thereof without benefit. The preservation of water for the drinking of mankind, animal life, bird life and vegetation is indeed a form of worship which gains the pleasure of Allah.
“Lo! the squanderers were ever brothers of the devils and the devil was ever an ingrate to his Lord.” (17:27)
The Prophet (PBUH) instructed the faithful that any Muslim who plants a crop that feeds another person, animal or bird, will receive a reward in paradise.
“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.” (Bukhari)
“Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded,” (Musnad)
“When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hands, he should plant it.”
The Prophet (PBUH) clearly forbade destruction of trees and crops, even during war times.
He also gave high degree of importance towards sustainable cultivation of land, waste minimization, and preservation of natural resources.
One familiar story from the life of the Prophet (PBUH) recounts how, during a journey, one of Muhammad’s companions removed a baby pigeon from a nest. Muhammad (PBUH) confronted the thief and gently returned the bird to its nest. “For charity shown to each creature with a wet heart, there is a reward,” the Prophet declared.
In the words of Allah:
“There is not an animal in the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are nations like you.” (6:38)
Qur’an and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah both teach us that kindness to animals is an “article of faith for Muslims.” The Prophet advised people never to curse beasts of burden and commanded his followers to treat these animals with gentleness and kindness.
The Prophet said that he who is kind and merciful towards animals, Allah will be kind and merciful towards him…. We must deal with animals with utmost beneficence and compassion and strive to ensure their preservation.
It is forbidden in Islam to kill a animal for mere play. Islam has forbidden wastage of animals and plants in peacetime and in wartime.
It is in fact believed that if someone kills even a bird for amusement, the bird will demand justice from that man on the Day of Judgment.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also told the story of a woman who was put in Hell because of a cat which she had kept locked until it died of hunger. In another story, a prostitute’s sins were washed away because she gave drinking water to a thirsty dog.
The first natural Reserves
The Prophet (PBUH) recognized that natural resources should not be overexploited or abused. In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, the Prophet created inviolable zones, known as the “Haram” and the “Hima”, in which resources were to be left untouched.
Haram areas were drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater from overpumping.
Hima applied to wildlife and forestry and designated an area of land where grazing and woodcutting was restricted, or where certain animal species (such as camels) were protected.
During his life, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) established a hima to the south of Madina and forbade hunting within a four-mile radius and destruction of trees or plants within a twelve-mile radius. The creation of these inviolable zones shows the importance placed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on sustainable use of natural resources and protection of wildlife and agricultural land. And this is how he pioneered the equivalent to modern natural and wildlife Reserves.
Islam has emphasized the significance of preserving the environment more than 1400 years ago, and provided us with guidelines to do so before it became fashionable or politically correct to be an environmental activist, and despite the fact that people at that time did not face the complex environmental issues we are facing today.