His Eminence’s speech, the Islamic action paper
The Global Forum on Environment and
Development for Human Survival
15–19 January 1990
In the name of God,
the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise be to God, the Cherisher, Fosterer and Sustainer of all worlds, the Lord of all creation. Best greetings and blessings be upon all prophets and messengers, and their households and companions.
The Earth’s environment constitutes a coherent unit in which human beings form one of its elements. Human beings are the masters of this environment for Almighty God created them in the best of moulds and endowed them with mental and physical abilities, one of which is to adapt continuously to different situations to achieve happiness in this worldly life and salvation in the Hereafter. Thus, they have deserved to be vicegerents and trustees on this earth, entrusted with the mission of constructing it and changing it for the better. On the other hand, they are responsible for the abilities granted by God, Who has willed that they have both good and evil.
Despite the power of reason and desire for good, humans are weak creatures. They can be overcome by ego and lust, which might blind them to truth and draw them away from God’s path, through which they can accommodate themselves to the laws of the environment that God created. Consequently, through ignorance or lust, they might misuse it and harm themselves. Almighty God says:
“Had the truth followed their desires, the heavens, the earth and all beings in them would have surely become corrupt.” T.Q., 23:71.
That is why it was necessary to have a divine law to show people the way to conform to nature and its divine laws.
Islam began by making humans aware of their reality so as to stop them from transgressing or wronging themselves or their surroundings. God demands that humans adhere to the principle of servitude to Him. He says:
“I have only created the jinn and humans so that they may worship Me. I demand no sustenance of them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Verily, God alone is the Provider of all sustenance, the Owner of power, the Invincible.” T.Q., 51:56–58.
Servitude means obedience, and obedience means commitment to God’s commands and avoidance of what He has forbidden. Almighty God says:
“Whoever purifies it (the soul by obeying God) will surely succeed, and whoever corrupts it, will surely fail.” T.Q., 91:9–10.
Islam also demands a firm link with God, both in secret and public. It also employs the method of invitation and intimidation — reward and punishment — to reach faith as that also implies a constructive and correct human behaviour.
When Islam encourages all good for both the human and natural environments, it imposes many penalties for misusing or damaging it in any way. This constitutes a permanent control over human behaviour and directs it towards doing good, being generous and making sacrifices, and draws it away from sin and evil. This forms one of the pillars of environmental protection in Islam.
Knowledge is the right entrance to education in general and to environmental education in particular. That is why Islam commands Muslims to seek knowledge to discover the laws of a sound environment and earn the fruits of closeness to, and love by, God. The Holy Qur’an says:
“Verily, only the ones who have awe of God from among His servants are the knowledge¬able.” T.Q., 35:28.
Islam considers seeking knowledge as an obligation regardless of gender, place or age, since it should be done from birth to death. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.’ Sunan Ibn Majah.
Islam directs us towards useful knowledge that results in good for the seekers and their environment. For knowledge to be effective, we must activate our minds and reflect on disciplines of knowledge. Islam urges people to reflect on themselves and their surroundings. Many verses in the Holy Qur’an end with “Do you not understand?” as in 2:44, 2:76 and 3:65, and “Do they not reflect?” as in 4:82 and 47:24. This urging is also clear in the verse that says:
“Verily, every act of hearing, seeing or [feelings and beliefs in] the heart will be questioned [by God].” T.Q., 17:36.
All this is for us to discover the laws controlling the natural environment and human psyche so that myths and superstitions should not prevent humans from knowing the facts and laws of this universe. Thus, humans will understand their environment in all its aspects and be able to adjust to its order to protect it from any harm.
Since Islam is concerned with both the physical and spiritual sides of human beings, it urges them to make a balance between their components — the body, mind and soul — and to live and cherish all of them without any transgression or preference for one over the other.
In this way, humans are protected from extremism and violation of the laws controlling their psychological environment. When some of the Prophet’s companions intended to perform more worship exceeding the balance set by Islam, their action was rejected. The principle of balance between all components of the human psyche was determined in the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), such as in the following: ‘Beware! By God, I am the most pious and fearful of God. Yet I fast, and sometimes I do not. I pray at night, and sometimes I sleep, and I marry women. Anyone who does not follow my way does not belong to me.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
With regard to keeping a balance in the social environ¬ment, Islam holds human beings responsible no matter what position or status they might have: social, academic, economic or political. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘You are all guardians and will be questioned on the Day of Judgment about those under your care.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Islam organises the relationship between individuals and society. Individuals cannot live secluded from others for they are all a part of the whole. They are responsible for themselves and their human society. Based on this responsibility, we have to pay attention, and stop any violation, to the human environment because any deterioration in environmental systems threatens all people, both the violators and the non-violators alike. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘The likeness of the one who keeps to the limits of God and the one who violates them is that of some people who drew lots to board a ship. Some of them got the upper deck and others the lower one. Those in the lower deck, when bringing water and passing by their fellows upstairs, said, “Why not make a hole in our portion without harming you?” If they were to let them do so, they would all perish, but if they help them, they will all survive.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari. Thus, the principle of supervision, which global environmental education seeks, will be achieved.
Islam has also organised the relationships between individuals themselves: relationships between them and their parents, spouses, children, neighbours and other people. It instructs people how to deal with one another on the basis of mutual respect, kindness and benevolence. It also extends this relationship to all humans. Almighty God says:
“We have not sent you except as a mercy for all creation.” T.Q., 21:107.
He also says:
“O people! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you.” T.Q., 49:13.
“Verily, the believers are but a single brotherhood.” T.Q., 49:10.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘The believers are similar to one body in their love, sympathy and feeling for one another. If one part of it feels pain, the whole body suffers from fever and lack of sleep.’ Sahih Muslim.
Islam honours all humans regardless of their beliefs. Only God has the right to bring people to account for their belief. He says:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” T.Q., 2:256.
It also preserves for all humans the requirements of their humanity, such as body, property and honour, and it forbids violating any of them. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Shall I tell you about the believers? They are the ones who people are safe from in their property and person. The best of Muslims is the one who does not harm people by hand or tongue. The best of the Muhajireen (Emigrants) is the one who gives up sins. The best of Mujahideen (Strugglers) is the one who struggles against his own ego to fulfil obedience to God.’ Musnad Ahmad.
There are many foundations and principles in Islam that pertain to the protection of the human environment and prevent the most serious and severe kind of environ¬mental deterioration; that is the deterioration of morals, decline of values and spread of vice. That is why Islam commands justice, equality, freedom, truthfulness and trustworthiness, and forbids all kinds of injustice, oppression, exploitation, hypocrisy, fraud, lying and corruption. This is what the current human environment is suffering from on the level of both individuals and groups. Almighty God says:
“And when he turns away (rejects God’s message), his effort in the land is to spread mischief through the earth and to destroy the crops and the cattle, but God does not like mischief.” T.Q., 2:205.
In other words, Islam revives the conscience of all human beings to feel for those around them. Thus, an honourable life for humans will be achieved.
With regard to protecting health and the social environ¬ment, Islam instructs us to keep streets clean and to protect people from any moral or physical harm. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Faith consists of over seventy parts; the highest is testifying that none has the right to be worshipped except God, and the least one is removing waste from roads.’ Sahih Muslim.
Islam also prohibits the pollution of water, both stagnant and flowing.
Imam Muslim narrate that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forbade urinating in stagnant a water. Sahih Muslim.
It is also narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) forbade urinating in flowing water. Mu’jam Al-Tabarani.
He also said, ‘Avoid the three deeds that cause a curse to their doer: defecating in watercourses, in the streets and in the shadows.’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
From these quotations and others, we notice that pollution is a serious matter in Islam even on the limited individual level.
Islam also commands us to preserve public health and forbids anything that harms people’s health whether mental, physical or psychological. It forbids intoxicants, drugs and all impurities. It also calls people to have lawful and good food, and to maintain cleanliness and aesthetic views. Almighty God says:
“Verily, God loves those who turn to Him constantly in repentance, and those who keep themselves pure and clean.” T.Q., 2:222.
Islam extends its mercy even to other creatures in its desire to preserve the fundamental components of the environment and to keep the environmental order stable. One of the Prophet’s companions narrates that he and some others were travelling with the Prophet (pbuh). ‘The Prophet went to answer the call of nature. We saw a bird with its two young birds, and we took its babies. The mother bird started flapping its wings. When the Prophet (pbuh) came back, he said, “Who made this bird sad for its babies? Give it back its babies!”’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘While a man was walking on a road, he felt thirsty. He found a well, so he went down, drank and came up to find a dog breathing hard and licking the mud out of thirst. The man said, “This dog has suffered the thirst I suffered.” So he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and went up to give water to the dog.’ The Prophet continued, ‘God accepted his deed and rewarded him with His forgiveness.’ The companions asked, ‘Are we rewarded for helping animals, O God’s Messenger?’ ‘Yes, for helping any living being you are rewarded,’ the Prophet replied. Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Among the instructions of Caliph Abu Bakr when he sent an army to Syria, we read, ‘Do not cut down a fruitful tree or slaughter a sheep, cow or camel except for the necessity of food.’
Caliph Umar while being in Al-Madinah once said, ‘If a lamb gets lost and dies on the bank of the Euphrates, I fear that God might question me about it.’
In fact, this sense of responsibility and great sensitivity is an expression of a sound human conscience and full respect for Islamic teachings in preserving the different environmental components. Such teachings were unpre¬cedented at a time when the environment was not suffering the pressures it is suffering nowadays.
As for protecting the human environment from poverty and developing an economic life, Islam stresses the importance of work and its respect for manpower. It also calls for lawful and good earnings. The rewards and benefits will be given to believers, everyone according to their work and beneficial activities. Almighty God says:
“Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he or she is a true believer, verily to them We will give a good and pure life, and we shall certainly pay them a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” T.Q., 16:97.
It is narrated that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘The one who goes back home tired from work will be forgiven.’ Mu’jam Al-Tabarani Al-Awsat.
Islam demands Muslims to be trustworthy. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Anyone who deceives people does not belong to us.’ Musnad Ahmad.
Islam also urges Muslims to be professionals and experts. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Surely, God likes workers to perfect their work.’ Al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab Al-Iman.
On the other hand, Islam sets positive legislation for cultivating land and benefiting from it. Such legislation removes the problem of desertification that is caused by neglecting agricultural areas. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Whoever has a piece of land should plant it or give it to his brother to plant.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
So, a Muslim should plant his land himself, grant it to another person to plant or give it to someone to cultivate and contribute in part to the cost for part of the revenue. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Anyone who revives a deserted and ownerless piece of land deserves to own it more than anyone else.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
In the area of economic development, human transactions on production, distribution and other matters must all be ruled by the Islamic laws of Halal and Haram (permissible and forbidden). Halal or permissible activities are those that benefit both humans and the environment, while Haram or forbidden activities are those that harm humans or the environment. Islam considers beneficial production and industry a duty, but only within limits that do not harm the environment or human communities. Islam strongly prohibits greed in industrial development that leads to the environment deteriorating, whether in water, in the air or on land, as is happening today.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) set a comprehensive rule that organises the relationship between development and environment in all their aspects. He said, ‘Let there be no harm or reciprocated harm.’ Muwatta’ Malik.
Islam has strict teachings to prevent social environmental deterioration caused by poverty, from which millions of people are suffering nowadays. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Anyone who goes to bed with a full stomach, knowing that his neighbour is hungry, has not truly believed in me.’ Musnad Al-Bazzar.
Islam considers poverty a danger to a Muslim’s faith, morals, family and society. It has put a remedy for poverty through zakat (obligatory charity), the system of inheritance, endowments, penances and other means.
Also with regard to economic development and combating poverty, Islam has worked to bring social classes closer by forbidding forms of extravagance and imposing obligatory charity on the rich.
Islam urges people to cooperate and give non-profit loans, seeking God’s pleasure alone. Almighty God says:
“Cooperate on good and piety, but do not cooperate on sin or aggression.” T.Q., 5:2.
Islam disapproves of miserliness, arrogance, reminding others of your favours on them and all forms of harm. It also fights deceit and monopoly.
Extravagance and squandering of resources increases the deterioration of the environment. That is why Islam has laid down many rules that prevent resources being wasted. Remarking on the characteristics of believers, Almighty God says:
“And those, at spending, are not extravagant or niggardly, but they hold a just balance between those extremes.” T.Q., 25:67.
He also says:
“Do not waste through extravagance for God does not like the wasteful.” T.Q., 6:141.
“Verily, spendthrifts are brothers of the devils, and the devil is ever ungrateful to his Lord.” T.Q., 17:27.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once saw one of his companions named Sa’d performing wudu’ (ritual ablution before prayer). ‘Why are you squandering, Sa’d?’ asked the Prophet. Sa’d replied, ‘Is squandering forbidden in wudu’ as well?’ ‘Yes, even if you are at a running river,’ answered the Prophet. Musnad Ahmad.
A Bedouin asked the Prophet about wudu’. The Prophet performed wudu’ before him and said, ‘This is how to do wudu’. Anyone who increases in this is considered a transgressor and unjust.’ Musnad Ahmad.
Islam forbids squandering in wudu’, which is a condition for performing prayer. So what about squandering in other things that are beyond the lawful and are being done widely by many nations at both individual and group level?
Agriculture is one of the basic ways to protect the Earth’s environment. Islam pays great attention to, and interest in, agriculture and considers it a kind of worship. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Any Muslim who plants a cutting or grows some seeds, and a human being, a bird or any other animal eats from it, it is considered a charity for the farmer.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
He also said, ‘If the Day of Judgment is about to take place, and one of you has a cutting and is able to plant it before it takes place, he should plant it.’ Musnad Ahmad.
Is there anything higher than this regarding environmental education to protect and enrich the earth botanical resources?
At a time when international law neglected to set environmental rules for development, we find that the message of Islam was the pioneer, by recognising the rights of current and coming generations to a decent environment for their health and welfare and by protecting these rights in that it was concerned, through education, to organise the relationship between different environ¬mental components. Islam sets all required regulations and rules for relationships between humans with them¬selves, with others and even with other creatures.
It organises the relationship between humans and natural resources, where it calls for their protection and enrich¬ment through a comprehensive educational process that lasts forever, by providing behavioural engineering for good humans who possess a profound and sound environmental sense. The efficiency of this education is based on a permanent connection with the Originator of this environment and the Designer of its laws.
All this makes a Muslim value the human and natural environments and protect them from deterioration and destruction by establishing an environment of security and peace on Earth. Almighty God is most truthful when He says:
“We have not sent you [O Muhammad] except as a mercy for all creation.” T.Q., 21:107.
All praise be to God, the Cherisher, Fosterer and Sustainer of all the worlds.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)