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Islamic Perspective on Environmental Ethics

Ethics are an important part of Islamic Teaching. Quran and Sunnah both tell us in several ways how good ethics can bring change in a society. Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and his noble companions exemplified it in their lives.

Importance of good ethics

Good ethics are a form of worship. Even if we look at the essential worship in Islam we can see that the purpose (of prayers, fasting, zakat, hajj) is to develop good ethical values in the worshiper. A worship that does not bring moral changes in the life of the worshiper has no value.

and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing

Quran 29:45

Prayer is not just some physical worship but it helps the believer in getting away from immorality, wrongdoing and it inculcates good ethics. Worship therefore is also a direct or indirect way to learn good ethical values and practice them in our day-to-day life.

Ethics are our moral actions. For a Muslim good ethics are important like obligatory prayers because it help him connect to the Divine Soul. They are directly related to being a good Muslim. Allah says in Quran that

The noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best of you in conduct

Quran 49 : 13

Rewards of good ethics

Our conduct is what we do, our actions as we live in a society. Therefore, for a believing Muslim good environmental habits are a direct reflection of his relationship to Allah. For example, for a Muslim planting a tree is an act that will be rewarded in the hereafter. Therefore, it is beyond just worldly benefits that a Muslim should think of while helping the environment by making it green. And there is a famous Hadith that is reported by Anas ibn Malik (May Allah be pleased with him)

If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.

Musnad Aḥmad: 12491
(Authenticated by Al-Albani)

In another hadith that is also reported by Anas ibn Malik, Prophet Muhammad said that

No Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds and then a bird, or a human, or an animal eats from it but that it is charity for him.

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2195, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1553
(authenticity agreed upon)

A Muslim who plants trees will be rewarded in this world and hereafter. We all know that trees and plants have great psychological effects on our mind. They relieve us from stress and make us more creative. The peace and serenity that surrounds them help us in learning mindfulness. They also help us appreciate nature and in turn the Creator who created them. Allah says that,

O you who believe! Fear Allah, and let every soul consider what it has forwarded for the morrow (The Day of Judgement), and fear Allah. Allah is aware of what you do.

Quran 59:18

Therefore, our belief in the accountability on the day of judgement is one reasons among many to make our actions correct in response to how we treat our environment.

So, there can be three major rewards for a Muslim in practicing good environmental ethics: first, it helps him develop a good relationship with the Creator of the world, second, it helps him develop good relationship with the creation of God, and third, it helps the believer develop good relationship with the inner soul.

Respecting God’s creation

Everything in our environment is God’s creation and God says in the Quran that one should not destroy Allah’s creation. A very important verse in this regard is,

Devote yourself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.

Quran 30:30

According to this verse Allah has created and fashioned human being on fitrah or nature. Destroying or damaging it in any way will mean the destruction of the human kind as well. Many hadiths also point towards our responsibility to our environment, in one of the Hadiths Prophet Muhammad said,

The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it. The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded. If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part.

This hadith is really beautiful one and it makes a Muslim think about the responsibilities that we often forget. And these are not just responsibilities but acts of worship and charity that you will be rewarded in the hereafter.

This beautiful environment is a precious gift from Allah to us mankind that we need to treat with love and care.

In short, we can see that moderation, conservation, and preservation are prominent features of Islamic teaching. Justice and equal distribution of resources are equally important aspect of bringing positive changes in the environment. Wastefulness and excessive luxury is discouraged in Islam in every form. Excessive consumption and hoarding results in disharmony on the land which is a form of fitna. This disharmony causes poverty and injustice. Balance is the key to sustenance and bringing positive changes in our environment. Allah says in the Quran,

…And do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors. ”

Qur’an 28:77

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return [to guidance].

Quran 30:41

So, for some people it might be strange to say that treating the environment correctly is a way to become more spiritual to get closer to Allah but after reading all those verses and hadith those people should think again. It is part of our faith to be a responsible caretaker of the earth and its environment. Because Allah appointed us as a khalifa on the earth. And we took a covenant that we will take this responsibility and will not corrupt. Allah will take this responsibility back once He wants to until then we have time to use this responsibility effectively and usefully.

And it is He who has made you vicegerents on the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.

Quran 24:45

Small to act but big on impact

Lastly, there are some small suggestions that we should always remember and act upon:

  • Going out within a mile or two prefer to walk rather than take out the car.
  • Invest in a steel or glass water bottle rather than buying disposable water every time you are outside.
  • Support local, organic produce rather than produce that traveled a long distance. There are many benefits that you must be familiar.
  • Grow more plants in whatever space you have in your home or in your surrounding.
  • Think about the trash that we produce each day. Boycott any brand that does not support eco-friendly packaging.
  • Reduce your trash especially plastic by using disposable grocery bags.
  • Cut down your wastage of water, it is of utmost importance to all of us.

Remember that if you will act upon any of it, all of it or more than it in respect to environmental care you will reap good foundation that the next generation will follow. We need to tell our kids that taking care of our environment is part of our belief that Allah created this world for all of us. We are sharing it with everyone and we need to be empathetic, careful, responsible, and loving when it comes to using any of the resources that Allah provided us.

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