A Muslim perspective on climate change and Creation care

Climate ChangeIn the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

I greet you with the greeting of peace, as used by all the prophets from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus to Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all. Assalaamu 'Alaikum wa'rahmatullahi, wa'barakatuhu. May the peace, mercy of Allah and blessings be upon you.

Allah says reminds us in the Qur'an that "(He) to Whom belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth" that "He created everything, and then He ordained it very exactly."

The laws of creation, ordained by Allah, include the elements of order, balance and proportion. Everything is limited in space and time, and scientific techniques enable us to measure much of what we experience both in their static and dynamic states. However, we may think that we know a great deal through the advance of science but we still understand very little of the totality of creation.

Our earth is one speck in an unfathomable ocean, spinning round on its tilted axis. Yet conditions for life here are so finely balanced that were the earth's tilt to alter from its present position by just one or two degrees, we would either be roasted alive or frozen to death.

Forests are an essential part of our planet's regulatory and supply system. They collect the water that forms rivers; control climate by generating moisture and absorbing solar radiation; prevent erosion by locking the soil together and act as hosts to millions of vegetable species.

Everything has a purpose and there are in the storehouse of creation gifts we have yet to receive. Over time we have discovered many trees and plants that are of great benefit to us such as the Rosy Periwinkle which is the original source of the drug that cures Leukemia.

Allah says "No creature is there crawling on the earth, no bird flying with its wings, but they are nations like unto yourselves. We have neglected nothing in the Book; then to their Lord they shall be mustered." Qur'an 6: 38

Every living creature is part of a community. The great whales that plough through the oceans, the elephants of the tropical forests and the ants and the bees are examples of creatures forming complex, efficient, multi-generational communities.

Whales live in families that live in sophisticated societies. They play in the moonlight, they talk to one another and they care for one another in distress. The whale is the largest living creature that Allah has put on this earth.

The Tropical forests alone may well contain thirty million different species of insects; that is over ninety percent of all the earth's species. Many kinds of insects have yet to be discovered and their contribution to maintaining the balance of the earth's eco-systems is still unknown.

Allah commands us, "And so set thy face steadfastly to the faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition that Allah has instilled into man: not to allow any change to corrupt what Allah has thus created - this is the ever-true faith; but most people know it not." Qur'an 30: 29

Allah originated creation and then created mankind within it. We were then subjected to Allah's unchangeable laws as was the rest of creation, making us; at the biological level; equal partners with the rest of nature.

Human beings tame forces of nature like no other creature can. Fire, sun, wind, rivers and sea are all harnessed to serve our purposes. But have we carried these activities to excess? Our actions seem to show that we have lost the vital understanding of our place in the intricate natural order.

Allah gave man, above all creatures, a great responsibility: "It is He who has appointed you guardians on the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in reckoning; and surely He is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate." Qur'an 6: 165

Khalifa or the role of guardianship is the sacred duty Allah has imposed upon the human race. We are a lot more than "friends of the earth" - we are its guardians. This responsibility comes from the fact that unlike any other sentient being we have been given the privilege of being able to reason and thus be ultimately accountable for our actions.

For thousands of years the people who really understood nature have been those who live closest to it. Nomadic tribes like the Tuareg who traverse the desert still provides us with examples of life styles that exists in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

"Since they became oblivious of Allah), corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea as an outcome of what men's hands have wrought: so He will let them taste (the evil of) some of their doing, so that they might return (to the right path)." Qur'an 30: 41

Everything now points to the fact that mankind has neglected its responsibilities as khalifa in the way it is destroying the natural world. Scientists are confirming that our actions have induced global warming and climate change, which is disrupting the very patterning of Allah's creation that has uniquely endowed planet earth with a climate suited to the propagation and sustenance of life.

We keep on cutting down and setting fire to our beautiful forests in the name of human consumption. Trees are cut down every second. We ignore at our peril their vital role in ensuring the survival of all living things on the earth.

The high consumption of energy demanded by modern lifestyles produces millions of tons of pollutants each day. Poisons in the air not only constitute a serious health hazard to all who breathe them, but fall as acid rains devastating life in the forests, mountains, lakes and rivers.

Wastewater containing a lethal mixture of viruses, bacteria, chemical, metals and oils is being dumped daily into the seas. This is a serious health hazard to every living thing that comes into contact with it; including ourselves. When forests are cut down the topsoil once held together by tree roots is eroded and carried downstream in rivers, choking aquatic life and degrading the water.

The increasingly extravagant life styles are bringing a whole range of our fellow species to near or total extinction. If the total period of life on this planet is compared to a single year the human species has existed on it for less than twelve hours on the final day. In the brief time we have spent on this earth we are causing the extinction of species that have lived on this planet far longer than us. It is not far-fetched to say that we are also creating conditions that put the survival of the human species itself at great risk.

Balance/measure or mizan is an important concept in Islam. In Surah Rahman, Allah says, "The Most Gracious has imparted this Qur'an (unto man). He has created man: he has imparted unto him articulate thought and speech. (At His behest) the sun and moon run appointed courses; (before Him) prostrate themselves, the stars and the trees. And the skies He has raised high, and He has devised (for all things) a balance, so that you (too, O men) might never transgress the balance (of what is right): weigh, therefore, (your deeds) with equity, and cut not the balance short!" Qur'an 55: 1-9

There is an inherent balance and tendency towards stability in the natural order. This is another way of saying that the whole of creation is in submission to One Creator. Therefore as Allah's khalifa on earth we have a responsibility to behave justly, actively acknowledging the balance and order that surrounds us and doing everything possible to keep it that way.

We can all play a part in protecting endangered species. Conservation schemes to protect animals are happily proving successful.

Forests worldwide absorb millions and millions of tons of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere by cars and industry. Many countries are implementing reforestation programmes to help ensure the carbon cycle is kept in balance. But they have a long way to go before they reach the stage when more trees are being planted than are being cut down.

Energy from the sun, tide and winds can be harnessed causing none of the pollution caused by the extraction and use of fossil fuels. Windmills for example, can be used for pumping water, for irrigation and generating electricity.

Planet Earth is unique. Nothing comparable to its self-organising, self-adjusting and self-replenishing eco-systems has been discovered in the whole of the known universe.

The whole of creation works because it follows the laws of the Creator. The only creature that can act contrary to its preordained patterning and upset the balance is the human being. When we pray and place our foreheads on the Earth in obeisance to the Creator it reminds us that in the end, maintaining the balance of creation requires continuous awareness of the work and the will of Allah.

So can faith save the planet?

From all that I have said, ensuring that we save the planet is not a choice for mankind (and Muslims in particular), it is a sacred duty that Allah has given us and for which we will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment.

Sadly, the reality is that Muslims have forgotten this sacred duty, and not many scholars or imams have emphasized or reminded of this.

If we understand this responsibility that we would be at the forefront of taking action to protect the environment. We would see Muslims being at the forefront of taking action on protecting the Earth. I find it interesting that the name of one of the leading environmental movements in the world is 'Green peace' because green is the colour associated with Islam, and peace is one of the meanings of the word Islam, and yet few Muslims are involved with Greenpeace.

IFEES, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, is an organization which takes its basis the Qur'an injunctions on khalifa. It was set up by Fazlun Khalid, who has worked with meager resources to take of the message of Islam's teachings on ecology to Muslims.

But you don't have to be part of an organization to make a difference. Intention is important. As the Prophet Muhammad said "Actions are but by intention and every man shall have that which he intended."

If you recycle, ensure that you do not waste energy and take steps to reduce your carbon footprint, or plant a tree because it is your sacred duty, then you will be rewarded for that when you appear before the Creator.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions were once near a big river, and they had to perform their ablutions (wudhu). The Prophet took a very small vessel and took out a small amount of water for his ablutions. The companions were surprised that when there was so much water there, why the Prophet (peace be upon him) was being so frugal. He replied that just because something is plentiful, that does not mean you should waste it.

Iftikhar Awan was speaking at a past Operation Noah event in Bolton, UK.

What does Islam have to say about taking care of Creation? Quite a lot, according the Iftikhar Awan of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the Altrincham Interfaith Forum. "Khalifa or the role of guardianship is the sacred duty Allah has imposed upon the human race," says Awan. "We are a lot more than 'friends of the earth' - we are its guardians."

Courtesy: operationnoah.org


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