Faith and Nature: The ignored teachings

Again, the holy month of Ramadan is here with its full blessings. Mosques are packed, sermons delivered, possibly many a day. Yes, many issues will be on table except the ‘environmental education’! Let’s not talk of this month only; how many of us have ever listened to a Friday sermon dedicated to the environment and its conservation! It would not be wise to paint all with the same brush, unfortunately, the majority of our preachers have never discussed this grave issue, either they are not interested, insensitive or are unaware of the environmental crisis, hence ignore an important part of Islamic teachings. Damaging well-established natural systems is going on since a long time with man playing the lead role, giving rise to a series of evils like pollution, acid rain, climate change, biodiversity loss and many other problems. Prevention of further damage to the environment is necessary, wherein Islamic and other religious teachings may play an important role. 

There is a vast amount of literature in Islam, drawing emphasis upon eco-ethical scripture, by a common reliance upon the Quran and Sunnah, thus, has a role of its own in the promotion of environmental protection. Allah has created everything in this universe in balance, with wisdom, value and purpose, as he has declared in the Quran “And We have produced therein everything in balance.” (Quran 55:7), giving an indication of the maintenance of ecological integrity. All Creation, a reflection of divinely-arranged structure and order, is deserving of care, mercy and respect and is an essential part of the teachings of Islam as has been said: “And We have not sent you except for (a) mercy for all creatures” (Quran 21:107). For many contemporary Muslims, the 7th-century teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have clear applications to modern Industrial Age problems, stretching from climate change to species loss, pollution to resource management and much more. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instilled lessons about water conservation, proper land use, wasteful consumption of resources, stewardship of trees and kindness for animals. Islamic position on the need for ecological care can also be understood on the notion of the ‘whole earth as a mosque’ and the need to ‘walk on the earth with humility’, exhibiting qualities of gentleness to nature. Humans, as ‘stewards on earth’, are answerable for the unjust and irresponsible discharge of this trusteeship in accordance with Divine Laws. ‘Cleanliness is half of the belief”, a famous saying of Prophet (PBUH) indicates a direct connection between belief and cleanliness, which not only includes personal hygiene but our surroundings as well. To pollute the surroundings in which one lives is both a sin and ‘extremely uncivil’ act. Planting a tree by anyone, and consumption of its produce thereof by someone else is considered as almsgiving. On migrating (Hijrat) Prophet (PBUH) planted a large number of trees, made the forests and green conservation areas, where every sort of living creature lived, commonly called as Hima (Sanctuaries). Every effort of conservation of the environment is in true worship of God, those associated with this noble deed will be rewarded, and those in denial will face His wrath, both here and hereafter. Allah has said “Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return” (Quran 30:41).

Despite the fact that Islam has remained a powerful social force in the lives of its believers, contemporary scholars decry the non-seriousness of Muslims on the environmental crisis, especially in the Kashmir valley. The despicable condition of the earth stems from the spiritual and moral vacuity, in addition to the materialistic lookouts. The environmental problems we are facing today will not only be solved through political, technocentric interventions but must be integrated with the human motivation and social identity- ‘the religion’, which links faith and action, knowledge and practice and social and ecological justice. Though a green movement engaged on principals of ‘deep ecology’ amongst Muslim world is mushrooming, there is a dire need to instill the approach amongst the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in order to produce a clean and healthy environment for all. Religious practitioners and leaders have a potentially significant role in conserving nature as people continue to draw upon religious teachings to shape their values, beliefs and attitudes towards life. Imams should deliver Fridays sermons, which are not ‘monotonous’, and include and/or discuss pluralistic environmental ethical values, not only domestic in scope but also of epistemological privileges at national and international level.

Religious resources need to include contemporary social and environmental concerns what is now commonly known as ‘eco-theology’. Though Islam mainly believes in ‘theocentric’ views, the philosophical approaches of ‘anthropocentrism’ needs to be replaced by ‘ecocentrism’, dualism, utilitarian human-nature and mechanistic ontology should be replaced with the intrinsic value of nature by incorporating a range of ideologies, which are both science- and spirit-based. People should be stressed to care for the environment because by caring for it they enhance their quality of life not only for themselves but also for the generations to come. Our preachers need to get updated with the current environmental problems and play their role in solving the crisis. There is dire need to include the environmental issues in the Friday sermons, Ijtimas and other religious gatherings. Let us not keep it restricted to Imams/preachers only; we all should play our role in the protection of the environment and create awareness of the moral foundations offered by Islam in relation to human interaction with nature.

Dr Aabid Hussain Mir is president of CERD Foundation, Anantnag.