In this 5-part series Dr Abdul Wahid looks at the environmental challenge, their causes and how numerous summits have tried to address the issue. The series will also assess the environmental challenges in the Muslims world and Islam’s unique perspective on the environment.
- Islam came as a complete, divinely ordained way of life to address all issues from a comprehensive and integrated viewpoint. This divinely revealed template covers all aspects of life, be it political, economic, social, judicial or relating to the penal code.
- Islam’s distinct approach is that it encourages individual responsibility and accountability for one’s actions whilest also creating an environment to help optimise that behaviour. It permits enjoying the good things of the earth but does not encourage consumerism.
- Coupled with Islam’s economic system this would mean that there is a much lower demand for material things than under Capitalism. There is subsequently less waste, pollution and harm from industry.
- Finally, Islam has a political and judicial framework that would address any apparent harms – as well as argue the case from an Islamic perspective on the world stage.
- Among Islam’s beliefs and ideas (its ‘fikra’), reflected in the values of individuals and society, are:
- That the earth is Allah’s, created in a harmonious way to sustain life.
- That people are accountable before Allah for all their actions.
- The responsibility of man to look after the earth, as a steward.
- That people should do those individual actions encouraged by the Quran and Sunnah – e.g. not to commit fasad (corruption) on the earth; not to cause harm to others; not to waste water; not to pollute; and the encouragement to ‘make do’, not making the chase for superfluous material possessions one’s purpose in life.
- Islam has a distinct method that implements protects and propagates the priorities which Islam has ordained. This is done by the legitimate political authority – the Khilafah, which would have a duty to address environmental harms – whether those be water pollution, air pollution, potential problems caused by energy production, or animal rights.
- The Khilafah has various organs of state that play distinct roles. Among those that are relevant to this discussion are that:
- The Khalifah, Delegated Assistants and Governors (Wulaa) are the political rulers. They have a duty to look after the affairs of people. They do this by implementing the systems of Islam – ruling, economics, health and so on – as well as protecting from harm and finding solutions to problems which could include addressing air and water pollution.
- The implementation of the Islamic Economic system encourages trade – without a craving for malignant levels of growth and its toxic consequences – and encourages the circulation of wealth.
- The Judiciary, specifically in this context the Qadi Hisbah, would be responsible for monitoring and enforcing standards across industry, implementing necessary sanctions when these standards are violated.
- That there are systems of accountability if the ruling authority falls short in looking after peoples’ affairs – including the Majlis al Ummah (a people’s assembly to be consulted, as well as to account rulers), political parties, independent media, and Ulema (scholars).
- The Foreign Policy of the Khilafah has a role to carry Islam’s ideas to humanity on the world stage – cooperating on necessary matters that cross frontiers.
- A future Khilafah would, as part of looking after the affairs of its people, address matters comprehensively. These would include:
- Maintaining security is essential to address the previously mentioned causes of harm from conflict.
- Good governance in terms of implementing overdue public health and hygiene measures.
- Setting, monitoring and enforcing standards in terms of environmental standards and pollution.
- Encouraging the noble Islamic values in society that counter Capitalist values that lead to consumerism.
- Dealing with those issues that could be contributing to climate change at an international level. This would include evaluating the ‘science’ according to the best opinions of experts in the Khilafah; engaging internationally to find common solutions where necessary; without allowing the dominant powers to arrange matters in their favour.
5.1 Islam as a Way of Life
It is our contention that the implementation of Islam as a complete way of life will prevent much of the harm we see proliferating under Capitalism.
There is a synergy and harmony between the unique solutions that Islam implements at a systemic level, and the value systems that are informed by the belief that individuals carry amongst the populations. Thus citizens are much more likely to act in a way that reduces environmental harm due to their personal beliefs, and the government policy would likewise reduce harm.
This is in direct contrast to what is seen in Capitalism, where the societal forces are so strong at urging citizens to think themselves free to do what they want and to consume as much as they want. Trying to act counter to this, to reduce consumption and act responsibly, would be like trying to swim against the current of a tsunami.
5.2 Islam’s approach to the environment is multifaceted – personal and political
Many commands and prohibitions that are derived from Shariah texts (the Quran and Sunnah) are such that Muslims would embrace them in their capacity individuals as part of their desire to please Allah ﷻ and follow the example of His Messenger ﷺ .
Yet many of those commands and prohibitions need enacting at a policy level, and enforcement at a judicial level, in order to be realised at a societal level.
The environmental problem is not just economic, but multi-faceted – and the solutions that came down as part of the Islamic civilization treats this and all problems as human problems, requiring personal values and behaviour, as well as economic policies and regulation by the political authority.
5.3 Islam’s view toward humanity’s relationship with the earth – Responsibility, stewardship & accountability
The planet is not the property of people – rather it is Allah’s:
ٱللَّهُ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ٱلْحَىُّ ٱلْقَيُّومُ ۚ لَا تَأْخُذُهُۥ سِنَةٌ وَلَا نَوْمٌ ۚ لَّهُۥ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَمَا فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۗ
“Allah! There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him, the Ever-Living, All-Sustaining. Neither drowsiness nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth.” [Al-Baqarah 2:255]
Islam views that mankind has a role of stewardship on earth:
Allah ﷻ says in the Quran:
وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَـٰٓئِفَ ٱلْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَـٰتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِى مَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمْ
ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ ٱلْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُۥ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌۢ
“And it is He Who made you vice-regents on the earth and elevated some of you by degrees over others in order to test you through what He has brought you. Indeed, your Lord is Swift in punishment, and He is most surely Oft-Forgiving, Bestowing of mercy.” [Al-An’am 6:165]
Abu Sa’id Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:
إِنَّ الدُّنْيَا حُلْوَةٌ خَضِرَةٌ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مُسْتَخْلِفُكُمْ فِيهَا فَيَنْظُرُ كَيْفَ تَعْمَلُونَ فَاتَّقُوا الدُّنْيَا
“Indeed the world is sweet and green (alluring) and verily Allah is going to install you as a vicegerent in it in order to see how you act. So fear Allah regarding the world.” (Sahih Muslim)
Humanity has a responsibility for this stewardship and will be accountable:
Allah ﷻ has bestowed many great blessings for the use – not abuse – by human beings. He ﷻ will account us on how we behaved with respect to those things that we were responsible for.
فَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَيْرًا يَرَهُۥ
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ شَرًّا يَرَهُۥ
“Whoever has done an atom’s-weight of good will see it, but whoever has done an atom’s-weight of evil will see that.” [Al-Zalzalah 99: 7-8]
Islam prohibits harming things unnecessarily or causing harm to others:
All things – whether living or non-living – should not be harmed, nor be allowed to become a cause of harm to others. It was narrated from ‘Ubadah bin Samit that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“ لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ ”
“There should be neither harming (darar) nor reciprocating harm (dirar).” (Hadith 32 of Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi)
This hadith encompasses the prohibition of people doing wanton harm to the environment, as well as actions that can cause harm to others.
Islam views prevention of harm as better stewardship:
The general approach of Islam, when one looks at the Shariah as a whole, is that the prevention of damage and corruption before it occurs, is better stewardship than trying to treat and rectify the damage at a later date. Hence, implementation of the Islamic systems in society would reduce harm at source, as well as address harms when they happen. Indeed, they would provoke a collective thinking that innovation and technology should not produce harm when striving for benefits for people – because the Shariah rules are always taken as a whole, permitting the use of material things – but also not causing harm. This is an important matter in the context of how to address global challenges, because the current debate is focussed upon trying to fix the damage done by capitalism – rather than prevention of damage.
5.4 Islam gives a comprehensive way of life – addressing people collectively, not merely as individuals
Islam gives a comprehensive way of life that addresses matters from personal conduct to geopolitical issues.
Islam does address people as individuals – who will each be held accountable for their own actions.
But Islam does not limit instructions to the individuals. It also gave systems to be implemented in society. This is particularly true when considering a matter such as the environment, whereby the problematic causes and effects are collective. Islam has systems relating to politics, economics and judicial authority which play a role in managing the environment. These act in harmony with the commands directed at individuals, thus allowing humans to live on this earth with goodness.
When people turn away from these Islamic systems, they inevitably cause destruction on the earth.
Allah ﷻ says:
وقدْ حرَّمَ الإسلامُ الإضْرارَ بالبيئَةِ، لأَنَّ بِها قِوامَ الإنسانِ،
وتوعَّد اللهُ سبحانه وتعالى المُفسِدَ للطبيعةِ والبيئةِ بالعقابِ، فقالَ سبحانه وتعالى
وَإِذََا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَالنَّسْلَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَسَاد
“And when he (man) turns away (from you O Muhammad), he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption.” [Al-Baqarah 2:205]
It should be no surprise that Islam’s method involves a political authority, societal systems and global engagement to safeguard the environment – because the reality of environmental damage is that it can never be wholly addressed via individual actions.
Moreover, other ahadith link the collective actions of the Ummah with collective consequences including environmental ones.
Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:
لَمْ يَمْنَعْ قَوْمٌ زَكَاةَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ إِلا مُنِعُوا الْقَطْرَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ وَلَوْلا الْبَهَائِمُ لَمْ يُمْطَرُوا
“Never do people withhold Zakat from their wealth but that a portion from the sky will be held back; were it not for the animals, it would never rain.” (al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr)
‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar said:
“ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ خَمْسٌ إِذَا ابْتُلِيتُمْ بِهِنَّ وَأَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ تُدْرِكُوهُنَّ لَمْ تَظْهَرِ الْفَاحِشَةُ فِي قَوْمٍ قَطُّ حَتَّى يُعْلِنُوا بِهَا إِلاَّ فَشَا فِيهِمُ الطَّاعُونُ وَالأَوْجَاعُ الَّتِي لَمْ تَكُنْ مَضَتْ فِي أَسْلاَفِهِمُ الَّذِينَ مَضَوْا . وَلَمْ يَنْقُصُوا الْمِكْيَالَ وَالْمِيزَانَ إِلاَّ أُخِذُوا بِالسِّنِينَ وَشِدَّةِ الْمَؤُنَةِ وَجَوْرِ السُّلْطَانِ عَلَيْهِمْ . وَلَمْ يَمْنَعُوا زَكَاةَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ إِلاَّ مُنِعُوا الْقَطْرَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ وَلَوْلاَ الْبَهَائِمُ لَمْ يُمْطَرُوا وَلَمْ يَنْقُضُوا عَهْدَ اللَّهِ وَعَهْدَ رَسُولِهِ إِلاَّ سَلَّطَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ عَدُوًّا مِنْ غَيْرِهِمْ فَأَخَذُوا بَعْضَ مَا فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ . وَمَا لَمْ تَحْكُمْ أَئِمَّتُهُمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَيَتَخَيَّرُوا مِمَّا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ إِلاَّ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ بَأْسَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ ”
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ turned to us and said: ‘O Muhajirun, there are five things with which you will be tested, and I seek refuge with Allah lest you live to see them: Immorality never appears among a people to such an extent that they commit it openly, but plagues and diseases that were never known among the predecessors will spread among them. They do not cheat in weights and measures but they will be stricken with famine, severe calamity and the oppression of their rulers. They do not withhold the Zakah of their wealth, but rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, no rain would fall on them. They do not break their covenant with Allah and His Messenger, but Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take some of what is in their hands. Unless their leaders rule according to the Book of Allah and seek all good from that which Allah has revealed, Allah will cause them to fight one another.” (Ibn Majah)
The collection of Zakat, mentioned in both ahadith, is not a matter that is left to the individual. Rather it is something related to the collective duties of the Ummah enacted by the Khalifah. Similarly, the management of the emergence of immorality on a societal level, cheating in the market, oppression of rulers and subjugation by enemies – these are matters caused by people collectively, which have collective consequences and require a legitimate Islamic political authority to address them.
5.5 Individual and Society
If we look specifically at the solutions relating to Islam’s management of the environment, it is worth classifying them into the following areas:
- No embedded economic growth imperative
- Solutions aimed at the individual
- Avoidance of excessive consumption of resources
- Avoidance of destruction of the biosphere
- Protecting and appreciation for biodiversity
- Spiritual rewards for planting trees
- Against water pollution
- Removing obstructions from the road
- Against consumerism
- Caring for animals
- Protecting the quality of air
- Solutions at the societal level
- Separation of property types into Private/Public/State property
- Judges preserving the public interest
- Environmental regulation
- Governing to look after the affairs of people, including maintaining security, circulating wealth, dealing with human problems that affect and are affected by the environment.
It is important to note that this section intends to show the general direction of Islam in such matters, to help make a comparison with the aforementioned analysis of the Capitalist system.
However, what can be termed individual values need to be implemented in society – and this is the role of the political authority.
We will now consider some of these in more detail.
5.6 Values need to be underpinned by institutions
It must be stated that these Islamic rules and values require a state mechanism to:
- Ensure societies standards conforms to these values
- Encourage a culturing and appreciation of these values from a young age via media and education
Until such a polity exists, it would be left to the individual’s own moral standards.
However, that is not a reliable basis for compliance, especially as most Muslims have become influenced by Capitalist thoughts and viewpoints when dealing with the environment.
5.7 Islam’s value of God-consciousness can counter consumerist values and conspicuous consumption
To some extent desiring commodities is understandable. Anas bin Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, said,
“ لَوْ كَانَ لاِبْنِ آدَمَ وَادٍ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ أَحَبَّ أَنَّ لَهُ وَادِيًا آخَرَ وَلَنْ يَمْلأَ فَاهُ إِلاَّ التُّرَابُ وَاللَّهُ يَتُوبُ عَلَى مَنْ تَابَ “
“If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would want to have two valleys. Nothing fills his mouth but the dust of the grave, yet Allah will relent to whoever repents to him.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Yet fuelling this desire at a systemic level, and the incessant need to create status puts further strain on the environment and fuels the growth machine further than it would otherwise have.
Islam, far from fuelling this desire, offers a different yardstick as to what elevates a person. A yardstick that has nothing to do with wealth, race, tribe, caste or lineage or one’s worldly social circle.
This yardstick is Taqwa (Arabic: تقوى taqwā / taqwá ) – the Islamic term for being conscious and cognizant of Allah, mentioned by Allah in the Quran where He ﷻ says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has al-taqwa . Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” [al-Hujuraat 49:13]
Abu Nadrah reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَلَا إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَإِنَّ أَبَاكُمْ وَاحِدٌ أَلَا لَا فَضْلَ لِعَرَبِيٍّ عَلَى أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَلَا لِعَجَمِيٍّ عَلَى عَرَبِيٍّ وَلَا لِأَحْمَرَ عَلَى أَسْوَدَ وَلَا أَسْوَدَ عَلَى أَحْمَرَ إِلَّا بِالتَّقْوَى
“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favour of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by taqwa”. (Musnad Aḥmad 22978)
5.8 Owning and enjoying material things, without craving them
Islam balances owning and enjoying the good things of life, against not making the possession of these things a goal in life.
Islam encourages owning or utilising things, considering them of the bounties that Allah has bestowed upon His creation as evident from the following evidences:
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَما فِي الأَرضِ جَميعًا مِنهُ ۚ إِنَّ في ذٰلِكَ لَآياتٍ لِقَومٍ يَتَفَكَّرونَ
“And He has subjected, for you, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him.” [Al-Jathiyah 45:13]
Yet it does not make pursuing material things the purpose of people’s life – and encourages not to be preoccupied with chasing worldly things.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“ مَنْ كَانَتِ الدُّنْيَا هَمَّهُ فَرَّقَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرَهُ وَجَعَلَ فَقْرَهُ بَيْنَ عَيْنَيْهِ وَلَمْ يَأْتِهِ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَا كُتِبَ لَهُ وَمَنْ كَانَتِ الآخِرَةُ نِيَّتَهُ جَمَعَ اللَّهُ لَهُ أَمْرَهُ وَجَعَلَ غِنَاهُ فِي قَلْبِهِ وَأَتَتْهُ الدُّنْيَا وَهِيَ رَاغِمَةٌ ”
“Whoever is focused only on this world, Allah will confound his affairs and make him fear poverty constantly, and he will not get anything of this world except that which has been decreed for him. Whoever is focused on the Hereafter, Allah will settle his affairs for him and make him feel content with his lot, and his provision and worldly gains will undoubtedly come to him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4105)
Such an approach in an Islamic society would mean people are taught to place such pursuits in the proper context and so avoid the compounding effect that is seen under the materialistic Capitalist worldview where the race to the top produces nothing but envy and strife amongst mankind and as mentioned, a huge drain on the world’s resources and thus the environment’s ability to cope.
In Islam, all are permitted to seek the earth’s luxuries (those which are lawful) – something which is a necessary aspect of the circular flow of wealth, namely healthy consumption levels and thus opportunities for companies to enter new markets and explore new niches and thus improve the circulation and distribution of wealth which is a cornerstone of the Islamic economic system. However, this is not the same as something that dominates society.
In support of this one can consider the narration from Zuhayr ibn Abi ‘Alqamah who reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,
إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يُحِبُّ أَنْ يَرَى أَثَرَهُ عَلَى عَبْدِهِ حَسَنًا وَلا يُحِبُّ الْبُؤْسَ وَالتَّبَاؤُسَ
“Verily, Allah Almighty loves to see the traces of blessings on his servant. He doesn’t love one who wallows in misery and pessimism.” (al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr 5167)
The luxuries are thus sought not for show and to create envy within others but to show one’s appreciation of the blessing bestowed by the Creator of mankind ﷻ.
This placing of the luxuries in a more sensible context creates a more healthy balance. It ensures that sufficient quantities of the earth’s finite resources can be directed to basic needs such as housing, food and agriculture and not excessively diverted to status goods which create an endless race amongst mankind without ever truly satisfying those that embark upon this futile quest.
5.9 Islam prohibits being wasteful in important issues
An example of this is that extravagance in using water is forbidden; this applies to private use as well as public use, and whether the water is scarce or abundant.
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَرَّ بِسَعْدٍ وَهُوَ يَتَوَضَّأُ فَقَالَ مَا هَذَا السَّرَفُ فَقَالَ أَفِي الْوُضُوءِ إِسْرَافٌ قَالَ نَعَمْ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ عَلَى نَهَرٍ جَارٍ
It was narrated that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ happened to pass by a Companion, Sa’d (Radi Allahu Ta‘ala Anhu), as he was performing ablution (wudhu) next to a river. At this, the Prophet said, “Sa’d what is this squandering?” Sa’d replied: “Can there be an idea of squandering (israf) in ablution?” The Prophet said: “Yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 425 & Musnad Aḥmad 7065)
5.10 Islam encourages people to make do with what one has
The Messenger of Allah’s ﷺ example was to repair his clothes and shoes.
[هشام بن عروة عن رجل قال سألت عائشة ما كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يصنع في بيته قالت كان يرقع الثوب ويخصف النعل أو نحو هذا – مسند الإمام أحمد 25926]
Hisham bin Urwah mentions that a person asked the Mother of the Believers Aisha (Radi Allahu Anha) what were the actions of the Prophet ﷺ in his house. She said he would sew or mend his clothing and repair his shoes. (Musnad Ahmad 25926)
This is an example of the Prophetic Sunnah that is to be encouraged as a good thing (though not enforced) because of the aforementioned permissions to enjoy the blessings that Allah ﷻ has bestowed upon people.
5.11 Avoidance of harming the biosphere
It was narrated from ‘Ubadah bin Samit that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“ لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ ”
“There should be neither harming (darar) nor reciprocating harm (dirar).” (Hadith 32 of Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi)
Deforestation in the Amazon, in breach of the global commons, has caused a global impact and worldwide outrage due to the significant impact on the ecosystem including the planet’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. The devastation caused by deforestation in many countries causes soil erosion and kills much of the biodiversity of the earth.
Islam is against the cutting or destruction of plants and trees unnecessarily.
Abdullah ibn Habashi reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
مَنْ قَطَعَ سِدْرَةً صَوَّبَ اللَّهُ رَأْسَهُ فِي النَّارِ
“He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], Allah will send him to Hellfire.” (Abu Dawud 5239).
The rule is not restricted to this type of tree but it was a good example to illustrate the point due to this tree variety growing in the desert and being a much-needed tree in an area which has scarce vegetation.
Spiritual rewards for planting trees
Indeed, Islam encourages the very opposite of harming the biosphere. It promotes doing things that help the biosphere. It is reported that the Prophet ﷺ said:
مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَغْرِسُ غَرْسًا، أَوْ يَزْرَعُ زَرْعًا، فَيَأْكُلُ مِنْهُ طَيْرٌ أَوْ إِنْسَانٌ أَوْ بَهِيمَةٌ، إِلاَّ كَانَ لَهُ بِهِ صَدَقَةٌ ”
“There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Bukhari)
Prohibiting Environmental Pollution
Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet ﷺ warned:
” اتَّقُوا الْمَلَاعِنَ الثَّلَاثَةَ: الْبَرَازَ فِي الْمَوَارِدِ وَقَارِعَةِ الطَّرِيقِ وَالظِّلِّ “
“Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilize), in a walkway or in a watering place.” (Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah – recorded in Mishkat al-Masabih 355)
The rights of animals
Islam upholds the rights of animals to kind treatment and justice, the same as it does for humans. People are accountable before Allah for their treatment of animals.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
نَعَمْ فِي كُلِّ ذَاتِ كَبِدٍ حَرَّى أَجْرٌ
“Yes, in every living being there is a reward for charity.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3686)
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
لَتُؤَدُّنَّ الْحُقُوقَ إِلَى أَهْلِهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ حَتَّى يُقَادَ لِلشَّاةِ الْجَلْحَاءِ مِنْ الشَّاةِ الْقَرْنَاءِ
“The rights of everyone will be restored on the Day of Resurrection until justice is fulfilled, even between the hornless sheep and the horned sheep.” (Sahih Muslim 2582)
Allah ﷻ says:
وَمَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ فِى الاٌّرْضِ وَلاَ طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَـلُكُمْ
“There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are Umam (communities) like you.” [Al-An’am 6:38]
Ibn Kathir relates in his tafsir of this verse of Quran:
‘Mujahid commented, “Meaning, various species that have distinct names.” Qatadah said, “Birds are an Ummah, humans are an Ummah and the Jinns are an Ummah.” As-Suddi said that, “إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَـلُكُمْ” (but are Umam like you.) means, creations (or species)…`Abdur-Razzaq recorded that Abu Hurayrah said about Allah’s statement, إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَـلُكُمْ مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِى الكِتَـبِ مِن شَىْءٍ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ (but are Umam like you We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they (all) shall be gathered.).
يَحْشُرُ اللَّهُ الْخَلْقَ كُلَّهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ الْبَهَائِمَ وَالدَّوَابَّ وَالطَّيْرَ وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ فَيَبْلُغُ مِنْ عَدْلِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَنْ يَأْخُذَ لِلْجَمَّاءِ مِنَ الْقَرْنَاءِ
“All creatures will be gathered on the Day of Resurrection, the beasts, birds and all others. Allah’s justice will be so perfect, that the un-horned sheep will receive retribution from the horned sheep.”
The Mother of the Believers, Aisha, reported: I was upon a camel that was misbehaving, so I started to beat it. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me:
عَلَيْكِ بِالرِّفْقِ فَإِنَّ الرِّفْقَ لَا يَكُونُ فِي شَيْءٍ إِلَّا زَانَهُ وَلَا يُنْزَعُ مِنْ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا شَانَهُ
‘You must be gentle. Verily, gentleness is not in anything except that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything except that it disgraces it.’ (Musnad Aḥmad 24417)
Killing animals for food or other needs has been permitted in Islam, but there is also accountability for that which has been killed painfully, needlessly or wastefully.
Shaddad ibn Aws reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الْإِحْسَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَإِذَا قَتَلْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الْقِتْلَةَ وَإِذَا ذَبَحْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الذَّبْحَ وَلْيُحِدَّ أَحَدُكُمْ شَفْرَتَهُ فَلْيُرِحْ ذَبِيحَتَهُ
“Verily, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything. If you have to kill, then kill in the best manner. If you slaughter, then slaughter in the best manner. Let one of you sharpen his knife so his animal feels no pain.” (Sahih Muslim 1955)
Sharid reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا عَبَثًا عَجَّ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ فُلَانًا قَتَلَنِي عَبَثًا وَلَمْ يَقْتُلْنِي لِمَنْفَعَةٍ
“Whoever kills so much as a sparrow unjustly will have it pleading to Allah on the Day of Resurrection, saying: O Lord, he killed me for no reason, and he did not kill me for any beneficial purpose.” (Sunan al-Nasā’ī 4446)
According to Ibn ‘Omar (may Allah be satisfied with him) the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
” مَا مِنْ إِنْسَانٍ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا فَمَا فَوْقَهَا بِغَيْرِ حَقِّهَا إِلاَّ سَأَلَهُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عَنْهَا ” . قِيلَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا حَقُّهَا قَالَ ” يَذْبَحُهَا فَيَأْكُلُهَا وَلاَ يَقْطَعُ رَأْسَهَا يَرْمِي بِهَا
“There is not a single person that kills an animal unlawfully, even if it is a bird, without being interrogated by Allah the Glorious.” They asked: “which way to kill is legitimate?” So he replied: “Cut the throat for consumption and don’t kill to throw it away.” (Reported by Nassâ’i and Hâkim)
5.12 These are political issues, not just individual ones
Some of the above, like removing harmful things or making do with existing things, are to be encouraged but ultimately left to individuals.
However, many of these are not merely individual matters but political ones that need enacting as policies or enforcement via the state.
The second Caliph Omar, may Allah be pleased with him, said “If a mule or a donkey should fall because the roads are not level, Omar will be questioned before God on the Day of Judgment as to why he did not repair the roads for these animals.” He was so conscious of this as Caliph, he built roads for goats that were falling when walking in mountainous areas. So by greater reason, human welfare in all its forms is considered of utmost importance in the management of affairs.
Similarly, there would be state sanctions for people who cause pollution, harm or destruction to their surroundings – or who mistreat animals. Again, these require a legitimate Islamic political authority to uphold them.
5.13 Solutions at the societal level
As for the solutions, which are from the Islamic system for implementation at a societal level, we can classify them into three groups for the purposes of understanding.
- Separation of Property into three distinct categories: Public, Private and State properties.
- Environmental regulation, which consists of rules defined explicitly by the Shariah texts (that are non-discretionary and must be followed) and also rules which are adopted by the ruler. The ruler adopts rules which are deemed necessary to safeguard the environment as part of the broader goal of looking after the affairs of all citizens be they Muslim or otherwise. This is taking the previously discussed ‘individual matters’ but enforcing limits for the whole of society.
- Judges dealing with disputes between individuals and the rights of the public. This may be in matters of water or air pollution and other forms where one party infringes on the collective rights of others. Destroying the collective commons, be that concerning rivers, air quality etc is a perfect example of the jurisdiction covered by this legislative arm of the Islamic system.
Many of the solutions, for example the abolition of private ownership over water and energy, are likely to be met with resistance and without a state apparatus this resistance cannot be overcome. For example, the Saudi royal family would never allow such a rule to be established as it would dissipate their power and privilege.
5.14 Islam’s Economic System
Islam has a unique economic system, based upon the Quran and Sunnah, that has amongst other features:
- Encourages trade
- Prohibits Riba (usury/interest)
- Has a currency underpinned by gold and silver
- Revenues that are raised largely on surplus wealth, not income or VAT
- Holds energy utilities in public ownership
We will consider some of the implications of this economic system.
No Embedded Growth Imperative (EGI)
Under the Capitalist system of management, growth in GDP is the fundamental goal of policy makers. Although there are other macroeconomic goals such as achieving healthy levels of employment and controlling inflation, and often trade-offs arise, the long term trajectory is towards increasing GDP.
Under the Islamic economic system, the primary goal is to ensure that the distribution of goods and services which meet people’s needs occurs through a mixture of private and public sector based systems. This ensures all basic needs are satisfied for all citizens of the State. Beyond that, the opportunities for progressing into the luxury needs exist in abundance. This is due to the unique system which ensures that barriers to opportunity are removed enabling a robust system of circulation of wealth and opportunity.
Separation of Property into Private, Public and State
Under an Islamic system, property can be recognised in three ways.
Property can be privately owned, unless it is expressly forbidden in texts – like alcohol – or unless it is forbidden to be owned in the private sector, such as energy sources including crude oil and gas; or minerals and ores like Uranium.
Public property is that which is owned by the society collectively and managed on behalf of the public by the State. This includes things such as lakes and rivers that are the collective commons, which by their nature cannot be owned individually, and also certain resources such as water and energy.
Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
الناس شركاء في ثلاث: الماء، والكلأ، والنار
“People are partners in three: Water, Pasture, and fire” reported by Abu Dawoud. Anas narrated from Ibn Abbas adding: «وثمنه حرام» “And its price is Haram”.
Ibn Majah reported from Abu Huraira that the Prophet ﷺ said:
«ثلاث لا يمنعن: الماء والكلأ والنار»
“Three that must not be prevented: Water, Pasture, and Fire.”
This is the evidence that people are partners in water, pasture, and fire; and that they are not permitted for privatisation.
The items in this list form part of the vital resources without which a community could not settle in an area. ‘Fire’ denotes energy and would include oil, gas and electricity for example.
In the time of the Prophet, pastures for grazing were vital for farmers to allow their animals to graze but with the onslaught of urbanization, this is not as important as new forms of property such as telecommunications or internet infrastructure which would be added to this list.
Other things considered too important to monopolise would be included alongside these.
At-Tirmidhi narrated from Abyadh Bin Jamal:
«أنه وفد إلى رسول الله r، فاستقطعه الملح فقطع له، فلما أن ولّى، قال رجل من المجلس: أتدري ما قطعت له؟ إنما قطعت له الماء العِدّ، قال: فانتزعه منه»
“He came to the Prophet ﷺ and asked to assign him a salt (mine), so He ﷺ did, when he left, a man from his ﷺ council said: Are you aware of what you assigned him? You assigned him a perennial (‘id) spring of water, he said: so he took it back from him.”
“’Id” water is a continuous source of water. He drew the similarity between salt and water when they are seemingly unlimited. This Hadith is an evidence that the Prophet ﷺ had given a portion of mountain salt for Abyadh Bin Jamal, but when he ﷺ found out that the quantities of the mineral was uncountable, he took it back from him and prevented its private ownership, i.e. it is public property. Salt is just one example of a mineral – what is intended is the mineral, not the salt. From this Hadith it is clear that the ‘illah (divine reasoning) of prevention of giving the portion of the mineral of salt is that it is ‘Id i.e. uncountable.
This ruling, that unlimited minerals are a public property, includes all minerals whether they are on the surface and easily accessed that people frequent and use, like salt, coal, emeralds and the like, or they are found underground and need to be extracted with equipment, like gold, silver, iron, bronze, lead, and the like; whether it is solid like crystal or liquid like oil. They are all ‘minerals’ that come under the hadith. They are public property for all citizens, the state is not permitted to give its ownership to individuals, companies, or allow individuals or companies to extract them for their own use; instead the state must extract them itself on behalf of the Muslims, in looking after their affairs, and all that it extracts from them is public property for all the citizens.
For the purpose of our discussion, as this subject is vast, we will focus on the energy sector.
In the Capitalist system, the energy industry is a very profitable sector as the goods supplied, be that oil and gas, are vital goods and the industry usually has very few entrants due to very high initial setup costs and due to government assistance in setting up new entrant barriers, resulting in few suppliers who charge high prices (due to inelastic demand) and who are driven purely by profits as opposed to environmental protection. This moral hazard is eliminated from the root under the Islamic system as there is no incentive to pollute the environment in the provision of these services as there is no quest for profits. This stance is perhaps explained by the juristic rule in Islamic Law that states, “The averting of harm takes precedence over the acquisition of benefits.”
These services are instead provided by the State and a not for profit charge is levied if the State is unable to provide the services without charge. In the latter scenario, the system of revenue and expenditure is clearly defined and if these services are not provided free of charge, they are charged at running costs.
Furthermore, technology that avoids pollution in the procurement process would be sought, if it meant reducing harm to the population. As the driver is not profit but the welfare of society as a whole, this in itself helps to safeguard the environment from oil spills into the sea or the release of harmful methane gases in the case of oil extraction.
5.15 Islam’s Political System – The Khilafah
Implementation of this economic system, and the upholding of the values previously mentioned, is the role of the state in Islam. This is the Khilafah, which implements the rule of Islam, provides security for all of its citizens, as well as carries the message of Islam to the world.
The Khalifah is the head of state, who governs with assistants, regional governors (Waalis and Aamils), takes consultation from an elected peoples’ assembly, and who appoints a judiciary – which once appointed is independent.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
أَلَا كُلُّكُمْ رَاعٍ وَكُلُّكُمْ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ فَالْإِمَامُ الَّذِي عَلَى النَّاسِ رَاعٍ وَهُوَ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ وَالرَّجُلُ رَاعٍ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ وَهُوَ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects.” (Bukhari & Muslim).
So, the role of the Khalifah is to look after the affairs of people – which would encompass preventing harms from pollution and other issues.
The Khalifah has a role to protect the citizens thus addressing the issue of conflict that we have discussed before.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
وَاللَّهِ لَيُتِمَّنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ حَتَّى يَسِيرَ الرَّاكِبُ مِنْ صَنْعَاءَ إِلَى حَضْرَمَوْتَ، لاَ يَخَافُ إِلاَّ اللَّهَ أَوِ الذِّئْبَ عَلَى غَنَمِهِ، وَلَكِنَّكُمْ تَسْتَعْجِلُونَ
“By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveller from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.” (Bukhari)
He ﷺ also said:
إِنَّمَا الْإِمَامُ جُنَّةٌ يُقَاتَلُ مِنْ وَرَائِهِ وَيُتَّقَى بِهِ فَإِنْ أَمَرَ بِتَقْوَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَعَدَلَ كَانَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ أَجْرٌ وَإِنْ يَأْمُرْ بِغَيْرِهِ كَانَ عَلَيْهِ مِنْهُ
“Verily, the leader is only a shield behind whom they fight and he protects them. If he commands the fear of Allah the Exalted and justice, then he will have a reward. If he commands something else, then it will be against him.” (Muslim)
The solutions presented in the previous section relating to individuals are generally reliant on a state apparatus to enforce their implementation, although some of them can be applied by individuals based on their own convictions and value system.
Whilst the rules in question must be followed by all Muslims whether they live under Islamic authority and under the rules of a state based on Islam or otherwise, the effective enforcement can only be made under a state which effectively makes it the law of the land to be upheld by all citizens as such.
Yet the system does not rely on enforcement alone. Educating Muslims about Shariah evidence (such as those in the previous section) builds an appreciation of such resources in the hearts and minds of the citizens from a young age – and through media – which would encourage the best behaviour without need for enforcement for the majority of people.
Qadi Hisbah – Judges for infringement of the Public Good
As for the second area, namely specific judges designated for adjudicating between parties that infringe on the collective rights, polluters are a fundamental target for dispute resolution for this judge.
The Judge (Qadi) in question is known as Qadi Hisbah and has powers to target and restrain activity that harms the wider society, such as those that might cause negative effects on innocent third parties who would suffer the consequences of the economic activity of others.
In order to protect people from contamination to the environment generally, the following general actions would need to be done by the Khilafah:
- Risk assessments of air, water and other matters.
- Setting safety standards based upon the recommendations of technical experts.
- Environmental inspections of air in city centres, water in populated areas and soil around industrial sites. This would be done by the office of the Qadi Hisbah – in a dedicated section for environmental protection – who would even have the power to close factories or industries that were causing problems (or to enforce corrective measures).
- As technology expands, the nature of threats to the environment is subject to change. Accordingly, the Khilafah would be obliged to continuously invest in research aimed at understanding, evaluating and measuring these risks. Central laboratories would need to be tasked with basic research in these areas, while regional laboratories should be tasked with the routine surveillance and monitoring of samples brought in by the local inspectors.
Dealing with Environmental Priorities
As mentioned in the introduction, the Khilafah would have to actively focus on the environmental priorities facing its people – which would include pollution to air, water and from industrial waste – falling under the mandate of looking after peoples’ affairs.
The administration of governance is decentralised – so as different regions have differing needs, the local rulers like Waalis and Aamils would have to respond to any harm to their local population.
Moreover, strategic planning in a future Khilafah would probably look to diversify modes of energy production to achieve the objectives of securing energy supplies, decentralising energy production, utilising available resources – whether solar energy, wind, geothermal energy, fossil fuels or nuclear energy, which Islam views as blessings from Allah ﷻ for the benefit of humanity. They should not be wasted but also the lessons of the past need to be learned so as to avoid potential harms.
5.16 Water offers an example of how these three classifications might work in practice:
- Water is a public property in Islam according to the hadith:
الناس شركاء في ثلاث: الماء، والكلأ، والنار
“The people are partners in three: water, pastures and fire.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
- The Islamic Shariah did not leave water without protections from pollution. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
اتَّقُوا الْمَلاعِنَ الثَّلاثَ: الْبَرَازَ فِي الْمَوَارِدِ وَالظِّلِّ وَقَارِعَةِ الطَّرِيقِ
“Be on your guard against three things which provoke cursing: easing in the watering places and on the thoroughfares, and in the shade (of the tree).” (Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah – recorded in Mishkat al-Masabih 355)
This prohibition would necessarily need to be addressed by the state if any individuals violated it.
Moreover, the Khilafah would have a duty to monitor potential sources of water and ensure its safety for drinking, agriculture and the environment.
Wastewater effluent – whether domestic or industrial – must be treated to avoid contamination of the environment and possible mixing with pure water – to prevent harm to people.
- It is the duty of the Islamic state to pay attention to the cleanliness of water sources and to monitor the quality of drinking water and its freedom from contaminants, by establishing special laboratories and facilities for this purpose, and establishing water stations for this purpose.
It may be the role of the Department of the Qadi Hisbah to monitor these standards in industry or to address individuals who violate the Shariah limits on these issues.
5:17 The role of the Khilafah in international affairs
The Khilafah would be a state engaged in the politics of the world.
So, where it sees cynical geopolitical games which call for conferences to promote their national interests, it will expose them. This is the reality in the world today. The agenda is clearly not about saving lives – otherwise the basic problems of air and water quality would have been addressed. The agenda is about the US trying to curtail the growth of China – and one of its many policies is to use the environmental argument.
The Khilafah cannot allow either itself, or vulnerable states in the world, to be exploited or manipulated by powerful states that seek to maintain their own dominance in global affairs.
Western countries have caused the greatest environmental damage to date. China and the United States are currently considered the biggest polluters. Each has sought its interest thus far, and this needs exposing.
Where the Khilafah sees the harms from Capitalism, it will expose them. All of the aforementioned understanding about how Capitalism has caused environmental harm should be exposed for the world to see the real causes.
However, where it is necessary to engage with other states in terms of trying to solve genuine problems that affect whole regions, it will do so, offering arguments from an Islamic perspective. Moreover, it would not allow either itself, or vulnerable states in the world, to be exploited or manipulated by powerful states that seek to maintain their own dominance in global affairs.
Matters pertaining to rivers, oceans, air quality and other matters are matters that relate to relationships with neighbours, as well as genuinely geopolitical affairs.
Hence, in terms of any genuine concerns about the man-made causes of climate change and identifying potential ‘harms’ – rather than the geopolitical struggle and national interests that we see today – the Khilafah would also ‘follow the science’ – insofar as technical matters demand consulting technical expertise. But political decisions based on scientific views are governed by the political principles of the state. Science, as we have already said, rarely has a neutral position on such complex issues.
What can be said, however, is that regardless of what extra measures may be needed in terms of addressing this issue, the Islamic principles and particularly the economic system as mentioned above means that it would already be addressing many of the concerns that are currently felt to be related to the problem.
The rest would need to be discussed, debated and negotiated in the interests of the well-being of people, not profits nor trying to secure national benefits.
Real geopolitical leadership would be to address a matter affecting humanity in the interests of all – both from an intellectual level and from a political level, not allowing colonial states to promote their interests at the expense of the rest of the world.
Our final word
All Praise is for Allah, Lord and Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth – and all that lies within.