The Environment The Holy Qur'an

Glimpses into the Qur’anic Concept of the Environment – Part 1

36 The Review of Religions – June 2005 One of the issues thatconcerns the world at the present time is the problem related to the protection of the environment. We hear many voices alerting people to the dangers that threaten the environment, urging people to take immediate action to save the world from the bad effects of the modern way of living and to stop further pollution of the surrounding atmosphere and to draw their attention to any health hazards that may affect them. Many organisations have been founded to protect nature and wildlife. Others are urg i n g people to be cautious when it comes to selecting the food they eat and to abandon any foods that may in any way cause injury to their health. As a result, people are becoming more aware of the problem and they are now very particular in the choice of the food they eat and are even worried about the air they breathe. Of course this is very sensible, as people around the world today are suffering from many problems and physical ailments caused by the pollution of the environment. Yet, if we are facing these kinds of troubles due to the pollution of our envi- GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT By Maha Dabbous – UK 37The Review of Religions – June 2005 ronment, and if some of us are already becoming aware of the problem and are trying to find solutions, how can it be that the All-Knowing Creator of the Universe is unaware of the problem or that He has neglected providing solutions for it? As every Muslim believes, the final and perfect universal Divine teachings that are ordained for mankind for all times to come, are all contained in the Holy Qur’an. Naturally, if there is any problem that is facing the world t o d a y, then undoubtedly there must be some reference to it in the Holy Qur’an, and there must be also some Divine guidance which, if acted upon, can solve this problem. So now we will need to turn to the Holy Qur’an to find out what it tells us about this matter. But before doing so, it is first essential to define the meaning of the environment that we are referring to, and to understand its relationship with mankind. The environment means the surrounding conditions which come into contact with a certain object and have influence on it. As human beings are not merely physical objects but are also endowed with a soul that can be described as a spiritual being, the environment for them can be defined as the surrounding circumstances and conditions that affect them in any way, physically, morally or spiritually. So according to this definition, the environment of human beings is not just the surrounding physical world that affects their physical bodies, but it also includes all aspects that may affect their moral condition and that are responsible for their spiritual status. The Holy Qur’an informs us that Allah has provided all necessary requirements for the healthy living of each and every creature on earth. And there is no creature that moves on the earth but it is for Allah to provide it with sustenance. And He knows its place of temporary settlement GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT 38 The Review of Religions – June 2005 GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT and its permanent abode. All this is recorded in a clear Book. (Ch.11:V.7) In this verse Allah is announcing that He provides not only for the physical nourishment of His creation, but He provides also for the spiritual sustenance of all creation; as understood from the phrase (‘And He knows its place of temporary sojourn or settlement and its permanent abode or dwelling’) w h i c h clearly points to the temporary life on this earth and the permanent spiritual dwelling in the hereafter. Before man, Allah created other creations in the universe and many forms of life that continued to develop and expand through time. The creation of man came at a relatively later stage. When Allah willed to place a vicegerent in earth, He chose man for this purpose. ..I am about to place a vicegerent in the earth.. (Ch.2:V.31) Man was that unique being who was chosen by Allah to be appointed as His representative on earth, to maintain order and to enforce the Divine law and to spread justice in the world. For this purpose, Allah created man, the apex and crown of all creations. He endowed him with great natural powers and qualities and the capacity to become the mirror in which the Divine attributes are reflected. In this way, man became fit to discharge the great responsibility for which he was created. To further help him attain this purpose, Allah exalted man above all the other beings and He made the whole universe subservient to man. The heavens with all its celestial bodies and the earth with all its treasures, the deep seas and the high mountains were all put at man’s service. Have you not seen that Allah has pressed for you into s e rvice whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth, and has completed His favours on you, both externally and internally? 39The Review of Religions – June 2005 GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT And among men there are some who dispute concerning Allah, without knowledge or guidance or an illuminating Book. (Ch.31:V.21) But this does not mean that man is the master of the world. He is only acting as a guardian, appointed by the real Master Who created the universe. The whole universe, including man himself, belongs to Allah and Allah allows man to exploit what He has created for his sake, provided that he does this with the intention of fulfilling the purpose for which he was created. And He has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; all this is from Him. In that, surely, are Signs for a people who reflect. (Ch.45:V.14) The purpose of man’s creation can be achieved through complying with the Divine rules and regulations which Allah Himself has revealed to man in the form of the teachings of His religion. These Divine teachings are not a series of arbitrary orders that Allah has issued to force His will on mankind. There is great wisdom behind each of them and they are meant to help any individual in his progress, phys- ically, morally and spiritually. From this we can understand that the environment surrounding man was created even before him and was meant to serve him and enable him to achieve the purpose of his creation. Nevertheless, as we can all see t o d a y, the majority of human beings have strayed away from achieving this target. Not only did man fail to make use of what Allah provided for man’s own good, but also man went on corrupting the provisions that Allah bestowed upon him, spoiling it for himself and for others as well. And when he is in authority, he runs about in the land to c reate disorder in it and d e s t roys the tilth and the 40 The Review of Religions – June 2005 GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT progeny of man; and Allah loves not disorder. (Ch.2:V.206) By doing this, the good and wholesome provisions that Allah made lawful for man, became harmful. As a result, these lawful provisions were rendered unlawful for human consumption because Allah allowed only the consumption of what was good and wholesome. O ye who believe, eat of the good things We have provided for you, and render thanks to Allah, if it is He Whom you worship. (Ch.2:V.173) Allah has clearly instructed the believers not to be the cause of turning the lawful thing into an unlawful one. O ye who believe! make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, and do not transgress. Surely Allah loves not the transgressors. And eat of that which Allah has provided for you of what is lawful and good. And fear Allah in Whom you believe. (Ch.5:Vs.88-89) In this there is a clear indication for the believers to protect the environment in which they live. It is clear that the more they pollute their environment, the more things will be made unlawful for their consumption as they will become injurious and harmful for them. This does not only apply for the food that one eats; this is a general instruction that applies for anything provided for humankind. But as we see today, the majority of human beings do not follow these simple instructions and instead, they continue to pollute their environment rendering it unwholesome and harmful for their own use. Allah has set His laws in such a way that the offender is the first to suffer the consequences. The corruption that humankind caused to the environment has now become visible and apparent to all, and the harm that humankind is 41The Review of Religions – June 2005 GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT suffering as a result, has also become apparent to all. However, the materialisation of this damage in itself is a blessing in disguise. Allah’s actions are always for our own good. He says: Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste the fruit of some of their doings, so that they may turn back from evil. (Ch.30:V.42) The last phrase in this verse explains to us the reason why Allah has made visible to us this damage in our physical envi- ronment. Allah says that He made this corruption apparent to people (so that they may turn back from evil). Allah wants to draw man’s attention to a more significant corruption that he has to deal with. It is the evil of his soul. While the majority of the civilised population in the world today has became aware of the importance of protecting the physical environment, there are only a few who are aware of the moral corruption of the envi- ronment, and there is hardly anybody who is even aware of the existence of a spiritual realm that is also affected by the environment. H o w e v e r, this important issue was not neglected in the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. Allah has taken care of protecting all aspects of the environment to ensure a healthy physical, moral and spiritual life for humankind. As we have seen above, His commands in the Holy Qur’an enjoin the believers to protect the environment in which they live. He also teaches them to care for the other creatures who share this envi- ronment with them. And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order, and call upon Him in fear and in hope. Surely, the mercy of Allah is nigh unto those who do good. (Ch.7:V.57) 42 The Review of Religions – June 2005 GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT H o w e v e r, special emphasis is always placed in the Holy Qur’an to the spiritual aspect of life: This is the home of the Hereafter! We give it to those who seek not self-exaltation in the earth, nor corruption. And the (good) end is for the righteous. (Ch.28:V.84) Beside this the Holy Qur’an also explains the reasons and wisdom behind doing so and it guides its followers to the methods of keeping their physical, moral and spiritual states in a healthy condition all the time. But we have to remember here that the Holy Qur’an expresses its teachings in physical terms and this is simply because physical objects can be perceived by the physical senses of man and therefore they become easy for him to comprehend. Yet the meanings of these Divine instructions must also be considered more deeply and it must be understood that these physical examples are to be taken also metaphorically to illustrate the Divine guidance related to the moral and spiritual prosperity of man, in addition to his physical well-being. And, indeed, We have set forth for mankind all manner of parables in this Qur’an that they may take heed. (Ch.39:V.28) As an illustration for this, let us now consider the teachings of Islam related to the consumption of meat. In the physical environment, Allah has created many kinds of animals for the service of man in different ways. One of the benefits which man can draw from these animals is to use their flesh as food because animal protein is beneficial as a part of man’s diet. Therefore, a Muslim is allowed to use the flesh of some of these animals as a source of food. But at the same time, the flesh of these animals is only lawful for him after fulfilling certain conditions. First, the animal must be chosen from the group of animals whose 43The Review of Religions – June 2005 flesh is allowed as food. It must be alive and healthy at the time of its slaughtering. It must be slaughtered in a specific way with a sharp knife. The name of Allah must be pronounced before slaughtering the animal. The flesh of the slaughtered animal must also be cooked thoroughly to get rid of any trace of blood left in it. It is only after fulfilling all these conditions, the meat becomes lawful for a Muslim to consume. But it should be remembered here that under certain cir- cumstances, things which are lawful become forbidden because they become harmful. Islam enjoins the Muslims to eat only from what is good and wholesome. It teaches them to eat from what is pure and it forbids them to eat any unclean or impure food or partake of anything which might injure one’s health. So any lawful food which becomes contaminated even by germs or becomes unsuitable for one’s health in any way, becomes unlawful. Now when we come to study the reasons behind these Divine instructions we will find that these are not meant only for the physical well-being of a person, but we will also find that it is for his moral benefit and spiritual welfare. We all know that the con- sumption of some kinds of meat can cause negative effects on the human body and hence we understand why Allah has forbidden the consumption of such categories of meat. It is also obvious that the consumption of a dead or diseased animal can have dangerous effects on the physical health of a person. Likewise, the blood of the animal may contain harmful substances that can cause serious effects on the physical health. The process of slaughtering the animal ensures the free flow of blood out of its body and thus avoid such danger. Further extensive cook- ing gets rid of any traces of the blood of the animal which may have been left behind. But the negative effects are not GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT 44 The Review of Religions – June 2005 only confined to the physical sphere. Food can also have an effect on the moral and spiritual state of human beings. It has been proven that there exists a deep and subtle connection between the food that a person eats and his actions. This fact has only recently started to be increasingly recognised by medical science, while the Holy Qur’an has acknowledged this, fourteen centuries ago. The Holy Qur’an has taken the necessary precautions and prescribed directions and instructions relating to the food we eat. This has a great significance. The basic principle laid down by Islam is that as man must develop all his natural instincts and faculties, therefore he should partake of all kinds of food, except those that are likely to do him physical, moral or spiritual harm. The use of pure and good food produces healthy mental conditions which in turn produce good and righteous actions. Food exerts a powerful influence on man’s morals. Even the habits of an animal can be transmitted to man through eating its flesh. This is why Islam has subjected the food that is lawful for human consumption to certain limits and conditions and obviously it is for the benefit of man himself. Concerning the flesh of animals that was made lawful for human consumption Allah says: And of the cattle He has created some for burden and some for slaughter. Eat of that which Allah has provided for you, and follow not in the footsteps of Satan. Surely he is to you an open foe. (Ch.6:V.143) This verse clearly indicates that the food that man consumes has a direct effect on his ability to fight the insinuations of Satan as understood from the phrase ‘follow not in the footsteps of Satan’. And Allah instructed His Messengers: O ye Messengers, eat of the things that are pure and do good works. Verily, I am well- GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT 45The Review of Religions – June 2005 a w a re of what you do. (Ch.23:V.52) Hence these regulations alert Muslims and exhort them to be careful in selecting their food and to examine its effect on their health before they decide to eat it. And this automatically urges them to be conscious about the condition of the environment that is surrounding them because it can have a direct effect on their food and can even make it unlawful for them to partake of it. This further stops them from doing anything that can cause harm or damage to their surroundings or injure their health in any way. Moreover, the way by which the animals are slaughtered has also further effects on the moral and spiritual condition of a Muslim. To sum up these benefits, Allah says concerning sacrificed animals: Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him. Thus He has subjected them to you, that you may glorify Allah for His guiding you. And give glad tidings to those who do good. (Ch.22:V.38) Hence it is the righteousness of a person that is meant to be achieved by these actions. From the above we can see that although these instructions were given in the physical sense, they have their effects on the moral and spiritual state of man as well. This applies to all the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. In the environment of humankind, Allah has created everything that would be needed by man to accomplish his duties. At the same time, Allah revealed the directions which can guide man to the best means by which he can utilise these facilities. It is for man’s own good that he should do only what is lawful and refrain from doing what Allah has forbidden. Only then will man ensure good physical, moral and spiritual health. For GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT 46 The Review of Religions – June 2005 this reason, it is the responsibility of man to protect his environment so that it continues to provide the beneficial means of his overall prosperity. In addition to the above reasons, Islam also teaches its followers the love of nature through the love of Allah. A true Muslim is absorbed in the love of Allah and consequently he loves the entire creation because it belongs to his Beloved One. The Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) demonstrated this fact in his own person. Beside his mercy towards mankind, he had mercy for all animals and creatures and even for trees and plants. This is why Allah addresses the Holy Prophet(sa) in the Holy Qur’an saying: And We have not sent thee but as a mercy for all the worlds. (Ch.21:V.108) The Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ) w a s a mercy for all the worlds including the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom and every other world that was created by his Beloved Creator of the universe. He always showed gratitude to his Beloved for His great bounties and he was very careful not to destroy any of Allah’s creation or let anything go to waste. Following his example, it is the duty of every person to look after all that Allah has created. It is in the interest of man to do so because everything was created for his sake and he can benefit from it in one way or the other. As the real object of man’s life in this world is his spiritual advancement, it is beyond any doubt that if Allah has made ample provisions for his physical needs, He could not have neglected the provisions for man’s spiritual needs also. And as man very gladly accepts and uses all the physical provisions made for him, he should also not decline to make similar use of Allah’s spiritual gifts. A human being is a body and a soul. If Allah has provided man with the food that nourishes his body and keeps him fit and well, he must have provided him also with the spiritual food which nourishes his soul and raises it to the GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT 47The Review of Religions – June 2005 highest spiritual levels. As a person should be aware of his body’s physical health, he should also be conscious of his soul’s spiritual well-being. If Allah has provided man with a suitable environment to maintain the best health of his physical body, He must have provided man also with the perfect spiritual environment to ensure the highest spiritual station of his soul. Hence, it is the duty of man that as he should protect his physical environment, he should also care about the purity of his spiritual environment. To fully understand this, man must reflect on the physical objects in the universe because they symbolise spiritual aspects as well. The physical world materialises the spiritual one so as to make it easy for man to comprehend. The Holy Qur’an is full of illustrations to help us in this regard. It will suffice to cite a few examples here. If we study what the Holy Q u r’an has mentioned con- cerning the plants in the physical world, we will learn some amazing spiritual lessons. As a matter of fact, the Holy Qur’an has likened human beings somewhat to plants when Allah said: And Allah has caused you to GLIMPSES INTO THE QUR’ANIC CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENT ISLAM ALSO TEACHES ITS FOLLOWERS THE LOVE OF N AT U R E T H R O U G H T H E L O V E O F AL L A H. A T R U E MUSLIM IS ABSORBED IN THE LOVE OF ALLAH AND CONSEQUENTLY HE LOVES THE ENTIRE CREATION BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO HIS BELOVED ONE. grow out of the earth like the raising of vegetation. (Ch.71:V.18) Allah also said about Mary – the mother of Jesus(as): So her Lord accepted her with a gracious acceptance and caused her to grow an excellent growth and made Zachariah her guardian… (Ch.3: V.38) According to the physical laws of nature, a plant can grow in a land if a healthy seed is sown in its soil which happens to be rich and fertile. In the same manner a human soul can develop spiritually if it is provided with the healthy spiritual seed of faith and the healthy spiritual soil in the form of a sincere heart that accepts the truth. However, the power of making a seed grow into a plant might be hidden in the soil, but it does not come into play unless the soil receives water from heaven. The latent powers of the soil to grow vegetation together with the soundness of the seed that is sown in it, will never produce anything without the help of water. Similarly the latent and inherent powers and faculties of man fail to find their real spiritual development and growth without the help of the spiritual water. Life on earth depends on water which descends from heaven in the form of rain. In the same way, the spiritual life cannot exist without the spiritual water which descends from heaven in the form of Divine revelation. And He it is Who sends the winds as glad tidings before His mercy, and We send down pure water from the clouds, That We may thereby give life to a dead land, and give it for drink to Our creation – cattle and men in large numbers. (Ch.25:Vs.49-50) Continued next month 48 MESSAGE FROM HEAVEN The Review of Religions – June 2005