Abusing the Environment: A Muslim Perspective
Man is the high point of Allah’s creation. Man is placed above all other creatures by Allah. His angels must prostrate in front of man, whereas the animals, plants and natural resources must serve him. Thus Allah wishes man to lead a happy and enjoyable life and make full use of all the natural resources that Earth has to offer. At the same time, Allah strictly forbids abuse of these same resources. “But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and yet, do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters.” (28:77)
Allah urges man to respect His Creation, the earth and animals and plants. Abusing the environment is denying that respect to Allah. It will entail punishment. “Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (2:60) “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by reason of what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of the consequence of what they have done that perhaps they will return to righteousness.” (30:41) This last verse is very important for the appreciation of the dangers of abusing the environment. It will not go unnoticed before Allah. It will be punished.
We very often see the consequences of this punishment, when man becomes forgetful of the rules to preserve the environment and gets a wrap on the knuckles when hazardous waste fills our cities and villages, when pollution takes over, when fresh air subsides because of the cutting down of trees, when oil spills contaminate seas and oceans killing sea life and threatening to poison nearby land.
Having placed us at the top of His Creation Allah delegated to us the duty of looking after the beings which are inferior to us. This is a great honour from Allah and a great responsibility. This is why the punishment for failing to observe it is so strict. “And there is no creature on or within the earth or bird that flies with its wings except that they are communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” (6:38) We must not fail Allah’s trust, we must not neglect this sacred duty and displease our Lord with such carelessness.
Our duty towards the environment lies not only in preserving it, it encompasses efforts to improve it as well. The scholar of Islam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal relates a story of how the Prophet treated the need to improve the environment. He said to his companions thus: “If the Last Hour is imminent while one of you has a palm seedling in his hand which he can plant before it happens, then let him plant it.” (Musnad Ahmad, 12491)
Allah’s command to preserve the environment is both a great honour to man and a great responsibility. Let us not fail Allah and ourselves in performing it in strict compliance with the wishes of our Lord.