Islam And Conservation Of Natural Resources

Asked about what Islam has to say about conservation of natural resources, here is my take: Like the secondary school students who would want to start arguing their points by defining the key terms of their topics, this writer defines Islam, conservation, and natural resources before connecting the dots. How’s, the terms are very concisely defined, requiring only the essential information for even those unfamiliar with the terms to understand their existence. By defining the terms, the writer intended to allow as much classes of readers to take from the article a message home.

Meanwhile, unlike in the case of secondary school students, the intent of this article is not to score points but to reiterate, for it has often been neglected, Islam as the most compatible religion to science and remains the mother of many scientific disciplines. The religion explains and advocates for conservation of natural resources – to say mildly.
Islam, not because it is really founded some 145 decades ago, but because it is often defined as such, is the Abrahamic monotheistic religion centered on the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam. It has some five pillars and six articles of faith. With the followers of this faith, called Muslims, numbering close to 2 billion worldwide, Islam is not only universally seen as the second-largest but also the fastest growing religion in the world. Collectively refers to as Ummah, Muslims believe that their religion, a deen or comprehensive way of life, is the complete and the universal version of a primordial faith revealed many times through earlier prophets such as Adam, Nuhu (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), and Isa (Jesus) may peace and blessings be upon them all. Perhaps in the most concise edition, this can be said to be the meaning of Islam.

Conservation, however, carries different meanings depending on the time and situation with which it is used. For example, the meaning it conveys in the field of sciences as physics is not the same as that which it takes in arts. Meanwhile, in this essay, the meaning relating to natural resources is strictly considered. It is thus the triangle of protection, management and wise use of the resources in question for the benefits of current and coming generations. The natural resources, meant to be conserved, are the tangible and intangible materials drawn from nature – which are utilized with little to no alteration. Examples of such resources include vegetation, wildlife, land, water, sunlight and so on.
In view of the above definitions, this article is written to suggest that Islam as a religion and as a way of life speaks about natural resources and even went ahead to strongly preach that they are must be protected, managed and wisely used.

While there is no one place in the Qur’an where it is said “oh you who believe do well to conserve your forests…”, and or that failure to protect wildlife could amount to crumbling in the fire of Jahannam; evidence from the same book and other sources such as the tradition of the Prophet (Sunnah) are very clear and enough to debunk [to say mildly] any opinion that is against conservation of natural resources – at least from Islamic viewpoint.

To start with, Allah The Exalted [SWA] says in Surah Yunus, Qur’an chapter 10 verse 14, “Then we made you trustees (Khalifa) on the earth after them, to see how you would act.” Other verses such as in Surah Al-Ahzab (Q 33:72), and Surah Al-An’am (Q 6:165) directly emphasize the same message. In line of this, the Prophet [PBUH] said, “The world is a beautiful and verdant, verily God, The Exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees hoe you acquit yourselves” (Saheeh Muslim).

According to Muhammad A. Chakaki, an independent environmental consultant and a founding member of the American Green Muslims in the Direct, that man is made the khalifa, trustee, steward, successor, custodian, …name it, “does not mean absolute power of humans over nature. … It is a trust, an immense responsibility.” Indeed, Chakaki’s explanation of this stewardship could hardly be far from the truth. For in Surah Al-Ahzab, chapter 33 verse 72, Allah [SWA] says, “Verily, We offered the entrusted property (Amana) to the heavens, and the Earth/land, and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish.” As man is allowed to make use of the natural resources upon which he is made a custodian, the fact that he is warned against using it extravagantly presents the stewardship as a double-edge sword: remaining as an honor whilst also a test.

At the heart of the famous George Washington University stands the Islamic Studies Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Of the highest order, Nasr is a faculty, an environmentalist, a philosopher, and an author of more than 50 books and over 500 articles. The erudite scholar expresses his environmental philosophy in terms of Islamic Environmentalism and Resacralization of Nature. According to the more-than-90-year-old distinguished academic, environmental crisis cannot be understood, much less solved, without a wider spiritual approach. In his view, man must humble himself as the steward he is and stop the dictatorial approach in his relationship with nature. [See for instance his book ‘Religion and the Order of Nature’].

While many of Nasr’s propositions are frown at and thrown to the dust bin, labelled as too unscientific and religiously induced – because ours is an over-obsessed-with-technology sort of a world – the very idea that environmental crisis is a self-inflicted wound, caused by human activity, remains a universal convention. Surah As-Shura has it all said: “And whatever misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned…”

However, influenced by Nasr, in an opinion published by Aljazeera, a renowned environmentalist and a professor of philosophy at Uskudar University Turkey, Ibrahim Ozdemir said, “Islam teaches its followers to take care of the earth.” And that in his opinion, the one simple yet neglected solution to the environmental crisis is ‘interpreting the issue from an Islamic perspective’.

In this line of thinking, when next this writer [of this article] writes, he shall discuss Hima (Protected Area), Waqf (Endowment), and Israf (Prohibition of Wastefulness) among other natural resources conservation related concepts – from Islamic viewpoint. Meanwhile, suffice is to say that climate change and its resulting environmental crisis is real, and Almighty Allah says in Surah Al-Ra’ad, “… Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves…” [Q 13:11].

Abubakar Idris Misau, a graduate of Forestry and Wildlife from University of Maiduguri, writes from Yola, Nigeria. 

Read Also: Challenges in Islamic Education and the Path to Positive Transformation

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