Islamic perspective on the climate crisis

Written by Karim Abdel Kader

Posted on June 14 2020

Al Salam Alaikom (Peace be upon you). 

Being Muslim means believing that Allah ﷻ (God) is the creator of all things, all that is on earth belongs to him, everything that he has created is perfect and nothing that he creates is without value. 

He has raised up the sky, He has set the balance so that you may not exceed in the balance, weigh with justice and do not fall short in the balance, He laid out the earth for all living creatures (Qur’an 55: 7 -10)

We believe that the earth was created in perfect equilibrium and that all aspects are connected in a state of unity. The natural resources and natural cycles were created to provide a climate in which all living beings thrive. That we as humans have accepted a responsibility from Allah ﷻ to take care of the earth and its resources, humans are a trustee and not a consumer.

There are numerous ahadith (quotes) from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on the importance for caring for the environment, animals and planting trees. I remember hearing them many times from my childhood, the traveler who used their shoe to fill up water for a thirsty dog from a well and how they were forgiven (of sins), another of a person who starved their cat and the fire (hell ) they would face. The importance of planting a tree even if it is the last deed you do and the renewable reward gained from animals or humans eating from the trees you plant. 

There is no animal on the earth, nor any bird that wings its flight, but is a community like you (Qur’an 6: 38)

We as humans are powerful beings, but we are not on this earth alone. And yet, humans are responsible for the destruction of habitats of communities, the mass extinction of species and the devastation of the most biologically diverse ecosystems (such as rainforests and coral reefs). Humans have corrupted and abused the earth with our systems for endless economic growth on a planet with finite resources. 

Corruption has appeared on land and sea by what people’s own hands have wrought, that He may let them taste some consequences of their deeds, so that they may turn back. (Qur’an 30:41)

It is true, we have corrupted the land and sea with our actions and waste, communities around the world are already feeling the consequences heavily. The effects of human induced climate change in some aspects is already irreversible, but we can mitigate if not avoid more and increasingly severe consequences. We have a chance to take action but it can’t wait, we have to turn back from our corruption of the earth.

There are many examples of conservation and sustainable living in Muslim history that we can learn from. The Prophet ﷺ established inviolable zones that exclude direct human use in which plants may not be cut or felled and animals may not be disturbed. He also established conservation areas which can be split up into grazing areas and seeding areas. In a hadith (quote) he also said that you must conserve water while performing wudhu (cleaning yourself with water before prayer) even if it is from a flowing river (meaning abundance in this context).

The prophet ﷺ lived a frugal life that was free from excess and waste, the prophet’s wife A’ishah is quoted as saying “he used to repair his own shoes, sew his clothes and carry out all such household chores done without complaint or want for more ”. Moderation and not wasting resources even if they are in abundance are integral parts of the values of Islam, especially when it comes to food. 

“Children of Adam … eat and drink but don’t be extravagant: God does not like extravagant people.” (Qur’an 7: 7: – 31) 

A part of climate change that is sometimes forgotten is climate justice, climate justice is looking at the climate crisis from an ethical and social perspective. It is often the communities that pollute the least that are facing the brunt of the climate crisis and they are also often the most vulnerable. The poor pollute less than the rich, but it is the poor that are being displaced, it is the small island states that are drowning and not the fossil fuel companies. Climate change is not just an environmental issue but a social justice issue.

In the Prophet’s ﷺ last sermon he stated “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab … a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action ” . No person is superior over another, yet there are the few whose actions and overconsumption condemn the many to suffer. In an increasingly globalized world, our actions not only affect those around us but affect communities around the world, we have no superiority over others regardless of their nationality, race or ethnicity and we all have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all people alive now and future generations.

Given the value Islam and the Prophet ﷺ place on the environment, the conservation of it, the moderation in all things, the social justice and protecting the vulnerable, I believe the climate cause is a Muslim cause, and the climate fight is a Muslim fight . Yet there are some Muslim majority states that profit from the pollution and destruction caused by the burning of fossil fuels, at the expense of other Muslim communities that are vulnerable to desertification and the risk of flooding. As Muhamad Yunis (Nobel prize winner for microcredit finance) said when asked how the role of micro-credit can alleviate the suffering caused by climate change for the poor “This is beyond the control of Bangladesh, beyond the control of microfinance, it’s a global issue”. He uses his home country Bangladesh which is under threat from rising sea levels as an example to argue that climate change is a global problem that can’t be solved at a state level and can’t be solved simply by giving the vulnerable loans, we need a global solution.

Regardless of if you are a Muslim or not, I think we can all learn from the teachings of Islam and the Prophet ﷺ. Climate change will affect us all regardless of our religion and beliefs and so we must all reevaluate our relationship with our shared environment of the earth and try to cut excessiveness and overconsumption from our lives. We need to realize our responsibility to all currently living beings and to the future generations and take a unified stance to fight for a healthy planet and In Sha ‘Allah (if God wills it) we can prevent the dire consequences of doing nothing.

Sources and where you can find out more

This blog post was inspired by talks  with MSA Nour, a Muslim student association in Maastricht. You can find out more information about them on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/msanourmaastricht

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