Saturday, February 23, 2013

Prophet's Compassion & Stewardship of the Environment

By Faraz Khan

Artwork: Muhammad - artwork by

There are many aspect of Prophetic guidance that a person could simply nod his or her head and say ‘this makes sense’ or ‘this is high character’. I have always found these prophetic stories or statements to increase my faith and strive to emulate the Prophet. Yet, as an environmentalist, one of the most fascinating things about the Prophet to me was not only his relationship with God and the people around him but his compassion and stewardship for the environment. In this ‘enlightened period’ of mountain top removals and global warming I am humbled by the statements of the Prophet about his connection with inanimate object such as mountains. It is reported that Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saw Uhud [mountain] and said, “This is a mountain which loves us and we love it.” (Muwatta)
The Prophetic ethical standard was way beyond his time. He established sustainable bond with animate and inanimate objects as creation of God. He encouraged people to live simply and prohibited waste of any resources whether in abundance or a few. He reprimanded his companions to avoid wastage of water even if they were using it for ablution near a stream (Ahmad).
The Quran is clear that God has provided everything on this planet for us to fulfill our needs with gratitude and not with waste. “It is we who have placed you with authority on earth, and provided you therein with means for the fulfillment of your life: small are the thanks that you give!” (Qur’an 7:10).
The construction of the mosque in Medina (Masjid anNabawi) offers many great lessons for the environmental conscious folks. First of all, the Prophet paid the price of the land to the two orphan boys in full. There were no special interest groups or lobbying to seek private property. The boys were willing to give the land for free but the Prophet did not take advantage of people’s land. He built the place from local resources such as timber, mud, cement, and not overburdened his people by importing Italian or Indian marbles and associated carbon footprint in modern world. The design was earthly and far removed from extravagance, waste, or showoff. He built the mosque with his own hands along with his companions. The Prophet did not practice throw-away disposable culture like today when Styrofoam and plastic items that get clogged up in the stomachs of fishes and birds.
The Prophet endorsed and established principals that are considered predecessor of the modern environmental land stewardship. He established inviolable areas, Harim such as modern land conservations and Hima/Waqf, protected areas for wildlife and water resources, typical of modern National Parks. He established fair use for Land claims and reforms known in books of hadith such as Ihya al-Muwat, iqta’, and Ijara. He established water rights and priorities, haq al-shirb not only for humans but for animals and crops as well.
Today, with all the looming environmental problems such as global warming, melting of the polar ice caps, thinning of the ozone layer, excessive carbon in the environment, salinization of water and desertification, the Prophet accurately provided the solution to all these fundamental environmental issues. Listen to his advice, he said: “When doomsday comes, and someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it.”  He taught people to be generous and kind and even tied planting trees as sadaqa (charitable gift). In another beautiful hadith he mentioned: “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but is regarded as having given a charitable gift” (Bukhari). Planting trees such as the work done by shade tree commission in different towns is not an undue burden but a means for a believer to gain nearness to God.
The prophet despised hunting for amusement and he prohibited people from hunting wildlife without a valid reason such as safety or food. He mentioned: “If anyone wrongfully kills [even] a sparrow, [let alone] anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation(An-Nasa'i).” In another word, an individual would have to answer before God why s/he harmed the creation of God.
The early generation took these teachings of the Prophet to their heart and protected animals in Medina and Makkah. It is reported in the Muwatta of Imam Malik that Abu Ayyub al-Ansari [a relative of the Prophet] found some boys who had driven a fox into a corner and he chased them away from it and became upset and said ‘Have you done this in the sanctuary (haram) of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace?”. Similarly, Imam Malik further notes in his work that Zayd ibn Thabit [famous companion of the Prophet] came across a person who had captured a hawk on the outskirts of Madina. Zayd took the hawk from the hands of this person and set it free.
The Prophet in the Quran is called “the Mercy to all the worlds”. After reading about his relationship with the environment, there is no doubt in my mind that he was compassionate towards all the creation of God. Environmental stewardship is a sunnah, established norm of the prophetic guidance that remains to be part and parcel of the Muslim community.

To learn more about grassroots environmental stewardship, please read more on TAG - Think As Green

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