بسم اللّٰہ الرحمٰن الرحیم
This article has been written to highlight the harmful effects not just on the Earth that we live in, but also the effect on ourselves. Please take a moment to contemplate the true message behind the advertisements on TV, newspapers and magazines after reading this post.
The media seems to be plagued with environmental buzz words such as 'global warming' and 'carbon footprint'. These words seem to be giving us a warning, but do we really know what they mean?
When issues pertaining to the environment are mentioned to us, do we stop to ponder over them or do we continue with our daily routine oblivious to what is going on in the world? Does the environment have any Islamic relevance at all?
As Muslims, we acknowledge our obligations to our Creator, Allāh; to our spouse, our families, our relatives and our community. But have we ever contemplated our duties towards the finer details of Allāh's Creation?
Although this Earth is a temporary abode for Muslims, it is also a gift and a trust to us from Allāh. We must remember this before we decide to throw that cola can on the kerbside, or throw that glass bottle into the conventional waste bin instead of the recycling one.
'It is He who has appointed you as viceroys in the earth.' [Qur'an - 6:165] It is clear from the above verse that Allāh (subhana wa ta'ala) has appointed mankind as guardians of this earth and therefore we must take every step with this responsibility in mind. We are accountable for everything we subject to the Earth and its helpless creatures. We need to ask ourselves whether we take these actions seriously at all.
There is a clear media driven push to make us all 'environmentally friendly'. However, are our antagonistic activities towards the environment a disease, or are they merely symptoms of a wider pathological process?
Perhaps the best way to approach this problem is by observing it from a medical point of view.
Below are a handful of environmental symptoms:
- Global warming/Climate change – An increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air and oceans and therefore the overall climate. This is a result of the continuous incineration of household waste and fuels.
- Overflowing landfills – Households are constantly disposing reusable waste as conventional rubbish.
- Deforestation – Large amounts of forest around the world have been cleared to provide new land for farming and agriculture in order to meet the growing demands of food companies.
- Pollution – This is a direct result of incineration of household waste and fuels, as well as dumping of chemicals and pesticides into the sea which further add to the eventual outcome: global warming.
- Exposure to radioactive waste and toxic chemicals from nuclear power – Due to the continuous dumping of waste and chemicals deep into the ground, our food and water will become contaminated and hazardous to consume.
The list of our effects on the earth and its inhabitants is endless.
But just as every patient has a deep-rooted cause for their multiple symptoms, so does the Earth on which we tread. A patient suffering from a brain tumour would initially suffer from headaches. Imagine if this patient went to their doctor complaining of a headache, and the doctor gave the patient painkillers without investigating the cause of the patient's headache? The consequences would certainly be fatal. Perhaps environmental charities are also guilty of something similar, whereby they are treating the symptoms without treating the main cause.
One might ask, what is the main cause? The answer – consumerism.
Like a brain tumour, consumerism is like a cancer on the Earth as it has spread to the far reaches of the world taking over the hearts and minds of many people like a wolf in sheep's clothing. We fail to realise how little we can survive on when push comes to shove and yet we feel that we 'have to have' the latest smartphone or we 'need' an Audi A4. Consumerism, it seems, has taken over the world.
Or has it?
The government is pushing us all to recycle our waste through the provision of recycling bags by local councils or encouraging us to invest in solar panels and electric cars. But as with the headache analogy, these only treat the symptoms, not the main cause. It is only reducing the production of household waste and finding alternative methods to fuel our high maintenance consumer-driven lives.
In reality, the problem lies in an evermore problematic disease that is rarely acknowledged as our adversary, unless, of course, one is a Muslim.
Mankind, it seems, is suffering from an almost incurable disease. A disease which has spread so far into each and every single one of us that it has blackened our hearts almost to the core. However, if we are not careful enough to protect ourselves with the remembrance of Allāh, this disease could destroy us completely.
What could be a bigger cancer than consumerism? Materialism. Attachment to the worldly life.
It's laughable for one to consider themselves attached to the temporary life of the world, and yet, if we look around us, we can find several examples of the depth of our attachment, ranging from the BMW parked outside our 3-storey home to the plasma TV hanging on the wall down to the latest model of the iPhone snugly tucked away in the pocket of our Versace jeans. Not so funny now, is it?
Unfortunately, Muslims have been engulfed by the fire of materialism…a fire which could lead us to the ultimate Fire. Fortunately, we have a solution better than a thousand government environmental policies.
It is through Islam that one of my early questions can be answered. We as Muslims seem to have overlooked a crucial point when we argue that Islam is the truth and applicable to all aspects of life. The environment is one of our strengths, and one of the ways in which we can earn eternal reward by caring for it.
Islam, as a way of life, teaches us as human beings to care for the environment for several reasons. First and foremost, we should look to appreciate and conserve the beauty of Allāh's creation, especially since this creation praises Allāh in its own way. By doing so, we will develop an understanding and awareness of our Lord and strengthen in our consciousness of Allāh's Power and Mercy upon us.
'The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: There is not a thing but celebrates His praise, and yet you understand not how they declare His Glory!' [Qur'an – 17:44]
Since humans are the ones who have been entrusted with guardianship of the earth, we are the ones who have the ability to look after the environment, as no other creature can. By looking after the creation of our Lord, we are glorifying Him and it is therefore imperative that we make this a part of our daily lives, as opposed to the odd bit of recycling or throwing money at Greenpeace and hoping the problem will go away.
However, the benefits of caring for the environment as Muslims are not only spiritual, but also social.
The Muslim community needs to highlight the principle cause for maltreatment to the environment. Unfortunately, we're all afflicted by the following situation:
You're in the middle of reading a newspaper and just as you turn the page, a glossy leaflet from your local supermarket falls out advertising the latest bargains on food that may need. You subconsciously feel that there will be a void in your life if you don't buy these goods, therefore you decide to pop down to your local supermarket and buy those pastries, plus a whole lot more that you decide you need as well. You come home and put the food away in the cupboard and fridge. As the days progress, you forget about the pastries that you bought once upon a time ago with such a desperate need in mind. Opening the fridge, it seems that not only is the food still there, untouched, but it is also beginning to build its own community in the form of our good friend, mould. Naturally, these groceries must be thrown away into your conventional bin.
From the above example, not only has the household waste been increased and food unnecessarily thrown away, but this person has accrued sin for wasting food and hurting the earth. The money that was spent on this food could have been given away in charity to feed a starving person. The packaging could have been recycled had this person not disposed of it as part of their conventional rubbish. Multiply this scenario by the number of households in the UK alone. A frightening thought.
This demonstrates that we are easily affected by media ploys encouraging us to 'buy, buy, buy', possibly as part of a parliamentary scheme to boost the supposedly failing economy. Money makes the world go round, as they say.
A verse from the Qurán defines our nature:
'The mutual rivalry (for piling up of worldly things) diverts you.' [Qurán – 102:1]
As Muslims, we are perfectly equipped to protect and conserve the environment due to the fact that we are supposed to be travellers in this world. Therefore, we should take ONLY what we need and nothing beyond that. But, as the verse above goes, we become diverted by consumerism and lose sight of what we are ultimately working towards. Our materialistic habits are not only affecting our efforts for the afterlife, but also the world in which we live.
Since our detachment from the luxuries of the worldly life is such a fundamental principle of Islam, we should be at the forefront of the environmental campaign. We should put this principle at the core of the campaign, showing how important it is that the Muslim community be educated about how essential the protection of the Earth is not only to mankind, but also in Islam.
Coming back to the original headache analogy, we need to find a treatment that will cure the disease rather than merely controlling the symptoms.
It seems that our lifestyles need to be evaluated against what the Qurʾān and Sunnah mention with respect to consumerism and materialism, and what they warn us against. Once we have acknowledged our main problems with regards to our constant expenditure on things we don't need, we can then begin to educate our community on the importance of caring for the environment.
If one were to combine such a lifestyle with initiatives such as recycling, water conservation and introducing renewable energy, we would certainly lessen our effect on the environment quite significantly.
Our community should embark upon an environmental campaign, and approach the issue from a different angle than everyone else. Our campaign should start off by creating a realisation within the minds of the wider public that we have a tendency to be wasteful in almost every aspect of our lives. We should actively encourage the idea that 'less is more'. Alongside this, we can join with environmental charities to promote 'green behaviour'. If we can do this, it would be a successful exhibition of the multi-dimensional nature of our beautiful religion, Islam.