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The Earth’s Complaint (Final)


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earth_1_apollo17_big.gifThe Earth’s Complaint (Final)

Another tenet in Islam’s weltanschauung or worldview concerns sanctity of life: both human and animal. As for the human being, he is indeed sacred creation, and so any infringement of that sanctity is deemed by Islam to be a heinous crime: “Whosoever kills a person for other than crimes of manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if has killed the whole of humanity; and whosoever saves the life of one person, it shall be as if he has saved the whole of humanity.”[18] Acts of terror, then, in which women, children and other innocent civilians are targeted and killed is categorically repudiated by the shari’ah and amounts to nothing less than murder. The juristic consensus about this was typified by al-Nawawi, who stated: “Scholars are unanimous about the prohibition of killing women and children providing they do not engage in [direct] combat.”[19] Ibn Qudamah, in a like vain, said: “Women, the elderly, children or monks may not be killed, for they are non-combatants.”[20] The cue for this classical doctrine is taken from the order of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who “forbade the killing of women and children.”[21]

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It goes without saying that the above rule is in context of a legitimate war. In Islam, judgements related to war and peace are not left to scholars, soldiers, let alone vigilante cells. Rather, it rests solely with the head of state. This is a cardinal rule of war, as Ibn Qudamah says: “The question of declaring war is left to the head of state and his decision. Compliance with that decision is the subject’s duty with regards to what the authorities deem fit in the matter.” [22] The acts of terror that a fringe minority now seek to pass of as a legitimate jihad is, therefore, a gross deviation from the shari’ah. In fact, Abdal Hakim Murad contends: “Terrorism is to jihad what adultery is to marriage.”[23]

Turning to the animal kingdom, here the Qur’an insists on courtesy: “There is not an animal in the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are nations like you.”[24] The courtesy required is one based upon a sense of awe and respect for all of earth’s living creatures. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was once asked: “Shall we be rewarded for doing good, even to animals? He said: “There is a reward for serving every living creature.”[25] On another occasion, he told a group of people mount- ed on their camels, chatting to one another: “Ride these animals safely and leave them safely, and do not use them as chairs for your conversations in the streets and marketplaces.”[26] He also informed that. “A women was once thrown into Hell for caging a cat until it starved to death.”[27] There is also the hadith wherein a man took an egg from a bird’s nest which then distressed the mother bird. Observing this, the Prophet, peace be upon him, instructed the man: “Have mercy on the mother and give back her egg.”[28] If this is Islam’s ethical teachings in respect to animals, how odd it is for someone to then believe that the same faith could allow the intentional killing of innocent men, women or children: “What! Have you slain an innocent soul though he has killed nobody? Truly you have done a thing most foul.”[29]

The subject of justice permeates the whole of Islam. The Qur’an is strewn with references to the theme of justice, identifying the good society with a just one. “O you who believe!, exhorts the Qur’an, Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity; and never let hatred of any people make you swerve from justice. Be just; that is nearer to God- fearingness.”[30] There is also the ethical imperative which requires: “If you give your word, do justice; even though it be against a kinsman.”[31] Justice is so intrinsic to Islam that, according to Ibn Taymiyyah: “It is said that: “Allah upholds a just state even though it be disbelieving, but will not uphold an unjust state even if it is Muslim.” It has also been said: “The world may endure with justice and disbelief, but not with injustice and Islam.”[32] This goes a long way, I suppose, in explaining the pitiful state of so many countries in the Muslim world today.

In a stark warning, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, announced: “What destroyed those who came before you was that whenever one of their nobility committed theft, they left him alone; but if one of their weak stole, they applied the prescribed punishment on him.”[33] In the absence of retributive justice, ill will be the fruits.

Shabby tyrants and corrupt government officials are not the only stains upon justice, there is distributive or social injustice too. The Qur’an states: God created for you all that is on the earth.[34] Moreover: “He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth.”[35] The earth’s bounties, according to the Qur’anic reading, are for all humanity, not just for some. Yet having stated the obvious, we live in a world where twenty percent of the globe (that’s principally us in the developed nations) consume eighty-six percent of the earth’s resources and goods in order to buttress a materialistic driven lifestyle. Our growing concern here in the industrialized West is not so much the fear of poverty as it is obesity! The U.N. recently warned: “The imbalance in economic growth, if allowed to continue, will produce a world gargantuan in its excesses and grotesque in its human and economic inequalities.”[36]

Bleaker still, of the 6 billion people living on the planet, 1.2 billion of them live in severe poverty; 800 million of them got to bed starving each night; 1.3 billion have no access to safe drinking water; and 30,000 die each day from poverty related diseases – many because they are too poor to afford vital medicines. Yet the U.N. alerts us that: “Globally there is enough food to feed the world. But to our shame, we live in a world where food rots and people starve.”[37] “Partake of the fruits of the earth for our needs we must; partake of them for our enjoyment we certainly can; but partake of them excessively or irresponsibly we cannot and must not. Eat and drink, says the Qur’an, but not excessively. For God loves not the excessive.”[38]

Finally, no vision of society could be complete without compassion, mercy and kindness. Islam seeks to nurture a compassionate society: one rooted not in rugged individualism, selfishness or hyper capitalism;[39] but “rooted in,” as Abdal Hakim Murad duly points out, “immediate and sincere concern for human welfare under a compassionate God”[40]

“And My mercy”, proclaims God in the Qur’an, “embraces all things.
[41] The Qur’an also says that He has prescribed “mercy on Himself”.[42] The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “When God created creation, He wrote down in a book – which is with Him above the Throne: Indeed My mercy outstrips My wrath.”[43] The Divine Rigour is still present in creation, but it is conditioned and dominated by Divine Mercy.

As for creation, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: “Those who show no mercy, shall receive no mercy.”[44] One celebrated hadith has it: “Those who show mercy will be shown mercy to by the All-Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth, and those in heaven will be merciful to you.”[45] Such teachings flowing from the Prophet, the Messenger of the All-Merciful, are only to be expected when we recall the Qur’anic declaration about him: “We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.[46] He said of himself: “I am the Prophet of Mercy.”[47] While on another occasion, he remarked: “I have not been sent to curse, I have only been sent as a mercy.”[48]

In an age where calls for justice reign paramount, some may wonder why Islam celebrates the Prophet with the quality of mercy more so than with justice. We need only reflect on the fact that justice – which is giving all things their due – is not always enough to bring about healing in the social fabric. So long as injustices and wrongs are remembered and not forgiven, or justice is perceived as an instrument of punishment, then resentment on either side remains and can, at the slightest provocation, ignite into anger and rage. Forgiveness and mercy, by contrast, can melt away grievances and put a closure on conflict. This was vividly demonstrated by the Prophet, peace be upon him, the day he re-entered Makkah. After suffering persecution, humiliation and rejection by the Makkans, the Prophet, some eight years later, returns as the City’s conqueror. Rather than exacting retribution or revenge, which would have been the normal course of events for most conquerors, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said to his opponents: “I say to you what my brother Joseph said: This day, no reproach shall be upon you. May God forgive you; He is the Most-Merciful of the merciful.”[49] “Go, for you are all free.”[50] Thus, in choosing forgiveness over justice, the Prophet, peace be upon him, breaks the possible cycle of vengeance and vendetta, and liberates the people from being held hostage to history. A clear case of the Shakespearean: “That quality of mercy … ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.”

This is not to belittle justice, or to suggest that righteous indignation against tyranny or injustice is not mandated by faith. Rather, it is simply asserting that some situations require ‘transcending’ justice, and healing hurt through forgiveness and mercy’s warm embrace.

18. Qur’an 5:3.
19. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah,1995), 11:292.
20. Al-Mughni Sharh al-Kabir (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Alam al-Kutub, 1999), 13:177-8.
21. Al-Bukhari, no.3015; Muslim, no.1744.
22. Al-Mughni, 13:11.
23. From his Contentions 5.
24. Qur’an 6:38.
25. Al-Bukhari, no.3321; Muslim, no.2245.
26. Ibn HHanbal, Musnad, no.15629. The hadith was declared sound (Hasan) by Shu’ayb al-Arnaut et al., in his critical edition of al-Musnad, 24:392.
27. Al-Bukhari, no.3318; Muslim, no.2242.
28. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.2675.
29. Qur’an 18:73.
30. Qur’an 5:8.
31. Qur’an 6:152.
32. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:142.
33. Al-Bukhari, no.6788; Muslim, no.1688. The hadith ends with a rigorous proclamation: “By God! If Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad were to steal, I would cut-off her hand.”
34. Qur’an 2:29.
35. Qur’an 45:13.
36. Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of the U.N. Food and
Agricultural Organisation – cited in Anti Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement (London: Bookmarks Publications, 2001), 60.
37. U.N. Human Development Report, 1996.
38. Qur’an 7:31.
39. Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks wrote: “Even before the anti-globalization movement was under way; concerns had already been expressed in the West about the impact of a market-led consumer culture on social institutions. As early as 1947 Joseph Schumpeter had warned that ‘Capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own.’ Throughout the liberal democracies of the West, families and communities have been in decline, leading to new concentrations of poverty and social breakdown.” Sacks, The Dignity of Difference (London & New York: Continuum, 2003), 31.
40. The Fall of the Family (Part I)
41. Qur’an 7:156.
42. Qur’an 6:12.
43. Al-Bukhari, no.7404; Muslim, no.2751.
44. Al-Bukhari, no.5997; Muslim, no.2317.
45. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1989.
46. Qur’an 21:107.
47. Muslim, no.2355.
48. ibid., no.2599.
49. Qur’an 12:92.
50. As per Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 2: 274.

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Abu Aaliyah is the founder of The Jawziyyah Institute, a leading institute for Islamic moderation and contemporary thought in the United Kingdom. Sidi Abu Aaliyah has been in involved in Dawah and Islamic teachings since 1986. He has translated a number of books from the Arabic language into English such as "The Exquisite Pearls". Abu Aaliyah's written works and audio lectures can be found online.



  1. Pingback: » The Earth’s Complaint (Part 1)

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  3. Joe P.

    April 24, 2007 at 9:29 PM

    I’m not Muslim so forgive my ignorance,
    but when do most Muslims believe life begins (conception or birth)? In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling about partial birth abortion, I was curious as to how the Muslim community thinks about abortion. I’m sure that it is hard to generalize about most Muslims (like Christians) but I was just curious about how they feel..Joe P.

  4. Amad

    April 24, 2007 at 9:41 PM

    Joe, what a timely question… this article was just posted on Muslim Matters, so if it doesn’t completely answer your question or you would like to discuss further, feel free to add comments to the article. Thanks

    The New Age of Infanticide: Muslim Musings on Abortion

  5. Joe P.

    April 25, 2007 at 7:50 AM

    Amad…that is exactly what I was hoping to hear. I’m glad to hear that Christians and Muslims alike value the sanctity of human life. I appreciate the insight. I found it very helpful. It is good to see you again…Joe P.

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