By Khaled Dardir
The land that has been bestowed upon us is a blessing from Allah. خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ يُكَوِّرُ اللَّيْلَ عَلَى النَّهَارِ وَيُكَوِّرُ النَّهَارَ عَلَى اللَّيْلِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ ۖ كُلٌّ يَجْرِي لِأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ۗ أَلَا هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفَّارُ “He created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions). He wraps the night over the day and wraps the day over the night and has subjected the sun and the moon, each running [its course] for a specified term. Unquestionably, He is the Exalted in Might, the Perpetual Forgiver.” [Surah Az-Zumar :5]
So in effect, the Earth is a creation of Allah, and like any creation, it has its rights. It then becomes an obligation for us as Muslims to ensure that these rights are not violated. This makes us successors of this world and the protectors (خليفة) of its rights. خليفة: a beautiful word with many meanings: Deputy, Guardian, Friend of Earth – but it all comes down to the meaning of Stewardship.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ الْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“And it is He (God) who has made you successors (khala’ifa) upon the Earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Surah Al-An’am:165]
This verse clearly highlights our responsibility towards our planet, warns us of the repercussions if we fail the trials of preserving the trust He has bestowed upon us, and as always reminds us of His infinite mercy.
إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنسَانُ ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا
“Indeed, We (God) offered the Trust to the heavens and the Earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant” [Surah Al-Ahzab:72]
This verse has tremendous weight in its meaning. First, it shows how other creations rejected the responsibility due to its great onus. The verse then says that man was unjust; some interpret to mean unjust to himself, taking on more than one can handle. Finally, it labels man as ignorant as reflected by our lack of understanding of the gravity of this responsibility.
This is the first in a series on the different aspects of the environment and Islam, and how we as Muslims can, and need, to develop sustainability according to the Quran and Sunnah.
Sustainability, according to Webster Dictionary is defined as “relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Look around you; not just in your immediate environment but on a global scale. Look at all the human-made catastrophes like over-fishing, poaching, water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, among a few.
The first step is to acknowledge our role as ‘trustees’, and to recognize the responsibility Allah has bestowed upon us.
Step two is to realize that the small and consistent actions we do in our homes can have an impact on a global scale. As time passed by, we have moved from a nature-dependent world to a world dominated by man-made objects. Skyscrapers, factories, and paved roads have taken over, strangling the lands, turning them from diverse landscapes into the artificial world where most people reside.
Our Prophet Muhammad said: “There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
It is the time we give back what we have stolen in excess. A simple act of planting a single seed for the sake of Allah so that others benefit, can lead to Paradise.
Many may argue that times are different, and that we need the mega malls and all the extra parking lots. But in my work with local non-profits that plant trees in low socio-economic, urban settings, we have heard their frustration with the lack of beauty and nature in their cities. I have met many who agree that with nature comes calmness, and that it is us that creates chaos.
With nature comes beauty, because nothing is more beautiful than the creations of Allah. We are planting trees, where once stood a forest that we destroyed for skyscrapers. Going back to the Hadith of man being unjust and ignorant, we have unjustly stripped the land, and forced ourselves to return part of it back to what it was. We are ignorant because we did not comprehend the impact removing trees would have on the ecosystem and on our health. We may now have lost opportunities to be proactive, but that does not dismiss our obligation to react to our mistakes and make efforts to reverse what we have done.
Planting trees and preserving what we have is so important that Anas Ibn Malik is said to have reported: “The Messenger of Allah, said, ‘If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.’”[Ahmad]
It could be interpreted as a final good deed, but why is that deed mentioned specifically? Why mention something that seems trivial? It is man who has wrongfully interpreted this as a small gesture rather than the honorable responsibility we bear. Perhaps we choose to trivialize the responsibility to suppress our own guilt.
In a time where so many things are abstract and changing, Prophet Mohammed gave us clear instructions on how to engage with our surroundings. One of those detailed instructions is: “Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees.” [Al-Muwatta]
Why? Because these creations of Allah have rights too. Let us not be the generation that ruined the lands, poisoned the water, and polluted our air. At the same time, let us not be that generation that stood idly by, watching the destruction and forgoing our trust. Not only are these lands ours, but they are also the responsibility of our children and all future generations to care for. Why would we want to put our children in the position of displeasing Allah by continuing to destroy that which He has created? Let change begin with us so that we are remembered as the generation who protected the Earth, and not the one that destroyed it.
Dardir has recently completed his first Masters specializing in chemistry and his second in Educational Leadership. He is currently enrolled as a student in Mishkah pursuing a bachelors in Islamic Studies. He is working at the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) as an educational advisor. He is the founder and Chief Coordinator of the non-profit organization The Building Blocks of New Jersey whose mission is: “To aid self development, promote activism, and bolster community building”