The Quran and the Environment

by Karen Ghoneim

According to scientists and philosophers man is considered as the major factor in disturbing the natural balance of the universe. Man interferes intentionally or unintentionally in the earth’s ecosystems by impairing its perfect order and precise sequence. But it seems that man has cut off his nose to spite his face and he now is the victim. Grave dangers are manifested in pollution of the air, water, soil, outer space and others, as well as the irrational exploitation of the environment’s resources, and inconsistent distribution of human settlements. All these factors have lead to different problems, all of which are marked by a disturbance to the earth’s natural balance.

Urban populations are concentrated in towns usually emerging close to one or more natural resources (water, oil, fuel, sea, etc.) which create a marked disturbance in the existing natural balance. This imbalance is mainly attributed to the increasing waste disposal (human or industrial), exploitation of resources and density in population. It must be admitted that man’s claims on the environment have overstepped the mark in many cases, creating a disruption to the natural balance of various bio- and eco-systems all over the world. This irresponsible behavior has lead to a depletion in the atmosphere and this poses the greatest threat worldwide.

There are countless examples of disturbances to the environment. Forests have been removed, deserts have been encroached upon, and many species of plants and animals have disappeared throughout the world. All these affect the macro- environment because it is an integrated whole.

The climate has changed and is in fact still changing due to unwise human activities. There are, however, natural and non-human induced reasons for the climate changes that should not be ignored, such as the pattern of the earth’s rotation around the sun and volcanic explosions. The over-use of wood, excessive removal of pasture land, and deforestation which destroys and eradicates magnitudes of the earth’s vegetation all play a role in raising the earth’s absorption of the sun. In addition, there is the high use of energy over and above man’s need, which raises the temperature of the atmosphere and thus affecting climate.

The over-use of non-renewable resources - oil, coal and natural gas - leads to a continuous increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, in turn, raises the temperature.

The ozone layer has been further exposed to destruction as a result of the exhausts of planes flying in the higher altitudes, as well as gases and fumes expelled from nitrogenous fertilizers and atmospheric pollution from factories. The danger of the depletion of the ozone can only be imagined when we realize to what extent the earth will be exposed to more carcinogenic rays. As a result the climate will altered worldwide, destroying the dense forests, reducing agricultural output and killing most living creatures except for insects which can withstand the ultraviolet rays.

Man’s disruption to the natural balance of forests leads to various problems that are reflected on him as well as other creatures on earth. Soil is washed away, humus shrinks, rainwater runs in torrents, temperatures fluctuate, high and severe winds become more common and drought spreads globally.

In addition to toxins expelled into the air and waste pumped into the water by factories, nuclear explosions, radioactive pollution, there is the problem of man-made chemical pesticides used to control pests which are injurious to the agricultural or animal wealth. Pesticides and other toxins interfere with the ecosystems and have destructive consequences that appear in all layers of the atmosphere, water, soil, and outer space. In attempting to eradicate or control these creatures which compete with man for survival and natural resources, man has designed deadly poison which he breathes in or drinks and eats through crops, meat and dairy produce

The corrupters of the earth, whether those who deny God, practice injustice or go against the universal laws, are referred to by the following Quranic verses.

“There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee, and he calls The God (Allah) to witness about what is in his heart: yet is he the most contentious of enemies? When he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But Allah loves not mischief” (Al-Baqarah: verses 204 and 205)

An incidence occurred prior to these verses being revealed. A man named Al-Akhnas Ibn Shuriq came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to embrace Islam, but as he turned to leave, he happened to pass by a pasture and grazing animals. He set it alight and killed the cattle. The verses were sent down as a sign of Divine disapproval.

This incident recurs over history on a wider scale involving millions of people throughout the earth. The natural wealth deposited by Allah for the benefit of mankind has been spoiled. Selfishness and aggression has overcome mankind, as they have become corrupters of earth, the surrounding atmosphere and neighboring outer space. Allah the Almighty says:

“Mischief has appeared on the land and sea, because of (the need) that the hands of man have earned, that (Allah) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back (from evil).” (Ar-Rum: verse 41)

Mischief on the land and sea is inflicted by man’s unwary interference with the natural laws and environmental systems that are ultimately against his own interests. Environment pollution, which is tantamount to the disruption of natural balance, is the main form of corruption on earth.

As Allah created man on earth, he decreed that man should preserve this habitat. He gave man the right to invest in it and benefit from it. He enjoined upon man not to cause mischief anywhere. He addresses whoever may think of disturbing the natural balance, the earthly equilibrium, or inflicting injustice.

“Seek not mischief in the land, for Allah loves not those who do mischief.” (Al-Qasas: verse 77)

Islam and its Ummah is moderate, where its people do not consider nature and cosmic objects as deities, but at the same time do not tamper with or spoil them. The relationship between the Muslim and the universe is one of harmonious benefit and use. When Allah takes an oath by some creatures, he draws attention to the fact that man should recognize their value and take care of them.

“By the sun and his splendor. By the moon as it follows him. By the day as it shows up (the sun’s) glory. By the night as it conceals it. By the firmament and its structure. By the earth and its expanse.”(Ash-Shams: verses 1-6)

“By the night as it conceals (the light). By the day as it appears in glory. By the creation of male and female. “(Al-Lail: verses 1-3)

“I call to witness the siting of the stars. And that is indeed a mighty adjuration if you but-knew, That this is indeed a Quran most honorable. “(Al-Waqi`ah: verse 75-77)

With such an adjuration and call for revering other creatures and aspects of His creation, Allah urges man to jettison bashfulness towards them because such an attitude does not yield progress or civilization. Removing the beauty of these creatures and failing to draw the benefit from them causes man to neither gain in morals nor lead him to progress or civilization.