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Islam and Ecology

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Doctrinal and Modern Ethical Resource for Ecological Concern in the Islamic Religion

The word earth (ard) is mentioned 485 times in the Qur'an. Shariah, the word usually translated to mean "Islamic law" literally means "source of water." The Shariah is the source of life in that it contains both ethical and legal rules.

Mawil Y. Izzi Deen says in his essay, "Islamic Environmental Ethics, Law, and Society," "In Islam, the conservation of the environment is based on the principle that all individual components of the environment were created by God, and that all living things were created by the Almighty Creator. Although the various components of the natural environment serve humanity as one of their functions, this does not imply that human use is the sole reason for their creation."

Islamic belief includes nature actively praising God in its continuous existence and movement. The Qu'ran does state in certain cases that the environment is here to serve man. Medieval Muslim scholar, Ibn Taymiyah responded as follows:

"In considering all these verses, it must be remembered that Allah in His wisdom created these creatures for reasons other than serving man, for in these verses He only explains the benefits of these creatures to man."

Islamic ecological ethics are derived from the belief that all of creation belongs to God, and not to man, and to assume that non-human animals and plants exist to benefit man leads to environmental destruction and misuse. If, as in Islamic belief, the component parts of nature are in continuous praise to God, human destruction of these parts prevents the earth's natural and subtle means for praising God. The Qu'ran acknowledges that humans are not the only creature to walk the earth. Muhammad was once asked whether there would be a reward for those who show charity to nature and animals. He replied, "for charity shown to each creature with a wet heart, there is a reward."

Thought this comment supports fair treatment of all life, it remains anthropocentric in scope. Acting charitably toward nature out of desire for spiritual gain implies that inherent value of non-human animals does not exist. It implies that we do good works to benefit ourselves, and simply because it is good.

Since the time of the prophet Muhammad, Islamic ethics have included the concept of hima, protection of certain zones. The government requires protection of certain plots of land which may not be built upon, or cultivated in any way. This concept is still practiced in many Islamic countries for the protection of wildlife.

Present Day Islamic Environmental Action:

1. The Meteorology and Environmental Protection Agency in Saudi Arabia promotes environmental activism based on Islamic principles.

2. The theme of the first Arab Ministerial Conference was: "The Environmental Aspects od Development" which incorporated Islamic faith.

Similar to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai's statement that even if the Messiah has come, plant the sapling you have in your hand, the prophet Muhammad said, "when doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hands, he should plant it." This suggests that even when hope is lost, planting should continue with us or without us, for planting is good in itself