Ecological consciousness and Islam

Published: November 7, 2011

The sheer mess we see on our roads and all around us today bespeaks the dangerous silence of the religious battalions on matters related to environment.

I am always inspired by trash. When I see it on the roads, in parks, in hospitals and outside homes it sends me in a state of a deep reverie. A couple of years back, I was shaken to the core to do ‘something for my country.’

Looking for the answer of what could be done, I came across a newspaper article about some ‘crazy’ youngsters who, tired of the oblivion of their fellows and authorities towards matters of environmental consciousness, took it upon themselves to do something. They girdled up their loins with the motto that the least you can do for your country is to pick up a shovel and start cleaning it.

Inspiring, isn’t it?

I joined the group and felt a great deal of satisfaction when we broomed and shovelled huge heaps of garbage and put our hands in the gutters at some of the most posh and prominent marketplaces of Lahore. Since then, I have infinitely thought about ‘why.’

Why is it that the authorities and the masses don’t bother to give a damn to this issue?

Why is it that citizenship is not taught in our national curriculum for schools and colleges?

Why is it not a compulsory subject like Islamiat and Pakistan Studies?

Why is it that a country known for its religious ideology and called the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan so dilapidated in terms of its natural environment?

Like almost every other issue around us, this too is reflective of our hypocrisy, disparities and dichotomies. Yes, you have the right to demand the inclusion of chapters related to jihad and qitaal in your Islamic educational curriculum but why is it that the religious elite never demanded education about responsible citizenship to be included in the syllabuses of the madrassahs, schools and colleges. Is this not a part of Islam?

The sheer mess we see on our roads and all around us today speaks of the dangerous silence of the religious battalions on matters related to environment. While you will very often hear voices of rigidity, oppression, chauvinism, misdirected and misunderstood religious rulings and hatred, never would you hear someone on the pulpit coaxing listeners to be responsible citizens of the state and linking this matter to Islam. They probably think it is too shallow, too insignificant a thing to even mention and hence the ever deteriorating systems of traffic, health and hygiene and the ever increasing filth in our cities.

The Islam that we see around us in our country today is a very limited and narrow version of Islam. The communal aspects and teachings are often ignored and hence we see that children and adults, religious and non-religious alike would never mind littering the roads. When you try training them and preventing them to do so, you would more than often hear such remarks as:

“So what? Isn’t everybody around littering? When there are heaps of garbage around, would it really matter if I throw my wrapper on it too? or Oh come on, there are far more serious things going on in the country to think about these trifles.”

What we, as citizens of Pakistan and of the earth, forget is that these little behavioural aspects make up the collective mindset and behaviour of the nation. If we are too shy to own and clean the few feet of land in front of our houses, workplaces and shops, how on earth can we expect ourselves to make bigger sacrifices for the land we live upon?

Allah loves those who are most beneficial to their surroundings. Religious teachers should recognize at this critical point in time, the dire need to develop ecological consciousness amongst the Muslims. We need to realize that until and unless we have a healthy relationship with our environment, we can not have interconnectedness with the Divine.

Rights of the environment

In Islamic jargon, rights are classified into two types. Rights of God or huqooq Allah and rights of men or huqooq ul ibad. We, however, fail to realize that huqooq ul ibad are not just the rights of fellow men upon us but also the rights of plants and animals.

Islam and ecological consciousness

It is astounding to note that some 500 verses in the Quran deal directly with nature, environment and natural phenomena. Numerous chapters of the Quran are named after different aspects of nature. The Quran and the Prophetic traditions make constant reference to fitrah or nature and we are instructed to live according to the best of our nature. Our Holy Book makes us aware that everything in the universe submits to a natural pattern and thus conscientizes us about the Creator of all creations. Islam instills in us a sense of respect for God’s creation thus making us cognizant of our inextricable link to nature.

Mizaan (balance and order) in nature

There is a strict degree of orderliness in all creation says the Quran in [27:88]. Everything is naturally made to the measure of excellence and we as the vicegerents of God on earth, are obligated not to disturb this balance. [55:7]

The signs of God and nature

What we generally and mistakenly understand the word ayaat is that they are verses of the Book. The word, however, means signs. So, the nature we see all around also has many ayaat or signs just like the verses of the Book. Time and again, the Quran instructs us to reflect on the signs of our Lord, in order to make us more conscious of our surroundings. A true believer should, therefore, ponder upon both types of signs in order to live in harmony with nature.

Ard (earth), imaar (our earthly domicile) and our immediate habitat

The word ard or Earth has been used 453 times in the Quran. It is amazing to note that in Islam there is a concept of hima (environmental protection) and of haraam (unviolable zones) for the protection of wildlife, water and other natural resources. While we teach our children other aspects of the glorious life of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), we also need to emphasize upon his relationship with nature. It is reported that he forbade his army to uproot trees and pollute the water bodies even in times of war.

Umam (other natural communities)

Islam guides us that we are not the only community on earth. There are innumerable others like ants etc. So we need to have a harmonious relationship with them in order to maintain the divine balance on earth.

Maa (the liquids of life)

We are told in Islam that everything is created from a liquid i.e. water which is a reviver of life. There are numerous verses in the Quran referring to rivers, sees, wells and rain. Even the image of paradise that we are given has rivers ‘flowing beneath it’. Thereby, there is a strong underlying message of preservation of water bodies which is directly linked to the survival of humans and all other ecological communities.

Khalifah (human vicegerency)

Conservation of our environment is the ethical part of our responsibility considering that we are the vicegerent of God on earth. There is a strong organic connection between proper knowledge and right behaviour. So, religious institutes and personalities should invite among the masses a balanced stewardhip and strongly discourage extremist behaviors with nature.

Nature-a trust and our accountability

The created things of nature are made subservient to us, the humans for our benefit and not for their abuse. They are not for our sole use and hence we should not cause corruption of order. We should not be wasteful in the use of natural resources. There is a very thought-provoking American saying:

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.”

So, whether it be a patch of land or a river or anything else in our neighbourhood, it comes in our stewardship religiously and ethically and thus it is incumbent upon us to protect and not pollute and corrupt it. We would start caring for the world we live in.


Aaishah AbuBakr

A literature graduate from the Kinnaird College for women. She is also a freelancer, poet and social activist.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • V K Bajaj (New Delhi)

    Ms. Aaishah!

    Your approach to the Social Evil (keeping our surrounding Green, Clean, Neat) is a well defined problem. The solution, as you have advocated, lies in educating the citizens on social responsibilities.

    A healthy atmosphere is a MUST for a healthy and strong life. And healthy and strong citizen are valuable ASSETS for any nation, organization, religion and communities. Similarly for a stronger ISLAM; stronger and healthy MUSLIM is an essential condition.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    Religion or no religion. Whatever motivates you to care for the environment is fine by me. Recommend

  • x

    really nice, thanks :)Recommend

  • Parvez

    Important topic but as you note not many people are interested. Agree with you.
    On this issue the use or religion to give direction is good but also laws, civic structure, awareness creation and leadership by example is very necessary – without these the direction becomes meaningless.Recommend

  • zalim singh

    Eating flesh is not good ecological consciousness.Recommend

  • yousaf

    @Author:-You said all about sanitation for us to have a good health but who will listen? It is over 1400 years since Prophet(Pbuh)advised His followers to remain clean(for this He Pbuh.gave an ingenious way of 5 times “wazoo” before prayers each day).Some 150 years back “Louis Pasteur”told the world that there were more germs in a drop of water than whole population of paris,in his “germ theory of disease”,still,even to-day majority of the world population does not understand the gravity of being unclean.As for solution to the problem,what I have observed while going places in the third world countries is strict and without discrimination disciplinary action against the careless by the state to make people keep their enviorment clean.In developed countries people are somewhat health concious and behave accordingly.Finally,I hold that both general public and government have to work in unison to create clean-minded and health-concious public Recommend

  • Atif Ali

    @ Author: A thought provoking attempt. But the question which must be asked is not targeting the practices of the people. Its simple…. If a Muslim doesn’t live by what he claims to be his belief, what is he called? Is he called a Muslim or ??? This question can set us all free. My commendations for the author upon attempting to dig out what’s lost. Keep up the good work.Recommend

  • Cynical

    To me ‘nature is god’. If I respect it’s laws and abide by it I am closer to god whatever name people might give him I have no problem.Recommend

  • Sanity

    What rubbish! had it been an article on Burqa or Homosexuality etc., this blog would be full with comments – only 8 comments on such a nice and relevant blog reflects the mindset of so called educated ET audience. Recommend

  • yousaf

    @sanity:-I agree with what you have said.I too have observed that articles on vulgarity draw maximum comments but articles that talk sense are paid very little attention by the readers,May be it is due to the fact that people have developed a taste for sensationalism rather than sense and reason.This is a very alarming sign and you have rightly pointed out the indifference of the people towards real problems being faced by the general public.ET is doing a very good job by printing all types of comments enabling serious-minded people to make a comprehensive and comparative analyses of all the comments so that they can formulate a workable solution to eradicate the short-comings in our present day decaying social system Recommend

  • Mogamat

    Cleaning the door step before solving the problems of the world…. good article, well presented and touches on an issue which too many Muslims ignore, Pak better take head before it becomes NarePaak….Recommend

  • Hasan

    I wrote about it a while ago, it is not just ecology, there are many things that need addressing in the Islamic republic of PakistanRecommend

  • yousaf

    This I write to give a general idea how most people from all walks of life perceive the concept of hygiene.1st:- A man in my neighbourhood was one day eating grapes holding the bunch of grapes in his hand.Some of the grapes fell from his hand while we were having discussion.He very casually picked the grapes and put them in his mouth.My sudden reaction was to stop him from doing that as the ground we were standing at was very dirty,and then and there I got the most classic answer which reflects the concept towards cleanliness of the majority population.He said “is there not enough gund (filth) in our stomach,what difference will these few dirty grapes make” I was speechless!?….2nd:-One early morning I was going from cavalry-grounds to district courts via mall road when the fuel-tank of my motorbike developed a small leak and petrol started coming out in small drops,the only quick solution to the problem was to put some soap to temporarily stop the leakage.As there are several small road-side hotels all the way along the mall which serve break-fast in the early morning I was sure that soap will be easily available with them, my great surprise had even a small piece of soap available and they were washing their hands and dishes,with I do not know what Recommend

  • malik

    The word ‘week’ has been used 52 times in Qu’ran and the word ‘day’ is mentioned 365 times, and the word ‘month’ 12 times. In another sura, it says, if you mix two parts of what burns and one part of what you breathe, you will get life-giving liquid, meaning, H2O, water. There are many references to such things of nature all over the Holy Book.

    Similarly, there are many verses which mention that we have to care for our environment and that we should grow more trees and take care of our forests. Prophet (PHUH) once chided Abu Bakr for suggesting that Allah should have made date fruits without seeds. He said, from one seed, an entire forest can emerge.

    Our Holy Book says so much about taking care of environment, and if only we, people, listened to the book more carefully, it would be better for all of us.Recommend

  • Musab

    well i really like yur suggestion for having a subject in our curriculum but it should actually be covering the ethical model of the society rather than the ecological factor only.Recommend

  • Femme Fatale

    @Loneliberal PK: And who are you? :PRecommend

  • Umer Farooq

    Being a part of Zimmedar Shehri with you was a great experience and I learned alot about the behaviour of our people. People don’t want anyone to do good neither they do it themselves.
    Hamara “DANDA PEER HA”.
    A very good article indeed! Recommend

  • V K Bajaj (New Delhi)


    You illustrations are fine and noteworthy.

    Many of us are treating our stomach as dustbin.

    Apart from stomach our eyes has become a regular witness of dirt all around. Just count the number of people or total hours spent for a nice morning walk (morning walk in greenery improves eye sight and in dirty places it is just like a slow poison) and then compare the number of person and total hours spent living around dust and dirt through out the day. One will wonder with his own finding.

    After stomach and eyes the third most important part of body is our brain. If we need healthy food for stomach and green view for eyes then our brain also should be filled with positive attitude. There are many who always find some faults and never mention the plus point. Always keep on criticizing and never found any time or point to appreciate. Brain must be filled with positive approach, better side of examples, and to move forward etc. etc.

    Ms Aaisha! Please forward your comments on the comments of all readers.Recommend

  • Educated

    The number of people who have read and commented on this article bespeaks the truth expressed in this article- “WE CARE A DAMN ABOUT OUR ENVIRONMENT.”Recommend

  • Aaishah Abu Bakr

    I am glad to see the educated and wise comments!
    Please refer to the comment of Mogamat!Recommend