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Islam's Role in Fighting Climate Change

All over the world, we are seeing more extreme weather events. In British Columbia, we've seen that there was flooding and landslides, the highway was cut in half, and thousands of people evacuated. We're seeing this all over the world. For example, some islands are at risk of disappearing. What are Dr. Shabir Ally’s thoughts on what Islam says about this phenomenon of climate change?

It's a very important question. Muslims and people of all faiths need to go back to their religious traditions and see how their religious traditions can offer to people. In addition, people need to have guidance on how we can live a life that is pleasing to God and protective of our environment. This is important because we've seen too much devastation.

The Quran as the scripture from God has a lot to say about things that are related to the environment. Although the idea of the preservation of the environment as we have it now in response to the devastation was unclearly pronounced at the time. However, there's a surprising wealth of information that we can gather from the Quran that will shed light on this issue.

A very striking verse in the Quran states, "Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions.” Quran [30:41].

We are seeing that a lot of the modern effects of climate change are creditable to human acts. Some of the climate change is beyond our control. Yet, one can minimize waste, reuse things as much as one can, preserve the natural environment, maintain trees, and not cut them down, etc.

The Quran speaks about everything in balanced harmony. The Quran stated, “He has raised up the sky. He has set the balance.” Quran [50:7].

He established the balance. In addition, he tells us, “Do not transgress the limit.” Things are in a very balanced way. The Quran stated, “God created everything in pairs.” One can see this pairing playing out in many ways. For example, we exhale carbon dioxide, which is the inhalation for trees, and trees give off oxygen, which is essential for us. There is this balance between us and the plant kingdom. One needs to recognize that balance and not upset that balance if one pays careful attention to that verse.

According to the Quran, there's so much mention of nature: mountains, trees, rivers, and clouds. It’s very interesting because the Quran is not a nature book. However, there's all this nature inside the Quran. The verses are mentioned because one may reflect or be aware of God. Therefore, these are signs from God.

“There is not a single thing that does not celebrate his praise, though you do not understand their praise.” Quran [17:44].

“And they will each return to him on the Day of Resurrection all alone.” Quran [19:95].

“He has counted them all. He has numbered them exactly.” Quran [19:94].

“Everyone in the Heavens and Earth submits to Him.” Quran [3:83].

We think of ourselves as submitting to God as Muslims. The term Muslim is from meaning submitters to God. However, the Quran is telling us that all of nature is Muslim to God. They are submitting to God and obeying God’s commands.

Moreover, the Quran tells us that things around us like animals and trees all praise God but in their own way, that we don’t understand.

If one is destroying anything in the environment, we are destroying not only the creatures of God, but we are destroying worshipers of God. This lesson has been highlighted in a narrative that says in Islamic tradition, “A certain prophet in the past was bitten by an ant and then he destroyed the whole colony of ants.” As a result, he got a revelation from God saying, “You just destroyed a colony of my worshipers.”

If something is a pest and it's harmful to you, you can use proportional means of dealing with them to control that negative factor. However, you don't go wantonly killing the creatures of God.

When one looks at what's happening around the world, it's not individual actions necessarily that is going to change it. However, it's government policies and world governments together. For example, in BC, this is urban planning, people-built towns over lakes so that the water has nowhere to go. There are all these companies that are cutting down trees, which is creating a problem because the trees were sucking up that water. There's nowhere for that water to go, so it's causing flooding. We need to appeal to our governments to do something.

One can call on individuals and governments to do something for the environment by planting more trees or refuse to cut down existing trees.

Hence, the trees praise God in their own way. Yet, there's encouragement in our Islamic tradition to plant trees.

There is hadith that says, “If you plant a tree and it gives shade, anyone who rests onto the shade, even animals will be a source of reward for you. If it bears fruit, whoever eats from that fruit will be a source of reward for you, etc.

There is another tradition that says that if the first trumpet blow and heralding the onset of the Day of Judgment. One already had a seedling in hand, ready to plant it, and finish that planting. If that's the one last thing one can do before the Day of Judgment takes over and one can do nothing else, that's what the tradition says to plant a tree.

If it seems like planning for the future is futile, one is still encouraged to do good. It's interesting that the good deed is the planting of a tree.

What about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? How did he act in terms of the environment? For example, one doing the ablution (wudu), or taking a bath, one was taught in the prophetic tradition that one uses as minimally as one needs.

It is reported to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used only a bare minimum of water.

It's hard for us to imagine how we might take a bath today with the minimum water that he's reported to us to have used. However, this is mentioned in a tradition. Moreover, he advised us that let's see we're making ablutions before prayer. One needs less water for the ablutions because one is only washing the extremities, the face, the arms up to the elbows, etc. as opposed to taking a whole bath.

Yet, there's a tradition that if one is performing this act at a running stream, one still should not use more water than is necessary for this ritual practice. One just uses the bare minimum even though one has the abundance.

Therefore, this should register in the minds of Muslims that we use, but we do not overuse. Also, we do not misuse the resources that are provided by God. “Eat and drink but do not be wasteful.” Quran [7:31].

“Those who squander are the brothers of Satan, and Satan is most ungrateful to his Lord.” Quran [17:27].

Consequently, we don't want to be within that group. It sounded like a very severe warning, don't waste it. However, we're given permission from God to use it but within limits and in the way that was intended.

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