Preserving the Environment; from an Islamic Perspective [ Part I ]
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful
All thanks are due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the prayers and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of the true word to all mankind, the sent mercy, the truthful, the chosen, the seal of prophets, the prophet of guidance, the one whose heart was purged from all ills, whose sins were all forgiven, who was sent to seal the messages and the best who has ever walked the earth with his feet. Had the sun earned but part of his perfection it would have never set and had the parents got but part of his mercy their hearts would have melted from mercy. All prayers be upon him, his family and his companions.
The purpose of this paper is not limited to the common concept of ‘environment’ which is defined as everything that surrounds man; creatures and natural phenomena. It rather regards environment as the human being and everything that surrounds him because we don’t see any logical reason in separating man from the environment while he is the most integral part of it. A healthy environment is synonymous to a healthy man, and an unhealthy man who is neglected psychologically, mentally or physically is the greatest harm to the environment.
Vicegerency and trust are the two main tasks of man on earth and they are both about “caring” for man in the first place, and then caring for all the other creatures afterwards. This can never be achieved except through guiding man to the right path in populating the earth and understanding the divine purpose from creation.
Vicegerency on earth, from an Islamic perspective, means bearing the responsibility of populating the earth and preserving the environment. This should be done in return for enjoying all the blessings which Allah bestowed upon man embodied in subjugating the whole universe for his happiness and pleasure.
The subjugation is achieved when man benefits from the goodness and riches of the universe due to his “human” quality; and thus no man (according to the Islamic approach) is allowed to monopolize these benefits for himself apart from others on the spatial or time levels.
Allah chose man as a guardian and a vicegerent in this universe; He gave him the privilege to control and subjugate all its benefits to the extent that he made him the sole ruler of this earth aside from all other creatures. To this responsibility all men will be held accountable on Judgment Day and to this they will be punished or rewarded in accordance to their actions.
Populating the earth and preserving the environment is a process that hinges on two dimensions; the first dimension is about the ideological perspectives which draw the relation between man, the universe and God. The second is about the jurisprudential perspectives from which we derive the jurisprudential rulings that regulate the relation between man and the universe; and between man and the Creator.
This paper aims to highlight the ideological perspectives and jurisprudential rulings that came in Islam to empower man being responsible and capable of preserving his human environment and being able to cooperate with his fellowmen in keeping it healthy. We will also show that the Islamic law did not stop at the limits of preserving the environment but rather beyond those limits into developing and reforming the environment. This is because Islam urges the Muslims to search, to ponder and to unlock the secrets of the universe that lead to the knowledge of the Creator’s existence and His love.
The Islamic perspective of the heavens, the earth, the inanimate objects, the plants and the animals was the very motive that led man to care for the rest of the creatures, to be merciful to them and to love them. Through loving Allah man will love all the creatures which He created and excelled.
In addition, this research paper will focus on the Islamic dualities that highlight the Islamic perspective for existence like; vicegerency and subjugation, right and duty, theory and practice, preserving and loving, benefit and beauty.
First: Vicegerency and subjugation
Vicegerency is all about caring for the universe and preserving it whereas subjugation is about benefiting from it and enjoying it. Both processes require participation and collaboration. This responsibility falls on all mankind alike and the benefit is also designated for everyone alike; all human beings join forces in these processes since they all share the quality of being “human”. Allah did not limit any of these processes to some people apart from others.
The believer sees himself as a creature of Allah like all other creatures whether human, Jinn, inanimate, animal or plant. Allah made man the guardian and protector of the human universe but he must never monopolize it and he must never superimpose himself to control it. This right was given to all living creatures alike and man must never prevent any other creature from their rights even if these creatures were animals.
Allah created man in this universe and he found himself all alone and helpless to find the things that can help him survive; so Allah facilitated his sustenance and subjugated for him the heavens, the sun, the clouds… etc., so he can find his clean water, fresh air and savory food. Allah did not want man to come to Him in compulsion and just out of an utter need for food and water; He wanted man to “choose” faith willingly and lovingly. He wanted man to reach his certainty through pondering and contemplating the abilities of the creator and His marvels.
Second: Right and duty
The rights are common and shared between all the people; in enjoying and benefiting from the blessings of Allah and His sustenance that does not assign anyone as the guardian of anyone else. The duties are our duties in caring and preserving the universe and the existence because they are the purpose of our vicegerency and trust.
Islamic law appreciates the sanctity of rights to the extent that they were promoted to “duties” for the individual and the community. It included human rights within the universal rights since it is a much wider circle. So if Islamic law, for instance, gives the human being the right to believe then this right enlists the duties of protecting his faith through holding the rituals and worships and calling for this faith in an exemplary method. Likewise, he must request this right, he must fight for it and must never waiver it; not for himself and not for others. So the Muslim must request the Islamic society (or other societies) to provide his right to believe and his right to express his belief freely (without any compulsion to anyone). So as we can see it’s a closed circle of “rights and duties”; like one coin with two faces.
Whereas Islamic law enjoins the Muslim to preserve dignities, it gives the society the right to preserve his dignity and his honor from any aggression that might befall him. The society exerts its best ability to protect and preserve the individual from any degradation no matter what it might cost. Protecting the dignity of the individuals is their right as well as being the duty of the Islamic society; for instance our wealth which is kept under the protection of the community and it assurance.
Islamic law did not give the human being the right to waste his structures; it rather enjoined him to respect and care for his rights in addition to respecting his dignity and protecting it from any defilation. It enjoined him to work and toil so as not to resort to his Creator in humiliation or disgrace.
From the same respect Islamic law regards the relation between man and the environment; just as he is requested to preserve and use it with mercy and compassion he has the right to request living in a clean and beautiful environment where he can feel his freedom and dignity.
The muhtasib (supervisor of the bazaars) in the Islamic state used to play a major role in requesting the rights of the individuals to enjoy a clean environment and enjoy quality services in addition to enlisting quality and excellence in work. It is really amazing when we see the level of civility that was reached by the Islamic civilization!
The muhtasib for instance used to enlist the baker to cover his face (mouth and nose) as he works in case he suddenly sneezes or coughs and something of his spittle mixes with the batter. He used to enlist him to tie a cloth around his forehead lest his sweat would drip in the batter. He also used to enlist him to shave any hair on his arms lest anything would fall in the batter without him realizing it. Whenever he would bake in the morning he enlisted him to have a person standing next to him with a swatter to expel any flies coming near him.
He used to put some strict regulations for practicing medicine and he used to supervise those regulations closely in anyone practicing the profession. The physician is the one who is learned about body anatomy, pathology and organ functions, has a thorough understanding of prescription drugs for each disease, their substitutions, their composition, their effects and doses. Any loss incurred in these conditions means prohibition from practicing medicine. As for the prescription of drugs or examinations, they are permitted only for a person who has mastered all areas already reported.
Islamic law bound the preservation of the environment with many laws and regulations to ensure that the population of earth and developing it is connected to the general framework of religion since Islamic law is always after reforming the individual and the society without any difficulty or barriers.
That’s why it sanctioned penalties on the individual in order to preserve the environment from any corruption or tampering that might endanger other human beings. Corrupting the earth has various forms and shapes since it includes; injustice, ingratitude, murder and sabotage. Hence the Muslim is requested to abstain from all forms and shapes of corruption.
Third: Theory and practice
Islamic law made the reconstruction of the universe something obligatory and necessary for man in his life and religion. This reconstruction or population of earth is general and inclusive of all existence and creatures. Islamic law did not impose a particular method or route that can be taken in order to fulfill the mission of development and population; it rather made the process wide and flexible by demanding each man to find his own way into achieving benefit and happiness in his life and it sufficed with drawing the outlines and giving him milestones that can guide his way into true benefit and happiness. It cared to show the general objectives and targets beyond populating our earth and it stipulated for man to take positive and proactive steps (in contrast to being destructive and corruptive) into building his own life as well as others.
Populating the earth which is the responsibility of man, comes in a twofold mission; the method and the target! Ignoring any of these parts is considered a corruption; so ignoring the target of construction and development is a big malfunction in the task of vicegerency. Same thing with ignoring the proper method, which is based on ethical commitment and goodness since it defies the whole purpose of civil construction that can achieve happiness to man.
The dominance of the material side renders man oblivious of how he’s ruining the earth and dumping it with atomic, nuclear or radioactive waste that comes as a result of generating power in his eagerness to achieve direct and quick benefit. This way the earth itself loses a lot of its efficiency in giving and producing.
The ones behind this materialist philosophy did not just suffice with siding from the proper method which is based on ethics and goodness; they even corrupted the method and polluted it with all their emitted cultures about sex, nudity and violence. They even propagated all this out of their belief in atheism and superstitions.
Fourth: Preserving and loving
Islam regards nature and the universe from the perspectives of love and respect. This level even supersedes the level of preservation and development. Islam directs man towards forming a relation with even the inanimate objects; a relation based on longing and yearning. The universe, as seen by Islam, is in a state of constant obedience to Allah, it is in a state of constant prostration to Him. Thus, it loves all the creatures who obey Allah and it cries when they depart life. It also detests those who disobey Allah and it never cares if they perish or die. Those who obey Allah are in a state of harmony with the universe while they prostrate and go on with their worships; as for the others they are in a state of disharmony with everything surrounding them.
We see the Prophet (SAWS) as he left Makkah how he expressed his love and longing for the land on which he grew. He said, “By Allah you are the best of Allah’s lands, the most beloved land to Allah and had not your people expelled me I would have never chosen to leave you.“
The Prophet (SAWS) loved the inanimate land because of its virtue and status; it was the land upon which Allah chose to place His House. At the same time the Prophet (SAWS) detested the odious men for their ingratitude, disbelief, ignorance, corruption and for veering away.
The trunk of a tree longed for the Prophet (SAWS) and the sound of its moaning was heard by the worshipers in the mosque, so the Prophet interacted with it lovingly and he kept rubbing it till it subsided again.
Islam is distinguished for this comprehensive perspective for the whole universe; in how it urges man to preserve it and care for in a way that can help him and others benefit from its resources.
The relation between the universe and its creator
1. The whole universe glorifies Allah. Allah says, “Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each [of them] has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.” (TMQ, 24:41). Allah also says, “The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.”(TMQ, 17:44). So long as the universe in glorifying its Lord and thanking its Creator then any aggression on it is definitely a form of corruption that should criminalize its doer and implicate him. Any aggression on the universe is an aggression on the rights of human beings to live. With this perspective the Muslim respects all the creatures (big and small) because he respects the greatness of the Creator and the ability of all His creatures to glorify Him and prostrate to Him.
2. The universe also has its share of glorification. Allah says, “…We caused the mountains and the birds to celebrate Our praises along with David. We had the power to do this-”(TMQ, 21:79). Allah also says, “We bestowed upon David great favor. We said, ‘O mountains and birds! Join with him in celebrating Our praise.’ We softened iron for him, saying,” (TMQ, 34:10). So David, the prophet of Allah who was chosen for the message and was given the wisdom, the science and the dominion in Allah’s earth, was also granted the particular subjugation of the inanimate objects and the animals. Whenever he glorified Allah the mountains used to join along. Whenever he would go lax Allah would order the mountains to glorify Him and so David would be invigorated and active again.
3. Allah also addresses many creatures in the Qur’an, he says, “And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (TMQ, 16:68-69). He orders the earth and heavens saying, “And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judeiy. And it was said, “Away with the wrongdoing people.”“ (TMQ, 11:44). He even gave them the privilege of choosing in, “Then He turned to heaven when it was vapor and said to it and to the earth, ‘Come willingly or unwillingly.’ They both said, ‘We come willingly,’“ (TMQ, 41:11). He made them an offer and He let them chose, “We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, because they were afraid of it. But man bore it: he surely proved unjust and ignorant.” (TMQ, 33:72).
All of this reflects the amount of respect given to all the creatures in Islam; on the moral as well as the physical levels. From this respect the Muslim must behave with the earth and the heavens and all the other creatures of Allah. He must be driven to protect them, care for them, never to ignore them morally or physically.
The relation between man and the universe
The relation between man and the universe hinges on compatibility and harmony. Even since man descended to earth his mental and civilizational development got connected to his association and harmony with the environment and the universe, to how well he utilized and benefited from the aspects of life; he is not allowed to harm those aspects in any way, on the contrary he must always respect and care for them.
The Muslim, particularly, deals with the creatures of Allah out of a sense of equality and sharing the servitude to Allah. His relations with other people are defined by how attached and connected he is to Allah. He goes to Allah with all the love in his heart and with this love he also approaches all the creatures Allah created. That’s why we find him regarding all the creatures equally; the weak and the strong, the mean and the mighty. His outlook is actually directed to the Creator more than the created. From the realm of “things” the Muslim worships the Qur’an book (mos-haf), the Kaaba, the grave of the Prophet (SAWS) and all these things are but inanimate objects but still he worships them out of respect and love.
1. The Prophet (SAWS) gave us a lesson in loving inanimate objects and interacting with them when the tree trunk yearned for him. Anas Ibn Malik narrated that he heard Jabir Ibn Abdullah saying, “The roof of the Mosque was built over trunks of date-palms working as pillars. When the Prophet delivered a sermon, he used to stand by one of those trunks till the pulpit was made for him, and he used it instead. Then we heard the trunk sending a sound like of a pregnant she-camel till the Prophet came to it, and put his hand over it, then it became quiet.“ Some people, even some believers, have hearts that are harsher that this tree trunk; they never yearn for the Prophet (SAWS) or for being apart from him.
2. When the Prophet (SAWS) passed by the mount of Uhud he said, “This is a mountain that loves us and so we love it back.“ He said this despite the hardship that befell him by that mountain and the ordeal of his uncle Hamza’s martyrdom. So mount Uhud loves the Muslims and the Muslims love this mountain. In another narration Anas tells us that the Prophet once climbed the mountain of Uhud with Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman. The mountain gave a tremor, so the Prophet said (to the mountain), “Brace yourself, O Uhud! For on you there are no other than a Prophet, a Siddiq and two martyrs.“
3. His interaction with inanimate objects was not just a character of the Prophet (SAWS) after the revelation but even before it. He is the one who said, “I know a particular boulder in Makkah which used to greet me as I passed by it before the revelation; I still know its location till now.“ The Prophet (SAWS) is saying that he did not ignore this boulder after the revelation but he kept the memory of the boulder not for anything except that it was created by Allah and that it loved Allah and glorified Him. It used to greet the Prophet before the revelation because it knew the mission which will be assigned to him and how he will carry on this mission.
4. There are many other examples from his life close to the above story. When he was chosen for the revelation and whenever he used to go out to answer the call of nature he would keep walking and walking till all the houses would fade away and he would reach the outskirts of Makkah. All the way to his destination no tree or stone he would pass by except that it would greet him, “All peace be upon you prophet of Allah!“
5. Abdul-Rahman narrated, “I asked Masruq, ‘Who informed the Prophet about the Jinn at the night when they heard the Qur’an?’ He said, ‘Your father Abdullah informed me that a tree informed the Prophet about them.“
6. Water even flowed from between his revered fingers and the food glorified Allah when it was between his hands that even his companions heard it. Abdullah Ibn Masud narrated, “We used to consider miracles as Allah’s Blessings, but you people consider them to be a warning. Once we were with Allah’s Apostle on a journey, and we ran short of water. He said, “Bring the water remaining with you.” The people brought a utensil containing a little water. He placed his hand in it and said, “Come to the blessed water, and the Blessing is from Allah.” I saw the water flowing from among the fingers of Allah’s Apostle and no doubt, we heard the meal glorifying Allah, when it was being eaten (by him).“
7. The foreleg of a slaughtered sheep once warned him not to eat it. It was narrated that a Jewess presented him at Khaybar with a roasted sheep which she had poisoned. The Apostle of Allah (SAWS) ate of it and the people also ate. He then said: Take away your hands (from the food), for it has informed me that it is poisoned. Bishr Ibnul-Bara’ Ibn Ma’rur Al-Ansari died. So he (the Prophet) sent for the Jewess (and said to her): What motivated you to do what you have done? The Jewess replied: Who has informed you? He said: This foreleg which I have in my hand has informed me. She said: Yes. He said: What did you intend by it? She said: I thought if you were a prophet, it would not harm you; if you were not a prophet, we should rid ourselves of him (i.e. the Prophet). The Apostle of Allah (SAWS) then forgave her, and did not punish her.
8. Dust was even one of the weapons he used during his battles. He threw it in the wind and it blinded the eyes of the disbelievers at the battles of Badr and Hunayn. Imam Muslim narrated on the authority of Salamah who said: “We fought by the side of the Messenger of Allah, SAWS, at Hunayn. When we encountered the enemy, I advanced and ascended a hillock, a man from the enemy turned towards me and I shot him with an arrow. He (ducked and) hid himself from me. I could not understand what he did, but (all of a sudden) I saw that a group of people appeared from the other hillock. They and the companions of the Prophet turned back and I too turned back defeated. I had two mantles, one of which was wrapped around my waist (covering the lower part of my body and the other I put around my shoulders. My waist-wrapper became loose and I held the two mantles together. (in this downcast condition) I passed by the Messenger of Allah, SAWS, who was riding on his white mule. He said: “The son of Akwa’ finds himself to be utterly perplexed’’. When the companions gathered round him from all sides, the Messenger of Allah got down from his mule, picked up a handful of dust from the ground, threw it into their (enemy) faces and said: “May these faces be deformed!’’. There was no one among the enemy whose eyes were not filled with the dust from this handful. So, they turned back fleeing and Allah the Exalted and Glorious defeated them, and the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, distributed their booty among the Muslims.“
9. Interacting with inanimate object was not only limited to the earth but also to the heavens. The moon was split into two in a miracle for him. Ibn Masud narrated that during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle the moon was split into two parts; one part remained over the mountain, and the other part went beyond the mountain. On that, Allah’s Apostle said, “Witness this miracle.” Al-Khatabi says that the split of the moon was a great miracle that was never matched by any other prophet because it could be seen in the whole sky and its impact was the biggest because it exceeded all the known laws and traditions of nature.
10. The wind, clouds and rain responded to him. Anas Ibn Malik narrated that once in the lifetime of the Prophet (SAWS) the people were afflicted with drought (famine). While the Prophet was delivering the sermon on a Friday, a Bedouin stood up and said, “O, Allah’s Apostle! Our possessions are being destroyed and the children are hungry; please invoke Allah (for rain)”. So the Prophet raised his hands. At that time there was not a trace of cloud in the sky. By Him in Whose Hands my soul is as soon as he lowered his hands, clouds gathered like mountains, and before he got down from the pulpit, I saw the rain falling on the beard of the Prophet. It rained that day, the next day, the third day, the fourth day till the next Friday. The same Bedouin or another man stood up and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! The houses have collapsed, our possessions and livestock have been drowned; Please invoke Allah (to protect us)”. So the Prophet I raised both his hands and said, “O Allah! Round about us and not on us”. So, in whatever direction he pointed with his hands, the clouds dispersed and cleared away, and Medina’s (sky) became clear as a hole in between the clouds. The valley of Qanat remained flooded, for one month, none came from outside but talked about the abundant rain.
So the inanimate objects have their respect in the world of the Muslim. Many acts of worship are connected to particular times and places and the best example to this is the circumambulation of the Kaaba during the Hajj. The movement goes along with the movement of the stars and planets that are roving the heavens in their orbits and around their axis. It is very much similar to the movement of the electrons in their orbits around the nucleus within the atom. It all reflects a symbolic image for the structural unity of all the creatures of Allah starting the minutest till the biggest. The whole universe is but a big mosque in which all the creatures prostrate and glorify their Creator.
The human being and all things that exist fall under the same laws that control their movement and stillness. This system expresses the singularity of the Creator that can be seen in all His creations. Each of those creations has a life cycle that starts with his existence, then his development and finally his death. This cycle affects all living things around us; animals, plants, inanimate objects and human beings. Even the stars and galaxies have life cycles that make them change their shapes and become something else. Allah says, “Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky and makes it flow as springs [and rivers] in the earth; then He produces thereby crops of varying colors; then they dry and you see them turned yellow; then He makes them [scattered] debris. Indeed in that is a reminder for those of understanding.” (TMQ, 39:21). Allah also says, “Allah is the one who created you from weakness, then made after weakness strength, then made after strength weakness and white hair. He creates what He wills, and He is the Knowing, the Competent.” (TMQ, 30:54). So all the creatures are similar in their phases of formation and in passing from weakness to strength and from imperfection to perfection! Each form has its duration and age that can never be delayed or advanced in any way.
Likewise, there is a similarity in the way the creatures reproduce. Allah created everything from two attracting pairs that generate life just but mating with each other. The whole of life testifies to the oneness of the creator and the creatures; big or small. Allah says, “And We created pairs of all things so that you might reflect.” (TMQ, 51:49).
Islam set the Muslims free from the realm of “things”, from expecting them and from waiting for them impatiently. So the Muslim deals with the things from the perspective of power and sovereignty; he does not miss a chance without benefiting from the blessings of the things which Allah subjugated for him.
The human being can never realize or encompass the system and laws of the universe just by pondering unless he has faith in himself firsthand and unless he has faith that the universe (which he’s contemplating) is bound by his realization and researching, that its phenomena are not something enigmatic or unexplained, and that he can make use of the universe and utilize its wealth to ensure his life and wellbeing.
The Qur’an confirms that the whole universe is subjugated to man and at the same time it confirms the spirit of true scientific method that urges us to try to explore everything unknown in the universe and all its phenomena on the basis of confidence in the ability of man and science in the face of nature.
Man is part of the universe but he is distinguished from it with his special relation with the Creator. He is assigned with a responsibility that the heavens and earth and mountains could not shoulder. Because of this responsibility all the other creatures agreed to be subjugated to man and so he will be held accountable for them.
Man is also distinguished from all the other creatures because he was created and propped to encompass the universe cognitively. Hence, he was equipped with the ability to move the whole outside world (with its quantitative and qualitative aspects) into his inner world; and it is this very characteristic that made him earn the trust of vicegerency.
The purpose from the abilities he was given and blessed with is to empower him to make use of the universe that was subjugated to him, not to control it and dominate over it. These abilities which were bestowed upon him are only to help him understand the laws of Allah that are encased in the universe and by realizing them he can make use the universe in the way Allah intended for him.
So it is not the abilities of man that subjugated the universe form him, the proof to this is:
1. The weakest of creatures (the flies for instance) can infiltrate all the boundaries and if they manage to take any little thing from man he will never be able to get it back from them. Allah says, “O people, an example is presented, so listen to it. Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create [as much as] a fly, even if they gathered together for that purpose. And if the fly should steal away from them a [tiny] thing, they could not recover it from him. Weak are the pursuer and pursued. They have not appraised Allah with true appraisal. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.”(TMQ, 22:73-74).
2. The weakest in the realm of human beings (babies who are the weakest physically and crazy people who are the weakest mentally) are able to control and make use of everything that was subjugated to man like; water, animals and others. They react to these things and respond to them not because of a bodily or mental ability of their own.
3. Nature might react with man unintentionally like when he steps (without knowing) on some seeds that get buried deep into the earth and turn into a tree from which an animal might eat and this animal can be hunted down by another man who eats it. Thus Allah makes man a cause in the life of another without him knowing it. Hence, the universe is subjugated by the will and ability of Allah not because man is strong enough to subjugate it.
4. Nature can still react and develop on its own (with the will of Allah) and so it maintains its own aptitude, freshness and beauty. Until very recently in history we could hear of lands that were never before stepped by man but still those lands managed to maintain their goodness and beauty in such a way that spellbinds anyone who sees them. This tells us that the earth has it first Creator and Initiator and that He entrusted in it the ability to maintain itself for millions of years without man knowing anything about it.
5. History, observation and experience tell us many instances where the natural phenomena of the universe went beyond the ability of man and defied him flagrantly at the time when he thought he could control it and know all its secrets. The believer knows that beyond all this is a capable and single Creator and that no one else can dominate this universe but Him, no other bigger power than His. The Qur’an tells us many stories of tyrants and pharaohs who thought their abilities were above all abilities. Allah says, “Pharaoh called to his people, ‘My people, is the Kingdom of Egypt not mine? And these rivers that flow at my feet, are they not mine? Do you not see?”(TMQ, 43:51). His dominion over some land and water (just a small part of the earth) made him think that he could enslave the people. He could never visualize how Moses and his people could defy him. Allah further says, “Pharaoh behaved arrogantly in the land, and divided the people into groups, seeking to weaken one section, slaying their sons and sparing their daughters-he was one of those who spread corruption, We wished to favor those who were oppressed in the land, and to make them leaders and make them inheritors [of Our bounties], and to give them power in the land; and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that very thing which they feared.” (TMQ, 28:4-5).
6). All the cosmic laws and all the expectations of mankind confirmed that the Pharaoh would be victorious, he behaved arrogantly in Egypt, he enslaved its people and humiliated them, they all testified to being enslaved to him and there was no way Moses and his people could escape his tyranny nor there were any material signs proving that Allah would fulfill His promise to them when he said, “make them leaders”, and “make them inheritors”, and, “give them power in the land”! But had not the ability of Allah interfered and turned all the measurements upside down, changed all the laws of physics and with this Allah brought victory to the believers and the ones who persisted on the right path, this result might have never been attained.
The present day’s man can never settle physiologically or take his true destination towards achieving his mission on earth except if he identified his limitations with the Creator of this universe and its Sustainer. The whole universe is one of Allah’s affairs, “To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And to Allah will [all] matters be returned.” (TMQ, 3:109). Allah is the One who created the universe and man, the One who gave man his mind so he can populate the earth rather than corrupt it and so he can know his creator. Try to place man in the frame of the whole universe with its inevitable laws rather than within the frame of his limited abilities and you will see that man has the ability to direct the course of the cosmic incidents according to his will because this is one of the affairs of the Creator of all things and their initiator and sustainer; Allah!
The relation between man and the earth
The perceived relation between man and the earth, from an Islamic perspective, is closer to intimacy and connection rather than preservation and development. The relation between man and the earth revolves around three levels; the least and closest one is that of subjugation and benefit (which is the physical level), the middle level is that of pondering and contemplating (which is the mental level), and the highest level is that of love and intimacy which is the spiritual level.
1. Allah says, “And Allah has caused you to grow from the earth a [progressive] growth. Then He will return you into it and extract you [another] extraction. And Allah has made for you the earth an expanse, that you may follow therein roads of passage.”(TMQ, 71:17-20). The loyalty of man to the earth and his longing to it is like the longing of the child for its mother. Man was created from the earth, he eats and drinks from its wealth and in its bosom he will be buried.
2. Allah says, “From the earth We created you, and into it We will return you, and from it We will extract you another time.” (TMQ, 20:55).
3. The Prophet (SAWS) said, “Protect the earth, for she is your mother.“
4. Lady Aisha narrated, “Whenever anyone complained from anything like a wound or an ulcer the Prophet (SAWS) would blow some saliva on his index finger, place it in the ground and raise it like this and say, ‘In the name of Allah, may our land heal any illness by the will of its Lord.‘” Imam Al-Nawawy explained that “our land” here means the whole earth. It was also said that it is the land of Madinah particularly. So this was how the Prophet (SAWS) used the earth to heal wounds and pains. Al-Baydawy commented that medical research proved later that saliva and the earth have an effect in maintaining the mood and expelling any harm. For this reason our forefathers said that it would be better to take part of your homeland’s soil with you when you travel if you can’t take its water. So there is a sentiment that connects man to the earth upon which he was born and bred and we cannot deny this. Those who have a sound innate nature always have a sickness to their homes and lands and they rarely feel safe and secure except in their homelands.
5. The Qur’an pictures this relation of intimacy that originates between the earth, the sky and man in the verse that says, “And the heaven and earth wept not for them, nor were they reprieved.” (TMQ, 44:29). This emotion that is created between man and the universes was very fascinating for the Arabs when this verse was first revealed. Al-Tabary relates a story narrated on the authority of Saeed Ibn Jabir who said, “A man came to Ibn Abbas and asked him, ‘Ibn Abbas, what do you say of this verse? Does the heavens and earth cry for the people?’ Ibn Abbas answered him, “Yes! There is no man on this earth except that he has a door in the heavens from which comes all his sustenance and to which rises all his deeds. Once any man dies this door is closed and so the heavens cry for him. Same thing for the place where he prays on the earth and mentions Allah. Once he dies the earth cries for him. Except for people like the people of the Pharaoh and their likes; they have done no good deeds that could rise to the heavens nor did they do anything good to the earth. So when they perished neither the earth nor the heavens cried for them.”
The general command of being merciful and kind to all the creatures:
Allah says, “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (TMQ, 21:107). The Prophet (SAWS) was the “mercy” that Allah sent to all creatures; mankind, Jinn, animals, plants and inanimate objects. The best form of mercy is that of “guidance”; guidance to knowing the Creator, setting the straight method to worshiping him, being merciful to his creatures and benefiting from all the goodness that Allah subjugated for him.
1. Anas narrated that the Prophet (SAWS) said, “By He, in whose Hands is my soul, Allah will not place His mercy except on someone merciful.” So they said, “Prophet of Allah, we are all merciful!” He said, “I am not talking about the one who is merciful to himself, I’m talking about the one who is merciful to all things in general.” (Al-Bayhakei).
2. He commanded us to be merciful to everything at large. He said, “Those who are merciful will be forgiven by the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful. So be merciful to those who are on earth so that the One in the Heavens would be merciful to you.” (Al-Tirmidhi). Al-Taibi commented on this narrations saying, “Because being merciful to all the creatures is tenderness in the heart, and the tenderness in the heart is a sign of faith. Those who do not have tender hearts have no faith, those who have no faith are miserable and the miserable will never be tender hearted. The narration is about being merciful to all creatures at large; the godly and the ungodly, the speaking and the mute, the beasts and the birds.“ Ibn-Battal Al-Maghrabei (died in 449 H.) said, “This narration urges us to use mercy with all the creatures alike; believers and disbelievers, all the beasts alike; owned and wandering. It urges us to treat them tenderly! This is one of the things that can expiate our sins so every sane believer must be keen on taking his share of being merciful and he must use this share with all mankind and all animals. Allah did not create us for fun! Included in this mercy are things like; giving food and drink to the hungry, helping people in carrying heavy loads, never being aggressive with them or beating them.“ Al-Aref Al-Bouny said, “If you wish to earn the mercy of Allah then you must be merciful to yourself and others. Do not be despotic with your own good deeds; be merciful to the ignorant with your education, to the humiliated with your honor, to the poor with your wealth, to the old with your youth and compassion, to the disobedient with your advice, to the beasts with your compassion and lack of anger. Those who are closer to Allah are the ones who are merciful to His creatures. Any goodness you do (big or small) must come out of the mercy inside you.“
3. The Prophet (SAWS) said, “Be merciful and Allah will be merciful to you, forgive and you will be forgiven. Woe unto those who insist on doing the wrong things they do while they know it!” (Musnad Ahmad) Mercy is an attribute that Allah bestowed upon His creatures. That’s why the Jurists endorsed it in all actions even when fighting with the disbelievers, in sacrifices… etc. Allah loves His attributes and names (including mercy and forgiveness) and so He loves His creatures to acquire these attributes as well. This narration also warns us against insisting on doing the wrong things or listening to the right words without attempting to understand them or act on them; like the vessels that do not react to anything we fill them with.“
4. The Prophet (SAWS) ordered us to be merciful in everything we do. So whenever we go in or out of our houses we must never slam the doors soundly or harshly since this is contrary to the ethics of gentleness and kindness. He said, “Kindness will never be included in anything except that it will adorn and it, and it will never be taken out of anything except that it will disgrace it.” (Muslim) The “general”form of mercy that was commanded by the Prophet (SAWS) is a much bigger circle than all the meanings of “preservation and care” that we can give to the environment and humanity which is so unlike any law or philosophy found in any time or place other than Islam.
The concept of vicegerency from an Islamic perspective:
The vicegerency of man on earth is the divine command for man to take care of the earth and preserve it. It is an authorization to populate the earth, to reconstruct it and to reform it from any corruption that might befall it:
1. Allah says, “And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”“ (TMQ, 2:30).
2. Allah says, “[We said], “O David, indeed We have made you a successor upon the earth, so judge between the people in truth and do not follow [your own] desire, as it will lead you astray from the way of Allah …” (TMQ, 38:26).
In the first verse we see how keen the angels are on the earth; it is one of Allah’s creatures and they’re obviously afraid of the corruption that might befall it at the hands of man. The “corruption” here is about both time and place. As for the bloodshed it is only connected to man. So they are concerned about both; the earth and man. This is because man is also the creature of Allah and he is worthy of all care and mercy. We see the duality of man & earth in many other verses such as, “And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption.” (TMQ, 2:205). This last verse is about the threats of corruption, destroying crops and animals and eventually the destruction of man himself who will perish when the food and animals are destroyed.
The angels knew all along that man was given the “choice” and that this choice is going to make him different from all the creatures of Allah. This “choice” will enable him to defy the method unlike all other creatures which are compelled to obey and hence follow the method. The angels knew about the emotions boiling inside man such as desires, passions, whims and lusts; they thought that all of these feelings will inevitably lead man to killing and destruction so as to dominate.
Still Allah tells us that many things are unknown to the angels such as the ability of man to attain knowledge and to restructure it and recall it. Allah says, “They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”“ (TMQ, 2:32). So we learn from this that the corruption of man and the environment is connected to the actions of man and his behavior. If he is overcome by his desires and whims and if he veers from the path of rationality and science he will destroy himself and others. But if his mind prevails and if he seeks to acquire knowledge and wisdom he will coincide with the Sunnah and the path of the “truth” which the Creator shows him; only then will his actions be considered population, construction and creativity.
In the second verse we notice the mention of vicegerency (succession), the earth and the truth (the truth is Allah Himself) and this is how Allah created all the creatures; with the truth. Allah says, “And We did not create the heaven and earth and that between them in play. Had We intended to take a diversion, We could have taken it from [what is] with Us - if [indeed] We were to do so. Rather, We dash the truth upon falsehood, and it destroys it, and thereupon it departs. And for you is destruction from that which you describe.”(TMQ, 21:16-18). Allah also says, “Do you imagine that We created you without any purpose and that you would not be brought back to Us? Then, exalted be Allah, the true King, there is no deity except Him, the Lord of the Glorious Throne.” (TMQ, 23:115-116). Allah (SWT) tells us that when he made David the successor He asked him to judge between the people in truth. Truth here is the equivalent of; justice and righteousness. It is the antonym of purposelessness, playfulness and corruption. The very basis of the dominion that was given to David is the TRUTH, and that’s why Allah tells him right away “and do not follow your own desires”. Following the desires was the very first thing that the angels noticed when Allah created man, so they judged by this that man will corrupt the earth and shed the blood. Truth, on the other hand, is all about rationality and science and this was the blind side that the angels could not see.
Allah (SWT) commands David to judge in truth and justice because this is the way that leads to Allah’s love. Allah says, “…And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”(TMQ, 5:42).
3. The dominance of man over the universe is a system of delegation rather than being a system of domination and tyranny. Man is assigned to protect and preserve the universe according to the concept of vicegerency we discussed above. So man is responsible for the trust he is entrusted with, responsible if he’s beingcharitable to it and if he’s being good to it and also if he’s being damaging and corrupting. Allah says, “He created death and life so that He might test you, and find out which of you is best in conduct. He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving One.” (TMQ, 67:2). Allah also tells us about excellence, “It is He who has made the earth subservient to you, so traverse its regions and eat its provisions. To Him you shall all be resurrected.” (TMQ, 67:15). So Allah subjugated the earth for man so he could make use of its resources and hence he is requested to work and toil to be able to harvest its benefit and also to reform it.
The Prophet’s Sunnah also has many examples confirming the importance of work for man and the importance of education on the right path that can give man determination, agility and dignity in his life:
A. Anas Ibn Malik narrated, “A man of the Ansar came to the Prophet (SAWS) and begged from him. The Prophet asked the man: Have you nothing in your house? He replied: Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water. The Prophet said: Bring them to me. He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his hands and asked: Who will buy these? A man said: I shall buy them for one dirham. He said twice or thrice: Who will offer more than one dirham? A man said: I shall buy them for two dirhams. He gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansari, he said: Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an axe and bring it to me. He then brought it to him. The Apostle of Allah (SAWS) fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said: Go, gather firewood and sell it, and do not let me see you for a fortnight. The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Apostle of Allah (SAWS) then said: This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment. Begging is right only for three people: one who is in grinding poverty, one who is seriously in debt, or one who is responsible for compensation and finds it difficult to pay.” (Abu Dawood)
B. Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet (SAWS) passed by someone selling some wheat grains. He placed his hand in the pile and his fingers became wet. So the Prophet asked, ‘Who owns this pile?’ When the owner came he said to the Prophet that the rain caused this wetness. So the Prophet said, ‘So why don’t you put the wet parts on top so that the people can see it? The cheaters are not of me.” (Muslim)
Hence, the call of Islam is a call to hard work and its message says, “Work hard in developing and reforming, Allah will see your work and you will be rewarded. But do your work without any cheating or trickery. Constructive work and honesty are a way of life, and any work will not be positive if it lacks honesty and honor.”
Cheating destroys social peace and devastates the economic movement. It creates a state of mistrust between the partners and it ends the inner peace by spreading a state of fear and distrust between the people. All of these features are but manifestations for the corruption of life.