Islam, along with Christianity and Judaism, is one of the three Abrahamic religions, which all put forth that humans must live in symbiosis with the Earth. Two important concepts in Islam are tawhid—unity—and khalifah—trusteeship. Unity speaks to living in harmony with Allah and all of his creation. Trusteeship indicates that God gave humans the sacred duty of serving as guardians of the Earth. There are many other Islamic beliefs that call believers to practice ethical stewardship, conservation, and sustainability.
Nature as a Sign
God, nature, and humanity are not distinct concepts, but rather are inextricably bound together. Nature follows immutable, God-given laws, called amwimir, which may be decoded using human intellect. Nature itself has transcendental significance as an emblem. It, along with the Qur’an, is the means by which God communicates with humanity, and therefore nature holds the same metaphysical significance as the Qur’an. Therefore, the cosmos deserves the utmost respect, and any destruction or injury of the natural environment is prohibited.
God gave all in heaven and earth to human beings. However, this power also carries with it a moral burden. As part of their origin, humans accepted a trust, called amana.
Humans’ stewardship of the Earth is therefore not because of an inherent superiority, but because we alone are responsible for our actions. As part of this trust, we are commanded to maintain the natural balance of the cosmos.
The Prophet is reported to have said, “When doomsday comes, and someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it.” This indicates that nature is good in and of itself, and should be protected regardless of any benefit to humans. The basis for the mandate for conservation lies in two doctrines of hima and haram. Hima, as defined in the Islamic law called Sharia, are “inviolate zones” set aside for conservation. Once an area is declared hima, animals cannot graze there and trees cannot be cut down. Haram is an inviolate zone specifically for the benefit of a community. Mosques and temples are often haram, as are sites associated with water distribution, such as wells, springs, or rivers in otherwise barren lands.
People who have excess water and withhold it from others are among those from whom God will withhold his grace on Judgment Day. This, along with a series of laws about the equal distribution of water among a community for agricultural purposes, indicates the Islamic commitment to environmental justice. Nature’s bounty ought to be available for everyone in equal proportion and ought to be cared for so that all may benefit.
The “Book of Agriculture” from Islam’s prophetic tradition speaks with moral force about sustainable agricultural practices.
Even in Paradise, it is said that humans will practice agriculture, and we must use sustainable practices because Paradise will last forever.
Animals are considered equal to humans. They have their own communities and individual personalities, and as such ought to be treated with respect. Though the killing of animals for food is permissible, there are a series of laws that govern the process to limit pain and cruelty.
- Read more about these concepts in the article “Islam and Ecology: Toward Retrieval and Reconstruction”
- Find a longer statement on Islam and ecology at the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development