As people who claim to be worshippers and believers in God, we must take environmentalism seriously. Environmentalism isn’t a fad or a temporary concern, but an enduring responsibility, especially for we who claim to submit ourselves to the will of God. Caring for the environment and for God’s creation is one of the foundational principles in the Quran and in the life and practices (Sunnah) of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Awareness of our environment and its issues and our responsibilities to care for this creation is essential knowledge required of every Muslim. Caring for the environment is a timeless and permanent concern of human beings and Islam has many teachings that confirm this.
The first principle in Islam that confirms this enduring responsibility is that all of nature worships God and is subservient to God. We are created by God for his worship. But so is everything else in the heavens and the earth. The Quran says in Surah al-Hajj Chapter 22 verse 18: “Do you not see that Allah is He, Whom obeys whoever is in the heavens and whoever is in the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars, and the mountains and the trees, and the animals and many of the people…”
We call this “Islam”, recognizing and submitting to God. Every creature that performs this act is “Muslim” like us. Allah makes clear that all things are in harmony in worship to God.
But in this verse he says “many of the people” not “all” because we have free will. Some of us choose to serve God, some choose rebellion, selfishness, greed. This is a choice not shared with the other creation such as trees and animals. In a way they better than us, they always serve god. But we can be higher or lower than them.
Another verse of the Quran continues this theme. Chapter 17 (Surah Al-Isra) verse 44 of the Quran says: “The seven heavens declare His glory and the earth (too), and those who are in them; and there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification; surely He is Forbearing, Forgiving.” As limited creatures, we humans cannot understand the harmony of the environment and nature. We demonstrate our arrogance by exercising careless dominion over the environment. God questions this arrogance by asking if we think the creation of humans is harder than creating the heavens and the earth.
The second Islamic principle is that nature is a revelation of God, full of signs to reveal God’s greatness to us. There are signs within creation that lead us to worship and service to God. When we observe phenomena of the universe, it leads us to humility, service and worship to God. In Quran every verse is called an “ayah”. In the same way that the “ayahs” of the Quran are a revelation, the environment also has “ayahs” or signs that reveal things to the discerning and sincere heart:
In Chapter 2 of the Quran verse 164 says: “Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day, and the ships that run in the sea with that which profits men, and the water that Allah sends down from the cloud, then gives life with it to the earth after its death and spreads in it all (kinds of) animals, and the changing of the winds and the clouds made subservient between the heaven and the earth, there are signs for a people who understand.”
Here God tells us that the study and observation of nature will lead us to faith in God. Just as God sent us Prophets and scriptures, so also do the earth and heavens serve as a revelation with a message.
So the mountains and forests give us knowledge, but God tells us that knowledge must be used with wisdom. If we are ignorant and foolish, we will use our technology and progress to destroy each other and the environment upon which we mutually dependant. But if we use wisdom, we can take advantage of this earth and it will become for us a beautiful home for all of humanity.
Ali Faruk is the volunteer Muslim Campus Minister at the College of William & Mary. He is the son of an Air Force officer and a teacher and grew up in Prince William County VA. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. Ali sits on several boards and committees including the Board of the Richmond Partnership for Housing Affordability and the Community Building Committee of the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.
Special thanks go to Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia for providing source material for this article.