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Science and Religion in the 21st Century

Geo-ethics and Geo-theology: The contribution of religious values to environmental conservation

Religions may play a very relevant role in environmental conservation. On one hand, they provide cosmological visions that help to explain human-nature relations and on how humans should relate to their environment. On the other hand, religions include a set of moral values, which would help to change economic and social behaviors that are behind the current ecological crisis.
The goal of this lecture will be to identify points of convergence between the great religious traditions in addressing human-nature relations, as well as presenting a critical evaluation of whether those approaches have in fact affect environmental conservation in representative countries. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism have been considered. 
The main traditions considered are: 

(1) dominion: humans are at the top of Creation and use the natural resources as needed; 

(2) stewardship: humans have a delegate dominion over Creation and are responsible and accountable for their use of natural resources; 

(3) empathy: nature follows moral behavior of humans; 

(4) analogy: nature is an image of God;

(5) God worshipper, nature gives glory to God 

(6) natural mysticism, union with God is accomplished through contemplation of the created world;

(7) worship: nature is sacred. These approaches are not necessary conflicting, but rather they can be considered in some cases as complementary. Their actual impact of water and environmental conservation should be further researched.

Conservation and Islam

Conservation and Islam

Islam is a complete code of life, a religion which guides humans in every sphere. It emphasizes cleanliness and urges followers to adopt every measure to maintain it in all circumstances. It forbids excess, injustice and unlawfulness in words and action. It stresses conservation and helps to inculcate a sense of responsibility among people.
Today, the world has become a global village, where individuals can play an important role in the development of society and environment. Islam, one the largest religions of the world gives attention to protecting the environment and biodiversity for the well being of humans and urges the Muslim community to show support for the conservation of environment.
While the West proclaims itself to be the forerunners in conservation, it realized too little too late that the developments made in the industrial era affected the course of nature. Environmental conservation is one of the basic tenets of Islam.
Environmental conservation is one of the basic tenets of Islam
In the Holy Quran and Sunnah, humans are guided towards purity and cleanliness. Moreover, Islam has given a complete code to protect the environment and stressed the need to promote sustainability. Almighty Allah and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) paid special attention in protecting the environment and stopped people from harming the wild.
Today our soil is deteriorating, forests are being chopped down, fish stocks are declining and immediate steps are required to protect natural resources so that ecosystems are not affected. Nature conservation should be kept in mind as this is the real virtue Allah Almighty has asked from us. Disorder in this balanced natural system will result in the destruction of human, animal and plant life on Earth.
Unfortunately, deforestation has changed the course of nature in Pakistan. A 2009 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that the annual deforestation rate in Pakistan is 2.1 per cent per annum, which is the highest in Asia. Our global actions have also increased our vulnerability to climate change, as now we are experiencing an increase of extreme weathering events. This is further confirmed by the German Watch Institute, a German think tank, which ranked Pakistan among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Its Climate Risk Index for 2012: the 10 most affected countries identified Pakistan as the third most affected country from climate change, after Haiti and the Philippines.
To deal with such anthropogenic issues, the Holy Quran guides us in maintaining a balanced natural environment, as it is a great favour bestowed on human beings by Allah Almighty:
‘Who hath appointed the Earth a resting place for you, and the sky a canopy: and causeth water to pour down from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you…’ [Al-Baqarah: 22]
This verse shows that Allah the Most Merciful has made this universe subservient to man and taught man the ways of benefitting from it for his needs.
Islam stresses on the protection of every living species on Earth
Islam stresses on the protection of every living species on Earth
At another instance Allah Almighty said:
‘And when he turneth away (from thee) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; and Allah loveth not mischief.’ [Al- Baqarah: 204-205]
This ayat shows that man is responsible for creating mischief in the universe. At various instances humans, due to overexploitation of natural resources, have created complex problems for themselves such as pollution, deforestation, climate change, global warming and extinction of different species, etc.
If we just value one of the basic resources, water, we’ll come to realize that it’s a blessing in disguise, as it helps in sustaining life on Earth and the Quran clearly states that every living thing is made of water. Thus according to the Quran and Sunnah, it is not permissible to waste water.  As in verse 31 of Surah Al-A‘raf Allah Almighty said:
‘O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loveth not the prodigals.’
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the first to establish environmentally protected areas
This verse clearly states that wastage of water is not allowed at any cost. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) discouraged the wastage of water even during ablution (wuzu). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saw a person wasting water while performing ablution and said to him:
‘Don’t be extravagant’
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the first to establish environmentally protected areas in which felling of trees and killing of animals was prohibited. He declared an area of 20 km out of each section of Al-Madina al-Munawwarah as a protected area and prohibited cutting of trees and branches except what was required for driving camels.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “I declare Madina as a sanctuary, and like Makkah, the area in between its two mountains shall be a protected area. Its trees shall not be cut, except the extent that is needed to drive camels” (Ref: Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-‘I ‘tisam bi’ 1-Kitab wa’s-Sunnah, Bab ma yukrihu min kathratis-su ‘ali wa takallufi ma la ya ‘nihi, Hadith No. 2792)
Deforestation has changed the course of nature in Pakistan
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) also prohibited Muslims from destroying crops and trees during war. He also stressed maintaining a clean environment, which can be judged from the following verse narrated by Abu Malik al-Ash‘ari that:-
‘Cleanliness is half of faith…..’
In short many diseases can be avoided by keeping the environment clean; otherwise the deteriorating environment can affect human life.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was also very affectionate towards animals and birds and prohibited beating animals without justification. The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said:
‘Whosoever killed a sparrow unjustly, it will complain before Allah saying O! Allah such and such person had killed me unjustly and he had not killed me for any benefit.’ (Ref: Sunan al-Nasa’I, kitab al-dahaya, bab man qatala ‘usfuran bighayri haqqiha. Hadith No. 4446)
Pakistan is ranked third in Climate Risk Index’s most affected countries
In another instance, our Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: ‘Leave the birds in their nests to live peacefully’ (Ref: Sunan Abu Da’ud, kitab al-Adaha, bab fil ‘aqiqati. Hadith No. 2835)
These Ahadith show the concern of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in protecting wildlife and environment and prove that Islam is a complete code of life which not only gives equal right to human beings but also stresses on the protection of every living species on Earth. It stops humans from killing animals for the sake of recreation, as indiscriminate hunting may cause danger to the survival of wildlife, the permission of which is not given in the Holy Quran or Sunnah.
Even the Indonesian Council of Ulema passed a fatwa titled ‘The Protection of Endangered Species to Maintain the Balanced Ecosystems’. The Ulema Council regards the endangered species i.e. tigers, rhinos and elephants and different types of mammals a creation of Allah Almighty in order to maintain a balanced ecosystem, meant for the interests of sustainable human welfare. Humans should therefore protect the ecosystem and wildlife otherwise it can deteriorate human life. The fatwa clearly mentioned illegal hunting of endangered species to be haram and to take immediate measures to conserve them.
This can also be applied in Pakistan, which hosts rich biodiversity such as the common leopard, snow leopard, turtles, markhor and different species of birds. The Ulema Councils of Pakistan should also play an important role in conservation of threatened and endangered species in the country.
Allah Almighty in different verses of the Holy Quran laid stress on the protection of the environment and informed us about the numerous blessings he bestowed us with. Forests are a valuable asset as they render great ecosystem services by hosting biodiversity, replenishing the underground aquifer, preventing soil erosion, reducing the impacts of flash floods, mitigating climate change and global warming. Keeping in view their immense importance we should take special care so that deforestation can be curbed and afforestation can take place simultaneously.
Today, the increase in the world’s population has exerted tremendous pressure on natural resources as the recent Living Planet Report 2014 by WWF confirms that humanity’s demand on the planet is 50 per cent more than what nature can renew, meaning it will take 1.5 Earths to produce the resources necessary to support our current ecological footprint.
Food and water scarcity – a global issue
Food and water scarcity – a global issue
If we implement Islamic principles in our daily lives and make our consumption patterns sustainable, we can easily maintain a balance between our resources and needs. Consequently, this will help to alleviate food and water scarcity, which are some of the major issues the world faces and we will be in a position to lead a sustainable life where humans live in harmony with nature.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He tweets @SyedMAbubakar and can be reached at


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