More than a thousand years have passed since the Prophet PBUH passed away, yet his teachings are still pumping through the hearts of Muslims and non-Muslims to this day. With Islam deriving its teachings from only two sources, it has been claimed by many to be a practical, simple, applicable and relevant religion to adopt.
Matters such as ‘our relationship with the earth’ and ‘our responsibilities towards the environment‘ may have become newsworthy today, yet teachings from the Qur’an and Hadith pre-date modern understanding of sustainability and care for the environment.
The Qur’an refers to humans as ‘khulafaa’ which means ‘caretaker’ or ‘vicegerent’. Whilst this may sound simple and abstract at first sight, it packs a broad meaning and holds humans responsible for what transpires on the planet. From human-to-human relationships to our bond with animals, ‘khulafaa’ – according to many scholars – also refers to our intimate relationship with the environment and our care for the earth.
In a time of extreme desperation and utter disregard for the earth – and all that it contains – it is befitting to return to the words of the Prophet PBUH. Not only does this provide us with a refreshing understanding of the matter, but it also gives us immediate and practical steps in becoming a true ‘khalifa’ (caretaker). After all, Muslims should be at the forefront when it comes to tackling climate change and building a sustainable future for all that come after us.
Prophetic Traditions on the Environment and Sustainability
Water and Extravagance
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “What is this extravagance?” Sa’d said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
Anas reported: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would perform ablution with one mudd and would perform a ritual bath with one sa’ to five mudd. [Sahih Bukhari]
1 mudd ≈ ⅔ liter & 1 sa’ to 5 mudd ≈ 2–3 ½ liter
The Earth, Plants and Trees
Narrated Abu Dharr: The Messenger of Allah said, “The earth has been made for me purifying and as a mosque (place for prayer).” [Sunan Abu Dawud]
Abu Sa’id Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The world is sweet and green (alluring) and verily Allah is going to install you as vicegerent in it in order to see how you act. So avoid the allurement of women: verily, the first trial for the people of Isra’il was caused by women.” [Sahih Muslim]
Jabir reported: Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying, “Never does a Muslim plant a tree except that he has the reward of charity for him, for what is eaten out of that is charity, what is stolen out of that, what the beasts eat out of that, what the birds eat out of that is charity for him. [In short] none incurs a loss to him but it becomes a charity on his part.” [Sahih Muslim]
Caring For Our Animals
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A man suffered from thirst while he was walking on a journey. When he found a well, he climbed down into it and drank from it. Then he came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue from thirst and licking the ground. The man said, ‘This dog has suffered thirst just as I have suffered from it.’ He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, and caught it in his mouth as he climbed up. Then he gave the dog a drink. Allah appreciated this deed, so He forgave him.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for charity even for the animals?” The Prophet said, “Yes, in every creature with a moist liver is a reward for charity.” [Sahih Muslim]
Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If someone kills so much as a sparrow or anything larger without a just cause, then Allah the Exalted will ask him about it on the Day of Resurrection.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A just cause is that you slaughter it for food, but you should not cut off its head and throw it aside.” [Sunan Nasai]
Tender, Love and Care
Abdullah ibn Ja’far reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) entered a garden among the Ansar. When a camel saw the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), it started weeping and making sounds as its tears flowed. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to it and patted it on the head, so it became silent. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Who is the master of this camel? To whom does it belong?” A young man from the Ansar came and said, “This is mine, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do you not fear Allah regarding this animal that Allah has put in your possession? Verily, she has complained to me that you keep her hungry and tired.” [Sunan Abu Dawud
Ibn ‘Abbas told Ibn az-Zubayr: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say, “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.” [Al-Adab Al-Mufrad]
Miqdam bin Madikarib said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) say, “A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one-third of food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
Jabir reported Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying, “Food for one (person) suffices two (persons), and food for two (persons) suffices four (persons) and food for four (persons) suffices eight (persons).” [Sahih Muslim]
Sharing Base Ingredients
It was narrated that ‘Aishah said, “O Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), what are the things which are not permissible to withhold?” He said, “Water, salt and fire.” She said, “I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), we know what water is, but what about salt and fire?” He said, “O Humaira’, whoever gives fire (to another), it is as if he has given in charity all the food that is cooked on that fire. And whoever gives salt, it is as if he has given in charity all that the salt makes good. And whoever gives a Muslim water to drink when water is available, it is as if he freed a slave; and whoever gives a Muslim water to drink when there is no water available, it is as if he brought him back to life.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]