Islam, Sustainability and Environmentalism: Remembering Our Roles as Guardians

The more one thinks about it, the more one realises that Islam is more of a ‘lifestyle’ than just a religion or set of rituals. Whilst Islam places great importance on acts of worship such as prayers, fasting and dhikr, there is so much more to it than just that. From matters related to trade to maintaining family ties, Islam covers it all without missing an inch. 

Whilst it may feel as though human beings have only recently given sustainability and environmentalism a prioritised view, doing the right thing and adopting the right ethics has always been a priority in Islam. After all, the Quran does tell us that we are successive authorities which can also be defined as a deputy, governor or even vicegerent. 

Being a successive authority means being in charge. Being a successive authority also means governing the way we manage our lifestyle on this very earth. It means to carry out acts in moderation. When Allah informed the angels that He will be sending us to earth as guardians/caliphs, the angels were utterly shocked and for good reason. To them, there can be no being better suited to maintain the natural order and balance of the world. 

What Does Islam Say About The Environment and Sustainability

Up until the 1970s, environmental ethics was neither a topic of interest nor was it a sub-discipline. However, since then, the issue has risen in interest and importance after biologists began discussing the relationship between natural resources and the ever-increasing human population. 

For Muslims, the Quranic verse about being vicegerents sent to earth underpins our understanding and ethical responsibility towards the upkeep and preservation of the environment. Once we know this, only then can we begin to fully internalise the responsibility and start exploring how we can implement this. Whilst the famous quote mentions ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’, it is also true that ‘environmentalism is next to Godliness’. This is why a study has found that less religious countries tend to suffer from things like increased overconsumption and pollution. 

Many Prophetic traditions discuss the topic of environmentalism by exploring issues such as preserving natural resources and maintaining the cleanliness of the environment. Both the Quran and the Prophet PBUH in several prophetic traditions have criticised overconsumption and wastage of food and in any other form of luxury. Time after time, the Prophet PBUH would make it a point to urge his Companions to adopt the concept of moderation in every aspect of life.

According to many of the teachings found in Islam, essential elements of nature such as earth, fire, water, and light do not only belong to human beings, but to all living beings. It is for this very reason that scholars have argued that this is the perfect time for Muslim scholars to address such issues and revive the true Islamic teachings of environmentalism and sustainability. This is because in doing so, it can help bring forth practical solutions to the many environmental concerns we are facing today.

As mentioned previously in this article, Muslims must begin with the concept of guardianship. By Allah referring to us as caliphs/vicegerents in the Quran, it implies that whilst we can take advantage of what the earth has to offer, we do so in a manner that does not include overindulgence. But why is that important? The answer to this is simple; natural resources provided by Allah on this earth are not simply for one person but for others and future generations. By being guardians, every one of us has the sole responsibility to do what we can to preserve and maintain the natural elements of this earth so that they may be available for those coming after us. This idea of every one of us being guardians is by far one of the most important points to internalise when we think about environmentalism from the viewpoint of Islam. It’s rather simple. As scholars have pointed out, “Man is the entrusted guardian of nature and must coexist in harmony with all other creatures. Therefore, all humans must respect, care for, and preserve the environment.”

Juber Ahmed

Juber Ahmed is our Digital Editor and travel enthusiast with a keen interest in Islamic history and heritage. He travels with his wife to various places around the world and writes about his experiences.   Juber's favourite Quote... "The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page" [Saint Augustine]

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