Muslim World

What Does the Quran Say about Protecting the Environment?

What Does the Quran Say about Protecting the Environment?

Although it really shouldn’t be, climate change has become one of the most politically and socially contentious subjects of the past decades. Despite ample evidence pointing to its legitimacy, countless people deny it is a threat, with some even brushing off its existence entirely. We have even seen politicians – people who are supposed to devote their lives to the betterment of the planet and its inhabitants – labeling climate change a “hoax.” This is often done in an attempt to justify business mergers and deals that require ignoring negative environmental impact.

Make no mistake about it, climate change is a very real threat, one which the majority of humanity is only waking up to. However, the danger of global warming has been discussed as far back as 1500 years ago. Our devoted Muslim readers will not be surprised to learn that some of the earliest mentions of climate change and the importance of protecting the environment can be found in the Quran. We will be discussing the Quran’s most noteworthy references to climate change and our duty to prevent it in this article.

Ozone Depletion

One of the most commonly cited examples of the Quran discussing man’s potential to negatively impact the planet reads:

“And We made the sky a protected ceiling, but they, from its signs, are turning away.” Quran, 21:32

For the eco-minded Muslim – or even anybody who considers themselves a friend to the environment – this can be seen as a prediction of humanity’s damage to the atmosphere. We know that the ozone layer is crucial to the survival of not just the human race, but of all life on this planet. It acts as a barrier between our atmosphere and the harmful ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun. Without it, the DNA of all life on Earth would be warped beyond recognition. Plants would die, leaving us with no food. This would be swiftly followed by the deaths of almost all animals, most likely starting with the herbivores and quickly followed by the carnivores who feast on them. Human beings would not be far behind, with starvation wiping out much of our species. Those of us who manage to survive long enough would likely succumb to skin cancer as a result of the unobstructed rays of the sun beaming down upon the Earth.

With the above in mind, it is no major jump to say that the ozone layer is the “protected ceiling” referenced in the aforementioned Quran verse. When we look at the damage we have caused to the ozone layer, especially in the past 100 to 200 years, it is similarly reasonable to say that mankind is “turning away” from it. Thankfully, it seems that the human race has finally started to heed the warnings of the Quran, whether we realize it or not. Be it out of a sense of religious obligation or merely a desire to create a better world for future generations, mankind has been making a concentrated effort to repair the damage caused to the ozone layer. Over the past 30 years, more than 98% of ozone-damaging substances have been eradicated from use. This has caused the hole to shrink to its lowest size since the late 1980s. Interestingly, it was around this time that Islam finally started to firmly establish itself in the Western world. 

Water Conservation 

Over the past couple of years, the importance of conserving water has been somewhat overlooked in favor of other, more seemingly appealing environmental practices. However, water conservation remains a foundationally important issue. It may, in fact, be an eternal issue. This may be why we find a number of passages in the Quran detailing the importance of not being wasteful when it comes to water. In Surah Al-A’raf (The Heights), one can expect to find the following verse:

“O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not wasteful. Verily He does not love the wasters.” Quran, 7:31

In the above passage, the word “wasters” is generally taken to mean people who eat or drink to excess, or who are wasteful with their food and water. But why exactly is the Quran concerned with enjoying water in moderation and not being frivolous with one’s water supply? Some say the answer to that question can be found in another additional verse of the Quran, which reads:

“And We sent down from the sky water in measure, and We give it lodging in the earth, and lo! We are able to withdraw it.”Quran, 23:18

The verse immediately following Quran, 23:18 goes on to say:

“Then We produce for you therewith gardens of date-palms and grapes, wherein is much fruit for you and whereof you eat.”Quran, 23:19

When looked at separately, both of the above passages paint a clear picture of the importance of water conservation. When taken as a whole, however, they give us a robust and comprehensive understanding of why Allah encourages reasonable use of water. Muslims believe that not only is water sent down from the heavens by order of Allah, but it is sent down for the sole purpose of sustaining life on Earth. As detailed in the last verse just mentioned, the water we receive is intended to facilitate the growth of fruit and vegetables, providing nourishment for mankind and animals alike. When water is used carelessly or unreasonably, there is less to go around. This means the plants and animals who rely on it for life may have to go without it. The human being then must consider, did they squander their supply of water on washing their car or left the tap running while they brushed their teeth, and therefore, other innocent living creatures were deprived of sustenance? The Prophet said: “ Do not waste water even if you were at a running stream” (Ibn Majah: 425) The very profound lesson in this being that the adab of the Muslim is to never be wasteful, even if something is plentiful.

The Quran’s teachings as well as the sunnah on water conservation complement contemporary secular knowledge of the subject. For example, we now know that although 70% of the Earth is made up of water, much of that water is undrinkable or otherwise unusable. In fact, only 0.03% of accessible water is freshwater. This is a staggeringly low number and goes to prove our earlier point that water conservation is still very much an issue we should be concerned about. By being mindful of the Quran’s passages on the importance of conserving water, and by following some modern tips on how to do so, Muslims and non-Muslims alike can ensure a continued supply of freshwater for future generations. 

Save The Trees 

The chances are you’re familiar with the old comedic trope of a “hippy” tying themselves to a tree in order to prevent some land developer from tearing it down. While such situations are undeniably ripe for satire, these so-called “tree huggers” are performing a deed commended by the Quran, though they may not be aware of it. In the Quran, Allah talks at length about the extreme care that was put into crafting the plants and trees that play such a crucial role in our environment and survival. One example of this can be found in Surah Al-An’am (The Cattle). In this surah, Allah declares the following:

“He it is Who sends down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind; We bring forth the green blade from which We bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches; and (We bring forth) gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Look upon the fruit thereof, when they bear fruit, and upon its ripening. Lo! herein verily are portents for a people who believe.” Quran, 6:100

While it is certainly one of the longer verses of the Quran, it provides valuable insight into some of the primary purposes of trees and plants. Once they have been brought forth by the rain – another example of the importance of water – our trees and plants produce a great many types of fruit and vegetables to ensure the survival of all the creatures of the Earth. And they are a delight to the senses. Allah makes mention of pollen, which ensures the survival of bees. Although presumably not known at the time the Quran was revealed, bees play a crucial role in our delicate ecosystem. Without them, we would see a drastic decrease in the number of seeds maturing into plants. We would also see the decline – and eventual extinction – of the many animals who rely on bees as prey.This would trigger a reaction throughout the food chain which would culminate in the destruction of the human race. In some parts of the world this has already happened. The results have been devastating to crop production. With this in mind, we can easily understand why Allah placed trees and vegetation upon the Earth and why we, as the planet’s dominant species, have an obligation to care for it.

Accept Responsibility 

As mentioned at the end of the previous section, as the dominant species on the planet, human beings have an obligation to maintain it and ensure all life on Earth continues to thrive. But more importantly, we were charged with this responsibility even before we were created, for Allah says in the Quran that before creating man, He told the angels: “I am placing upon the earth a human successor to steward it.” (Baqarah: 30). For some reason, this is an idea many people have trouble with. From big-game hunters to billionaires in the oil industry, a worrying number of human beings seem to be operating with a “them versus us” mentality. They justify causing damage to the Earth and other creatures on it by telling themselves and anybody who will listen that in order to sustain life, they must continue with business practices and “economic growth” that the planet can easily recover. But harming the planet has led to a chain reaction of harmful effects, such as ozone depletion and global warming. On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who do not consciously harm the environment, but by being heedless, they continue to waste water, heavily use and dispose of plastic, and purchase cosmetics from companies which test on animals, along with any number of other subtly damaging habits. The large distance between such people and the consequences of their decisions allows them to ignore the negative impact their actions are having on the planet. However, the Quran clearly states that everybody, regardless of their intentions, must accept responsibility for any damage they cause to the environment, however small. This is evident in Surah Ar-Rum (The Romans). The forty-first verse of the surah reads as follows:

“Corruption does appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return.”Quran, 30:41

Given the name of the thirtieth surah, many are quick to brush the above passage off as an admonition  to the Romans and the many misdeeds which they committed during their time as the world’s premier civilization. But the Quran is always layered in its meaning. This is a warning and a condemnation to the human race as a whole. Our hands have caused damage to virtually every other living thing on Earth for the pleasure of a few and, in some particularly depraved cases, entertainment. Of course, as the above passage points out, our actions have consequences. Through things such as ozone depletion and smog we have been forced to “taste a part of that which we have done.” Thankfully, these repercussions have left us with little option but to acknowledge the error of our ways and accept responsibility for our actions. Over the past couple of decades, we have recognized and embraced our obligation to care for the planet through movements such as the United Nations and the Paris Agreement. These, along with countless other climate change initiatives introduced in recent decades, have allowed us to right the wrongs we have committed as a species “in order that we may return.”