Islam offers important lessons for environmental movement


The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga. The Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years, in a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

When I first heard of Obama’s most recent plan to combat climate change, I thought about the issue of the environment more broadly. Ninety-seven percent of scientists say climate change exists, and according to 18 scientific associations, humans are the prevailing cause for this change. Putting aside the inevitable political wrangling over such a plan, the environment is something that stands as a universal concern. The details of Obama’s plan may receive legitimate criticism, but cutting coal pollution is without a doubt a prudent course of action. Yet Congress and the American people are having difficulties coming together on this issue.

About 83 percent of Americans are affiliated with a religion, thus religion is a driving force for a majority of Americans. In addition, faith is the biggest authority on morality, and environmentalism is a moral issue. That is why religion can and should take leadership and provide political aid to environmentalism. It should boggle the mind of any conscientious person why environmentalists haven’t been able to team up with religious blocs, including Jews, Christians and Muslims. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can speak on Islam’s articulated and well-documented beliefs on protecting the environment. Recognizing Islam’s position on the environment will help redefine a widely misunderstood and misjudged religion so that Muslims and non-Muslims can work together on tackling environmental issues here at the University of Texas at Austin and abroad.  

To determine the ‘Islamic view’ on any certain issue one must reference Islamic jurisprudence, which is derived from two main sources. The first source is the fourth and the most holy of holy books, the Quran, and the second source is hadiths, or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). It is important to note that while the beliefs presented here are held by a majority of Islamic schools of thought, if not all, there are still varying interpretations, and if a conclusion has consensus it may be reached by different means. In fact, there are four schools of jurisprudence in the Sunni sect of Islam and also a separate Shia sect of Islam.  

In regard to the preservation and protection of the environment, Dr. Nasr Farid Wasil, the former Mufti of Egypt, or Sunni scholar and interpreter of jurisprudence, states that humans “must keep the universe as pure and magnificent as Allah [the Arabic word for God] has created it” because humans are the guardians of the world. One of the supporting pieces of evidence is Surah, or chapter, 16 verses 5-14 from the Quran, which talks about humans being entrusted with the world and its bounties. Nearly 1,400 years ago, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (peace and blessings be upon him), a divinely guided leader for Shiites and the father of the Sunni schools of thought, wrote extensively on the sciences. His writings warned that we should not pollute the environment, otherwise the planet would become uninhabitable. Surah 6 verse 141 supports Imam Jafar al-Sadiq’s (peace and blessings be upon him) scientific postulation with a stern warning to humanity not to be wasteful and harvest the land in consideration of its vitality.

In addition to the the Holy Quran and its teachers, Muslims look to the greatest teacher the Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Muslims find answers to many of life’s questions in hadiths. According to Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Sunni collections of hadiths, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said that “Muslims will always earn the reward of charity for planting a tree, sowing a crop and the birds, humans, and animals eat from it.”  

With this brief introduction of Islamic jurisprudence on environmentalism, it is important to know that there is real work being done by Muslims in today’s world. Although without the force of law, the Indonesian Ulama Council, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, made the unprecedented move recently of outlawing all activities resulting in wildlife extinction, and in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, called for “all-out endeavors to protect the environment in Iran, and urged a halt to the environmental damage caused by the new constructions,” according to the Tasnim News Agency, an Iranian government news agency. In addition, there are Muslim organizations that strive to protect and conserve the environment like the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences.

However, this is not nearly enough. Here in Austin and more broadly in America, the Muslim community is not as concerned with environmental issues. For example, in recent history, none of the Muslim organizations at the University of Texas at Austin have hosted or organized an event with the purpose of supporting environmentalism. This may be a problem shared by communities of other faiths; however, as a Muslim, it is important not only to educate but to act. As Muslims, it is important to realize that protecting the environment is a part of our faith as clearly demonstrated, and for non-Muslims, it is vital to see the Muslim community as partners in the advancement of our world and its shared goals. Religious organizations on campus working together can serve not only to build on Austin’s environmental accomplishments but also to build mutual understanding, working toward a political unity that promotes a moral voice on issues like environmentalism, so that cutting coal emissions is not all that we do to combat climate change.