/* Written 12:22 PM  Feb  9, 1993 by f1deravi in igc:gen.islam */
/* ---------- "Sharia and Environment" ---------- */
From: University College of Swansea 
Subject: Sharia and Environment

                         SHARI`A AND ENVIRONMENT

Poster's Note:

The following article by Dr Mawil Izzi Dien was kindly given to me by him as
a file in word processor's format for uploading to the Datasphere. However,
during conversion to ASCII, textual emphasis and some other detail was
inevitably lost. Other errors may also have crept in during textual
transformations. For a more accurate copy you should contact the author.


                         Shari`a and Environment

One of the meanings of the word Islam is peace, while the heaven that
is promised for those who do good is called Dar al- salam (the
residence of peace) [1].  It is ironic, in these times, to remember that
Baghdad was once known as Madinat al-salam (the city of peace).  Now
with smoke of war still rising, and the devastation of the environment
still causing great anxiety, I think it is very relevant to talk about
the Islamic legal stand towards the environment.

In Islam the relationship between humankind and the environment is part
of the social existence, an existence based on the fact that everything
on earth worships the same God.  This worship is not merely ritual
practice, since rituals are simply the symbolic human manifestation of
submission to God.  The actual devotions are actions, which can be
practised by all the creatures of earth sharing the planet with the
human race.  Moreover humans are responsible for the welfare and
sustenance of the other citizens of this global environment.  The Holy
Quran contains many verses that can be referred to for guidance in this
respect. The following verse, verse 21 of the second chapter, is an
invocation, a plea to man to choose the right society, the correct
society, which originated with Allah when mankind was created:

"O people!  Worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before
you, so that ye may ward off (evil):"

The word in this verse which is translated as "may ward off evil" is in
Arabic tatuqun.  It also implies becoming pious and becoming God-aware.
In this verse Allah begins to speak directly to all groups of people,
whether believers, or non-believers.  He attempts to activate them, to
awaken them to the realization of the importance of worshipping Allah.
Whenever the words "O mankind" occur in Arabic it attracts the
attention of the listener to the remainder of the verse.  In this way
it alerts the listener and reminds him to pay special attention.

Note that Allah says - "O people" - not "O believers", or "O

"O people! Worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before
you, so that you may ward off (evil):

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.  And do not set up rivals to Allah when ye know

In these verses there are several statements which are directed to all
humankind, they describe our surroundings as an inter-active
environment in the following way.

1- They call upon humankind to worship God

2- Reiterate that all beings were created by one Creator

3- Remind us that the Earth has been put at our disposal as a place of
peace and a bed upon which to rest

4- That the sky is a canopy or roof for the Earth

5- That water is caused to fall as part of the whole system

6- And finally that fruit and a livelihood is provided

Human Appointment

Water is the basis of all life on our planet and a reminder of this
serves to emphasise the oneness of creation.  The whole of heaven and
earth is a single system united under Allah (subhana wa ta`alla).  This
system has been placed under human responsibility, to be cared for and
not misused as we can conclude by returning to verse 22 of Surat
al-Baqara.  The word lakum (for you) in the phrase "created for you"
contains the message that the Earth is not for one generation but for
every generation, past, present and future.  Furthermore it is quite
obvious that Allah created the human race for a great reason, namely
that they might act as viceroy upon the Earth.  They are masters,
governing this vast domain.  Their role on earth and in all that
happens therein is of prime importance.  Their mastery of the earth is
for its betterment and development and not for evil or misuse.  Humans
are responsible before their Creator for all their actions but
particularly the actions that their viceregency requires.  The Quran
states specifically that this responsibility will be checked by God
himself to see how it has been performed [2]. The creation of humankind
and supplying them with the necessary knowledge was preparation for
their major task.  This task is one of supervising the system of
submission to God, and ensuring that it is applied.  It is a system
that cherishes all aspects of life and he who violates this system will
be punished as a result [3].

The Quranic commentator, Ibn Kathir, tells us that verse 30 of sura 2
is a reminder to humankind of how God described them to the inhabitants
of heaven before they were created:

"And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a
viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt Thou place therein one who will
do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and
sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not."

Why a Human Viceregent?

The human is the only creature with the special qualities that enable
him to serve the earth, one of these qualities being knowledge:

The next verse, verse 31, describes how and why mankind was given the
ability to know the names of creation, which is an important symbol of
knowledge, unique to the human race from among all other creatures
including the angels:

"And He taught Adam all the names, saying : Inform me of the names of
these if ye are truthful."

The ability to name that which they see around them is of great value
to human beings.  Without this ability, life becomes a great mystery
and all matters can easily become a bewildering and confusing
conundrum.  A mountain can be identified only if a coding word is
available, without this special word it can be a hill or even a valley.
The angels which are another kind of creature were asked to do the same
as Adam.  Their answer was:

"Be glorified!  We have no knowledge saving that which Thou hast taught
us.  Lo!  Thou, only Thou, art the Knower, the Wise." [4]

God's response was to demonstrate to the angels the powers that we
humans were given by Him, and indeed it is a demonstration to us as

"He said: O Adam!  Inform them of their names, and when he had informed
them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secret
of the heavens and the earth?  And I know that which ye disclose and
that which ye hide." [5]

After Adam had displayed the knowledge which Allah had granted him, the
angels were ordered to prostrate themselves before him.  This they did.
The prostration of the angels to Adam illustrates the dignity which
mankind possesses, even though he corrupts the earth and sheds blood.
Humankind was granted a position above the angels, they were given the
secret of knowledge and an independent will which permits them to
choose their own way.  The duality of human nature - the ability to
pave their own way together with the duty of viceregency are the
reasons for their dignity.

This ability of humankind which is unique to them puts the surrounding
creation in a very difficult position if humans did not do what is
right for them.  Having placed the human race on earth and given them
the duty of operating the life support system Allah decided that these
fantastic creatures needed a manual to operate the system properly or
at least to operate that part of the complex cosmic system relevant to
them.  They were given the different instructions that evolved
according to their need.  The Islamic law or Shari'a was the latest
updated manual to be given to humans.  The word Shari'a itself means,
in Arabic, the source of water from which you can drink without the
need for an implement" [6].  While water is considered as the source of
life, the Shari'a is concerned not only with life because it is, for
Muslims, the source for knowledge about life, death and the Hereafter
[7].  We human beings can be looked upon as passengers travelling between
two towns with the Shari'a as the map that we should refer to for the
shortest route between the two.

Actions in Islamic Law

The concept of action in Islamic law worth considering since it
identifies the difference between what we are allowed to do and what we
are not allowed to do.  Humans actions according to Shari'a or Islamic
law are divided into the following categories:

1 Obligatory actions Wajib

2 Devotional and ethical actions Mandub

3 Permissible actions Mubah

4 Abominable actions Makruh

5 Forbidden actions Haram

Elements of the environment and Islamic law

The conservation of the environment from an Islamic legal viewpoint can
be seen as follows.  I have used water as an example throughout:

It is a duty (wajib) upon the Muslim to clean himself with water before
prayer and it is a devotional (mandub) action for a Muslim to have a
bath before going to pray the congregational prayer on a Friday.  Using
water in the daily needs is normally permissible (mubah) but if the
normal circumstances change and there is a scarcity of water then to
use water can become abominable (makruh) or even prohibited (haram).

According to the tradition of the prophet of Islam, a Muslim is ordered
to be economical with water (as with all other elements and resources
of life) even if he is taking his water from a fast flowing river.  The
prophet said to someone who was using excessive amounts of water to
make ablution (wudu) "do not waste (water)".  The prophet was then
asked whether there is wastage if water was used for the purpose of
wudu?  He replied, "in anything there can be waste" [8].  The word
"anything", in this hadith, discloses an important point for the
environmental education of Muslims.  They must strive not to waste
anything, but especially not the vital elements of life that have been

The prophet is reported to have said "people are partners in water,
pasture land vegetation and fire" [9].  This partnership indicates
permission in using all these elements of life, and if someone does not
respect the implicit partnership then he might lose his rights.  This
form a good legal basis for future legislation in Muslim countries.
The elements of life need not be restricted to these three factors but
can be extended to all similar elements including air, food and
essential resources.

A theory of the sustainable utilization of the ecosystem may be deduced
from Islam's assertion that life is maintained with due balance in
everything: "Allah knoweth that which every female beareth and that
which the wombs absorb and that which they grow.  And everything with
Him is measured". [10]

Islam also acknowledges that humans are not the only creatures worthy
of protection.  All that God has created are "nations" similar to that
of the humans [11].  Muhammad is reported to have said "all creatures are
God's dependants and the most beloved to God, among them, is he who
does good to God's dependants. [12]

It is interesting to note that early Muslim lawyers spoke about the
legal rights of animals and living creatures which humans should
respect.  They did not speak about these rights as an optional action,
which could be done or not done but as rights that should be protected
by law.  Al-`Izz bin `Abd al-Salam (died 660 A.H.) stated the

"The right of animals and other creatures upon man are as follows:

- He should spend on it (time, money or effort) even if it is aged or
diseased such that no benefit is expected from it.  His spending should
be equal to that on a similar animal useful to him.

- Nor should he overburden it.

- Nor should he place with it whatsoever may cause it harm, be it of
the same kind or of other species.

- He should slaughter them properly and considerately, he should not
cut their skin or bones until their bodies have become cold and their
life passed away.

- He should not slaughter their young within their sight.

- He should give them different resting shelters and watering places
which should all be cleaned regularly.

- He should put the male and female in the same place during their
mating season.

- He should not hunt a wild animal with a tool that breaks bones,
rendering it unlawful for eating.

Human-Earth relationship

The word earth 'ard in Arabic is the noun given to both the planet and
the soil.  This word is referred to many times both in the Holy Quran
and in the traditions of Muhammad P.B.U.H., with the Quran mentioning
the earth the total of 485 times.  The earth is the source from which
humankind is made and the place where they end their final journey:
"from the earth did We create you and into it shall We return you and
from it shall we bring you out once again" [13].  The words used to
describe the Earth in the Quran are numerous, showing its value and how
it should be treated as our own and only refuge.  Sometimes the Quran
referred to it by using the same word used for the cradle - mahd [14].
On other occasions it is described as a living place - mustaqrr [15], or
a place for settling - qarar [16].  It is also said that those who
corrupt it or corrupt its contents will have an awful doom [17] and that
the Earth belongs only to God: "to him belongs what is in the heavens
and on the earth and all between them and all beneath the soil" [18].
Humans are but the managers and administrators and the Quran warns that
fasad or corruptions will be prevalent on earth due to human
disobedience of God:  "corruption has appeared on land and sea because
of (the meed) that the hands of people have earned, that God may give
them a taste of some of their deeds in order that they may turn back
from evil" [19].  This disobedience will lead,  according to the Quran
interpreters, to the following: "Tribulations, catastrophes both on
land and sea.  The meaning of fasad is, according to Baydawi, dryness
of the land, many fires, many drowned and a reduction in the blessings
of God.  While Ibn Kathir states that fasad will result in lower crops
in both food plants and fruits" [20].

Islam as an Environmental Catalyst

It has been shown over the last 10 years that campaigning for the
conservation of the environment within the Islamic faith is productive.
The Muslim masses are very willing to listen and sympathetic once
someone has explained to them the value Islam places on the
environment.  One interesting aspect of the Islamic faith that can be
especially effective to the Muslim lay-person is the relationship
between the environment and the various regular rituals that might be
practised.  Prayer, for instance, is timed according to the Earth's
planetary movements and water is an essential element used to prepare
the believer both physically and spiritually.  Haj or pilgrimage is
timed according to the seasons, and during it animals and vegetation
are given sanctuary.  Indeed if a pilgrim kills any living creature or
cuts down any kind of tree he risks nullifying his pilgrimage.  Fasting
is timed according to the sighting of the moon and is performed in
conjunction with dawn and sunset.  While Islam is an intensively
monotheistic religion and undoubtedly rejects animism, all these
natural phenomena and elements of life are environmental factors that
Islam utilises and maintains. Although the system was Divinely inspired
it can easily be disturbed if environmental devastation takes place.

I should like to conclude my paper by stating that Islam like any major
religion is a two edged blade.  It can be exploited in the wrong way if
misconceived, manipulated or used to affect the masses incorrectly.
Alternatively if the true sublime and shining image is employed,
nothing, I believe, will result but goodness and happiness to mankind.

Dr. Mawil Izzi Dien (Samarrai)
Lecturer in Islamic Studies
St. David's University College - Lampeter
University of Wales
SA48 7ED

Email: izzidien@uk.ac.lampeter


2.Quran, 10:14
3.Quran, 35:39
4.Quran, 2:32
5.Quran, 2:33
6.A. Anis, Al- Wasit (Cairo 1973), 1:479
7.Zaydan, Al - Madkhal (Baghdad 1967) ,44
8.Burhanfuri, Kanz al-`Ummal ,9:327
9.Narrated by Abu Daud.See Islamic Principles for the conservation of
  the Environment ,9
10.M.Izzi Dien's Article In Ethics of Environment and Development,
  edited by: J.R & J.G Engel (U.K 1990) ,194
12.Ajluni,Kashf al Khafa' (Damascus- 1983),1:457
16.Quran, 40:64
20.Sabuni,Safwat al Tafasir ( Beirut- 1980), 2:481



1- The Holy Quran ;text Translation of Meaning , A.Y Ali
2- Al- Mujam al- Wasit , A.Anis  an others (Cairo 1973)
3- Al - Madkhal li dirasat al- Shari`a , A.Zaydan (Baghdad 1967)
4- Kanz al-`Ummal ,Burhanfuri (Beirut 1985)
5- Islamic Principles for the conservation of the Environment ,Bakadir,
   Izzidien, Sabbagh,and Jlenid (IUCN 1983 Gland ,Switzerland)
5- Ethics of Environment and Development,edited by: J.R & J.G Engel
   (U.K 1990)
6-Kashf al Khafa' Wa muzil al Ilbas ,Ismail al-`jluni(Damascus- 1983)
7-Safwat al Tafasir,M.Ali al- Sabuni,( Beirut- 1980), 2:481.