It is an honor that Allah, the Most High has created us and we are here on this earth. We have a great purpose to fulfill in this life and this is to worship Allah so that we may enter the eternal abode of Jannah. Allah has made us stewards of humanity, which means we are representatives of this earth. Allah has trusted us to take care of the environment. Our concern for the environment is also a test of what it means to be a good human being. Caring for the environment means we remove greed in our hearts to show concern for others and that is in line with our overall obligations to be good stewards for humanity. How we treat the environment reflects aspects of enjoining good and righting wrongs in social justice. Poor environmental practice has led to many problems. Poor environmental practice affects Muslims because we are breaking our promise to Allah to protect the earth. We must fight for environmental justice starting with ourselves then moving onto our communities. The spiritual and social importance of taking care of the environment comes from a sense of mercy. Being merciful is what connects us to creation and to the Creator.
It was a hot summer day during cross-country practice. As I run with my partner, Allison, I see another group of girls in front. One of the girl’s throws her Poland Springs plastic bottle towards a trash can, but it lands on the ground instead. “Close shot! You just missed.” She shrugs and starts running the opposite way, “It's whatever. It's the park’s problem now.”
As Allison runs to catch up to me, she slams her leg right onto a sharp rock. She tells me she is fine and can walk back to the nurse’s tent herself, but I insist on walking back with her.
On our way back we are compelled to stop and look at the boat launch pond. The sun shines magnificently on the clear blue water. In the middle of the pond we see the marsh grass bending with the wind. The great green trees create a little half circle around the pond, and in the distance the twin bridge emerges. I walk closer to the shore where a duck waddles past me. I am mesmerized by its sheen white feathers and emerald green head. SubhanAllah. Glory to Allah, how perfect and beautiful Allah Most High has created.
The perfection and order of the world is a direct proof of God's existence, for the natural laws and patterns of the universe all come from the One Source. What we see in Allah’s ayats is also a reflection of what we are intrinsically (Abdul - Matin, 8). When we stand in front of a great lake we are immersed in the amazement of the signs a lot has spread out before us. Our sense of awe and amazement is a sense that we are part of the amazing beauty of those signs (Abdul - Matin, 8).
At the time, picking up a plastic water bottle and helping my friend get to the nurse’s tent seemed like two very isolated situations. But as I reflect on what it means to be a good steward for humanity, helping my friend and caring for this park are both included in that description.
Allah tells the angels that he is putting a khalifa on earth. But the angels wonder, why would Allah put someone there who will create corruption? And Allah answers, “I know that which you do not know” (Quran, 2:30). Allah chose Adam to be a khalifa, a steward on earth where he is responsible for guarding the earth and everything in it. It is a great trust Allah has given to our Prophet Adam, and in turn us, because we are the progeny of Adam. In this verse, it is noteworthy that Allah tells the angels that He knows that which they do not know about His creation (Afraz Khan, Nightly Quran Recitation). This indicates that there is great purpose to our existence, we are among the representatives of God on earth. In thinking about our purpose, Allah sees a great potential within us as to what we are able to do in terms of good in this life (Afraz Khan, Nightly Quran Recitation). That is the test we are in - will we bring corruption on this earth or will we achieve the greatness that we have the potential to achieve because Allah has given it to us?
We must be good to those around us. My obligation as a steward for humanity means helping my injured friend as well as cleaning up the park because in both instances I am trying to live up to the great potential of being a source of good for all of creation.
Poor Environmental Practice on Muslims
“It’s not my problem, the park will take care of it.”
The girl at practice decided to throw the trash on the ground because it was convenient for her, even though it was harmful to the park. There is an attitude of just thinking about oneself at the moment, and not considering the consequences in the future and for others. This attitude problem results from the general failure of the nafs al ammara bisu (human ego that leads to sin) (Setia, 119). Treating the environment poorly is a direct cause of Muslims being selfish and not caring about the consequences of our actions.
The proper attitude of Muslims is highlighted in the Quran, “The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth” (Quran, 25:63). Through the lens of environmental justice, this also shows that walking humbly on earth or walking lightly is connected to not leaving a heavy carbon footprint. We should be mindful of how we use the earth’s resources for our benefit.
Energy from Hell
We are plagued with many environmental issues that impact our wellbeing and livelihood. In his book, Green Deen, Ibrahim Abdul Matin highlights how one of these issues is our insistence on energies from hell. Energy from hell is extracted from the earth and it is a major cause of pollution and climate change (Abdul - Matin, 77). It is nonrenewable since it takes away from the earth without giving back. It disturbs the balance of the universe, therefore a great injustice. Coal is one of the main sources of the electricity that powers many of our devices and appliances. The majority of coal mining is done by mountaintop removal in which coal companies blow up the tops of mountains to gain quick access to the coal. This method leads to the depletion of water resources and destruction of plant and animal communities. We should not treat our earth in such a destructive manner. It goes against our obligation to be stewards and protectors of the earth and all its creation.
How to Fight for Environmental Injustice
The Muslim community should fight for environmental justice in a step by step plan. As Rumi had said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” As my teacher Ustadha Amina Darwish reminded me, things like war are essentially anger magnified on a large scale, and if you heal the anger in people's hearts, you end the war. So really, environmental injustice is our ignorance of Allah’s signs - if we heal our hearts to be more loving towards Allah’s creations, we can fight environmental injustice.
The next step is to begin change with our families. We can refuse to consume items like clothing that are unethically produced. We can even call certain brands and companies out for their unethical practices on their social media platforms.
This then prepares us to initiate change in our communities - like our masjids, school, college, or workplace. Taking Abdul - Matin’s advice from his book, this Ramadan, Muslims can be proactive about eating locally-grown food and getting organic, grass-fed meat. For Eid we can travel together to a farm and slaughter our own meat. We have the power to make these decisions.
Our final step in fighting for environmental justice is to go to our representatives to lobby on behalf of environmental justice. Our governments ultimately have the power to create change on a larger scale. We must encourage them to move away from funding energy from hell, and instead encourage them to switch to the energy from heaven. Energy from heaven is not extracted from the earth, and it is renewable. While extraction causes imbalance, energy from above is like a gift from heaven. There is even a surah in the Quran named after the sun, Surah Ash - Shams. The sun has been our natural partner for growth and inspiration. It provides both light and heat and services a reminder that God is more powerful than anything that human beings can create. We can support organizations that use energy from heaven such as Photovoltaics Products Plus, which uses sunlight as energy. So, as President Biden’s earth day summit is scheduled for April 22nd this year, we must push for more renewable projects.
As stewards of humanity, we Muslims have a duty to bring goodness to those around us in the world. Allah deals with His creation with mercy, so we must also be merciful. Fighting for environmental justice is part of our role as stewards of humanity and in line with social justice. With all the different environmental issues we face, it is important to remember to have a mind and soul full of mercy when trying to initiate change. There are many more environmental problems we face and potential solutions we could implement. However, we must start where we can and with the guidance and mercy of Allah we will see our efforts make a difference.