The Case for Green Islam: The Ecology of Our Faith
We can’t afford to waste any more time; and we must move decisively in the direction of a green Islam!
December 2, 2021
In today’s globalised world — among several tangled, complexities — two facts are irrefutable:
1) We are facing a global emergency. Our scientists tell us that human-induced climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels has taken the human race and our fellow species into the sixth mass extinction event of life on Earth (Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal, 2019); and
2) Islam is the fastest-growing religion, counting today around 1.8 billion people. Therefore, a greater engagement within Muslim organizations focusing and addressing environmental issues will have relevant implications.
Moreover, several Muslim prominent scholars affirm that Islam is a “genetically environmentalist religion” or — to use an expression giving the title to Abdul Matin’s most important book — Islam is a Green Deen (Deen is an Arabic word for “religion”, “path”, “way of life”).
We can easily find confirmation of these statements reading the Holy Qu’ran:
It is He who has made you guardians on the Earth.”
In other words: God Almighty has created the Earth entrusting it to the care of human beings!
In verse 35:7-10 of the Holy Qu’ran, we read: “He raised the heaven and established the balance so that you would not overstep the balance.”
The concept of balance (Mizan in Arabic) is as crucial as the one of being guardians (Khalifa in Arabic) of the Earth.
The importance of a balanced relationship with the environment is also stressed in verse 161 of the sixth chapter of the Holy Qu’ran: “But waste not by excess, for Allah does not like those who commit excess”; while the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said in a narration: “Do not waste water even if you were at a running stream.”
From some other Hadiths emerges the care of the Prophet (peace be upon him) for the plants and the animals:
“Whoever reclaims and cultivates dry, barren land will be rewarded by God for the act. So long as men and animals benefit from it He will record it for him as almsgiving” [al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, VI, 39].
And: “The Most Merciful One is merciful towards those who are merciful. Act kindly to those on the earth so that those in the heavens [the angels] will be merciful to you” [Tirmidhi, Birr, 16].
We can easily affirm the direction shown by the Holy Qu’ran and by the exemplary model of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to humanity is adamant!
Muslims are strongly leaded to live in balance with nature: avoiding any excess that could damage the environment, being constantly mindful about its needs, and behaving as responsible guardians of our planet.
Coherently, we are witnessing an ecological awakening in the Islamic world and a large number of Muslim organizations are globally engaging and focusing on environmental issues: Green Muslims, Muslim Global Relief, Muslim Hands, Khaleafa, Wisdom in Nature, Green Prophet, The Eco-Muslim, and IFEES, only to mention some among the most known.
In 2015 a team of Muslim scholars and activists drafted the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. As Syed Hossain Nasr — the pioneer of Islamic environmentalism — noted: “The main value of the declaration will be to remind Muslims that nature is not just a machine; it has a spiritual meaning”.
Muslims, therefore, have the responsibility of developing a more meaningful and responsible attitude towards planet Earth and sustainable development.
Two Muslim scholars involved in the team which drafted the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change were Sidi Fazlun Khalid and Dr. Ibrahim Özdemir – who are also involved in the more recent project Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth.
This project presents an Islamic outlook of the environment in a bid to strengthen local, regional, and international actions that combat climate change and other threats to the planet. It is a global endeavor to engage Islamic scholars and Muslim institutions in the development and adoption of this call. Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth is about to be finalized and presented to the UN.
Alongside this initiative, in early 2020, the Muslim Council of Britain (the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim representative umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities, and schools) formed a Sustainability Team to explore ways of better promote environmental sustainability across the work of MCB and its members.
Indeed, in January 2020 MCB held a crucial panel discussion in order to provide guidance to mosques on how to move towards becoming a more eco-friendly venue, and general ways in which Muslim communities can become more eco-conscious.
During Ramadan 2020 (an unusual one because of the restrictions due to Covid 19), MCB’s Sustainability Team hosted 4 ‘online iftars’ every Thursday (23 April, 30 April, 7 May, 14 May 2020) to bring people together, while highlighting Islamic perspectives on sustainability along with practical ideas and experience repairing our relationship to the natural world.
The initiatives of MCB’s Sustainability Team are multiplying. Among its priorities we find:
- Organization of events, meetings, conferences on environmental issues.
- Participation in international crucial events like COP 26 (this event has just ended and MCB released its 6-Step Guide to Eco-Friendly Mosques).
Some of the points for their “Best Practices for an Eco-Friendly Mosque” include:
- Reduce wastewater during wudhu by flow restrictor taps
- Automatic lights off in low usage areas
- Optimise recycling protocols
- Encourage car-sharing, walking, cycling, and public transport
- Explore cost-benefit analysis of solar panels/heat recovery/rainwater systems
- Consider setting up electric car charging points
- Add water collection butts to recycle rainwater
- Prepare a list of priorities for mosques’ sustainability plan
In the UK, a good example of an Eco-Friendly Mosque is the Cambridge Central Mosque. Inaugurated on April 24th, 2019, it is the first mosque in Europe designed and built with the environment in mind. It can accommodate up to a thousand worshippers in its prayer room.
In addition to learning more about eco-friendly mosques, here are some best practices for an eco-conscious Ramadan, including:
- Adopt and implement a ‘no single-use plastics policy’ (According to some public data, 800-1000 plastic bottles a day are distributed during the Iftar in several mosques in the United Kingdom to quench the thirst of the participants)
- Introduce reusable cups and plates
- Add water coolers
- Provide attractive branded reusable mosque bottles
- Encourage congregation during khutbas, reminders before Isha to bring their own water bottles
- Keep Iftar’s meals simple, trying to avoid meat and to focus on local food
- Be mindful in waste management
Dr. Ibrahim Özdemir, Professor of Philosophy and the Founding President of Hasan Kalyoncu University in Turkey, author of The Ethical Dimension of Human Attitude Towards Nature, was involved in the drafting team of the Islamic Declaration for Global Climate Change and in the project Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth offered interesting tips during a recent interview posted on viverealtrimenti.com/en:
First, we need a sound and comprehensive strategy for the environment, climate change, sustainable development, population movements, and even the transfer of technologies. To do this we need transformation based on:
- Build ecological knowledge; to educate all citizens in the spirit of lifelong learning about the impact of human beings on eco-systems in short and long terms
- Start with teacher training regarding climate change and environmental problems
- Develop social networks; to cooperate how to protect the environment
- Provide vision and goals in a comprehensive framework
In addition, if we want our children to love nature, marine ecology, and coral reefs, we have to educate them from pre-school so that they will strive to protect them in the future.
Scandinavian countries reformed their classical educational system and developed a more nature-friendly system of education, which is not ideological but scientific. To do that, children must have time to play outside, communing with plants and relating to the heroic march of ants. Being in nature is just plain good for children and adults.
Then, we need educational programs that help our children understand how their individual choices affect God’s creation. Some of these can include:
- Activities include going on hikes
- Learning about the local watershed, national parks, coral reefs, and marine ecology
- Removing invasive species and creating artwork that explores different faith traditions
- Discover the impact and footprint of daily life on nature and other creatures
- Discover the ecological systems and cycles of life in nature
In conclusion: “Muslims must play an important role in addressing the climate crisis”, said the famous singer Cat Stevens who embraced Islam in the 1970s to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
After all, green is both the sacred colour of Islam and the symbol of sustainable living. We can’t afford to waste any more time; we must move decisively in the direction of a green Islam!