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Green Wisdom from the Sunnah

By Najma Mohamed

For over four decades, the global environmental movement has actively worked towards raising awareness of ecological ills. Yet it has, for the most part, failed to move people towards greater environmental concern and action. Disparate voices are now identifying the need to tap into the wellspring of belief and action – the language of faith.



Amid the worsening state of the health of our planet, scholars are beginning to acknowledge that the environmental crisis is in fact a human crisis. Some even call it a spiritual crisis. As millions continue to live in abject poverty, barely able to meet their basic material needs for food, shelter and security, approximately 20% of the world population living in high income countries consume close to 80% of the earth’s resources (EarthTrends). Yet ever-increasing consumption has not necessarily improved contentment, au contraire. Worldwide, it is being recognised that the standards by which we gauge happiness, prosperity and fulfilment need to change.



Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as all the prophets who preceded him, sought to right human relationships, with our Creator and all of creation. The message which he brought has the ingredients to establish harmony between people, instill love and respect for nature, and extend compassion to all. His words and actions demonstrate moderation, simplicity and kindness. It is a message that the world is in dire need of.



In terms of the human interaction with nature, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) exemplified the importance of caring for creation as an act which can earn reward or gain punishment. He related to his companions the incident in which a woman would be admitted to Hellfire because of her ill treatment of a cat by refusing to feed it or to set it free to find food itself (Bukhari). Compare this to another narration of a traveller who earned the reward of having all his sins forgiven through the act of giving water to a thirsty dog (Bukhari). Muhammad (SAW) exhorted kindness and compassion to animals, cautioning against over-burdening, cursing or ill-treating them. He encouraged tree-planting well before it became fashionable. Through the establishment of the territories of Makkah and Madinah as inviolable sanctuaries (haramaan); the declaration of protective zones (harâm) around public areas such as water courses and roads; and the proclamation of him or reserves, the Prophet (SAW) confirmed the importance of protecting and conserving land and water resources.



The Prophet (SAW) is an example for all humanity and a mercy upon the universe (Chapter 33:21). The environmental question is one of the biggest challenges today, yet it is a crisis rooted in human greed, unbridled consumption and the misapplication of technology. It therefore requires more than superficial changes. It obliges us to seriously question the absence of justice, compassion and respect, in our relationships with both the human and non-human world. Let us walk in the footsteps of Muhammad r, whose ecological footprint truly exemplified the Qur’anic dictum of ‘treading lightly on the earth’ (Chapter 25:63).





Love for creation  
From his upbringing in the desert environment of Arabia, his shepherding during his youth, and his years of contemplation in the mountains of Makkah, the Prophet (SAW) displayed a deep love for the natural world. He (SAW), recognised that creation, aside from being of service to humankind and all living beings, were also signs of the Most-High, worshipping and glorifying Him. In a famous tradition, the Prophet (SAW) is reported to have said, concerning Mount Uhud in Madinah, “Uhud is a mountain which loves us and we love it” (Bukhari). This love for the aayat (signs) of Allah and gratitude for His Bounties need to be reflected in the manner in which humans interact with the rest of creation and the way in which we discharge the responsibility of khilifah or stewardship.




Abu Sa’id Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger said: “The world is sweet and green and verily Allah is going to install you as vicegerent in it in order to see how you act.” (Muslim)



The gift of khilifah is a test of humankind’s obedience to the laws of Allah. True stewards are just, moderate, content and grateful for the gifts which have been bestowed upon them. They recognise that they will be accountable for all the goods in their care. They know that khilifah is not about dominion, mastery or control over any part of creation, but is centred on responsible trusteeship in accordance with the purpose, wishes and expectations of its Bestower, Allah. The Prophet (SAW) is the exemplar of true stewardship.



Mercy to all  
Muhammad’s (SAW) compassion did not only extend to the weak and oppressed in society, but included all creation. In the following narration by Abdullah bin Mas’ud, pay careful attention to the beautiful words which show his understanding of the fear of a bird for her chicks:

We were on a journey with God’s Messenger when we came across a bird the size of a sparrow with two chicks. We seized the chicks, whereupon the bird started beating its wings and screeching. God’s Messenger turned and when he saw what we had done, asked: “Who separated those children from their mother? Return them at once!” So we let them free. (Abu Dawud)


Simple living  
Incidents describing the Prophet’s (SAW) manner of eating, drinking, sleeping and daily activities speak volumes about the simple lifestyle which he led. It was not a life of luxury, comfort or needless consumerism, but one of in which even his basic material needs were at times not met. Days would go by without food. Nights were spent sleeping on the floor. No guest would be turned away. Time was well-spent with family, community, and children. Even when the early Muslim community started increasing in wealth, he (SAW), lived in the same way – eating and sleeping on the floor, mending his own clothes, and tending his animals. SubhanAllah!



Protection and conservation of natural resources  
His prohibition of wastefulness, evident in his daily life, extended to matters of worship. Once, the Prophet (SAW) passed by his companion Sa’ad who was performing ablution and said,   “What is this wastage, O Sa’ad?”  “Is there wastage even in washing for prayer”? asked Sa’ad.  “Yes, even if you are by a flowing river!” (Imam Ahmad)



Many scholars commenting on this hadith note the importance of taking care not to waste water or to be excessive in matters of ablution, washing body parts more than three times for example. If we consider that the Prophet (SAW) prohibited wastefulness even in a situation of abundance, what would he r say about the way in which many natural resources are being over-used and polluted today, harming living beings and violating the rights of present and coming generations to a safe and healthy environment?




We need to implement the beautiful teachings of his Sunnah which embody care for all creation, resist the tide of rampant consumerism, and always remember his words that “True wealth does not lie in possessions but in the richness of the soul” (Bukhari and Muslim).



Najma Mohamed is an environmental researcher and writer based in Cape Town,South Africa. She is currently enrolled for her PhD in Islam and Environmental Education.




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