Concept of Environment in the Quran

by Mohammad Jamil Qalander

Research paper presented at International Conference of Science in Islamic Polity, it’s past, present, and Future November 1983

The environment is a system of systems all complexly _____ interlocked together, which influences the made of growth and development of organisms depending thereon. Ecology (eco- = house, dwelling) is the study of organisms in relation to one another and to their environment. The environment can be gradually categorized into two types: (1) natural, and (2) man-made.

The natural environment is a process-oriented system with its infinite subsystems: nebulae, galaxies, milky-way, solar systems, stars, planets, solar radiation, lunar light, atmosphere, winds, cloud, rain, hail, electricity, thunder, the earth, geo-strata = mountains, hills, oceans, rivers, vegetables, animals, atoms, particles, molecules, protoplasm, cells, tissues, etc. ____ phenomena mostly mentioned in the Quran. All these environmental subsystems are complexly interlocked so as to form a grand cosmic system governed by cosmic ecological balance referred to in the Quran as “al-Mizan” concerning which the Quran says: “and he has raised the heaven, and has set the balance (therein) so that you exceed not the balance. Establish to the lost balance proportionally in (human society) don’t lose came balance (55:7-9) in other words cosmic balance should initial sociology equilibrium, and, hence, ecological balance. That the cosmic balance has been set up so that it should not exceed or lost has been illustrated in the Quran Surah, by the fact that the two (fluid) masses of litter and sweet water move, concurrently one upon the other in such a way that they meet each other, without encroaching one upon each the other, overpassing the ‘natural barrier’ set between the two. This natural barrier is one of the Divine Limits which natural phenomena are programmed not to cross. water and life are basically interrelated, as the former is the medium and building base of the latter. The Quran asserts this truth in its three universal propositions:

  • وکان عرشہ علی الماء (his building activity rests on water.) (11:7)
  • وجعلنا من الماء کل شيء حي (we made every living thing of water.) (21:30)
  • واللہ خلق کل دابۃ من ماء (and Allah has created every animal of water (24:45)

Being subject to environmental influences water is usually found in three states: fluid, gas, and ice. Moreover, water in the atmospheric region is different in point of density from water in the terrestrial regions (e.g., oceans) in point of density.

It’s through the natural process of filtration, in the form of evaporation, that oceanic water returns as rainwater, pure and purifying. In the words of the Quran: و انزلنا من السماء ماء طہورا (we send down from above rainwater, pure and purifying) (25:48).

This filtered rain water fecundates the soil which, consequently, gives birth to green botanical offspring, as the Quran says very beautifully.وما انزلنا من المعصرات ماء ثجاجا لنخرج بہ حبا و نباتا ۔ و جنات الفافا  (we sent down from the filtered clouds water in torrents to produce thereby grain and plant, and gardens of thick foliage (78:14-16)

It’s in cooperation with other natural factors such as heart, light, etc., that the birth of this green botanical panorama is caused by rainwater. The Quran says to this effect: والشمس واقمر بحسبان ۔ والنجم والشجر یسجدان ۔ (the sun and the moon obey prescribed calendar of motion with the result that plants and trees sprout nodding by (55:5-6). Water, plants, and trees are the often-repeated favorite themes of the Quran. Since they stand vital relation to animal and human life tree in the Quran symbolizes ‘eternity and never decaying honor ship’ as well as the medium of life, light, heat, and inspiration. Even the attributes of sacredness blessedness and holiness are attributed to some trees, e.g., the olive and the fig by rich God swears.

The importance which Islam attaches to forests and trees can be assets from the fact that the prophet regards Damascus-the land of trees and forests as one of the gardens of paradise, and the Euphrates and the Tigris ___ the reservoirs of running water ____ as to reverse amongst the rivers of paradise. This glorification of trees/forests and water in tail the idea of conservation forests. The Quran is sensitive to the cutting of trees, which is sectioned only under an abnormal condition in other words, it is only after Allah sanction that a tree can be cut, otherwise not. It is to this effects that the Quran says: وما قطعتم من لیۃ آؤ ترکتموھا قائمۃ اصولہا فبــاذن اللہ (what’s ever palm-trees you cut down or left standing on their roots, it was by Allah sanction (59:5). It is in this way that the Quran ventilates the guilt feelings of sun believers about their hair cutting down of palm trees on the occasion of the siege of the Jews of Nadhir. Again, it is fruits/flowers baden trees with reverse flowing underneath them that figure conspicuously in the Quran rescued picturesque portrayal of Al-Janna which its counter posses with fire ____ the very negation of every green beauty of bios fair. The conservation of trees and forests is not an end, it is rather a means toward the conservation of life (both wild and human). The Quran regards the killing of a single-breath soul as the killing of entire humanity and the saving of a single soul as the saving of the total human raise (5:32). It condemns those who deliver flowery speeches on the present life, but, when rising to power, destroy life and agriculture__ the mainspring of biological sustenance ___ to in disturbance ecological balance, which the Quran terms as fasad not permitted by Allah to thrive. The Quran says: “And of mankind, there is he whose conversation on the present life would release you, and he would call Allah to witness as to that which is in his heart, yet he is the most rigid of opponents. And when he rises to power, his effort in the land would be to create disturbance therein and to destroy crops and life. Allah does not approve of (Ecological) disturbance (2:204-205). These verses define the fasad as an activity of destroying agriculture and biocultural. Birds which are the flying beauty of Biosphere are not to be touched for fun sake, since the prophet says: “A sparrow killed just for fun sake would on the day of judgment complain (to God) against the person who did so just for fun sake and not for any particular gain” (1)

The Quran does not content with merely nearly bidding not to destroy wildlife; it rather goes to Extend of having a well fair attitude toward it. Hence, it says that the earth is primarily meant for all leaving creatorsوالارض وضعہا للانام drives and controlled by the Allah وما من دابۃ الا ھو آخذ بنا صیتہا and wherein they are ensured to have their feed (وما من دآبۃ فی الآرض علا علی اللہ رزقہا). These Quranic precepts Employ not only peace full co-existence with all biological species, but also their management toward their welfare. The Quran further goes to suggest comity of biological species, about which its declaration echoes: وما من دابۃ فی الآرض ولا طائر یطیر بجناحیہ.

There is not any animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings but they are communities like you (5:38). This comity of biological species is illustrated in the Quran by the allegorical story of Prophet Suleman who was considerate about the population of ants, knew the language of birds/fast running steeds, listened to the message of the hoopoe, by the story of prophet David who used to join birds and mountains in singings the songs of the divine love and beauty, by the story of the people of the cave who were accompanied by their dog’ stretching out his paws on the threshold’; and by the story of prophet Saleh who asked his people to allow God’s she-camel to have her drink. This comity of biological species is not a Quranic utopia; it seems to have witnessed its realization, more or less, in the welfare state headed by Umar the great whose following statement still echoes: “If a dog/camel die of hunger on the shore of the Euphrates, Umar would be responsible for that “.  Nay, Islam further broadens the domain of this comity by declaring through the prophet’s mouth: اتقو اللہ فی عمتکم النخلۃ “beware of Allah with respect to your aunt palm-tree”

According to the Quran, the environment plays an important role in molding the attitude and behavior of humans, who in the term, play no less important part in sharing their environment. Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. This proverbial saying epitomizes environmental and situational influences upon man; it is nothing but the echo of what Umar said fourteen centuries ago: متی استعبدتم الناس انما ولدتہم امہاتہم احرارا: when you have enslaved people? Their mothers have born them free”. Human bring at the time of his birth is free from all environmental shackles and chain; it is this natural freedom coupled with angelic innocence that is his creed, and which is termed by the Prophet as the Nature of al-Islam, and by the Quran as the Din of Nature to which all those who are in the heavens and the earth submit. Later, it is the parental and societal influence that deviates him from the straight path of nature, burdening and shackling him with man-made creeds. It is to this effects that the Prophet says: کل مولود یولد علی فطرۃ الاسلام فآبواہ یہودانہ او ینصرانہ آو یمجسانہ   “Every newborn babe is born according to the Nature of al-Islam, and then it is its parents who make it a Jew or a Nazarethian or Magian”. This is, more or less, the same idea which the Quran conveys when it says: فطرۃ اللہ التی فطر الناس علیھا لا تبدیل لخلق اللہ ذلک الدین القیــم Allah‘s Law of Nature according to which He has created mankind. There is nothing to change Allah’s rule of creation. This (phenomenon) is the straight and balanced Din”.

        Again, according to the Quran, the quality of the environment determines the quality of the environment. Besides, the quality of the environment determines the quality of environmental influence thereon. The following Quranic propositions imply this very truth:

  1. As for the rich soil, its vegetation springs forth (abundantly) by the sanction of its Rab. Whereas for that which is bad, it comes forth but scantily “(7:58).
  2. His likeness is as the likeness of a rock whereon is dust of earth; a rainstorm smites it, leaving it bare and smooth. And the likeness of those who spend their wealth in search of Allah’s pleasure, and for the strengthening of their selves, is as the likeness of a garden on a mount. The rainstorm smites it and it brings forth its fruit twofold; and even if rainstorms do not smite it, then a shower (is enough). (2:264-265)
  3. God does not change the condition of a nation unless they first change their psychological condition.
  4. If you help God, He shall certainly help you and shall make your feet firm.
  5. The likeness of a good word is as the likeness of good tree whose roots are firmly established, and whose branches are up in the air. The likeness of a bad word is as the likeness of a bad tree, lying uprooted on the ground; it has no stability.

That humans are programmed to influence and be influenced by, what environs them necessitates environmental awareness on their part. The following six Quranic propositions aim at creating this environmental awareness in humans:

  1. Beware of what environs you from all sides so that you may be mercifully protected.
  2. Say: look at what is in the heavens and the earth (10:101)
  3. Do you feel secure against the one who is in the space that he will not bury you in the earth, when it is convulsed (with air raids from above)?
  4. Do you feel secure against the one who is in the space that he will not send against you hasib (rockets and missiles)? But you shall know (in future) how my warning was (68:16-17).
  5. Do they not observe what environs them from all sides of the sky and the earth? If we will, we would bury them in the earth or let loose on them pieces of heavenly bodies (34:9).
  6. Do they not observe the dominion of the heavens and the earth (so as to know) that their term might have approached. (7:185)

The last Quranic propositions hint at some deep relationship between cosmic environment and human destiny/fate. Thus it can be regarded purely as an ecological verse of the Quran.

The Quran further draws the attention of humans to the fact that cosmic and terrestrial resources are exhaustible; it says in its three propositions?

  1. کل من علیہا فان   “ each and every one on the earth is going to perish.”
  2. کل شیئ ھالک الا وجہھ   each and every thing is going to be exhausted except His person.
  3. That which is with you is exhausted and that which is with Allah remains. The third proposition is optimistic; it is explained by the following four Quranic propositions:
    1. There is nothing but its treasures are with us. We do not send it down except with a definite quantity.
    1. Had Allah expanded provision for His servants, they would have transgressed in the earth; but He sends it down with a quantity that He wills.
    1. He adds to His creation what He wills.
    1. Every moment He is in some (new) work.

Resuming our discussion of the importance of the environmental role, it is worthwhile to refer to the following four episodes from the Quran. In order to discipline and decondition children of Israel, when Moses brought them to the particular desert-environment with a special dietetic regimen, i.e., honeydew (manna) and quail (Salwa) symbolical of the gracious boon and solace given by God, they objected thereto asking for vegetables/herbs, cucumbers, corn, lentils, and onions. Moses replied: “would you exchange that which is higher for that which is lower? Go down to the settled city, there you shall have what you have demanded.

Humiliation and poverty were stamped upon them and they returned with wrath from God (2:61). This verse clearly indicates the Qurans preferring of the natural environment over the man-made environment over the man-made environment haunted by all the evils of miss-urbanization. That a given environment can be used to serve as a test situation is suggested by the episode of Saul who departed with his forces; he said, “Allah is going to test you by a river. He who drinks of it shall not be of me; but he who shall not taste it shall be of me, except him who takes (therefrom) handful of water (2:149). Hence, a test of self-control at the sight of a river during thirst is caused by a long march. Both these episodes fear the significance of the natural environment in the matters of disciplining, deconditioning reconditioning, etc.

                   In the third episode, i.e., that of Joseph, the Quran surprising suggests, through Joseph’s mouth, food preservation via the natural environment, e.g., a spike of grain, whose sharp blade does not allow external microorganisms to penetrate through it and gnaw away the grain. It is scientifically established that grains enveloped in their ears remain preserved for a longer period of time. Joseph is reported in the Quran to have said to the Egyptians:

“You shall sow seven years as usual. As regards that which you reap, leave it in its ear, except a little of what you shall eat”. (12:47). This verse has far-reaching implications in so far as it suggests environmental control of what is harmful to the environed.

                  The fourth episode not mentioned in the Quran is that of Umar who once set out on a journey to Syria. Near Tabuk, he heard about the outbreak of plague epidemic devouring thousands of people daily. He stopped there thinking whether he should precede ahead or go back. He was advised by one group to continue his journey, unhindered by the epidemic, since death is subject to divine foreordination, and by a second group not to go into the month of death. Having thought over the matter carefully, he announced next morning: “I am going back, you also go back.” Abu Ubaida said to him: Umar! Are you fleeing from Divine predestination?” Umar’s historic response echoed: “I am fleeing from one Divine taqdir to another Divine taqdir.” He further explained: Abu Ubaida! If you had some camels taken by you to some valley having one side green, would it have not been in consonance with Divine taqdir to leave them in the barren area as well as to leave them in the fertile green area.”

The Quran versus Pollution

                                  So far we have been concerned mainly with showing you a glimpse of the natural environment with its flora and fauna, pictured artistically in the Quran as an archetypic model, in cleanliness and beauty, for a man-made environment to whose discussion we shall now restrict ourselves. Prior to the emergence of humans ——hart of the environment now inhabited by them was as clean, pure, beautiful, and healthy as the whole natural environment. It was after the appearance of humans that it gradually lost its natural ‘virginity’, fell prey to ‘fasad’ wrought by human hands, and, hence began to get polluted and contaminated. The resultant phenomenon of pollution now poses serious problems and dangers. To quote from the Encyclopedia of Americana:

                      ENVIRONMENT: ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Author of the Quran, to whom past and present are merely a single present moment, deplores this corruption of land and sea by humans: ضہر الفساد فی البر والبحر بما کسبت ایدی الناس Pollution corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what Human Hands have wrought (30:4). It is perhaps air-pollution caused by smokes and gases in the present time of ours that has been predicted in the Quran: فار تقب یوم تآتی السما ء بد خان مبین۔ یغشی الناس الخ “watch for the day when the sky will bring forth visible smoke that will engulf mankind. This will be an afflictive torment” (44:10-11). No doubt, air pollution caused by smoke and gases arising from automobiles and industrial complexes, especially in the technology-surplus world suffocate and torment free, sensitive souls. This is what is happening there in the air. On land, the indiscriminate dumping of chemicals, old vehicles, cans, tires, and other trash is ruining the natural environment there. In this part of the globe, layers of dust, dirt, and filth with swarms of flies, mosquitoes, and other insects have caused concealment of the real face of the natural environment.

                   Human assault on nature has rather gone to the extent of interference with the normal, natural mode of Allah is creation, criticizing which the Quran says in its dramatic way: “ they invoke none else than Satan, a rebel, whom Allah cursed, for he said: “surely I will take a fixed section of your servants and will lead them astray, and surely I will stir desires in them, and surely I will command them, and they will cut the Ears of Animals, and surely I will command then, and they will change Allah’s creation (4:117-119). The Quran further adds that a community that assaults nature to the extent of altering. Allah’s Creation will face obvious and tangible loss, and its ultimate abode will be an environmental hell from which it will find no escape (4:119:121)

                     The indiscriminate use of pesticides/ insecticides, preservatives, drugs surgical experiments, food conning, milk powdering the enormous release of chemical and nuclear energy/ radiation ——–  all this bears witness to the fact that humans have become instrumental in the changing of Allah’s creation. Take the instance of ‘powdered milk’ with its ‘changed flavor’, which is symptomatic of the dry, stagnant, and barren interior of the fata morgana of contemporary urbanization. In the Quranic picture of the Ideal Environment, no such alteration of God’s creation is permissible. In one of its highly suggestive, deep, and meaningful verses it says:

A picture of the Garden which is promised to those who are safeguarded (against evil): Therein are rivers of water unpolluted, and rivers of milk whose flavor changed not, and rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers, and rivers of clear-run honey; therein for them are all kinds of fruit, with protection from them of fruit, with protection from there Evolver, Nourisher and Sustainer (47:15). The Quran thus solves the problem of pollution through its bid: Back to Nature … back to pavilions in the open lap of the natural environment!

                Humanity has become oblivious of the Quranological fact that the natural environment is a kind of sanitarium, after which the man-made environment must be overhauled and redesigned in consonance with the spirit of cosmic art as enshrined in the Quran so that sanity is restored to the insane society of humans. Sanity, sanitation, and sanitarium, which have a common linguistic root, are interrelated so that they form a single sanitary trio which is the only antidote to the poison of the present environmental pollution. It is also with this objective in view that the Quran draws, time & again, the attention of humans to the phenomena of Nature, mirroring the holy and sacred values of purity, beauty, and glory, like prophet Solomon’s palace paved with glass.

                Sanitation (lit to restore sanity) is the process of purification and cleaning called tathir (تطہیر) in the Quran. Sanitarium is the concrete projection of the art of sanitation (taken in broad sense) on the vast canvas of the physic-social environment. Sanity is the natural, pleasant result of moving and breathing freely in the open air of such a pollution-free sanitarium. In order to make this deep and meaningful point intelligible, I would refer to the Quranic episode of Job who once cried to God: “Verily, anguish/torment “(38:42). God responded by advising him:” Move your feet. This (spring) is a cool bath and a refreshing drink …. Take in your hand a (green) branch and strike therewith, and don’t incline toward falsehood (38:45) (i.e., superstition).               This dramatic episode, though apparently emphasizing therapy through water and herbs in a natural environment, lays stress on a clean natural environment which can be used as a means to cure ailments of fatigue, distress and anguish ____ a thing which is not possible in a pollution-ridden environment.

                It is with the same objective of creating a sanitation-governed situation, within and without, for sanity-restoration that the Quran wants humans to reveal the real, natural face of God-given environment, buried under the debris of man-en-gendered pollution. Hence, in the very start of its second revelation its directive hinderingly echoes:

O though enveloped in thy mantle!

Arise and warn

Make the Law of the Fosterer, Nourisher and

Sustainer reign supreme

Clean thy person (within and without)

Do away with POLLUTION (74:1-5).

It is to realize and concretize this directive that Islam has ordained certain sanitary measures such as brushing teeth, taking ablution/bath, performing tayammum, and using perfume as the first and regular phase of its pollution-combatting program. These orientational and preparatory measures naturally involve another set of radical and revolutionary measures, and as such, they not only generate intense hatred for pollution but uproot it socially and environmentally through the latter measure. The hatred of Islam for pollution and its love of cleanliness are proverbial, as we shall see toward the end of this paper.

                How this pollution-combatting program embraces social and physical environment can be judged from a Quranic narration wherein Allah said to Abraham and Ismail regarding the First International House made for all Humans: “Clean and purify my House for taifeen, akifeen, as well as those who bow before, and surrender to, My will” (2:125). Thus we see that it is cleaning that receives top priority as a religious obligation. Besides, being the archetypic mode, Allah’s House has to be followed by the individual houses of humans in point of purity and beauty, as the sun is followed by the individual planets in luster. It is about such enlightened houses full of enlightened hearts that the Quran says:

  • Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp) is kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light up light. Allah guides unto His light whom He will. ………. (This Lamp is found) in houses which Allah has allowed to be exalted and that His name shall be remembered therein (24:35-36).

The following verses 37-45 present the Quranic concept of environment in a very fascinating fashion. The above-quoted verses particularly suggest that the whole cosmos is a huge mosque that no pollution should touch.      

                In the Islamic environmental management, the ‘negative’ value of cleaning and purifying is to be followed by the positive value of decoration /adornment (آخذ الزینۃ) __ a precept presented in the Quran in connection with masjid which is the spacio-temporal extension of God’s House at Mecca. Hence, the Quran directs: “O children of Adam! Take your adornment at every place and time of sajda” (7:31).

This directive hints at a sacred and necessary relational ship between Din and Art. In Islam and Glory as mirrored in a natural environment, and Art is its projection of on the vast canvas of the psycho-socio-physical environment in synchrony with the Great Prophet’s directive: تخلقو ا بآخلاق اللہ “Be created with the creative norms of Allah”. The fact that in Islam Din and Sublime Art are interrelated can be assessed from what Frithjof Schuon says:

              Nobility is a sort of contemplative generosity; it is the love of beauty in its widest sense: for the Prophet and for Islam it is here that aestheticism and love of cleanliness enter. The Prophet said that “God detests dirtiness and uproar”, and this is highly characteristic of the aspect of purity in contemplation, an aspect which finds its reflection in Islamic architecture, ranging, geographically speaking, from the Al-Hamra to Taj Mahal. In the courtyards of mosques and palaces, their calm and balance are echoed in the murmuring of the mountains, the undulatory monotony of which repeats that of the arabesques. For Islam architecture, apart from calligraphy, the supreme sacred art. (Understanding Islam, p.92).

             In Islam aestheticism is preceded by cleanliness which is more fundamental, as we hear the Prophet saying: تنظفو ا بکل ما استطعتم فان اللہ بنی الاسلام علی النظافۃ فلن ید خل الجنۃ الا کل لطیف “Clean and purify all yourselves with all possible means, for All that impossible Allah has founded Islam on cleanliness, and none will ever enter Paradise except every clean one”. Islam cannot, therefore, coexist with pollution, within and without.

              Besides ‘love of cleanliness and aestheticism’ the Quranic concept of environment entails as their logical corollary two most important principles of urbanization:

  1. The negation of tabaud-bain-al asfar تباعد بین الآسفار ( the lengthening of journey stages)
  2. The affirmation of tafussuh-fil-majalis تفسح فی المجالس (making spaciousness in sitting places).

The first principle relates to means of communication —– a most important factor a whose efficient and effective management perhaps the whole present-day west German economy rests and whose mismanagement in terms of luxuriously lengthening distances, to the wastage of a community’s, energy, time and resources leads to its ultimate destruction. It is to this effect that the Quran says:

There was indeed a sign for Sheba in their dwelling place: Two gardens on the right hand and on the left: Eat of the provision of your Lord and render thanks to him: Pleasant and fragrant is the country, and gracious is the Lord. But they turned, so we sent upon them the flood of Iram, and we changed them their grades into two gardens of bitter fruit and tamarisk and a few lotes- tree.

….…… And we placed between them and the cities, which we had blessed, conspicuous cities, and we fixed easy stages between them (saying): Travel in them safely both by night and day. But they said: Our Lord! Make the distance between our journeys longer. And they wronged themselves, therefore we made them bywords (in the land) and scattered them abroad utterly. Lo! Herein verily are signs for each steadfast, grateful servant. (34:???).

These verses give a picture of a civic environment with its natural background, wherein means of communication figure conspicuously.

                The second principle which broadly relates to sitting-places, whether at homes, institutions, assemblies, councils, means of transportation, or anywhere else, suggests that environmental spaciousness results in psycho-mental openness. The Quran says in this connection: “Oye who believe! When it is said to you: “make spaciousness in your assemblies”, then make spaciousness. God will make spaciousness for you (through opening your minds and hearts) (58:11). This principle is suffered by the contemporary research on animals, especially on birds. Paul D. Group and Harsh Vardhan have reported in “Bustard in Decline”:

At Bikaner Zoo none of these birds has been able to reproduce to date. The possible reason might be the psycho-hormonal effect of captivity and disturbed ecology. The observations lead us to conclude and recommend that serious steps should be taken to create a proper ecosystem and provide more spacious enclosures with desert flora. It is desirable to have a capacious sanctuary (p.234).

The Prophet has regarded the whole earth as a huge mosque, and, hence, how to turn it into a ‘capacious sanctuary’ for all humans is a question that deserves to be