*By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi
Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to the right direction].
(Al-Qur’an, Surah Ar-Rum, Ayat No. 41)
Corruption has appeared on land, in the wastelands, because of the rain being withheld, the vegetation diminishing and the climate being polluted and on sea, in lands near rivers because of their waters diminishing or over flowing and being polluted. These all are because of what people’s hands have perpetrated, of acts of disobedience against the law of Nature. And Allah may make them taste something of what they have done, that is, the punishment for it. That perhaps they may repent and begin doing their deeds in the right way that Allah has directed them.
In light of today’s environmental crises, many secular and religious scholars have begun to look into underlying philosophical causes for man’s rapacious attitude towards his environment. Part of this search involves a look at root philosophies affecting the human outlook and interaction with the world and the responsibility religion shares in creating the attitudes and philosophies that have led to the desecration of nature that has occurred in the past few centuries and which seems to be dangerously accelerating in our times.
The primary basis of Islam is the idea of Tauhid, or the oneness of God. A world view based on Tauhid sees this universe as originating from Allah, returning to Him, and centered around Him. It is a world created and sustained by Allah with a purpose, and a design. As this entire universe is a product of His divine wish, it is a universe unfolding with a divine purpose. The reference point, the center of all things is Allah alone.
Human nature is the other key facet of Islam. Man fulfills a very important role in this cosmos. Although all things are made by Allah and identified with Allah in as much as their being created by Him, man enjoys a role as Allah’s vicegerent (his representative) having a freedom and far-reaching power latent within him.
In Islam the relationship of man with nature should be like that of a just ruler with his subjects. Although the ruler has power over his subjects, his subjects are a trust over which he stands guards. He is expected to act in a responsible way (as defined by the revelation) toward them. Misuse and abuse of his power would shift him from being a leader to being a tyrant. The end result of tyranny is nothing but a revolt against the tyrant. This is precisely what is happening between man – the tyrant and nature – the tyrannized. Tyranny is effective only in the short term.
Nature – environment has been made subservient to man, but it is as much a creature of Allah as man is. Neither has man created nature nor is he in any way able to sustain it. It is only because Allah has given him the sufficiency and capacity that he can in any way do so. If he is able to plant a tree and administer its growth or manipulate its genetic characteristics, it is only because of the intelligence placed within him by Allah. Just as Allah has been good to man so also man must act with the same beneficence toward nature so that he may safeguard himself when facing Allah.
Another key aspect of the Islam is its immense stress on eschatology. Belief in a day of judgment is essential to the faith of an adherent. It creates an action guide arising from awareness that actions have consequences far beyond their immediately apparent effects. Since man will be called to account for how he looked after the trust bestowed upon him, he is forced to not only consider present gains but to plan for the future in order to fulfill the responsibility with which he has been invested. His acts have repercussions that ripple out horizontally from himself affecting what surrounds him in this world as well as vertically since his substance has a presence in the higher worlds. So the consequences of his actions accumulate within his substance and after his death he faces the reality of what he has done and what he has become.
“Then on that Day, Not a soul will be wronged in the least, And ye shall but be repaid the deeds of your past.” (Al- Qur’an, 36:54)
Man’s role of vicegerency, his mantle of superiority and his responsibility of trust are laid bare before him in the Qur’an, it is then his decision to choose which path to take. On the one hand he has before him all the treasures of nature to use and exploit as he wishes through the fulcrum of his knowledge. On the other hand is the temperance of the responsibility which coexists with the trust and intelligence given to him by Allah. The world-view of man and the conceptual foundations which underlie that world-view decide which course man will take.