Protection and Conservation of the Basic Natural Resources
Throughout the universe, the divine care for all things and all-pervading wisdom in the elements of creation may be perceived, attesting to the All-Wise Maker.
The glorious Qur’an has made it clear that each thing and every creature in the universe, whether known to man or not, performs two major functions: a religious function in so far as it evidences the Maker’s presence and infinite wisdom, power, and grace; and a social function in the service of man and other created beings.
God’s wisdom has ordained that His creatures shall be of service to one another. The divinely appointed measurement and distribution of all elements and creatures, each performing its ordained role and all of them valuable, makes up the dynamic balance by which the creation is maintained.
Overexploitation, abuse, misuse, destruction, and pollution of natural resources are all transgressions against the divine scheme. Because narrow-sighted self-interest is always likely to tempt men to disrupt the dynamic; equilibrium set by God, the protection of all natural resources from abuse is a mandatory duty.
In the divine plan by which all creatures are made to be of service to one another, God’s wisdom has made all things of service to mankind. But nowhere has God indicated that they are created only to serve human beings. On the contrary, Muslim legal scholars have maintained that the service of man is not the only purpose for which they have been created, with regard to God’s saying: “And He has made the ships to be of service unto you, that they may sail the sea by His command, and the rivers He has made of service unto you.” (Ibrahim 14:32)
And He has made the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and He has made of service unto you the night and day. And He gives you all you seek of Him: If you would count the bounty of God, you could never reckon it. (Ibrahim 14:33-34)
There are many similar verses in which God declares that He created His creations for the children of Adam -it is well known that God in His great wisdom has exalted purposes in them other than the service of man, and greater than the service of man. However, He makes clear to the children of Adam what benefits there are in these creatures and what bounty He has bestowed upon mankind.(Ibn Taymiyah)
Vitally important, as the social functions of all things are, the primary function of all created beings as signs of their Creator constitutes the most sound legal basis for conservation of the environment. It is not possible to base the protection of our environment on our need for its services alone since these services are but a supporting value and reason.
Because we cannot be aware of all the beneficial functions of all things, to base our efforts at conservation solely on the environmental benefits to man would lead inevitably to distortion of the dynamic equilibrium set by God and misuse of His creation, thereby impairing these same environmental benefits.
However, when we base the conservation and protection of the environment on its value as the signs of its Creator, we cannot omit anything, for every element and species has its individual and unique role to play in glorifying God, and in bringing man to know and understand his Creator by showing him God’s infinite power, wisdom, and mercy.
It is impossible to countenance the willful ruin and loss of any of the basic elements and species of the creation, or to think that the continued existence of the remainder is sufficient to lead us to contemplate the glory, wisdom, and might of God in all the aspects that are intended, because species differ in their special qualities, and each evidences God’s glory in ways unique to it alone.
Furthermore, all human beings, and indeed livestock and wildlife as well, enjoy the right to share in the resources of the earth. Man’s abuse of any resource is forbidden, and the best use of all resources, both living and lifeless, is prescribed.
The following is a discussion of the basic natural elements:
God has made water the basis and origin of life. God says:
We made from water every living thing. (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:30)
Plants, animals, and man all depend on water for their existence and for the continuation of their lives. God has said:
Verily…in the rain that God sends down! from heaven, thereby giving life to the earth after its death… (Al-Baqarah 2:164)
It is He Who sends down water from the sky; and thereby We have brought forth the plants I of every kind.”6 “And you see the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain upon it, it stirs and swells, and puts forth growth of every resplendent kind. (Al-An`am 6:99)
He has also said:
And We send down pure water from the sky, thereby to bring to life a dead land and slake the thirst of that which We have created-cattle and men in multitudes. (Al-Hajj 22:5)
God has called on man to appreciate the value of this so essential source of life:
Have you seen the water which you drink? Was it you who sent it down from the rain cloud , or did We send it? Were it Our will, We could have made it bitter; why then do you not give thanks? (Al-Furqan 25-48:49)
And He has reminded us:
Say: Have you considered, if your water were one morning to have seeped away, who then could bring you clear-flowing water? (Al-Mulk 67:30)
In addition to this vital function, water has another socio-religious function to perform which is purification of the body and clothing from all dirt, impurities and defilement so that man may encounter God clean and pure. God has said in the Glorious Qur’an:
And He caused rain to descend on you from heaven to cleanse you therewith. (Al-Anfal 8:11)
God has also shown us other functions of lake, sea, and ocean water.
He has made it the habitat of many created beings which play vital roles in the perpetuation of life and the development of this world. God has said:
It is He Who has made the sea of service, that you may eat thereof flesh that is fresh and tender, and that you may bring forth from it ornaments to wear, and you see the ships therein that plough the waves, that you may seek of His bounty. (Al-Nahl 16:14)
He also says:
Lawful to you is the pursuit of water-game and its use for food a provision for you, and for those who travel. (Al-Ma’idah 5:96)
There is no doubt that conservation of this vital element is fundamental to the preservation and continuation of life in its various forms, plant, animal, and human.
It is therefore obligatory, for in Islamic law, whatever is indispensable to fulfill the imperative obligation of preserving life is itself obligatory.
Any action that obstructs or impairs the biological and social functions of this element, whether by destroying it or by polluting it with any substance that would make it an unsuitable environment for living things or otherwise impair its function as the basis of life; any such action necessarily leads to the impairment or ruin of life itself, and the juristic principle is:
’What leads to the prohibited is itself prohibited.’
Owing to the importance of water as the basis of life, God has made its use the common right of all living beings and all human beings. All are entitled to use it without monopoly, usurpation, despoilment, wastage, or abuse. God commanded with regard to the people of Thamud and their camel,
And tell them that the water shall be shared between them, (Al-Qamar 54:28)
And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Muslims are to share in these three things: water, pasture, and fire.” (Abu Dawud)
Extravagance in using water is forbidden; this applies to private use as well as public, and whether the water is scarce or abundant. It is related that the Prophet, upon him be blessings and peace, passed by his companion Sa`d, who was washing for prayer, and said:
“What is this wastage, O Sa`d?” “Is there wastage even in washing for prayer?” asked Sa`d; and he said: “Yes, even if you are by a flowing river!” (Ahmad)
The long experience of Muslim jurists in the allocation of water rights in arid lands has given rise to an outstanding example of the sustainable use of a scarce resource; an example which is of increasing relevance in a world where resources which were once abundant are becoming progressively more scarce.
This element is no less important than water for the perpetuation and preservation of life. Nearly all terrestrial creatures are utterly dependent on the air they breathe. The air also has other functions which may be less apparent to man, but which God has created for definite purposes, as we have been made aware of by the Glorious Qur’an -such as the vitally important role of the winds in pollination.
God has said:
And we send the fertilizing winds. (Al-Hijr 15:22)
The winds are also clear evidence of God’s omnipotence and grace, and the perfection of design in His creation. He has also said:
Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of night and day in the change of the winds, and the clouds compelled between heaven and earth surely there are signs for a people who have sense. (Al-Baqarah 2:164)
And He it is Who sends the winds as tidings heralding His grace: until when they have raised a heavy-laden cloud, We drive it to a dead land and cause the rain to descend upon it, and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. (Al-A`raf 7:57)
Since the atmosphere performs all these biological and social functions, its conservation, pure and unpolluted, is an essential aspect of the conservation of life itself which is one of the fundamental objectives of Islamic law.
Again, whatever is indispensable to fulfill this imperative obligation is itself obligatory. Therefore any activity which pollutes it and ruins or impairs its function is an attempt to thwart and obstruct God’s ii wisdom toward His creation. This must likewise be considered an obstruction of some aspects of the human role in the development of this world.