The Prophet Mohammad (s) has declared a substantial area around Medina as Haram (Sacred) as God had previously maintained a large area around Mecca as a Haram. Hunting land animals and wrecking flora at any time within these Haram areas are forbidden acts. The Prophet has also set some plots of fertile land for the public use and these were called hima (Protected).
The hima areas were reserves for forests and wildlife where grazing and wood-cutting were restricted, and species roaming there were protected. At the same time, the fauna and floral life are protected all year round around both the Meccan Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina (the Harams). These Haram areas were often drawn up around wells and springs to protect the water table from depletion.
The concepts of hima areas, as well as other conservation measures, were taken up further by the successive Muslim leadership throughout the ages. Caliph Abu Bakr (r) forbade the Muslim troops from cutting or burning live trees in areas where fighting takes place. The restrictions imposed on land game for four months of the year, the Haram areas and the hima sanctuaries combine to conserve land animals and allow them to replenish their numbers.
Numerous Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings combine to compel and motivate Muslims to care for their environments. Sahih al- Bukhari compiles many hadiths of the Prophet on agriculture and animal husbandry. One such hadith states that:
“There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given charitable gift (for which there is great recompense” (Bukhari 3:513).
On the conservation front, the Prophet advised his followers to restrict their consumption of the earth’s resources to their immediate needs without causing any waste. In a hadith the Prophet reprimanded one of his close Companions for using excessive amounts of water for his ablution. In response to the Companion’s exclamation: ’Can there be wastefulness while taking the ablution?’ the Prophet replied: ’Yes, even if you take them on the bank of a rushing river’
Islamic environmental ethics call for a responsible attitude towards nature, which is part of biosphere as well as the generation to come. From its early days, Islam presented important guidelines for Muslims to learn the ethics of environmental responsibility.
Man, as the vicegerent of God on earth has been charged with looking after the earth, its inhabitants and its resources. Man must maintain and develop earth’s resources to make them available to all mankind both at present and in the future.
Environmental protection is an important factor in preserving the earth and its resources for man’s immediate and later uses. The Sunna of the Prophet provides an ample source for us to construct an authentic Islamic environmental ethics. It also opens a wide avenue of creative and innovative solutions in the contemporary context.
[… to be continued in the next issue/future issues].