Monday, 11 March 2013

Islam and Ecology - Part 1

A book that gives a fascinating insight into some environmental and ethical aspects of Islam is "Islam and Ecology - A Bestowed Trust" published by the Harvard University Press. Here are a few parts that particularly caught BFTF's attention..

Islam and Ecology - Towards Retrieval and Reconstruction (S Nomanul Haq)
Amongst much else, Haq comments on a well known Hadith is that in wich a woman who was condemned to Hell becasue of a cat which she had imprisoned, and had died of starvation by stating that:
"this Hadith forms the basis of the fiqh legislation that the owner of an animal is legally responsible for it's well-being...given that the requirement that animals should be allowed as far as possible to live out their lives in a natural manner, keeping birds in cages is deemed unlawful"

The Basis for a Discipline of Islamic Environmental Law (Othman Llewellyn)
Llewellyn describes a Hima as a "protected areas" and also lists four conditions required for a Hima to be set up:

1) It must be constituted by the legitimate Islamic governing authority
2) It must be established in the way of God - that is, for purposes pertaining to the public welfare.
3) It must avoid causing undoe hardship to the local people by depriving them of indispensable resources
4) It must realise greater actual benefits to society than detriments.

According to Llewellyn, Himas have varied in size from a few hundred hectares to hundreds of square kilometres, adding that
"Amonng the traditional Himas are the best managed rangelands in the Arabian peninsula; some have been grazed correctly since early Islamic times and are amongst the most long-standing examples of rangeland conservation known."

In 1965 there were an estimated 3,000 Himas in Saudi Arabia, comprising a vast area of land under conservation and sustainable management...In some Himas, graxing is largely prohibited, others are protected woodlands within which the cutting of trees is either prohibited or regulated. Still others are protected rangelands. Some reserves are for the production of honey.One site has been managed as a reserve for Ibex for over 200years.

However, Lleyellen describes how things have changed over recent years when he comments that :
"..Tribal lands have been naitionalised, and a growing population has demanded more land for housing, farms and pasture. Traditional Himas had their management grounded in tribal loyalties and were sometimes a source of conflict...Most Himas have now been abandoned and their number has plummeted to a few dozen"

Displaying a viewpoint that would be very much at home on the wetter end of the Conservative spectrum, Llewellyn describes how economic instruments should be used to ensure that market prices fully reflect the environmental damage that is done by pollution

Llewellyn also tackles the problem of population control, commenting that : "Muslim scholars and leaders have increasingly endorsed [contraception] as they have gained experience in dealing with the socio-economic realities of development"

Commenting on the Islamic directive that "the averting of harm takes precedence over the securing of benefits", he points out that enabling couples to space their children and avoid high risk pregnacies by the use of family plannning "could save the lives of two hundred thousand women and five million children annually"

Llewellyn also discusses many other topics, which space does not allow to be covered here, including animal welfare, biodiversity and conflicy resolution.

Islamic Environmentalism - A matter of Interpretation (Richard C Foltz)
Amongst much else Foltz also comments on family planning, quoting Yusuf Ali Eraj, founder of the Family Planning Society of Kenya, who says that "Using birth control does not mean following the West.. Muslims can practice family planning following Islamic principles. It is a myth that Islamic doctrine opposes it! All methods are approved, even sterilisation"

Foltz comments that :
"...many Muslims see arguments against having more children that one can afford as being sympomatic of Kufr (unbelief) - which is quite a serious charge...The traditional Muslim response to doomesday scenarios (of population growth) is that of Tawakkul (or Trust in God). This tendency... reminds one of the hadith in which a companion of Muhammed neglected to tie up his camel, and the camel wondered off and was lost. The owner complained to of his loss to the Prophet, saying "I trusted in God, but my camel is gone" Muhammed replied " First tie up your camel, then trust in God". There is amply evidence today that human growth - reporductive as well as economic - is creating a dangerous imbalance withing the biosphere. One wonders, are Muslims who refuse to achnowledge this perhaps leaving their camels untied?"

Foltz also comments on vegetarianism, noting that the animal welfare charity PETA has launched, at the suggestion of its Muslim members, a website on Islam and vegetarianism at


"Islam and Ecology - A Bestowed Trust" edited by Foltz, Denny and Baharuddin and published by the Harvard University Press for the Centre for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.

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