The Prophet Muhammad (saw)
Social Life

We Are All on the Same Boat

Natural Environment

Today environmental problems are threatening all living species, beginning with man, and natural beauty. Even if it is a little late, the "Earth Summit" can be seen as a concrete expression that this danger has been seen and that urgent measures must be taken. Since a universal consciousness has begun to awaken in this direction, what needs to be done is to try and make this consciousness stronger and more widespread and, as individuals, to behave according to the requirements of this awareness. At this point, it would be appropriate to determine the contribution of the Quran's message to the consciousness of environmental responsibility.

There are signs and messages in varying dimensions within the unity of the Quran's purpose regarding "balance." Since environmental problems have resulted from the disturbance of the balance in nature, it would not be correct to evaluate environmental issues from the Quran's perspective without mentioning the balance and harmony in the universe and without establishing this groundwork. When read with an environmental approach, the 7th and 8th verses alone of Rahman Sura, which could be called the "environmental sura, are sufficient to get the necessary message on this matter. These verses inform that Allah raised the sky and gave order and balance to the universe, and it is asked that this balance not be disturbed in the extreme. In other words, man can try and understand the objective world and its laws and can intervene within limits, but the balance should not be put in danger. Actually, in order to understand balance and its secrets, it is necessary to discover natural laws.

 "Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure. And Our Command is but a single (Act) - Like the twinkling of an eye" (Qamar 54/49-50). "And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance" (Hijr 15/19). "And there is not a thing but its (sources and) treasures (inexhaustible) are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and ascertainable measures" (Hijr 15/21). These verses are divine messages teaching both belief in Allah, the Creator of the earth and the whole universe, and environmental consciousness and responsibility. Anyway, the idea of the Creator's existence and divine order and the feeling of environmental responsibility, and the consciousness of using everything in an appropriate way and behaving accordingly are two main themes that support each other. These themes are continuously mentioned in the Quran.

If the meaning of the word fesad (disorder), which is mentioned together with its derivatives in approximately fifty places in the Quran and which means "rebellion, destruction, famine, murder, ruin, warring, disbelief, plunder," is contemplated, signs can be found as to what the Quran considers to be destruction and pollution and its stand against them. These verses can be interpreted along the lines that material pollution and extinction in the environment are actually the result of spiritual pollution arising from man's straying from universal moral values or that, at least, there is a strong connection between them.

The strongest control mechanism for the protection of natural beauty, in fact, natural existence is man's own conscience. It is the awareness that what is done is a sin in Allah's presence, a crime legally, a shame before mankind and a violation of rights. Together with this, it is obvious that only tying the subject to individual consciousness and control is insufficient. The second step in the realization of the purpose under consideration is applying to public and social organizations and the establishment of powerful control systems.

Social Environment

When environmental responsibility is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the natural environment. However, our environment does not only consist of this. Man also has a social environment. Just as a natural environment is necessary in order for man to live more peacefully and happily, the protection of the social environment and its order is just as necessary; in fact, it takes priority.

In respect to protecting the environment in relation to these two aspects, let's listen to the words of Muhammad (pbuh): "Faith has more than sixty branches. One of these branches is removing things that give people trouble. In this sense, removing a rock from the middle of the road is a requirement of faith" (Buhari, Iman 3; Muslim, Iman 58). "Whenever one of you sees ugly behavior or something unpleasant, let him change it with his hand. If he does not have the strength to change it with his hand, let him change it with his tongue. If he is not strong enough to do this, let him reproach it in his heart. The last approach is the weakest form of faith" (Muslim, Iman 78; Abu Davud, Salat 232). One of the striking matters in these hadiths is the placing of the awareness of responsibility within the framework of faith. This is very important in respect to showing the connection between a Muslim's understanding of life and faith.

Yes, we are responsible for our environment - in all its aspects. In order for man to live a healthy, happy and peaceful life, his natural environment must be protected. However, this is not enough. In addition to this and perhaps more importantly, it is necessary to protect the social environment. Think of it this way: Today, sadly, we see that some animal species that add beauty to nature, like water turtles and the hermit ibis birds, are becoming extinct. We all want to do something for the continuation of their existence. We commend and are grateful to those trying to do something about this. But, is this all there is to environmental responsibility? Is it not insufficient to talk about environmental responsibility while forgetting about hungry, homeless people in our environment and not doing anything about them, and while watching the spiritual degeneration in society and the loss of the essence and moral basis of human relations and their becoming a battle for self-interest? Should we not lend an ear here to the high decree, "He who sleeps while his neighbor is hungry is not one of us" (Hakim, Mustedrek II, 12)? What are we doing or what should we be doing for the social environment? It is necessary to take up this subject together with the natural environment.

In order to meet the requirement of environmental-responsibility consciousness, before anything else it is necessary to establish a very good balance between individual rights and freedoms and environmental responsibility. When this balance is not made, neither rights and freedoms can be properly understood nor can the requirement of environmental-responsibility awareness be fulfilled. Let's say that warning and deterring someone who kills a water turtle or spits in the street or dumps garbage is appropriate and necessary behavior; he acted correctly and it is a good response expected from a citizen who is responsible for his environment. No one can claim the contrary. However, opposing behavior that is contrary to social values and the society's general understanding of morality is just as valuable an example of responsibility and sensitivity. However, if the second example of behavior is perceived as irresponsibility and disrespect towards personal freedoms, that means there is a double standard dominant in respect to environmental responsibility.

At this point it would be a good idea to listen to this comparison of the Prophet's and remember our responsibilities related to the social environment: Think of people on the same boat, some of them on top and some below. When those below want to put a hole in the ship to meet their needs for water, if those above do not prevent it, the ship will sink and everyone will drown; it they prevent them, everyone will be saved" (Buhari, Şirket 6). We are all on the same boat of this world. Behavior that will sink the ship should not be met with silence and indifference. Not only that, but a positive contribution should be expected from everyone to strengthen the social fabric and improve the social order and environment.

For the entire text, please see İlmihal II, Islam and Society


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