The Prophet and the Sacred Earth

So, my amazingly talented friend Omnia recently started a website to try and promote environmentalism in Egypt (and we all know how Egypt needs it!). Sure she used to annoy all of us with the constant talk about “saving the earth” and “buying organic” and blah blah blah, and we all incessantly complain about it, but I’m actually very impressed with her drive, determination, and skill, especially towards this website. The site is called eco-options Egypt and you can check it out here: ecooptionsegypt.

I just wrote an article for it about the Prophet and the environment. Would love to hear what you all think! Here it is:

“And remember how He made you inheritors after the ‘Ad people and gave you habitations in the land: you build for yourselves palaces and castles in open plains, and carve out homes in mountains; so bring to remembrance the benefits you have received from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the Earth.”
Al-Qur’an 7:741

There is no doubt that the Prophet Muhammad was a man ahead of his time.  He believed that men and women deserved the same value and respect; that animals should be treated kindly and not abused; that children should be loved and taken care of; and that the elderly deserved great respect and reverence.
Just as importantly, he believed in the sanctity and importance of the environment, and saw the immense power and beauty that can be found in nature. “The Prophet was a staunch advocate of environmental protection. One could say he was an “environmentalist avant la lettre”, a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management, one who constantly sought to maintain a harmonious balance between man and nature”2.  There is also no doubt that the Qur’an places great emphasis on the earth and nature. The earth is mentioned more than 450 times in the Qur’an3, and God has instructed humans that we are to take care of it.

The Prophet believed that all of God’s creations are equal, and to abuse any of them is a sin. This includes abusing the environment.  The Arabs at the time already knew of the importance of treating the environment well: they knew that if they abused it, they would in turn suffer. Man wasn’t trying to overpower nature, but rather understood that benefit came from working together with nature. Prophet Muhammad managed to add an extra dimension to this attitude, by focusing on how the beauty of nature is proof of God’s existence, and how every living thing deserves respect.

One well-known saying of the Prophet is the following: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it”.  This eloquent reminder clearly shows how important the environment is to God. Even if doomsday is upon us, we should stop and plant a tree if we are holding a shoot. Another saying goes “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation.” This shows the Prophet’s concern towards animals. Similarly, his saying “If someone plants a tree, he will receive merit as long as the tree bears fruit” shows how beneficial taking care of our surrounding can be to us in terms of religious benefits.

During battle, the Prophet used to remind his men not to cut down any trees unnecessarily, and to limit any damage to the environment. He also admonished the killing of animals and the burning of crops. This was something new to 7th century Arabia, and even modern warfare is wholly unconcerned with environmental damages.

The concept of “dry wudu” also shows the sacred side of the earth. If one is unable to perform wudu (cleaning before prayer) due to lack of water, one can use dry dirt instead.  The Prophet was alleged to have said, “The earth has been created for me as a mosque and as a means of purification.

“The Prophet gave the necessary importance to cleanliness in the environment and he stated that it should begin with body cleanliness; that houses, streets, and public places like mosques should be kept clean; that water sources should not be polluted; that not only people, but animals should not be bothered by pollution”4.  If Egyptians followed these guidelines, we would be living in a much cleaner environment. Having clean streets, pure water sources and unpolluted air would benefit all of God’s creatures, and both God and the Prophet encouraged this.

Water in particular is given special importance in the Qur’an and Hadith. “We made from water every living thing,” (21:30).  One way the Prophet saved water was by creating haram zones near water sources. Another way was by advocating careful use of water, even if there was enough of it.  For example, he recommended that people do wudu no more than three times, even if near a source of water. A final way was by forbidding urination in water2.

I will conclude with the following Hadith, cited by Bukhari, to remind us all the benefits of taking care of and cultivating the environment: “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 a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].”

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