By: Ibrahim Abdul Matin
People are often surprised when I tell them that my faith, Islam, has an ecological imperative. In fact, I believe that all faiths have, at their very core, this same imperative.
I wrote a book about this.
Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet examines Islamic principles that support environmentalism and presents stories of Muslim Americans who are part of the solution across four areas — water, waste, energy and food. The book also makes a case for interfaith involvement in the environmental movement.
In my book tour across the country, I talked to many Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists regarding their stance on humanity’s role on the planet Earth. I have come to understand two core concepts which resonate across those strands of belief (and disbelief).
The first concept is to leave the Earth better than we found it. The second concept is that humans must be agents of change.
The idea of leaving the Earth better than we found it closely aligns with the role of prophets: to leave human beings better than they found them. Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (among many others), peace and blessings be upon them all, brought messages and teachings to improve the state of their people, whether it was to instill hope, end slavery, or abolish corruption.
In Islam, there are several sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, where he tells people to pick up trash wherever they see it, or to respect a river and never waste its water. There are similar teachings in other religions, but this is not just a religious idea. When I was an Outward Bound instructor, our mantra was to leave no trace. We always left a campsite better than we found it. As children, our parents raised us to clean up after ourselves. Why not extend this ethic to the Earth as a whole?
We have inherited a great thing in this Earth and all its bounty. Why not leave it better than we found it for those who will come after us?
The second concept, to be agents of change, is presented in the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam:
“Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Quran 13:11).
To put it bluntly, we cannot wait for God. Change can come from us and be supported by God. Prayer is essential but it must be combined with action.
In order to act, we must recognize what our actions have done thus far. There’s another verse in the Quran that supports the idea that humans do actually impact the planet: “Corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought. This is in order that we have given them a taste of the consequences of their misdeeds that perhaps they will turn to the path of right guidance” (Quran 30:41).
People of faith, it’s time to stand up and admit that we have been part of the problem. This is our planet and it is our mess. We have to start fixing it. Whether you call it climate change, pollution or Armageddon, we were not put on this Earth to be coy. We have a responsibility to fix what we broke, and its not going to happen by just wishing — or praying — it away. God is here to help us help ourselves. We have to pray AND be actively engaged in the hard work of protecting the planet.
Our prophets are history’s greatest agents of change. Jesus was active in transforming people with his actions. Moses confronted Pharaoh and led his people to freedom. Prophet Muhammad enacted rules to prevent people from taking advantage of one another in business.
To all the self-proclaimed religious people: We send blessings upon our prophet; now, let’s emulate them. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, accept our faith’s imperative and get the Earth out of this ecological mess.
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