Saving Truth and Beauty: The Destruction of Nature and the Islamic Solution
Published: August 29, 2022 • Updated: March 22, 2023
Author: Rhamis Kent
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The Qur’an, referring to the role designated for Adam and his kind, recounts, “And [mention] when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the Earth a steward (khalīfa).’”
A dilemma of history and humanity
- Deforestation and habitat destruction
- Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses)
- Water management problems
- Effects of introduced (invasive) species on native species
- Increased per-capita impact of people
- Anthropogenic climate change
- Accumulation of toxins in the environment
- Energy shortages
- Full human utilization of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity
- The cutting and burning of most usable timber from forested hillsides and valleys
- Mismanaged grazing of domesticated livestock, resulting in large areas of denuded and overexposed land
- The widespread destruction of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife
- Excessive soil erosion and removal of productive topsoil, and the subsequent silting of streams, reservoirs, irrigation canals, and harbors
- Mismanaged extractive industries resulting in the wasting of easily mined metals and minerals
- The loss of adequate resources and functional land necessary to support dense sedentary populations, forcing the pursuit of new land
In a very real sense the land does not lie; it bears a record of what men write on it. In a larger sense a nation writes its record on the land, and a civilization writes its record on the land—a record that is easy to read by those who understand the simple language of the land.
Diamond’s and Scott’s assessments are neither flawless nor universally agreed upon. The history of Muslims’ engagement with agriculture and cultivation of land, as relayed through the Filāḥa
The Arabs had even a greater aptitude for agriculture than for letters and arts. What means of irrigation are now found in Andalusia were made by them.
In short, they had irrigated and cultivated the land so excellently that it was befitting to call Andalusia a garden.
Agriculture and horticulture were developed to an extent never heard of before.
… the most complex, the most scientific, the most perfect, ever devised by the ingenuity of man. Its principles were derived from the extreme Orient, from the plains of Mesopotamia, and from the valley of the Nile—those gardens of the ancient world where, centuries before the dawn of authentic history, the cultivation of the earth had been carried to a state of extraordinary excellence. To the knowledge thus appropriated were added the results obtained from investigation and experiment, from the introduction of foreign plants; from the adoption of fertilizing substances; from the close and intelligent observation of the geographical distribution and climatic influence.
No cultivators had a more profound knowledge than these people of the value of water. They, like the great riverine peoples, from whom they derived so much knowledge, realized that the proper use of water was civilization. Without its just and conservative distribution, the true justice and magnanimity of civilization do not really exist.
Wrench explains that this was made possible by prioritizing and acting in accordance with Islam’s ethically-based cosmological, epistemological, and metaphysical framework. It is to this framework that we now turn.
Rediscovering our role
Man has three specific functions. The first is to cultivate and prosper in the earth (ʿimārat al-arḍ), which is stated in the verse “He brought you out from the earth and made you inhabit it” (Qur’an 11:61). He should obtain his livelihood from earth, for himself and others. The second is to worship God as is stated: “I have not created jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (Qur’an 51:56). This means man should obey God’s commands and prohibitions. The third is his vicegerency, which is mentioned in: “... and [I will] make you successors in the land and, then, [I will] observe what you will do” (Qur’an 7:129). This [vicegerency] is the imitation of God in accordance with man’s ability to rule by applying the noble qualities of the Law, which are wisdom, justice, forbearance, beneficence, and graciousness. Their purpose is to gain Paradise and proximity to God.
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Corruption has appeared on the land and sea, by reason of what your hands have earned. That Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return.
Corruption has appeared through the death of cattle, drought, lack of food and vegetation in the plains, mountains, countryside, and wilderness as well as in townships and cities because of the transgressions committed by people, (that He may make them taste) that He may make them be seized by (a part of that which they have done) of transgressions, (in order that they may return) in order that they may repent of their sins and thus be relieved.
وَمَا أَصَابَكُم مِّن مُّصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَن كَثِيرٍ
And whatever misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much.
The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.
وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَٰؤُلَاءِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
And He taught Adam the names—all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.”
All of creation makes demands upon man, because he is created in God’s form and has been appointed His vicegerent (khalīfa). He has the God-given duty, woven into his original created nature (fitra), to recognize the haqq [right] of things and to act accordingly. It is this haqq that must be known if his knowledge is to be true, right, worthy, and appropriate, for this haqq is identical with the khalq [creation] that God has established.
In short, beneficial knowledge is knowledge of ‘the what’ and ‘the why’ of ourselves and of things. In order to know a thing truly and benefit from the knowledge, we need to know what it is—its reality (haqīqa), which is nothing but its khalq and its haqq—and we need to know how we should respond to it. What exactly does it demand from us, rightly, truly, and appropriately? To put this into a formula, tahqīq means knowing the haqīqa of God and things and acting according to their haqq; Realization is to know things as they truly are and act appropriately in every circumstance.
وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا ٱلظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ
And if you were to obey most of those on earth, they would lead you away from Allah’s Way. They follow nothing but assumptions and do nothing but lie.
وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَن يُؤْمِنُوا إِذْ جَاءَهُمُ الْهُدَىٰ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّهُمْ إِلَّا أَن تَأْتِيَهُمْ سُنَّةُ الْأَوَّلِينَ أَوْ يَأْتِيَهُمُ الْعَذَابُ قُبُلًا
When guidance came to the people, nothing prevented them from believing and asking forgiveness from their Lord but the fact that the pattern of previous peoples did not occur to them or that the punishment did not appear before their eyes.
وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّن ذُكِّرَ بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِ فَأَعْرَضَ عَنْهَا وَنَسِيَ مَا قَدَّمَتْ يَدَاهُ ۚ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ أَكِنَّةً أَن يَفْقَهُوهُ وَفِي آذَانِهِمْ وَقْرًا ۖ وَإِن تَدْعُهُمْ إِلَى الْهُدَىٰ فَلَن يَهْتَدُوا إِذًا أَبَدًا
And who could do a greater wrong than someone who is reminded of the Signs of his Lord and then turns away from them, forgetting all that he has done before? We have placed covers on their hearts, preventing them from understanding it, and heaviness in their ears. Though you call them to guidance, they will nonetheless never be guided.
Partake of [the Earth] gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer.
The human species as producer-cultivator or consumer-destroyer
If there is any law that has been consistently operative in American history, it is that the members of any established people or group or community sooner or later become “redskins”—that is, they become the designated victims of an utterly ruthless, officially sanctioned and subsidized exploitation. The colonists who drove off the Indians came to be intolerably exploited by their imperial governments. And that alien imperialism was thrown off only to be succeeded by a domestic version of the same thing; the class of independent small farmers who fought the war of independence has been exploited by, and recruited into, the industrial society until now it is almost extinct… The only escape from this destiny of victimization has been to ‘succeed’—that is, to ‘make it’ into the class of exploiters, and then to remain so specialized and so ‘mobile’ as to be unconscious of the effects of one’s life or livelihood. This escape is, of course, illusory, for one man’s producer is another’s consumer, and even the richest and most mobile will soon find it hard to escape the noxious effluents and fumes of their various public services.
We are the octopus congratulating itself for becoming fat by eating its own legs.
Forgetting our role
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- Trinidad & Tobago
وَلَأُضِلَّنَّهُمْ وَلَأُمَنِّيَنَّهُمْ وَلَآمُرَنَّهُمْ فَلَيُبَتِّكُنَّ آذَانَ الْأَنْعَامِ وَلَآمُرَنَّهُمْ فَلَيُغَيِّرُنَّ خَلْقَ اللَّهِ ۚ وَمَن يَتَّخِذِ الشَّيْطَانَ وَلِيًّا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَقَدْ خَسِرَ خُسْرَانًا مُّبِينًا
[Satan said]: “And I will surely lead them astray, and arouse desires in them. I shall command them and they will slit the ears of cattle; I shall command them and they will change the creation of Allah.” Whoever takes Satan as a protector in place of Allah has clearly lost everything.
وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَالنَّسْلَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَسَادَ
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُ اتَّقِ اللَّهَ أَخَذَتْهُ الْعِزَّةُ بِالْإِثْمِ ۚ فَحَسْبُهُ جَهَنَّمُ ۚ وَلَبِئْسَ الْمِهَادُ
Among the people there is someone whose words about the life of this world excite your admiration, and he calls Allah to witness what is in his heart, while he is in fact the most hostile of adversaries.
When he leaves you, he goes about the earth corrupting it, destroying crops and animals. Allah does not love corruption. When told to have taqwā of Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing…
We are provided for abundantly if we acknowledge the biophysical limits of the planet, and we acknowledge those limits by living our lives according to metaphysical realities. In fact, the planet’s living systems will over-deliver. The problem for the human species is that we tend to consistently underperform—and it still delivers in spite of us.
Desires are in fact limited by various dimensions of objective biophysical realities—and ultimately by death… Sound desire is self-limiting, but the consumerist rendering of the world isn’t particularly fond of that idea—so we’re constantly artificially stimulated through perpetual ubiquitous marketing and advertising. We do not exist in a neutral milieu in that regard.
The paradox of ‘earthly life’ is that we simply need to respect the biophysical 'limits' of nature—which essentially consists of having proper adab (manners, etiquette, adherence to protocol) with creation—if we are to enjoy ‘unlimited’ bounties.
Additionally, desires are limited because enjoyments are limited, or bounded; that's an objective fact since we know experientially that unbounded enjoyments and desires degenerate into suffering and humiliation by way of addiction.
أَفَرَءَيْتَ مَنِ ٱتَّخَذَ إِلَـٰهَهُۥ هَوَىٰهُ وَأَضَلَّهُ ٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ وَخَتَمَ عَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِۦ وَقَلْبِهِۦ وَجَعَلَ عَلَىٰ بَصَرِهِۦ غِشَـٰوَةً فَمَن يَهْدِيهِ مِنۢ بَعْدِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ
Have you seen [O Prophet] those who have taken their own desires as their god? [And so] Allah left them to stray knowingly, sealed their hearing and hearts, and placed a cover on their sight. Who then can guide them after Allah? Will you [all] not then be mindful?
Ka’b ibn ʿUjra reported: A man passed by the Prophetﷺ, peace and blessings be upon him, and the companions of the Messenger of Allahﷺ saw his endurance and vigor. They said, “O Messenger of Allah, if only this man was in the way of Allah!” The Prophetﷺ said, “If he goes out striving for his small children, he is in the way of Allah. If he goes out striving for his elderly parents, he is in the way of Allah. If he goes out striving for himself to abstain from wrongdoing, he is in the way of Allah. If he goes out vainly and boastfully, he is in the way of Satan.”
The Prophet ﷺ—Allah bless and give him peace—was sitting one day with his Companions, and they observed a strong, sturdy youth setting out early to work. They said, “Woe unto this man; would that his youth and strength were spent in the path of Allah.” The Prophet—Allah bless and give him peace—said, “Do not say this; for if he works for himself in order to restrain himself from begging and to be independent of people, then he is in the path of Allah. If he works for his impoverished parents or for his impoverished children so as to enrich and suffice them, then he is in the path of Allah. If [however] he works for the sake of showing off (tafākhuran) and accumulation (takāthuran) [of wealth], then he is in the path of Satan.”
إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَـٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا
Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.
وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِى لَشَدِيدٌۭ
And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more. But if you are ungrateful, surely My punishment is severe.”
There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.
Concluding thoughts and solutions
He who knows himself knows his Lord.
لَهُۥ مُعَقِّبَـٰتٌۭ مِّنۢ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِۦ يَحْفَظُونَهُۥ مِنْ أَمْرِ ٱللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَآ أَرَادَ ٱللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍۢ سُوٓءًۭا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُۥ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِۦ مِن وَالٍ
For each one there are successive angels before and behind, protecting them by Allah’s command. Indeed, Allah would never change a people’s state [of favor] until they change their own state [of faith]. And if it is Allah’s Will to torment a people, it can never be averted, nor can they find a protector other than Him.
Whoever desires to purify their heart, then let them prefer Allah to their own desires.
كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌۭ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تَكْرَهُوا۟ شَيْـًۭٔا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تُحِبُّوا۟ شَيْـًۭٔا وَهُوَ شَرٌّۭ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
Fighting has been made obligatory upon you [believers], though you dislike it. Perhaps you dislike something which is good for you and like something which is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know.
Whoever revives dead land, for him is [to be found] reward in it; and whatever any creature seeking food eats of it shall be reckoned as charity from him.
There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field, and a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.
It seems to be the function of the secular world to destroy while boasting of progress. But it must be the function of the religious majority of mankind, and not just the ummah of Islam, to repair. Where they pull up, we must plant. Where they gorge, we must fast. It is the function of Bani Adam in his role as khulafa of Allah subhana wa ta’ala in His Earth to heal. To fix things. To be those who put [things] right.
How strange is the mentality of so many secular people [on] the Earth. Where they see science and technology as leading us into some kind of paradise on Earth. [It’s] not happening. Look at the state of the Earth. Look at the state of people’s minds. Look at the depression and the anxiety. Look at the collapsing planet beneath our feet. This is not progress.
So what do we do? Every one of us has this answer within reach. We have this blessing way, this way of living in a natural and restrained way within the world which is called the Sunnah of the Chosen One (ﷺ).