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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

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WLIC Community Garden & Conservationism in Practice

 

 

 

The WLIC community garden was opened late last month. The east corner of the Mosque site had been an unused plot of land that had accumulated rubbish. After several weeks of voluntary work by a group of young Centre attendees, weeds and rubble were cleared away and new flower beds constructed and laid with shrubs, evergreens, a variety of vegetables and seating. Open to Centre attendees and the visiting community, the project was initiated within the spirit and tradition of Islamic conservationism and a space for individual introspection.  

 

Traditionally, an Islamic garden is a cool place of rest and reflection, and a reminder of paradise. The Qur'an has many references to gardens, and the garden is used as an earthly analogue for the life in paradise.

 

‘As for the people on the right, how fortunate shall be the people on the right! They shall be in the midst of thornless lote trees, and flower clad acacias and extended shade, gushing water, abundant fruit, never-ending and un-forbidden, they shall be on upraised couches’ [Al-Qur’an 56: 27-35]

 

In our capacity as a vicegerents, the human being is perceived as the trustee of the planet. They are not supposed to cause corruption in any form on the earth, which includes the environment. Life on earth entails great responsibilities. It is a test with eventual accountability. Vicegerency as a test is mentioned in the Qur’an:

 

It is He who has made you (His) vicegerents, inheritors of the earth: He has raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He has given you: for your Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.’ [Al-Qur’an 6: 165]

 

The earth is an entrustment and the myriad of material adornments available for the benefit of humanity is much greater than that of the environment. There are numerous verses in the Qur'an that could be cited in this respect, but it suffices to mention two of them:

 

‘And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that there are Signs indeed for those who reflect.’ [Al-Qur’an 45:13]

 

‘Do you not see that God has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth. And has made His bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, (both) seen and unseen?’ [Al-Qur’an 31: 20]

 

There are other verses that point to the temporal nature of the subjected elements. The reason behind highlighting the temporality of things is to remind people of the Hereafter and Life to come. It is hoped that once people are conscientious of the limitation of life on earth, they will behave in a positive and constructive way. As a result, it is anticipated that the environment itself will benefit from the proper behavior of people. That the cosmic order and natural phenomena ultimately come to an end, is reflected in this verse:

 

‘…He has subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law)! Each one runs (its course) for a term appointed. He does regulate all affairs, explaining the Signs in detail, that you may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord.’ [Al-Qur’an 13: 2]

 

‘Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (throughout the earth), are Signs for those of assured Faith. And the alteration of Night and Day, and the fact that God sends down Sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the change of the winds,-are Signs for those that are wise.’ [Al-Qur’an 45: 3-5]

 

As a result, any destruction occurring to the environment is tantamount to destroying these signs. If any species becomes extinct, it is considered a loss of a Sign that reflects the greatness of the Creator. It is indeed a very sad thing if we continue to destroy the environment, because we will prevent the generations to come from having a healthy relationship with the environment, where "healthy" means the chance to experience these Signs.

 

It has been said that there are two books; the one which is read [i.e. the Qur'an] and the one which is seen [i.e. the universe]. While it is known why the Qur'an is described as a Book, the universe is considered a book in the sense that includes signs pointing to God. A transparent heart is needed, though, in order to unveil the way these signs function. Indeed, once the person is not blocked from "reading" the signs that fill up the universe, beautiful forms of dhikr (remembrance) are ensued, and a correlation between many verses of the Qur'an and the corresponding "verses" of the universe are established.

 

Being blocked from the Signs is best expressed with the example of a large industrial or metropolitan city. The huge structures, including high rise buildings, change the horizon. Sunrise and sunset are no longer the phenomena that form a part of daily experiences; at least not for those who are trapped inside the city. One needs a lot of ingenuity to see a "sign" in concrete jungles.

 

In the absence of green lungs for the city, its dwellers, who only see steel and concrete growth, might not experience the natural cycles of growth, this suggests that we must encourage and nurture the growth of plants, tress and gardens, ensuring that we do not over extract and destroy the natural and God-given resources for own excessive self-interest. Within this comes the importance of constantly being vigilant about the materials we are utilising, their origin, their toxic end and the need to recycle wherever possible, paper, card, bottles, plastic, metals, food crumbs, water can all be recycled for re-use. Energy and food conservation would also apply here, truning of the lights or mod-cons when not in use or eating little and not wasting or throwing away food are also part of of Islamic thought.

 

Though we do not understand how, everything in the universe, including the components of the environment, stones, plants, animals, sea and sky participate in making the remembrance [dhikr] of God:

 

The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare his Glory: There is not a thing but celebrates His praise; and yet ye understand not how they declare His Glory! Verily He is Oft-Forbearing; Most Forgiving." [Al-Qur’an 17: 44]

 

 Islam prohibited the cutting or destruction of trees and plants, and encouraged people to protect and increase plants for the great reward associated with this. Abu Bakr (RA) the first Caliph of Islam, prohibited the destruction of trees as an act of vengeance or collective punishment. If this is the status of plants in the Islamic world-view during war, it must be that they "enjoy" a better position during peaceful times. The Prophet (pbuh) said,

 

‘He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], God will bequeath him a seat in the Fire." [Al-Tirmidhi]

 

The lote-tree grows in the desert and it is very much needed in an area which has scarce vegetation. Against this background, where the life of one tree is appreciated, one can deduce the critical Islamic position towards destroying millions of trees as a result of humans directly harming nature with such things as deforestation or indirectly via acid rain.

 

Islam encourages people to plant trees and all useful plants. In deed, similar to all acts performed in line with the Islamic world-view, and when done intentionally for the sake of God, they are considered and rewarded as acts of worship. Jaber (ra) reported that the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said:

 

‘No Muslim, who plants a shoot, except that whatever is eaten or stolen from it, or anyone obtains the least thing from it, is considered [like paying] almsgiving on his behalf until the Day of Judgment.’ [Muslim]

 

Protecting the land from pollution is indicated in the many narration of the Prophet (pbuh) that encourages people to keep it clean. One narration in Tirmidhi states, among other things, that God likes goodness, cleanliness, and generosity. The narration ends with the Prophet (pbuh) asking his community to keep clean their courtyards.

 

The message that this narration sends is that cleanliness is something desirable, good and reflects an act of generosity towards the environment. Indeed, if cleanliness is something good, then it should be reflected everywhere. Islam has created a bond between faith and cleanliness, rendering the latter as a part of creed. The Prophet (pbuh) said:

 

‘Faith is some seventy branches, the highest of which is "There is no god but God, and the least is removing obstacles from the path of people, and that shyness is a branch of faith.’ [Al-Bukhari]

 

It is obvious that clearing the path means, in this context, the removal of material obstacles or solid waste which constitutes a kind of pollution. The same concept is reiterated in another narration which, in addition to the above prohibition, mentions the prohibition of relieving oneself in water sources (e.g. ponds, rivers etc.).

 

The prohibition in these two narrations is intended to prevent pollution in the language of today. The direct human polluting activity at the time is extended to indirect sources of pollution, such as through sewers. The natural pollutants of the time are extended to include the chemical pollutants.

 

We can translate the language of the narration which prohibits the pollution of water into a contemporary context. We know already that chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are detrimental to the health of humans, and we know that much of these chemicals reach the aquifers. So, by analogy, from the perspective of the Shrai'ah, this is prohibited.

 

The Shari'ah aims at protecting the environment, and while the individual is asked to help in this respect, the ultimate responsibility is in the hands of the state. When Abu Musa (ra) was sent to Al-Basrah as the new governor, he addressed the people saying:

 

‘I was sent to you by 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab in order to teach you the Book of your Lord [i.e. the Qur'an], the Sunnah [of your prophet], and to clean your streets.’ [Related in Al-Darimi]

 

The function of the governor who represents the authority, in the narration about Abu Musa (ra), includes keeping the environment clean. This position should be highlighted, because it challenges the authority to deliver sound policies regarding the environment and to implement them.

 

 It is God's will that all living beings on earth are dependent for their existence on water:

 

"…We made from water every living thing…"  [Al-Qur’an 21: 30]

 

There are tens of verses in the Qur'an that reflect the direct involvement of the Divine Will whenever it rains.

 

‘And God sends down rain from the skies, and gives therewith life to the earth..’  [Al-Qur’an 16: 65]

 

‘And We send down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and grain for harvests.’ [Al-Qur’an 50: 9]

 

While every thing that takes place in this universe is subject to Divine Will, such verses further highlight the impact of faith and good conduct on the environment. In addition to the protection of water from pollution, the Sunnah (example of the Prophet (pbuh) emphasised the proper use of water without wasting it.

 

The Prophet (pbuh) performed ablution three [times] and said "Whoever increases [more than three] he does injustice and wrong."[Ibn Majah]

 

For the Muslim, nature is a ni’mah, a blessed gift of God’s bounty, granted to man to use and to enjoy, and transform in anyway but with the aim if achieving ethical value. Nature is not man’s to possess or to destroy, or to use in any way detrimental to himself and to humanity, or to itself as God’s creation.

 

Since nature is God’s work, his ayah, or sign, and the instrument of His purpose which is the absolute good, nature should enjoy in the Muslim’s eye a tremendous dignity. The Muslim should treat nature with respect and deep gratitude to its beneficial Creator and Bestower. Any transformation of it must have a purpose clearly beneficial to all before it can be declared legitimate. This means that every Muslim according to Islam, must be a green Muslim.


'Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus he whose migration was for Allah and His messenger, his migration was for Allah and His messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated.' [Related in Muslim]
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