The Qur’an declares that “reforming the Earth” is the ideal human endeavor. It also criticizes humanity for several very basic human traits: that human beings are too proud and petty, narrow-minded, and selfish.
“Man is by nature timid,”
says the Qur’an.
“When evil befalls him, he panics, but when good things come to him he prevents them from reaching others.”
This pettiness causes individuals to become so submerged in nature that they lose sight of its Creator. Only when nature fails them do they turn, in utter frustration, to God. Their shortsightedness deludes them into thinking that charity, altruism, and sacrificing for others will impoverish them. This, however, is Satan’s influence, for God promises prosperity in return for generosity to the poor.
The Qur’an insists, therefore, that individuals transcend their pettiness and enlarge themselves in order to develop the inner moral quality of taqwa (usually translated ‘fear of God,” but actually meaning, “to guard against danger”). Using taqwa, individuals can discern right from wrong and, above all, evaluate their own actions properly and so avoid self-deception, a danger to which they are always exposed. People often think they have done something consequential, although in the long run the deed has no importance. The real worth of one’s deeds can be judged only through taqwa, and an individual’s aim should be the ultimate benefit of humanity, not the self’s immediate pleasures or ambitions.
The Qur’an (6:38) declares in no uncertain terms that:
“There is no creature upon the Earth or in the skies that does not form part of a community as you do. All things progress through life thanks to Divine guidance: some are more advanced, some are less advanced.”
This means that humanity is not the only community living on the Earth. God’s sustaining provisions reach all of His creatures, and thus all are worthy of respect and protection.
Prophet Muhammad regarded all living creatures as worthy of protection and kind treatment. When asked whether kindness to animals will be rewarded, he said:
“For charity shown to any creature with a wet heart, there is a reward,” (wetness indicates life).
This tradition also suggests humanity’s stewardship over nature.
The Qur’an does not regard nature as opposed to God for, in reality, nature is muslim, meaning “submitted to God’s Will.” Every creature that exists in the heavens or upon the Earth bows its head in submission to God’s laws, willingly or unwillingly.
“The seven heavens and the Earth and all that exists within them sing the praises of God; there is no atom that does not praise God with thanks and gratitude, although you may be unaware of how this praise is expressed.” (17:44; 3:38).
Giving thanks imparts worth and value, and the Qur’an emphasizes God’s greatness and glory by including animate and inanimate creatures in His worship. Such inclusion is designed to create a respect and reverence for nature in human beings. Nature is in harmony with those individuals who give thanks. Just as when people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds overcome their fear of each other when they pray together, this shared aspect of creatureliness overcomes the alienation between humanity and nature.
There is a total harmony between God and nature. There is however, an unfolding process and progression in nature, for God placed in it a creative power that made it grow, bifurcate, and ramify.
The Qur’an asks:
“Do the unbelievers not see that We have created the planets [in this solar system from the burning, swirling gases that] We tore away from [the sun as it revolved]? Do they not see that We created every living thing from water [that is, this viscous soup of solar gases]?)” (21:30).
God gave nature the power of growth, bifurcation, progression, and change. The Qur’an abounds in statements that nature is the proof (ayah) of God’s existence, unity, and wisdom. Nature is well-knit and originally without any flaw. God has created every thing according to a its proper measurement (qadar). Nature is therefore one of His prime miracles. Thoughtful reflections on this divine miracle and keen observation of it can lead us to faith in God and encourage us to worship God. Nature is the reminder (dhikr) of God. The Qur’an calls upon humanity to reflect on nature and learn from it:
“In the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and in the alternation of night and day [in which the means of livelihood are found] there are signs [of Truth] for those with the ability and will to understand. Those who, whether sitting, standing or reclining on their sides, remember God and deliberate upon the creation of the heavens and the Earth [and the purpose that underpins the whole cosmos] saying: “0 Lord! You have not created all this in vain. May You be glorified: You are far above the creation of playthings and trifles. So, 0 Lord, deliver us from the fires of Hell!'” (3:190-91).
The Qur’an emphasizes three dimensions of the human-nature relationship, with nature functioning as the proof of God’s existence:
– Worship engendered by nature
– Appreciation of beauty and aesthetics derived through nature
– Gratitude based on the realization of utility and value in nature.
The Qur’an teaches that nature has surrendered itself to the laws of God and thus is muslim. Nature is not only muslim in the sense that it obeys God’s laws and rules; the Qur’an goes one step further and says that all nature sings God’s praises, although ordinary human senses cannot grasp that form of worship.
Whereas nature is the handiwork of God and the Qur’an speaks of its beauty, value, and goodness, it also underscores the purposefulness of creation. Everything in creation has a purpose, and everything functions as a sign of God’s existence. Moreover, God created the natural world long before human beings, thus making human beings dependent on the natural order for their survival. All living creatures are part of the divine purpose, and are interconnected in the ecological system. Human beings must realize this interconnectedness with the rest of nature and must reach out to all other sentient beings.
The Qur’anic verse:
“Every created being has a size [and proportion known to God alone]”
(13:8; 15:21) proclaims the natural balance that needs to be preserved for ecological systems. The massive ecological damage caused by humanity indicates its disobedience to God. It is humanity’s responsibility to maintain ecological balance as a proof of its gratitude to the Creator. In Islam, the requirement of tahara (ritual purity), usually understood in the context of Muslim ritual cleansing, has an extended application: the elimination of internal and external impurities that pollute our body and spirit. Thus water, an important source of ritual tahara and human consumption must be kept pure. This general rule applies to other ecological systems, mountain ranges, and waterfalls also, because they are essential for healthy living.