Monday, July 14, 2008

Understanding Syariat and Environment

Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment

Prof. Mustafa Abu-Sway

This section provides detailed accounts from the Qur'an and the Sunnah regarding the protection of the following areas: human beings, animals, plants, land, water, and air.

1. Human Beings:

Despite the differences regarding the inclusion of human beings as a part of the environment, this paper consider humans to be part of the ecological system. I have adopted this position though I know that the rest of the ecosystem is subservient to humans.

Islam called for the protection of the human being. The Shari'ah specifically called for the protection of five things pertaining to humans: life, religion, offspring, intellect, and property.

Islam emphasized the sanctity of human life in the strongest possible terms:

"On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people�" Qur'an, 5:35

The rulings of the Shari'ah aim at preserving the life of the human being including murderers. It is a well established fact that punishment for murder is death penalty. Nevertheless, the Qur'an encouraged the family of the murdered person to forfeit their right that the murderer be executed:

"Nor take life-which God has made sacred-except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law)." Qur'an, 17:33

For the same reason, committing suicide is prohibited:

"Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily God hath been to you Most Merciful!" Qur'an, 4:29

Moreover, a fetus has a life which should be preserved. Abortion is prohibited unless for a permitted reason (ex. the life of the mother is endangered). In Islamic jurisprudence, there is blood money to be paid by a person who kills a fetus intentionally or accidentally.

Wars remain a major factor in killing human beings and in the destruction of the environment. The Islamic position, which is quite to the contrary of the picture depicted by the western media, states in clear terms that peace is the norm and war is the exception. The Prophet [S.A.A.S] prohibited that a Muslim wishes to confront the enemies in the battlefield.[7] I understand that the raison d'etre of this hadith is to give priority to peaceful solutions whenever conflicts surface between Muslims and other fellow humans. In fact, the first thirteen years of the history of Islam in Makkah reflect passive resistance. Nevertheless, self-defense is permitted to protect Islam and Muslims. If Muslims have to go to war, then they have to abide by Islamic codes of conduct during warfare:

"Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors." Qur'an, 2:190

The essential limits that should not be transgressed are best expressed by Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, in his address to Yazid Ibn Abu Sufian, the commander of the army that went north to Sham [i.e. Greater Syria]:

"�And I instruct you [to fulfill the following] ten [orders]: Do not kill a woman, nor a child, nor an old man; do not cut down fruitful trees; do not destroy [land or housing] in use; do not kill a goat or a camel unless for food; do not flood palm trees [with water] nor burn them down �"[8]

Such a quotation, which reflects the ethos of the Shari'ah, defines the norm that the life of those who do not engage themselves directly in war should be spared. Protection is also extended to animals and plants; they should not be used as part of collective punishment.

Accordingly, all weapons of mass destruction are unacceptable from an Islamic perspective. All chemical, biological and nuclear weapons should be prohibited world wide without any exceptions. It is not enough to have nuclear non-proliferation treaties that exempt certain countries because they did not sign. If the super powers only head to the fact that humanity needs a safer and cleaner earth! No country should be able to stock weapons of mass destruction or non-conventional weapons.

Here I find myself at odds with a statement of Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. He said, in one of his most recent books, that "regarding the kinds of weapons that are used in fighting, how to make them and how to train [soldiers] how to use them, etc., is not an issue to [be settled by] religion; it is the business of the ministry of defense and the headquarters of the armed forces."[9]

I do believe that Dr. Al-Qaradawi is troubled by what is happening to Muslims around the world, and that he aims at allowing room for decision makers in the Islamic world to consider measures that would deter aggressors from attacking them with weapons of mass destruction. I think that this is a legitimate concern, yet the statement is very broad and it might be misinterpreted by those in office. On the other hand, Muslim scholars should voice their concern about these issues and not to give a free hand to the military apparatus which could waste the resources of the Ummah in compiling weapons, rather than investing them in the re-establishment of a leading Islamic civilization.

We should remember that the American use of atomic bombs against Japan, during World War II, is a much protested and regretted act. The increase in ecological awareness is making it difficult for governments to continue its nuclear programs. There was a global protest against the French nuclear tests that took place in the French Polynesian Islands. Though it is not good enough, it appears that the French government pledged an end to nuclear tests.

Not only weapons on that scale should be prohibited, but also weapons such as anti-personnel mines should be banned. There is nothing that could justify the killing or the maiming of human beings by these mines. Millions of them are spread around the world; only concerted efforts on a global level might bring some relief and hope. While one prays for an end to armed conflicts, one should remember that killing the enemy during war is not an end in itself.

The fact the Muslims are subjected to different forms of attacks that range from ethnic cleansing to discrimination in the work place, should not be used by Muslims as a pretext to behave in the same way as their enemies:

"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from Justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do." Qur'an, 5:9

Many of the conflicts around the world were/are fueled by inhuman ideologies that stress the supremacy of one "race" over the other. This form of social Darwinism was translated into a systematic program by the Nazis to annihilate other races. The Serbs performed some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Kosova, despite the fact that the "race" is the same! It is clear that Muslims in these cases were victimized because of their faith.

The Islamic world view does not permit any ideas of negative value judgment regarding the biological differences in terms of color and shape. They are to be perceived positively as Signs pointing to God:

"And among His Signs is the creation of heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know." Qur'an, 30:22

The differences in the colors of people function exactly like those between animals, plants and inanimate objects:

"Seest thou not that God sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring out produce of various colors. And in the mountains are tracts white and red, of various shades of color, and black intense in hue. And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear God, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for God is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving." Qur'an, 35:27-28

Those who know will appreciate the differences; those who are ignorant do not. There aren't many races; there is one human "race" reflecting many prisms. The beautiful different colors and shapes of flowers do not invite us to damage all but one. They are there as gifts and Signs from God to help us remember Him. As such, they should be appreciated and preserved.

The only legitimate differentiation in Islam is based upon moral, not physical character:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." Qur'an, 49:13

The compendiums of hadith are full with reports that reflect the spirit of brotherhood regardless of the physical appearances. The companions of the Prophet himself reflect a rainbow of colors: they comprised Muhammad the Arab, Suhayb the Roman, Suleiman the Persian and Bilal the Ethiopian.

In addition, Islam was pluralistic in its relationship with the "other" from the outset. It is already established that if the "otherness" is based upon differences in color, it does not generate a conflict. In addition, if the "otherness" is based upon a different belief, such as the Jews and the Christians, it is also tolerated in the Islamic world-view. Tolerance is emphasized in the Qur'an and in the Sunnah in many contexts:

"God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just." Qur'an, 60:8

Where other systems of belief and communities failed to deal justly with the "other" who lives amongst them, Islam succeeded. One may compare the history of the "other" in the Islamic state and that of the "other" in Europe. The best case is that of the "other" as a Jew!

There are ways and means to protect the life of the human being in Islam. There is a broadly stated principle in the Qur'an which prohibits all harm: "�And make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for God loveth those who do good." Qur'an, 2:195

This verse highlights the dangers that fall within the responsibility of the individual towards oneself. They include taking drugs, alcohol, or any activity which is contrary to natural disposition such as homosexuality. Islam is amongst the minority (the Catholic church condemns the act but not the homosexual) that condemns homosexuality; some reformed synagogues and some Protestant churches allow marriages between the members of the same sex. Taken to an extreme, homosexuality leads to the annihilation of mankind!

Add to this gloomy picture is adultery and common use of needles in drugs. As such, the number of people contracting AIDS is mushrooming. Against this background, the Islamic way of life provides a safety valve which, if accepted, can save humanity.

[Currently, he is in the Department of Philosophy at al-Quds University, Jerusalem. He was formerly a Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur. He was also the head of the Department of Philosophy at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He has written books such as Al-Ghazzaliyy: A Study in Islamic Epistemology (1996)]


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