A Muslim Perspective on Environment
Along the Coromandal coast of south Tamil Nadu lies my ancestral home Kīlakkarai. Once a thriving port town, it boasted some of the most pristine coral reefs and extraordinary marine life in India. This town is predominantly of Tamil Muslims, where trade once flourished, and this town had trade communications as far as Portugal to the West and Japan to the East. Over the many years, its corals extensively are mined and its beaches used as dumping grounds, the town and its surrounding coast have been stripped of their natural beauty. I write this account having witnessed the adverse effects what irresponsible practices could have on the environment.
Tropical rainforests are known as the lungs of the earth, accounting to nearly 30% of the earth’s annual oxygen turnover; yet, in the last half-century, we have lost more than 30% of it to deforestation, as claimed by the Prince of Wales in a speech titled Islam and the Environment. As a young Muslim, I find these facts to be disturbing. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has been a leading cause in the loss of primary forest habitat. Actively through legal and unauthorised logging, much of the Indonesian canopy has disintegrated.
The Muslims are expected to be exemplary in their deeds; yet in reality, it is far from the truth in this regard. In Islam, it is a belief that the relationship humanity holds with nature is one of purity. Humans have been bestowed the stewardship as the guardian of nature. The Quran condemns those who have digressed in their paths:
“And do no evil nor mischief on the face of the earth.” (Sūrah 2:60)
This verse in my understanding is not limited to social and political wrongdoings, but embraces all aspects, including the corruption of the environment. Our consumerist behaviour coupled with the capitalist ideals of this world, that is materialistic, has distanced us from spirituality. Now that nature is evaluated objectively by the economy-driven mind, we monetarily extend reparations to the depredation of the environment. This ideology is an extension of the opinion that reckons that we are capable of putting a price to our actions to shy away from responsibilities. A spiritual mind is conscious of its behaviour and is wary of altering the order of nature, for he/she will be answerable to the superior being.
Islam advocates activities that are not exploitative. The concept of consuming in excess is utterly discouraged, but in reality, our materialistic desires overpower our spirituality.
Tamil culture and practices have always been respectful of nature. Pongal celebrates the harvest and ‘Ādi Perukku’ welcomes and ushers the freshwater that will flow across Tamil Nadu. These are symbolic gestures that the Tamils display to signify their reliance and close connection to nature.
Our customs have remained in practice as rituals, but our actions only reflect our inadvertent comprehension of these festivals. We celebrate the arrival of freshwater into the banks of the river and yet pollute them. Nature is the display of the almighty’s magnificence:
“And He (is) the One Who spread out the earth, and placed in it firm mountains and rivers, and from all (of) the fruits He made in it pairs. He covers the night (with) the day. Indeed, in that surely (are) Signs for a people who ponder.”(Sūrah 13:3)
This verse questions humanity: is it that we question the existence of the Superior Being even after experiencing the splendours of his creations? Significantly, this verse claims the greatness of the creator by highlighting the beauty of nature. Thus, should it not be a responsibility of ours to preserve the natural environment?
Both the Tamil culture and Islamic teachings remind us that we appreciate and celebrate the natural environment; it has been the subsistence of our life and it will continue to sustain us.
About the Author
Ahmed Kasim is a Policy, Politics & Economics graduate who is deeply interested in understanding the social fabrics of Tamil society and the world at large. A nature lover and an avid wildlife photographer, who is also passionate about environmental issues. Currently residing in Singapore and a banker by profession.