City of Brass

City of Brass

Islam and the Environment: A Conversation

posted by G. Willow Wilson

Recently at Talk Islam, we’ve been having a discussion about the Islamic attitude toward environmental conservation. It started when blogger Umar Lee, an anti-conservationist, posted this entry at his blog. When Talk Islam blogger Thabet called Lee’s attitude “ignorance dressed up as piety”, the following debate ensued:

Willow: Yup. I find it especially sad considering “those who spoil the
earth” are mentioned time and again in the Quran as being among the

Oh well.

Umar: Well, the point is,. that thee are many things that Greens support
that are not conducive to Muslim lifestyles. “Zero Population Growth”
and international family planning are central to green efforts and that
is not very family friendly or in line with the sunnah as we have been
ordered to increase. This also puts many greens in line with many
eugenicists and white racists who fear the population growth amongst
certain groups and see it as a threat to the status quo.

Willow we should preserve the creation of Allah and use it for our
benefit; but not worship it as many do. Animals are to be used for the
benefit of humanity and eaten and not gawked at and to be called “mans
best friend” or what not.

As for gas guzzlers well they may not be the best but I can think of
many other things that people on the left are normally silent about
that are much worse and kill a lot more humans a lot faster ( such as
alcohol, drugs, pornography, and deviant sexual behaviors). There is
also the fact that if you are a large Muslim family what are you
supposed to drive around in? A mini cooper?

Thabet you are taking the tone of the condescending arrogant left
who believes that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant and that
is part of the reason so many Americans vote against their own economic
interests.Because, like me, they see the artificiality and shallowness
of the Woody Allen, latte, tofu, and gentrification set who are all
worked up over green issues but could care less about the poor people
they displace in their own communities.

Willow: In order to preserve it, we can’t corrupt it. You’re creating a
false dichotomy-as if there are only two choices: dominate the earth (a
Christian concept, not an Islamic one) or worship it (a pagan concept,
not an Islamic one). The Quran and hadith are very clear about the
custodianship of the earth. We’re not allowed to hunt for sport; only
to feed ourselves. We’re not allowed to pollute the drinking water or
farmland of others. In Bukhari there is even a hadith in which the
Prophet rebukes one of his followers for setting fire to an anthill
instead of moving his resting-place away from it.

You’re using stereotype and ridicule instead of an argument based on
the sunnah. Show me where the Prophet negligently wasted natural
resources, and then we can have a debate.

Furthermore, on a practical level it should be evident to anyone
that oil wealth and the political struggle for oil are helping to
destroy the Muslim Middle East. You’ve spoken recently about
Gaza-imagine how the political geography would be different if Saudi
Arabia was not in the US’s pocket.

“Be merciful to the earth, so the One above the heaven will be merciful to you.” -ahadith of al Tabarani and al Hakim

Thabet: Umar,it may help you feel good about yourself to paint me as a tofu
eating, latte drinking, sandal wearer, but you are simply relying on a
personal prejudice against “greens” dressed up in the language of
religion or populism (as you do above). That is why I called your post

As Willow says, you have created a false dichotomy. I think you’re
right to criticise the ‘environmental movement’ as elitist and
hypocritical, and usually only interested in self-promotion, but that
doesn’t mean the issues raised are false.

The funny thing about your response is that it is Muslim peoples in
places like Bangladesh, SE Asia, or sub-Saharan Africa that face the
problems of rising sea water levels, desertification, depletion of
resources, etc — all so you can eat your beef steak and drive your 4
litre SUV in keeping with your “Muslim lifestyle” (which is an
interesting choice of terminology).

(Btw, I hate tofu, do not drink coffee and eat meat. Though I do confess to owning a pair of sandals.)

Umar: Both of you seem to read something that is not here. I never said we
should harm the environment or purely exploit it. We should take care
of the earth because we need it for our survival but we should do this
in a balanced manner. I never said anything to the contrary. The Green
Movement, with its Zero Population growth and support for International
Planned Parenthood,I do not see as something Muslims can get down with.

BTW, I have never owned an SUV, have lived most of my adult life in
urban areas without a car, do not own a vehicle now ( I lease a
taxi),and probably have not eaten a steak in a year ( but eat beef on
the regular). I grew up wearing hand me downs, as the kids in my house
do, and I accumulate very little by choice other than books so, in all
actuality, I live a lifestyle probably greener than most of these
jet-setting Prius driving Greens.

Willow: What’s The Green Movement, capitalized? I recycle, but I don’t believe in universal Chinese-style population control.

My beef with the anti-environmentalist argument that
“environmentalism hurts the poor” is that it is not only false but
extremely US-centric. Anyone who’s spent time in a really polluted
country knows that pollution hits the poor first and hardest. They’re
the ones who have to deal with lung cancer, birth defects and
water-born illnesses while the rich hole up in their global green zones
with bottled water and air purifiers. I lived for a year in a factory
district in Cairo, and believe you me, environmental pollution was
nothing abstract to the people who’d grown up there. Babies were born
underweight because the air was so polluted it was like their mothers
were smoking 2 packs a day. Childhood lukemia was sky-high. I knew two
people who dropped dead of heart failure in their mid-thirties. It was
so bad that the workers in the factory, many of whom suffered from
serious lung and heart conditions, went on strike last year to demand
healthcare and cleaner working conditions.

If people like you keep scoffing at conservation efforts and insist
environmentalism is all about Priuses and lattes (my first car was a
1.3 cc Hyundai, which achieves the same thing for 1/4 the money), it
won’t be long before the working classes in this country are facing
similar environmentally-driven health and welfare issues.

  • Cindy Cartwright

    If only more people would read about this!

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