By Anila Muhammad, MPV-Toronto, Canada
On April 22 individuals and communities, many with philosophical and spiritual differences, will come together and voice a common concern to honor and respect the earth. Like many faith communities, Muslims in North America will be marking this occasion in their local mosques, in schools, community groups and with interfaith activities.
Many Muslims are guided by certain Quranic principals that encourage commitment towards the environment. Among these is the concept of humans as Khalifa's of the earth as indicated in verse 2:30 "And lo! Your Sustainer said to the angels: Behold,I am about to establish upon earth aKhalifa." Khalifa is interpreted to mean guardian, trustee and more recently a steward that maintains the balance and integrity of the earth. Unlike other forms of creation, the responsibility rests with us to consistently maintain the delicate equilibrium of this planet.
Unfortunately, the concept of Khalifa has been misinterpreted to imply that humans are somehow superior to other forms of creations and hence have the right to use the earth's resources at their discretion. This has led to misuse and abuse of the earth's resources and inhabitants, resulting in ecological setbacks from climate change to species extinction.
That is why it is important to contextualize the concept of Khalifa within verse 40:57 which states: "Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth." Some scholars have interpreted this verse to mean that the earth is the greater form of creation while humans are a lesser form of creation. Indeed humans are the guardians of this balance. However, we must conduct our responsibilities within a framework of humility, not superiority, and help to maintain the right of all communities, both human and non-human, to enjoy the earth and its resources.
As we re-embrace and apply these environmental principals, it is possible to reverse the imbalances we have created on this planet. A great example of these concepts in action is within the community of Misali, Zanzibar. This Muslim community had engaged in destructive fishing practices which lead to a near collapse of the surrounding coral and marine life. A program initiated by the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences used an environmental preservation model based on principals in the Quran. As a result of this program, community members embraced their role in maintaining ecological integrity through sustainable fishing practices.
The Quran contains hundreds of verses which discuss the natural world and our relationship to it. Earth Day is a great opportunity for us to meditate and find inspiration in these verses and continue to work towards creating greater ecological sustainability in our communities. Happy Earth Day to all!