Revitalising the Ecological Ethics of Islam by Way of Islamic Education – CILE - Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics

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Revitalising the Ecological Ethics of Islam by Way of Islamic Education

Dr. Najma Mohamed | 18/08/2016
Revitalising the Ecological Ethics of Islam by Way of Islamic Education
  1. Introduction
  2. Constructing an Ecological Ethic of Islam
  3. Environmental Education in Islam
  4. Conclusion


1/ Introduction

While there have been concerns about the silence of the Muslim voice on the environmental crisis (Foltz 2000, Kula 2001, Ramadan 2009), there is increasing evidence of a growing ecoIslamic movement. This environmental movement, rooted in the ecological teachings of Islam, is actively voicing its concern about the ecological crisis; unearthing the ethical teachings of Islam as it relates to the human-environment relationship; and striving to implement practical initiatives based on the ecological teachings of Islam. According to Foltz, “[a]mong the major universal religious traditions, Islam possesses perhaps the greatest sensitivity to the value of the natural resources and the need to preserve them” (2006, 101).

All ecoIslamic writers, while approaching the issue from different angles, refer to the relationship between humans and the environment as an ethical one (Nasr 1996, Ouis 2003, Özdemir 2008). The last three decades has seen immense activity, theoretical and practical, to formulate a response to the ecological crisis. Educational interventions, particularly in the sphere of Islam’s rich institutional landscape, have been among the primary strategies promoted to revive Islam’s environmental teachings and practices. According to Sheikh (1993, 492), “…religious education has a tremendous contribution to make in promoting the protection of environment through inculcating moral and spiritual values” which support environmental concern.

Boasting an extensive and growing educational establishment, both traditional and modern institutions, the masjid and Muslim school for example, continue to play a vital role in the educational life of Muslims the world over. While this establishment has undergone marked changes in the colonial era, educational reform efforts aimed at addressing the role and contribution of Islamic education in post-colonial societies demonstrate that Islam presents educational visions and pedagogical understandings of relevance in the world today (Hussien 2007, Waghid 2010). In terms of the environmental question, Islam can thus make both an ethical and educational contribution since it not only possesses ethical reference systems which guide human interaction with nature, but educational visions which impact upon environmental teaching and learning. This essay will present an understanding of the ecological ethics of Islam, and investigate the actualisation of these ethics in the educational landscape of Islam.


2/ Constructing an Ecological Ethic of Islam

Concern for the environment is deeply-rooted in all fields of Islamic teaching and culture according to leading contemporary Islamic scholar, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (2005). Many concepts and principles in the Qur’an, such as tawḥīd (unity) and khilāfah (trusteeship) carry substantive implications for the environment.  Islamic ecoethics generally involve the extension of these broad ethical social principles regarding the nature, meaning and value of the world and its creatures to the human-environment relationship.

The following ecoethical principles foreground the fundamental aspects of the environmental message of Islam: the position of Allah as the Creator, Owner and Sustainer of the universe (tawḥīd); the role of humankind as trustees and representatives of Allah who should adhere to a code of action reflecting the best social behaviour and highest ethical values towards all Creation (khilāfah); the place and position of creation in Islam (khalq); and the nature, impact and way out of the environmental crisis (fasād and fiṭrah). Drawing on the works of traditional and contemporary scholars, these ecoethical principles are outlined below.

The key principle underlying the ecoethic of Islam is the oneness and unity of Allah, or tawḥīd. This principle is the sine qua non of the Islamic faith and gives Islamic civilisation its distinctive character (Irving 1979). Tawḥīd includes the recognition that Allah is the Owner and Creator of everything. This has a major impact when making decisions pertaining to the environment, since it affirms that everything, including humankind, belongs to Allah. Moreover, “the idea that Allah is the True Owner and Manager of His Resources liberates the human mind from the false sense of autonomy or dominion over the Earth’s natural resources” (Goolam 2003, 266). One Qur’anic commentator, Abul Faraj, noted, “People don’t in fact own things, for the real owner is their Creator; they only enjoy the usufruct, subject to the Divine Law” (Ahmad 1997, 180). Ecological realities today paint a different picture despite that fact that the “Qur’an reminds us that that earth does not belong to us”, we are destroying it without “any vision of the consequences, and nowhere is the Islamic principle of mīzān (balance) being maintained” (Foltz 2006, 150). Fazlun Khalid (2002), a leading ecoIslamic activist, calls tawḥīd the bedrock of the holistic ecological philosophy of Islam.

Khilāfah relates to human vicegerency on earth and is an expression of the Islamic worldview which holds that Allah bestowed upon humankind a position of a steward, trustee or vicegerent on Earth, referred to as a khalīfah. Vicegerency covers every aspect of life and essentially tests humanity’s just exercise of authority over those within their stewardship, including nature (Sachedina 1999). A khalīfah takes on a trust and must hold it in harmony with the wishes of its grantor, Allah, making human beings vicegerents and not lords and masters of the earth in a dictatorial sense. This principle, as discussed by Muslim environmental scholars, portrays men and women as trustees or stewards, who are provided with bounties that should be enjoyed within limits (Izzi Dien 2000, Özdemir 2003).

There are several Qur’anic precepts which expound on the concept of khilāfah such as ‘ubudiyyah (servanthood). The Qur’an describes the human being as ‘abd, at once God’s servant as well as His active tool (khalīfah), fulfilling His orders (Izzi Dien 2000). As the servant of Allah (‘abd Allah), the khalīfah is bound by the laws of His Maker while in his “khalīfah-dom”, he has been given the privilege of partaking of the bounties of the earth (Dutton 2003). Yet it is precisely because they are slaves of Allah that humans have to undertake the role of khalīfah by actively adhering to the commands of their Lord and “sustaining cosmic harmony and disseminating the grace” for which they are the channel as a result of being the central creature of the terrestrial order (Nasr 1997, 8). EcoIslamic writers thus contend that environmental care is part of servanthood to Allah and must be carried out in accordance with His laws since

…nothing is more dangerous for the natural environment than the practice of the power of vicegerency by a humanity which no longer accepts to be God’s servant, obedient to His commands and laws. There is no more dangerous a creature on earth than a khalīfat Allah who no longer considers himself to be ‘abd Allah and who therefore does not see himself as owing allegiance to a being beyond himself. (Nasr 1997, 9)

The value of creation (khalq), which will refer here to the natural world, can be condensed into three primary functions; firstly, all of creation is regarded as signs or āyāt of Allah, worshipping and glorifying Him, even though humankind cannot perceive this. Nature therefore possesses an intrinsic value and Islam, like most religions, depicts nature as a theophany (Agwan 1997). Secondly, nature has an ecological value as an integral part of the whole ecosystem, created in measure and balance (mīzān) by Allah. And finally, nature has an instrumental value to humans who hold it in usufruct. The Qur’an states repeatedly that the natural world has been ‘subjected’ (taskhīr) or ‘constrained’ by Allah for human use, but this does not entail domination, exploitation or control of nature. Scholars emphasise that it is the intrinsic value of nature, as signs of the Most-High, which is the raison d’être for its protection and conservation (Bagader et al. 1994, Izzi Dien 2000, Llewellyn 2003).

The view that nature possesses value solely for human use has been challenged by both traditional and contemporary scholars. Ibn Taymiyyah, while commenting on a verse regarding the subjugation of nature to humankind, says that “it must be remembered that God in His great wisdom created these creatures for reasons other than merely serving man. Indeed God’s reasons were greater than serving man, for in these verses He only explains the benefits of these creatures to him (man)” (Izzi Dien 2000, 99-100). Turkish scholar, Said Nursi, regards the true purpose of the existence of all things as being the miracle of power and the traces of the artistry of the Maker; as an object of contemplation; and the soul of the thing itself, its intrinsic value (Özdemir 2003). EcoIslamic writers ‘interpret’ the destruction of the natural world as  fasād (corruption) and as an impairment of the delicate balance (mizān) of the creative order – a transgression for which humanity will be called to account (Ahmad 1997, Parvaiz 2003, Abdul-Matin, 2010).

Discussions on the concept of fasād feature prominently in ecoIslamic discourse. Translated as destruction, corruption or mischief, fasād is said to apply to the realm of the environment as it does to any other part of life. It is the result of transgressing the limits of human behaviour as ordained by God. In addition, fasād is “inflicted by man’s unwary interference with the natural laws and environmental systems” and “[e]nvironmental pollution, which is tantamount to the disruption of natural balance, is the main form of corruption on the earth” (Ghoneim 2000). The Qur’an refers to this as follows:

Corruption [fasād] prevails in the land and the sea because of all the evil that the hands of humanity have earned―so that He may cause them to taste something of that which they have done­―so that they may return in penitence to God. {The Byzantines 30: 41}

According to Qur’anic commentator, Bayḍāwi the meaning of fasād is “dryness of the land, many fires, many drowned and a reduction in the blessings of God” (Izzi Dien 2000, 53). Ibn Kathīr states that fasād will result in the rain being withheld thereby reducing the amount of crops in both food plants and fruits; and will also cause an adverse effects on sea animals (Al-Mubarakpuri 2000). Fasād is regarded as a test and punishment for what humankind has done on land and sea, since “Whoever disobeys Allah in the earth has corrupted it, because the good condition of the earth and the heavens depends on obedience to Allah” (Al-Mubarakpuri 2000, 554). These interpretations, which extend the meaning of fasād to incorporate environmental pollution and destruction, have been adopted widely by ecoIslamic thinkers. The Qur’anic verse cited above, it is argued, calls to humankind to desist from polluting and destroying the earth and to turn back from evil towards their ‘innate’ goodness – to their fiṭrah, the primordial nature of humankind.

Fiṭrah refers to the natural inclination and predisposition towards goodness with which every child is born in accordance with a prophetic saying. Intrinsic to this primordial state is the belief in the oneness of God, tawḥīd. Muslim scholars explain that as the physical body submits to natural laws, “the soul also submits naturally to the fact that Allah is its Lord and Creator” (Bilal Philips 1990, 49). Yusuf Ali translates one of the key verses on fiṭrah as follows:

So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) God’s handiwork according to the pattern [fiṭrah] on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by God: that is the standard religion: but most among mankind understand not. {The Byzantines 30: 30}

What implications does fiṭrah have for the issue of environmental concern? There are three central implications of fiṭrah: that right action is natural to humans; that Islam as dīn al-fiṭrah is the religion true to the primordial nature of humankind; and that human capacity to choose between right and wrong and the initiative to change himself or his circumstances can impact on the condition of the environment (Mohamed 1996). Fiṭrah is considered to be the natural state of humankind which is one of being in harmony with nature. Muslim ecotheologians argue that what is required is a “return” to this natural way of living – embodied in the teachings of Islam. The notion of fiṭrah is therefore in sync with the call by environmentalists to live with an understanding of the interconnectedness of everything in nature (Ouis 2003, 2). The conscious expression of fiṭrah is in the hands of humankind who must decide to live according to their deepest human nature which is beautiful, harmonious and right (Khalid 2002, Chishti 2003).

From these foundational ethical principles of the Qur’an, a clear picture of the human-environment relationship in Islam emerges. While this ethical framework could lead to a deep respect for nature, the Sharī‘ah further actualises the limits and conditions of human trusteeship as it pertains to the earth. The acceptance of trusteeship places all human actions, first and foremost, before divine arbitration and subsequently every earthly act, whether “humble or grand, public or private, becomes charged with legal consequences” (Manzoor 1984, 157). However, in His mercy, the Most-Just Creator provided guidance to humanity in the form of the Qur’an and the Sunnah which lays down the parameters for human life on earth. Many Muslim scholars contend that according to the Sharī‘ah caring for the environment is a religious obligation (Bagader et al. 1994, Izzi Dien 2000, Llwellyn 2003). Thus, in order to implement the environmental teachings of their faith, Muslims will have to know which acts are mandatory, prohibited, disliked or recommended, in other words, they need to know the fiqh (substantive law) of dealing with the environment.

The maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah, the fundamentals which the Sharī‘ah aims to safeguard, have generally been divided by Muslim jurists into five: religion, life, posterity, reason and property. These constitute the essential prerequisites that should be protected for human society to function and prosper. These, according to many ecoIslamic works, cover much that concerns environmentalists (Abu Sway 1998, Shah Haneef 2002, Llwellyn 2003). The most pervasive view, however, is that since the natural environment is concerned about all five dimensions with which the Sharī‘ah is concerned, 

…saving the environment in effect means protecting the essential objectives of the Sharī‘ah and thus is an obligatory duty to be fulfilled by Muslims – a policy that God strongly urges Muslims to pursue and adopt. (Shah Haneef 2002, 254)

The Sharī‘ah provides an understanding of how to implement the Divine Will in the most ethical and moral way. The substantive legislation (fiqh) related to the environment is scattered across various subject areas in books of Islamic law.  Examples of environmental laws relate to the use and protection of natural resources, such as land, water and minerals; laws relating to hunting and slaughtering; and the establishment and management of charitable endowments for the protection of natural resources. An extensive institutional framework, such as the hisbah and himā existed to put these laws into practice. Many ecoIslamic writers have put forward a convincing argument that time-honoured Islamic legal principles can be applied to address environmental issues which, they posit, were traditionally always a part of the Sharī‘ah (Abu Sway 1998, Llwellyn 2003, Özdemir 2003). For instance, institutions mentioned in the Sharī‘ah such as ḥimā (reserves) and ḥarīm (inviolable zones surrounding water courses, roads and settlements) could easily be applied in contemporary environmental and conservation planning.

The ecological ethic of Islam formulated here is comprised of broad Qur’anic ethical principles which define the relationship between the Creator, humankind and creation, and a system of juristic methods, laws and institutions―the Sharī‘ah―which puts these precepts into action. When viewed “in an environmental sense, the Shariah and Qur’anic concepts provide a very effective ethical and pragmatic answer to our environmental crisis” (Sardar 1985, 224). Across the world, Muslims are drawing upon the rich educational establishment of Islam to revitalize the ecoethics of Islam.


3/ Environmental Education in Islam

From the cradle to the grave, a Muslim is charged with seeking knowledge―of her Creator, of His Laws, and of the workings of creation―drawing on all sources of knowledge – in revealed and non-revealed knowledges, through sensory and spiritual experiences, in the Qur’an and in the universe. This wondrous search for knowledge should be visible in her life, and manifested in just action in this world, in a‘māl ṣālihāt (good works) which incorporate environmental care.

In the just fulfilment of the status of a khalīfah, knowledge and education play a pivotal role since “[r]eason, intelligence, language, and writing will grant people the qualities required to enable them to be God’s khalifahs (vicegerents) on earth” (Ramadan 2007, 31). Environmental education, which assists in the actualisation of the ethical mandate of khilāfah is a necessary component of Islamic education since it equips Muslims with the knowledge required to fulfil a religious obligation, environmental care (Uddin 1986, Al-Naki 2005, Haddad 2006, Abu-Hola 2009). It also promotes awareness of the environmental teachings of Islam, instilling an attitude of respect, justice and care towards the natural world; the knowledge and skills to understand the workings of the earth and the patterns of human use and abuse which impact upon people and nature; and the motivation to act for both personal and societal transformation striving to be the best khalīfah which he or she can be.

The environmental education process in Islam is a path towards understanding the signs of the Creator and endeavours to develop a human being who will be a true servant (‘abd) and vicegerent (khalīfah) of the Creator in his actions (Hashim 2005).


3.1/ Greening the Educational Landscape of Islam

The environmental teachings of Islam have been incorporated at all levels and within all types of education ― traditional and modern. Muslims are utilising a range of curriculum spaces or learning opportunities within their educational landscape to broadcast the environmental message of Islam. The discussion below will focus on the activities of three institutions, the masjid, madrasah and maktab to identify existing initiatives which have been initiated to spread the ecological message of Islam. Thereafter, the effective use of contemporary communication tools which have been used to nurture the growth of this vibrant ecoIslamic movement will be discussed.

The masjid, maktab and madrasah are among the most visible symbols of education in Islam. While the latter, which focus on elementary and higher education have undergone marked changes since their initial establishment, the masjid continues to act as both a place of prayer and learning and  is used to great effect by ecoIslamic activists. Environmental awareness campaigns draw on the central role of the masjid in reaching the Muslim community – the Green Ramadhan campaign in Chicago, a water awareness campaign in South Africa and a recycling initiative in Canada were all based at masājid. The ecological teachings of Islam are also being revived through efforts to ‘green’ the construction, upkeep and maintenance of the masjid. Ecomasjid initiatives have been initiated in various Muslim communities – from the construction of Europe’s first eco-mosque in Cambridge (Aburawa 2010) to the Cordoba House project, a community centre and masjid (known as Park 51) located in Manhattan (Williams 2010).  The masjid is an instrument of lifelong education in Muslim society, and increasing efforts to provide environmental training to religious leaders demonstrate the central role of this institution in the educational life of Muslims, young and old (Khalid and Thani 2008, McKay 2013).  

The maktab or kuttāb, which provides elementary education, has undergone immense changes and exists primarily as supplementary schooling which learners attend in addition to public schooling. The maktab continues to fulfil an important role in Muslim society and “contribute to the preservation and promotion of Islamic values, Islamic epistemology and Islamic spirituality” (Mogra 2007, 389). Makātib, which have immense potential as seedbeds for introducing the ecoethics of Islam are, however, an underutilised educational resource. Curricula are generally lagging behind and in general do not address the Muslim response to the ecological question in a comprehensive manner (Mohamed 2012). Muslim writers and educationists have however, started to produce a rich resource base which could be used by makātib teachers to introduce Islam’s ecoethics to the Muslim child. Popular children’s books and magazines which focus on the environmental teachings of Islam are widely available. While these can be used to supplement maktab curricula, there is an urgent need to review makātib curricula to provide an accurate and relevant portrayal of the ecological narrative of Islam and build the environmental awareness and responsibility of Muslim learners by highlighting the relevance of religious understandings in responding to contemporary concerns such as the environmental crisis.

The madrasah, in addition to the masjid and maktab, is one of the enduring institutions of higher learning in Islam. Established in the tenth century, today these colleges exist through the jāmi’ah of the Middle East, the dārul ‘ulūm of the Indian sub-continent, the pesantren of Indonesia, the pondok of Malaysia and the medersas of West Africa. In the populous country of Indonesia, the estimated 17 000 pesantren have been pivotal in propelling Muslims to become more practically involved in environmental action. One pesantren near Bogor, Java is showcasing the use of an Islamic environmental management institution, the ḥarīm, as a model for river conservation (Mangunjaya 2009) while pesantren in Sumatra participated actively in recent forest and water conservation initiatives (McKay 2013). 

The ecoIslamic movement has used traditional institutions, which play a key role in the educational life of Muslims, to illustrate that environmental concern and action is an integral part of the Islamic way of life. The imām, who stood on the minbar during National Water Week in South Africa, speaking about the sharing of common pool resources such as water, and the importance of wise and frugal water use in the life of a Muslim, based his khutbah on water rights in Islamic law. The animal rights activist who educates about the correct manner of ritual slaughter in Islam to maktab learners highlights the wisdom, respect and concern which underpin the relationship between humans and animals in Islam. New learning opportunities, formal and informal, such as conferences and study circles (ḥalaqāt); lectures, workshops and seminars; relief efforts; media and social movements are also being used to spread this message.

A national campaign in the UK, ‘Inspired by Muhammad’, is designed to improve public understanding of Islam and Muslims. It shows how Muhammad (PBUH) inspires Britons to contribute to society by focusing on women’s rights, social justice and the environment. The campaign consists of info-ads displayed in central locations as well as a website (Inspired by Muhammad 2010). One info-ad featuring a Muslim revert reads as follows: ‘I believe in protecting the environment. So did Muhammad. Kristiane Backer, an ecoMuslim and former MTV presenter.’

Blogs and other social media fulfil another essential role in broadcasting information and raising awareness of Islam’s ecological message and are replacing e-mail listervers through regular e-mail updates. ‘A World of Green Muslims’ is a blog which seeks to highlight Islam’s green message and posts messages from across the blogosphere covering everything from eco-fashion to greening Hajj and solar power. It is also accessible on Facebook where other ecoIslamic groups, such as Green Deen, EcoIslam, Muslims for the Environment, Green Islam, and Go Green Muslims can be found. Muslim environmental organisations, spearheaded by the Islamic Foundation for Ecological and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), are being established all over the world. Many of these organisations are building partnerships with the broader environmental movement around a range of green issues including fair trade, organic farming, climate change and genetically modified food.

Many of these ecoIslamic educational initiatives are, for the most part, still at the stage of building foundational ecological literacy ― increasing knowledge and awareness of the environmental teachings of Islam. An increasing number are now building the skills to act upon these values and to participate in the resolution of environmental problems. The benchmark for evaluating the success of ecoIslamic programmes would thus lie not only in understanding and adhering to the ecological teachings of Islam, but in manifesting this ecological ‘morality’ in practice – in just, responsible use and interaction with the natural world.


3.2/ EcoIslamic Education: New Directions ?

As the efforts of Muslim environmental thinkers increasingly start to move into the realm of action, it is coming closer to this liberative praxis which Islam seeks to instil. A call to return to this dynamic, which liberates the human soul from all enslavement ― economic, cultural, and political, is on the increase. These include: concerns with the extravagant and opulent lifestyles of some Muslims; disgruntlement with developments which are defacing the sacred environments of Makkah and Madinah; efforts to disengage from the usurious and exploitative economic and financial systems; community food initiatives which present alternatives to the globalised food system; and initiatives to contemporise institutions such as the ḥimā (reserve) which were explicitly established on social justice objectives.

The ecoIslamic movement thus needs to activate the higher objectives of the Sharīah in society. In the words of Ramadan (2009), this movement must secure the welfare of all creation by immersing itself in the Islamic universe of reference and assessing its knowledges, instruments and methodologies; to look to the challenges of our time; and to formulate a response which is at once true to the religious traditions, values and ethics of Islam, while at the same time participating in resisting the aberrations in society. The movement now needs to spread its wings, building awareness of the ecoethics of Islam in the broader environmental movement and engaging with those working for the establishment of socio-ecological justice. Much is also needed to propel the efforts of the ecoIslamic movement further into the practical realm.

In light of the widespread need for introducing the ecological knowledges of Islam to Muslims, environmental educators need to undertake a wide range of actions related to transforming traditional and contemporary educational institutions – both at the conceptual and material level. While the ethical thrust of the ecological philosophies of Islam is prominent in the educational endeavours of the ecoIslamic movement, the implications of the ecological narrative of Islam, for life and lifestyle choices – the shift from thought and belief to action must still be activated at a larger scale. EcoIslamic activists thus have to focus much of their activities on enlivening Islam’s ecoethic across a broad spectrum, including the impressionable Muslim child, wealthy petro-dollar executive, erudite jurist and learned imām.

The material elements of environmental education which encompasses curricula, textbooks, teachers, learning environments, and resources are also vital. Curriculum organisation and development, (re)training of religious leaders and teachers, and the establishment of environmental education programmes and facilities must be stepped up. Curricula should, while centralising the Qur’an and Sunnah, engage with all knowledges to build understanding of the human-environment relationship, motivate believers towards active participation in society, and work towards social and ecological justice. Curriculum materials which enliven the Qur’an and Sunnah in the lives of Muslims; build reasoning and analytical skills; and motivate towards responsible environmental action should be developed to activate the environmental tradition of Islam. Teacher training, focused on religious leaders (imāms), madrasah teachers and Muslim school educators and other role payers is a necessity. Islamic educationists, while drawing upon the repertoire of educational methodologies in the lives of the prophets and messengers, must prioritise the importance of making the learning process an enjoyable, engaging experience which facilitates student learning. The Muslim teacher is therefore encouraged to adopt diverse approaches and methodologies, learning styles, and activities in the educational process.

Ecological literacy in Islam entails building awareness of the environmental knowledge of Islam with the intent of impacting upon behaviour and the way in which the Muslim discharges her responsibility in the universe – towards her Creator, humankind and the natural world. In this way, the success factors in any environmental education strategy would rest on whether it has enabled the Muslim to become a better vicegerent, aware of and responsible for her interaction with the natural world, and whether it has motivated her towards effecting a positive change in her own life and that of the broader society.


4/ Conclusion

The human-environmental imaginaries of Islam are being presented to Muslims through a variety of curriculum spaces in the educational landscape of Islam. From eco-masjid programmes to clean-up campaigns, curriculum spaces, actual and virtual, incorporate traditional institutions such as the masjid and maktab and extend into new civil spaces such as social media. While media and civil society institutions are key role players in the manifestation of ecoIslamic initiatives, traditional institutions continue to play a vibrant role in providing lifelong education to Muslims, young and old, urban and rural, Arab and non-Arab, and therefore possesses untapped potential as centres of environmental education.

Many Muslims continue to know and understand their place in the world, including their relationship with the natural world, through the educational landscape of Islam. These institutions, to varying degrees of success, all seek to build awareness, understanding and practice of Islam’s ecoethics which aspire to make the world a better place for all creation. They are also vital conduits for introducing an action-oriented ecological ethic which presents convincing arguments to understanding and remedying the social and ecological ills plaguing the planet.

At close to 20% of the world population, Muslims own a fair share of the global concern around the earth’s health and well-being. To varying degrees, they continue to draw upon religious teachings to shape their values, beliefs and attitudes towards life – including the environment. They are increasingly drawing upon the environmental teachings of Islam to change the direction of not only their own lives and lifestyles, but that of their communities and societies, thereby displaying the richness of traditional resources and institutions in meeting contemporary environmental challenges.



By Dr Najma Mohamed, South Africa[1]

She is an environmental scientist and writer with an academic background in both the natural and social sciences. She has more than 15 years’ experience in mainstreaming environmental principles in planning, public policy, education, and financing processes. This includes the facilitation of multi-stakeholder participation in environmental governance systems from the local to international level. She has worked in the research and civil society sectors, and more recently in development finance. Najma is currently based at the International Labour Organization as National Coordinator of the inter-agency UN initiative, Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) in South Africa. She has been active in the print and broadcast media, in building awareness and communicating on environment, development and climate issues.


[1] This paper is based on doctoral research completed on Islamic Eco-Justice Ethics and Education at Stellenbosch University, and is available here




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