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Environmental concerns

Muslim responses

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In Islam, concerns for environmental conservation are based on the belief that God created everything in the universe -- including the Earth and  all life forms. Many Muslim leaders have commented on this matter. Examples are:

bullet Mawil Y. Izzi Deen: 

“Although the various components of the natural environment serve humanity as one of their functions, this does not imply that human use is the sole reason for their creation...all of creation belongs to God, and not to man, and to assume that non-human animals and plants exist to benefit man leads to environmental destruction and misuse." 1

bullet Baihaqi:

“All creatures are Allah’s children, and those dearest to Allah are those who treat His children kindly."  2

bullet Faruq Sherif wrote that Islam understands the earth to be subservient to humankind but that it must be administered and exploited responsibly. He wrote:

"...mankind is the noblest object of divine creation. Allah set up Man as His Vice-regent on earth, to him alone did He teach the names of all things. … He created all things for the sake of Man. He made the earth to serve as Man’s dwelling place. He made the stars in order to guide Man in his navigation, and the sun and moon in order to serve as the basis of Man’s calendar....He (Allah) created animals so that their flesh would nourish Man and that they would bear Man’s burdens. He sent down rain to fertilize the land in order to bear food for Man and his animals. 3

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Selected comments on Islamic teachings:

bullet An important consideration in the ecological discussion is how the Earth and its life forms are perceived. If nature is understood as having been created only to serve human beings, its unlimited exploitation may be justified. However, most Muslims believe that this is not so. God is seen as having created humans to be His rulers on His behalf -- to look after the planet and manage it in the best possible way.
Surah 6:165, in a modern (loose) translation, states:

"It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth … that He may try you in what He has given you. (Arbery)

Evidently, unlimited exploitation is not acceptable.

bullet "Sakhkhara" is the word used in the Qur’an -- the Holy book of Islam -- to define the relationship between humans and non-humans. The literal meaning of sakhkhara is to constrain or compel a servant or a beast to do what they do not desire. It also means to bring into subjugation, or to make manageable and tractable, or to make something unable to free itself from a constraint. However, in Islamic writings, when non-humans are given value in themselves, and are not considered merely to have been created to serve human beings, Muslim scholars interpret the word Sakhkhara differently. 4 The interpretations by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scholars on this point is similar. Sakhkhara appears to be as flexible a term as the corresponding Hebrew term "kibbes."

Thus we see Muslim comments such as:
bullet "Human beings are vice-regents of God because God subjected everything to them…but subservience cannot be interpreted as the right to exploit creation by dominating it." 4
bullet "The Qur’an does state in certain cases that the environment is here to serve man." 1
bullet "…non-human beings have value in themselves and there is no evidence in the Qur’an to prove that they are created only to serve human beings." 4
bullet José Abraham stated that "since non-human creation is has its own value, subservience (Sakhkhara!) cannot be interpreted as the right to exploit creation by dominating it." 4 His claim that the Qur’an rejects an anthropocentric view of creation because non-human creation has its own value appears to be a circular argument.
bullet Muslims claim that:
bullet There is a purpose behind every act of creation.
bullet Each species has its own role to play in the overall plan of creation.
bullet The elimination of one species affects the whole creation and disturbs its balance. 4

These correspond to the claims made by Christian, Jewish, and secular ecologists.

bullet According to one Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad described the entire creation (including humans, animals, and trees and plants) as the family of Allah. He declared that all should be treated with compassion and sensitivity. Iqbal Ansari in his paper "Religion and Animal Welfare – The Islamic View" writes:

 “A large number of Prophet’s traditions dealing with kindness and compassion to animals are included in the authentic Hadith literature. Cruelty to and torturing of animals, even the obnoxious ones in any form is forbidden. This criterion is so absolute that even when for valid reasons man is permitted to kill an animal, he is enjoined to do so without causing avoidable pain or torture." 5

Allah has extended the principle of mercy and compassion to every living creature. It is forbidden for Muslims to be cruel or even inconsiderate to the animals that live and work among them. All domestic animals should be properly fed, housed, and cared for. Beasts of burden should not be made to carry or pull loads that are too heavy for them, or to labor until they are exhausted, or until their flesh has raw patches and sores. 2

Unusual or cruel methods of farming (such as factory farming) which deprive livestock of all enjoyment of life, are forbidden in Islam. This includes keeping them in cramped and dark conditions, force-feeding them unnatural foodstuffs in order to alter their natural flavor or fat content, and making them grow unnaturally quickly so that their life span is significantly shortened. 6

There is a story of a woman of disrepute who came to the Prophet and said that she saved a thirsty cat from dying by fetching water from a pit with the help of her socks. The Prophet told her that because of what she has done Allah will pardon all her sins, and that she will go to paradise. 5

bullet Islam rejects hunting and/or killing just for sport and amusement. One may take the life of animals only for food or other genuinely useful purpose. 2 However, if an animal died or was killed for food, Muslims are encouraged to use its skin, horns, bones, hair, and/or hide. 6
bullet Any sport that involves goading one animal to fight another is forbidden in Islam. This includes dog-fights and cock-fights. 2
bullet All sports involving hunting down and killing animals for fun are forbidden, such as fox-hunting; badger, bear, or dog-baiting; and bull-fighting. 2
bullet The destruction of animal life simply to satisfy the human vanity is abhorrent to Muslims. They do not condone the clubbing of baby seals, for example, or hunting beautiful animals to extinction for their fur, or horn, or tusks. 2
bullet Some have interpreted the Qur’an as stating that God allows human beings to enjoy everything necessary to satisfy their desires, such as food, clothing, housing, transport, and every other ornament or means of enjoyment – but with balance and moderation and no excess or overuse. 7
bullet The increase in human population is one of the main stressors of the environment. The Qur’an does not make any explicit statements about the morality of limiting population by birth-control. However it does contain statements which encouraging procreation. 8 For example, Verse II.233 is addressed to men. It says: “Women are your field; go then into your field as you please" This is evidently not to be taken as a general command.

Various interpretations of the issue of birth-control have been made. Some are:
bullet According to Alyssa, 9 Islam permits the use of all modern birth control methods including the pill. Islam recognizes that the sexual act is more than just a means of procreation. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the most commonly practiced method of birth control was the withdrawal method. It is still permissible, but generally thought by the ulama (Muslim scholars) to be reprehensible since it may deprive the woman of her right to be able to have sexual satisfaction.
bullet Irreversible methods of contraception (such as vasectomy, tubal ligation, and hysterectomy) as well as abortion after a specified gestation time are forbidden. The time limit for abortion can be as high as the fourth month of pregnancy.
bullet In certain circumstances, birth control can be forbidden. For example, if a non-Muslim government tries to impose birth-control on its Muslim citizens in order to deplete their numbers, a sheikh could issue a fatwa (religious ruling) saying that birth control is forbidden until that situation passes. Many of the Muslim who opposed the 1994 Family Planning conference in Egypt did so because they saw contraception being used as a weapon against the Muslim population, which is growing faster than many other religions.
bullet According to a study sponsored by the Egyptian government, not only is coitus interruptus acceptable from a moral standpoint, but also “it is permissible to use condoms so long as this does not cause any harm and so long as both husband and wife consent to their use." 8
bullet In Iran, contraceptive methods are not only taught to married couples, but also encouraged for use by youth through posters and advertisements. 8
bullet Muslims are encouraged to follow green principles in many ways, mainly by being aware of what they are doing, and by avoiding waste and pollution. Everyday products should be used and recycled as much as possible. Energy use should be minimized. Products such as ivory, which are obtained by killing of rare or endangered species of animals, should not be purchased. Products that have been tested on animals captured or bred for this purpose should not be used. Muslims should use biodegradable products as far as possible, prefer unleaded gasoline and detergents that do not pollute the water supply. 2
bullet Muslims are required to care for the planet, and not to waste, damage, pollute, and destroy it. 2 The degree to which Muslims follow these principles is unknown.
bullet It is claimed that compassion represents the true spirit of Islam, and that it is far more vital to Islamic teaching than anything else, such as Jihad (striving for spiritual self-perfection). 5

According to the Islamic teaching, all human beings are all descendants from an original couple created by God: Adam and Eve. Most Muslims regard the theory of evolution as no more than a theory, for which there is little evidence. They believe, for example, that each species was created by God, and still exists in its original form. Thus, Muslims are not generally concerned about any effects of environmental degradation  on evolution.

In Islam, most comments on ecology concern animal welfare. There are many papers promoting ecology in Muslim societies. However, in spite of the various pronouncements, there is little sign of concerted action on ecology in Muslim countries.

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A search of the data base shows the following books on Muslim responses to the environment:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Anon, "Islam and Ecology." at:
  2. Ruqaiyyah Maqsood, "Islam. Teach Yourself Books," McGraw-Hill, (1994).
  3. Faruq Sherif, "A Guide to the Contents of the Qur’an," Garnet, (1999).
  4. José Abraham, "An Ecological Reading of the Qur’anic Understanding of Creation," at:.
  5. Asghar Ali Engineer, "On the Concept of Compassion in Islam," at:
  6. Gordon D. Kaufman, "Re-conceiving God and Humanity in Light of Today’s Ecological Consciousness: A Brief Statement," at:
  7. Michael Schut & Tanya Marcovna Barnett, "The Cry of Creation: A Call for Climate Justice." Booklet & study guide, Earth Ministry, (2003). Purchase at: It can be seen online at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  8. "Birth Control," Wikipedia, at:
  9. Alyssa, "Family Planning in Islam," at: 

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-16
Latest update on: 2006-AUG-27
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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