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:
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."
“All creatures are Allah’s children, and those dearest to Allah
are those who treat His children kindly."
Sherif wrote that Islam understands the earth to be subservient to
humankind but that it must be administered and exploited responsibly. He
"...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.
Selected comments on Islamic teachings:
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
"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:
"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
"The Qur’an does state in certain cases that the
environment is here to serve man." 1
"…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
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.
Muslims claim that:
There is a purpose behind every act of creation.
species has its own role to play in the overall plan of creation.
The elimination of one species affects the whole creation and disturbs its
These correspond to the claims made by Christian, Jewish, and secular ecologists.
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.
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.
Islam rejects hunting and/or killing just for sport and amusement.
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
Any sport that involves goading one animal to fight another is forbidden in
Islam. This includes dog-fights and cock-fights. 2
All sports involving hunting down and killing animals for fun are forbidden,
such as fox-hunting; badger, bear, or dog-baiting; and bull-fighting.
The destruction of animal life simply to satisfy the
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
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
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
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
Various interpretations of the issue of birth-control have been made. Some are:
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.
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.
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.
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."
In Iran, contraceptive methods are not only taught to married couples, but
also encouraged for use by youth through posters and advertisements. 8
Muslims are encouraged to follow green principles in
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.
Muslims are required to care for the planet, and not to waste, damage, pollute,
and destroy it.
The degree to which Muslims follow these principles is unknown.
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).
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.
A search of the Amazon.com data base shows the following books on Muslim responses to the environment:
At least, it should. Sometimes Amazon returns the strangest selections.
If you see a generic Amazon ad below, please click on your browser's refresh key.
The following information sources were used to
prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still
Gordon D. Kaufman, "Re-conceiving God and Humanity in Light of Today’s
Ecological Consciousness: A Brief Statement," at:
Michael Schut & Tanya Marcovna Barnett, "The Cry of Creation: A Call for Climate
Booklet & study guide, Earth Ministry, (2003). Purchase at:
http://earthministry.org/. It can be seen online at:
http://www.protectingcreation.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: