ٱلسَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ

As Muslims, we are taught to live in harmony with the world around us:

۞ كُلُوا۟ وَٱشْرَبُوا۟ مِن رِّزْقِ ٱللَّهِ وَلَا تَعْثَوْا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ مُفْسِدِينَ


Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the Earth, spreading corruption (Surah Baqarah, Ayah 60)

But what does this mean in practice? We make many choices every day, and every choice we make has consequences. We cannot control the world around us, but what we can do is be mindful of the consequences of our actions and make choices accordingly.

He is the One who has placed you as successors on Earth and elevated some of you in rank over others, so He may test you with what He has given you. (6:165)

And on the other hand, it tells us of the commonality of life:

All living beings roaming the earth and winged birds soaring the sky are communities like yourselves (6:38)

What these Ayah do tell us is that nature is not something “beneath us” to be abused. Instead, the capabilities humans have gives us a responsibility over the environment we inhabit. Indeed, in 6:38, Allah uses the word community (umma) to show us how all life organises itself in common ways, which should bring about in us an empathy towards all life instead of feelings of superiority.

Currently, we live in a world where due to human activity, there is an ongoing mass extinction event, where plastic pollution is harming creatures around the world, where human activity is causing climate change which not only endangers us but contributes to the Holocene extinction. All these tell us of the planetary dominance of humanity, but also tell us of the gross irresponsibility we have shown ever since the Industrial Revolution. None of this is indicative of the respect towards nature that being a servant of Allah requires:

 

He laid out the Earth for all beings. (55:10)

The Prophet Muhammad said: “A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being” (Mishkat al-Masabih)

The Companions said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for serving any living being.” (Bukhari)

A group of Companions were once on a journey with the Prophet (peace be upon), and he left them for a while. During his absence, they saw a bird with its two young, and they took the young ones from the nest. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back. He said, “Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her.” (Muslim)

It is impossible to fully remove ourselves from the damage of our lifestyle unless we entirely forfeit it. However, this is beyond the capabilities of most of us, since we are unaccustomed to living as humans did in nature, so what we can do is to change our lifestyles as much as we are able to, keeping in mind the consequences.

Since meat has been made halal for us, Muslims are major consumers of animal products excluding pork. At the same time, keeping in mind the exhortations to a compassionate life, as well as keeping in mind the necessity of eating meat in the desert that was the context in which the Quran was revealed, we must reflect on whether we should do something simply because it is allowed. The meat industry is a major contributor to the environmental damage currently being inflicted, and even during the time of the Sahabah, meat was a luxury, not something to be indulged in weekly or daily. We must all be conscious of our choice to eat meat if we can afford not to, and whether our consumption justifies the inevitable suffering an animal goes through as it is bled to death.

Apart from dietary considerations, how can we live our lives with more compassion and responsibility? Islam teaches us to give in charity if we can, and certainly, donating to environmental charities as well as writing to our political representatives and using our voting power will go some away in making things right:

“The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his charity” (Tirmidhi)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also teaches us that it is equally reprehensible to stay silent about oppression as it is to carry out said oppression. This tells us that to the best of our ability, we should speak up and act. If we are in positions of power, as I am sure many graduates from Cambridge will be inshaAllah, then we must use that blessing to effect real change.

We can also go further by growing our own food and taking part in gardening. The latter can encourage and diversify the local eco-system, and the virtue of this is shown in the Hadith:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Even if the day of Judgement should arrive and you are holding a sapling in your hand, plant it” (Musnad Ahmad)

The above also teaches us that even in the face of defeat and powerlessness – as one might feel when one considers the injustices and harms carried out by the powers that be and the little an individual can do – that one should carry on living a life of compassion. Every choice we make, we must consider whether we are doing it to satisfy our ego, or to spread love and compassion.

Even considering the teachings of other religions, especially Indian philosophies, we see that despite differences in specific beliefs, what unites all of us is the understanding that it is through love and compassion, i.e. by resisting the urge to indulge the ego and instead spreading that attention outwards, that we can progress spiritually and, as Musims, attain a tranquil state in communion with Allah Almighty.

This speaks to a common truth – that happiness comes not from fulfilling our own desires, but from serving others. This is not the same as giving up our life, but certainly, to try our best to give back.

Considering this, it brings to my mind the Tamil story of King Paari, from my culture, written in the Purananuru work of literature. The story goes that the king noticed a jasmine creeper attached to his golden chariot and decided to never use the chariot so as to have mercy on the creeper. How far removed is this from what we might consider compassionate today?
The ideas of compassion and mercy are universal truths which we must try to incorporate into our daily lives as much as we can. I hope this message and the readings suggested below are of help, inshaAllah, in our spiritual progress. Ameen.

References and suggested reading: