ISLAM AND THE CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

(Sent for consideration in the Middle East Quarterly-MED Journal, Dec. 2011)

Noor Hanita ABDUL MAJID1,Ibrahim Udale HUSSAINI2 (corresponding author)*
1Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia
2Architecture Programme, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi–Nigeria
Email: hudalib@yahoo.co.uk +2348068135766, +60176212707

 

ABSTRACT

Although the terminology of ‘Sustainable Development’ may be a new concept in modern civilization, its implication in Islam is as old as the religion itself. This is because the principle of Sustainable Development is fervently entrenched in the fundamentals of Islamic resources management. This article has attempted to examine on the challenges of Sustainable Development from the perspective of the modern materialistic/secular world as well as that of conservative Islam. It further elaborates on its basic essence, and as a concept to integrate issues of the environment and the society, which entails maintaining our current rate of development while bequeathing suitable resources for later generations to thrive or develop. In all, the social, economic and environmental dimensions of Sustainable Development are precisely discussed; and in concurrence with Islamic principles of submission to the will of God.

                                  

Keywords: Islam, Environment, Sustainability, Development, Resources, Generations

   

INTRODUCTION

Our concern for the global environment is the driving force responsible for the arising issues of sustainability in our quest to ensure that the resource needs of our community are met reliably, efficiently, safely and at reasonable prices. In fact, one of the key words in global development today is ‘Sustainability’ which is synonymous with the Islamic concept of conservation. Sustainability as a system delivers services without exhausting resources, i.e. uses all resources efficiently both in environmental and economic sense. In general, sustainable development tends to encourage the conservation and preservation of natural resources; and also the management of economic and environmental resources (energy inclusive), waste and transportation.

Exploring the Islamic perspective of sustainability becomes unavoidable because Islam teaches that human beings are created with intrinsic values, and it is when these values are recognized and nurtured with a relationship that exists with the creator of man, that mankind can begin to take better care of themselves, and as well see themselves as a beautiful part of creation. This Islamic ideology according to Abdul-Matin (2010) is contrary to that of the secular world in which human beings are disconnected from the natural world; and are only relevant by what they can create.

The need for sustainable development in modern context has arisen principally as a challenge to meet the present needs of mankind adequately as well as that of the future generations in recognition of the limited natural resources and the impending danger of environmental degradation. It is in line with this understanding that Hake & Eich (2006) opine that the aim of sustainable development is to express the concept of the need to make constant economic growth coexist with the preservation of the environment while at the same time maintaining social justice. In the past social development has brought about prosperity to many people yet, a much greater proportion of mankind lives in poverty in substandard conditions. Thus, the arisen concept of sustainable development links the issue of conserving the natural basis for life for future generations to the desire for economic prosperity and social development of the people living in the present. Hui (2002) elaborates on development in this context to be based on two concepts; the concept ofneeds and that of limits. He stresses that the concept of needs embraces the conditions for maintaining an acceptable life standard for all people, while that of limits is contained in the capacity of the environment to fulfill the needs of the present and the future as determined by the state of technology and social organization.

According to Hasan (2006), sustainability is an emerging concept which implies;

                                i.            Maintaining the long-run rate of economic growth;

                              ii.            Achieving intergenerational equity in the use of natural resources; and

                            iii.            Restricting as far as possible the increase in pollution for maintaining the present quality of environment.

In fact, all available evidences point to the fact that sustainable development in the modern context is a new concept that evolved as an attempt to challenge the imminent crisis of resources scarcity and irreversible damage of exploitation to the environment. But in the context of Islam, it is as old as the religion itself because Islam evolved with sustainability as a fundamental principle which abhors wastage in any form (i.e. all resources, time and space) and promotes efficient care and upkeep of the environment and all its resources. Basically, the Qur’an has always emphasized on moderation and balance as moral guide in all worldly pursuits. Besides, issues surrounding sustainable development have moral, ethical, social and political complexities that economics or economists alone cannot resolve (Hasan, 2006).

Suffice to understand the fundamental Islamic belief that God created man and commissioned him to be His vicegerent on the planet Earth. Man is chosen in order to cultivate the land for his sustenance and to enrich life with knowledge, virtue, purpose and meaning. For him to be able to attain this goal everything on the earth and in the heavens was created for him and made subservient to him (Abdallati, 1999); and thus, Allah says;

And the firmament has He raised high, and He (Allah) has set up the Balance (measure or justice), in order that man may not transgress the (due) balance. So establish weight with equity and do not make the balance deficient (Qur’an, 55: 7- 10).

This is not without a condition the violation of which may be eventful as witnessed today in our deploring environment; that man must not waste resources nor create mischief on the earth or harm to it and all that is within. Likewise is life as a trust to man. Man as the trustee is expected to handle the trust with honesty and skill, with mindfulness of God and with consciousness of responsibility to Him (Abdallati, 1999). On this note, the Holy Prophet (SAW) said;

Whoever of you sees something wrong must seek to rectify it by action or deed; if he cannot let him try to change it by word; if he cannot, let his feelings of disapproval and condemnation intensify, and this is the minimal degree of faith.

Unfortunately, the breach of the trust by man today with respect to the environment is obvious and unpleasant in the activities of man on the surface of the earth; creating imbalance in the life-cycles of the biodiversity, social disorder within nations and societies, economic disparity amongst nations and individuals; and polluting and degrading the environment (both built and un-built). God has attested to this action of man in the Qur’an;

Evil (sins and disobedience to God) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression  and evil deeds), that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allah, and begging His pardon), (Qur’an, 30: 41).

Today, mankind is bequeathed with the consequences of his own doings and the effects could be far reaching to eternity and generations to come if not adequately checked and controlled by returning to divine instructions. In this regard, the Qur’an and the Hadith have proffered solutions if only man would heed;

O you who believe, fulfill all obligations…….and help one another in righteousness and piety, but help not another in sin and rancor. Mind God, for He is strict in punishment (Qur’an, 5: 1-3).

The Prophet (SAW) said;

Whoever relieves a human being from a grief of this world, God will relieve him from a grief on the Day of Judgment.

O people, listen to my words………Your lives and properties are sacred and inviolable amongst one another,……..Guide yourselves from committing injustice,……God has made the life and property; and honour of each of you sacred and inviolable to the other, until you meet your Lord.

The Islamic view-point therefore challenges mankind on the fact of sustainability of life and property (resources) in all dimensions of life so as to promote the dignity of man and the attainment of his lieutenancy mission on earth through good deeds and some minimal level of morality.

 

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