ISLAM AND THE CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

BACKGROUND AND DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Since the era of awareness of the repercussions of the wanton exploitation of the resources of the environment, many nations and organizations have attempted the course of sustainable development and have defined it severally. As a fact, the quest for systems which deliver services efficiently both in environmental and economical sense without exhausting resources had been on course until 1987 when a comprehensive and universally accepted definition was given by the ‘Brundtland Commission Report’ “Our Common Future”. This report which was presented by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, defines Sustainable Development as ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. This definition is born out of the attempt to challenge the problem of finite resources on the one hand, and the unequal distribution of posterity and resource consumption on the other. Thus, sustainable development centres on a fiduciary use and the same time on the conservation of the basis for life available to humans for future generations.

Nonetheless, many dimensional models of sustainable development have been proffered and applied depending on the situation, time and circumstance. But many countries and organizations have supported the implementation of three-dimensional concept. This model, also called the ‘three- pillar model’ is based on the assumption that the concept of sustainable development rests on three dimensions of industry, society and the environment (Hake & Eich, 2006). This perspective of development is about improving the quality of life in a way that can be sustained economically, socially and environmentally over the long term supported by the institutional structure of the country. For this reason, it supposedly addresses four dimensions; social, economic, environmental and institutional. However, the indicators are divided into three dimensions; social, economic and environmental; institutional questions are largely considered to be responses and not readily qualified as indicators for now (IAEA, 2005).

In the light of Islam, all lives are intricately linked to the world and the universe, and as such our lives are affected by changes that take place around the world and the environment. The heavy rainfall and the associated flooding, the global warming and the associated high temperatures and rise in sea levels due to the thawing ice lands are all having impact on our existence. As such, part of our responsibilities as Muslims is to care for our environment as best as we can (Jumm’at Khutba, IIUM- 9/10/2009) by exploring all means of efficient management of our resources. In this regard the Qur’an states;

Allah, it is He who has subjected to you the sea, that ships may sail through it by His command, and that you may seek of His bounty, and that you may be thankful. And has subjected to you all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; it is all as a favour and kindness from Him. Verily, in it are signs for a people who think deeply (Qur’an, 45: 12- 13).

O you who believe, betray not Allah and His Messenger, nor betray knowingly your Amanat (things entrusted to you and all the duties which Allah has ordained for you). And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial and that surely, with Allah is a mighty reward. O you who believe, if you obey and fear Allah, He will grant you Furqan [(a criterion to judge between right and wrong), or (Makhraj, i.e. a way for you to get out from every difficulty)], and will expiate for you your sins, and forgive you; and Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty (Qur’an, 8: 27-29).

The primary goal of human existence in Islam is to seek the pleasure of Allah. This in turn affects his psychological and mental disposition, providing him with a spiritual strength. In this capacity, he is able to resist worldly temptations; but develops love and affection for mankind, and the moral and religious motivation for environmental protection and security.

Based on the understanding of both the secular and the Islamic view-points as enunciated above, the issues of sustainable development can further be discussed from the social, economic and environmental perspectives.

 

The social dimension of sustainable development

The social aspect of sustainability relates to the social condition of man who as the master/maintainer of the environment utilizes the abounding resources. As such, his social wellbeing is important as it affects his ability and performance in keeping the leadership role of the environment.

Among the priorities of the social dimension of sustainability is public health and safety (both physical and social security); the impacts of development (exploration and exploitation) on the local community and the quality of life; and also the benefits to the disadvantaged groups e.g. the disabled, aged, disaster victims, etc. In fact, a social goal is to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of production or human activities (within the environment) with the potential to cause injury, social discomfort, disease through pollution generation or accidents (IAEA, 2005). This is because the state of health and mind of man as the master of the environment determines his ability to perform; and as such, should be given priority. In this regard, the social dimension of sustainability was first described by the United Nations in 2000 according to the indicators of; equity, health, training, living, security and population (Hake & Eich, 2006).

From an Islamic viewpoint, the fulfilment of the basic needs of all mankind is a social imperative which includes issues of growth, improvement in health and nutrition, accommodation facilities, medical care, educational attainment, and increase in basic freedoms (Hasan, 2006). Abdallati (1999) presents that the social life of the true Muslim is based upon the highest principles designed to secure happiness with prosperity for the individual as well as for the society. This elucidates on the universal Islamic culture of unity and brotherhood in an atmosphere of genuine justice (sharia compliant) which abhors the issues of class conflict, racial discrimination, social castes and domination of an individual or group over the society or vice versa. Consequently, every human being is a member of the universal family and is entitled to enjoy the common benefits, just as he/she is enjoined to share the common responsibilities. On this note, the Qur’an states; 

The believers are nothing else than brothers. So make reconciliation between your brothers (in case of dispute), and fear Allah that you may receive mercy. O you who believe, let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former…..And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed the wrongdoers. O mankind, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa (piety). Verily, Allah is All- knowing, All-Aware (Qur’an, 49: 10-13).

The Prophet (SAW) said;

A Muslim is a brother to another Muslim; he neither wrongs him, nor leaves him without help.

Muslims will appear to you as a single body in terms of mutual love, affection, and onward. Whenever some organ of the body is hurt, the whole body cooperates with the organ by getting sick and remaining sleepless.

Whoever invites others to good is like the doer of good and will be rewarded accordingly, and whoever instigates evil is like the doer of evil and will be punished accordingly.

Anyone who has no mercy on the juniors and no respect for the seniors is not one of us Muslims.

A typical example of Islamic brotherhood is exemplified in the life of the Prophet (SAW) and his companions; particularly the migrants and the local families of Madinah who together shared a common pool of resources. Brotherhood in Islamic value system makes the Muslim individual to adjust his behaviour for social (communal) interest in all affairs including business transactions.

In an Islamic society, Abdallati (1999) affirms that the individual cannot be indifferent. According to him, the individual who feels indifferent to society is a selfish sinner; his/her morals are in trouble, his/her conscience is in disorder, and his/her faith is undernourished. The structure of social life in Islam is therefore dignified, sound and comprehensive. Among the ample elements of this structure are sincere love for fellow human beings, mercy for the young, respect for elders, comfort and consolation for the distressed, visiting the sick, relieving the grieved, genuine feelings of brotherhood and social solidarity; respect for the rights of other people to life, property and honour, mutual responsibility between individuals and society; and the genuine care for the environment. The Prophet (SAW) said;

Be merciful to those on the surface of the earth (human and non-human) so that the one above (Allah) would be merciful to you.

            Islam as a social system addresses entire mankind with the objective of promoting the wellbeing of man which lies in safeguarding his faith (deen), his human self (nafs), his intellect (aql), his posterity (nasl) and his wealth (maal). It is on this basis that the Islamic shariah provides the natural law for mankind to regulate social behaviour which demands spiritual growth not material, contentment not greed, patience not haste, moderation not maximization, balance not tilt, cooperation not competition, and spread of equity not corruption in the land of Allah (Hasan, 2006).

 

The economic dimension of sustainable development

It is a fact that the economic state of a society is a measure of its living standards and the order of prosperity; while to the individual, it is the determinant of his strength/ability to material franchise. Thus, a viable economic development is paramount to the survival of any society and generation. Among the parameters for attaining this development in the modern context are; the creation of new markets and opportunities for sales growth; cost reduction through efficiency improvements and reduced energy and raw materials inputs; and creation of additional added value (Hui, 2002). Development in this dimension is however enunciated in order to preserve the standard of living for mankind over time. Efforts to attain it will involve or require implementing lasting production procedures and consumer habits-leading to efficient use of energy and material resources, effective waste management and sustainable transportation (Hake & Eich, 2006). In effect, achieving sustainable economic development on a global scale would require the judicious use of resources, technology, appropriate economic incentives and strategic policy planning at the local and national levels. It also requires monitoring of the impacts of policies and strategies to see if they are furthering sustainable development or if they should be adjusted (IAEA, 2005).

According to Kahf (1978), some economists have come to realize that there is always a moral and humanistic frame of reference to economics, and that to deny the relationship between economics and religion was a mistake on the part of the older generation of economists. This realization confirms the preference of Islamic value system in attempting issues of economics and other aspects of sustainable development over the secular view.

Unabatedly, Islam prescribes the preservation of the natural resources that abound within the environment as well as individual and public properties. Wastage and extravagance in any form and circumstance is categorically condemned. Under the Islamic system, the menace of greedy capitalism and subjugating communism never arise. The enterprising individual is responsible for the prosperity of the state and the state in turn is responsible for the security of the individual and the society. Honest trade is permitted and blessed by God; while wasting, cheating, debauchery, extravagance, exploitation and usury is prohibited and punishable.  Allah says;

And give to the kinsman his due and to the poor and to the wayfarer. But spend not wastefully (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily, the spendthrifts are brothers of shaya’ttin (devils), and Shaitan (Devil- Satan) is ever ungrateful to His Lord (Qur’an, 17: 26-27).

And it is He (Allah) who produces gardens trellised and untrellised, and date-palms, and crops of different shape and taste (its fruits and seeds) and olives, pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in taste). Eat of their fruits when they ripen, but pay the due thereof (its zaka’t, according to Allah’s orders) on the day of its harvest, and waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not Al-Musrifun (those who waste by extravagance) (Qur’an, 6: 141).

 

And the (faithful) slaves of the Most Gracious (Allah) are……And those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes)’ (Qur’an, 25: 67).

Woe to those who deal in fraud, those who, when they have to receive by measure from others, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to others give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account on a Mighty Day, a Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the worlds’ (Qur’an, 83: 1-6).

O you, who believe, eat not Riba’ (usury) doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful. Fear the fire that is prepared for the disbelievers (Qur’an, 3: 130-131).

The Prophet (SAW) said to his companion, Saad bin Abi Waqqas whilst he was taking his ablution (wudhu);

O Saad, why this wastage? Saad then asked the Prophet (SAW) “Is there wastage even when we take our ablution”? The Prophet (SAW) replied ‘Yes, even if you are taking the ablution from a flowing river (Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah).

In addition, Islam prescribes the zaka’t (poor due/rate) institution as a measure towards alleviating poverty in the Muslim community. In this manner, wealth is distributed within the society so that no individual is subjugated to untold economic depravity. Life therefore becomes more meaningful and productive as the wellbeing of man and his integrity is preserved. Yet, Islam condemns the self-mortification of the ascetic because earning one’s livelihood through decent labour or trade is not only a duty but a great virtue as well (Hamed, 1993).

The Prophet (SAW) said;            

The earning of lawful livelihood is an obligatory duty for every able-bodied person.

But as a regulatory measure for sustainability to triumph, the demand for fashion and luxury goods are reduced to the minimum on account of moral and legal restrictions in Islam.

Allah says;       

Do not be extravagant (in the use of your resources). Surely, Allah does not like the extravagant. Qur’an 6:141.

Based on the divine instructions, the Islamic consumption behaviour is guided by the considerations of permissible (halal) and prohibited (haram) acts. Still the permissible cases have the constraints of avoiding extravagance, paying the zaka’t and sadaqa (poor due/rate), distribution of inheritance, pilgrimage (hajj) etc. Consequently, a balanced consumption pattern which is absent in the secular economy is observed (Akhtar, 1996).

According to Hamed (1993), the concept of wealth ownership in Islam as against the secular system, follows directly from a belief of God’s ownership of the universe and the assigned role of mankind on earth. That is, the economic system of Islam is based upon an essential requisite belief that the Qur’an is the final divine word, and that it contains the foundations for economic life; which is drawn and conceived in the light of comprehensive system of morals and principles. Thus, the Prophet declared; ‘there shall be no injury; and no inflicting of injury.’

The environmental dimension of sustainable development

The sustainability of the environment is very vital because the environment (earth) is the base factor for all developments and the repository for all resources. That is, the background or the base structure to the survival and sustenance of all lives (human and non-human) is the physical landscape (environment), the condition of which determines the state of life. It is accepted today that certain human activities pose a threat to the environmental conditions of air, water, land and diversity of species. This comes in the form of pollution from industrial wastes and transportation systems; domestic and environmental refuse disposal; and in the degradation of the physical environment from resources exploitation.

The production, distribution and use of available resources exert pressures on the environment in the household, workplace, and at the national, regional and global levels. Energy is one such great resource that seriously impacts on the environment based on how it is produced and used. The environmental indicators are divided into three themes; atmosphere, water and land. The sub-themes on the atmosphere are climate change and air quality. Issues on this include acidification, the formation of tropospheric ozone and emission of other pollutants affecting urban air quality. There is also the issue of the Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. Land and water quality are other important themes of environmental dimension. Land is affected by production processes that produce wastes that are solid including radioactive wastes which require adequate disposal; while water quality is affected by discharge of contaminants in liquid effluents of production processes (IAEA, 2005). However, it has been suggested by environmentalists that efforts towards attaining environmental sustainability should emphasize on reduction of waste, effluent generation and emissions to the environment. The use of toxic substances should be eliminated in order to safeguard biodiversity with emphasis on reduced impact of exploitation on human health. The idea of this undertaking according to Hui (2002) is to leave the earth in as good or better shape for future generations than we found it ourselves. And by this, human activity becomes environmentally sustainable if it can be maintained indefinitely without depleting the natural resources or degrading the natural environment. Thus; resource consumption should be minimized while ensuring that the materials consumed are post-consumer recycled materials. It is equally vital that energy should be conserved and ensuring that energy supplies is renewable and non-polluting.

            On the whole, the environment is the domain of life in which every creature is raised and supported. Behold, man as the vicegerent has been charged with the responsibility of sustaining the environment by living it, nourishing it and protecting it thereby maintaining the balance set out by God. That is, fulfilling a fundamental objective of ensuring environmental sustainability made possible by equitable and efficient use of natural resources. In order for him to be able to accomplish the task, Allah subjected the environment in entirety to him as a trust, signifying the manifestation of His favours upon man whether he would be grateful or not. Thus, Allah says;

O mankind, worship your Lord (Allah), who created you and those who were before you so that you may become righteous. Who has made the earth a resting place for you, and the sky as a canopy, and sent down water (rain) from the sky and brought forth therewith fruits as a provision for you. Then do not set up rivals unto Allah (in worship) while you know (the truth), (Qur’an, 2: 21-22).

Allah is He who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down water (rain) from the sky, and thereby brought forth fruits as provision for you; and He has made the ships to be of service to you, that they mail sail through the sea by His command; and He has made rivers (also) to be of service to you. And He has made the sun and the moon, both constantly pursuing their courses, to be of service to you; and has made the night and the day, to be of service to you. And He gave you all that you asked for, and if you count the blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them. Verily, man is indeed an extreme wrongdoer, a disbeliever (who is given up to injustice and ingratitude) (Qur’an, 14: 32-34).

In fact, there is an understanding that the issues of sustainable development generally ends in an environmental concern. Relatively, Hasan (2006) asserts that the Islamic approach is more agreeable to environmental protection than the secular approach because of the issue of morality and other religious considerations. This is further buttressed by Akhtar (1996) argument that there is an environmental balance in the existence of the universe which requires the contributions of the Islamic economy via Islamic way of life and the Islamic State in maintaining this balance.

In the sphere of the environment, we have the Worlds of Living and non-Living creatures. Amongst the living, we have human beings and animals. Both live and traverse in the land, sea and atmosphere in the service of their Lord, the Al-Mighty. In attestation to this fact, Allah says;

See you not that whoever is in the heavens and is on earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and the animals, and many of mankind prostrate themselves to Allah. But there are many (men) on whom the punishment is justified. And whomsoever Allah disgraces, none can honour him. Verily, Allah does what He wills (Qur’an, 22: 18).

Whatsoever is in the heavens and on the earth glorifies Allah. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise (Qur’an, 61: 1).

Besides, in the realm of the non-human creatures we have the plants (gardens, farmlands and forests); the physical features of landforms like mountains, hills, deserts and the mineral resources on and beneath the earth; the water bodies like the oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, streams and the ice lands; and the aerosphere in which we have the various strata, part of which is the ozone layer which is being hampered by the activities of man today. All of these have been created in due measure and proportion. The equilibrium in the creation of the Al-Mighty has made it that every of the created beings and elements are interdependent and connected in their existence, that any distortion or destabilization in the equation of this equilibrium would create a dislocation in the supreme network of symbiotic, dynamic and sublime composition. On this account, man is warned to keep the trust by upholding the balance if he must attain success in his drive. And should therefore protect the environment, and avoid waste of resources, but apply the soft-path; the effective and efficiency approach.

 The ethical foundation for the protection of the environment in Islamic economy is found in the principle of ‘No injury’ which prohibits Muslims from harming others. On this account, Chapra (1993) contends that environmental degradation arising from technological progress harms both the present as well as future generations. Therefore, the Islamic principle of ‘No injury’ emphasizes on the obligation of the individual as well as society to protect the environment.

 

Allah says;

And then He (Allah) showed him what is wrong and what is right for him. Indeed, he succeeds who purifies his own-self (i.e. obeys and performs all that Allah ordered). And indeed he fails who corrupts his own-self (i.e. disobeys and rejects or by doing every kind of evil wicked deeds), (Qur’an, 91: 8-10).

However, true and genuine success for mankind is the attainment of peace in this world and the hereafter. Attaining this status is only possible in human life and society if his/their attitude towards nature and the entire environment is not that of abuse; – undue exploitation, greed, aggression and war. And for man to be able to make adequate peace with the environment he must first make peace with the spiritual order (Spahic Omer, 2008), i.e. he must heed the call of the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

 

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