Islam and Peaceful Coexistence with the Environment (Part Four)

{jcomments on}Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia


There are many other sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) on animals in which any act of ill-treating them, such as making them fight each other, the castration, killing them without a just cause, and the like, is strictly prohibited.[1] The Prophet (pbuh), for instance, said that if one kills a sparrow in jest, it will yell out on the Day of Judgment at the perpetrator: “O Allah, he killed me in jest and not for a use.”[2]

The Prophet (pbuh) once went to the grave of a Helper (the native of Madinah). There he saw a camel which after looking at him began to moan piteously and tears welled up in its eyes. The Prophet (pbuh) went to the camel and wiped its tears and then asked who its owner was. The owner came and the Prophet (pbuh) said to him: “Don’t you have any fear of God in relation to this animal?”[3]

Branding animals with hot irons for the sake of distinction is also prohibited. The Prophet (pbuh) saw a donkey that was branded on the face whereupon he said: “Cursed be the person who did this.”[4]

The Prophet (pbuh) abhorred dogs but could not ask for their extermination as they accounted for a community on earth which has a role to play in keeping up the established equilibrium.[5] About animal species representing diverse communities (umam, the plural of ummah) on earth, the Qur’an says: “There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have We omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (al-An’am 38)

The Islamic position on animals is comprehensively encapsulated in the following words of the Prophet (pbuh), which in fact encompass not only animals, but also all the other terrestrial beings: “… Have mercy upon whatever is on earth, God will have mercy upon you.”[6]

The Prophet (pbuh) once related that one of the earlier prophets was bitten by an ant, whereupon he ordered the whole colony of the ants to be burned. Soon after, Allah revealed to him: “Because of an ant’s bite you have burnt a community from amongst the communities which sings My glory.”[7] According to another version of the same hadith, Allah revealed to the prophet concerned: “Why one ant (which had bitten you) was not killed?”[8]   

So, irrespective of whether animals are used as beasts of burden, as an ornament, for food, or for any of those refined uses, they are not to be mistreated by any means. In addition, their status on earth, in general, and their services rendered to man, in particular, must be justly valued. Allah says: “And cattle He has created for you (men): from them ye derive warmth, and numerous benefits, and of their (meat) ye eat. And ye have a sense of pride and beauty in them as ye drive them home in the evening, and as ye lead them forth to pasture in the morning. And they carry your heavy loads to lands that ye could not (otherwise) reach except with souls distressed: for your Lord is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful. And (He has created) horses, mules, and donkeys, for you to ride and as an ornament; and He has created (other) things of which ye have no knowledge.” (al-Nahl 5-9)

Animals have their rights which must be duly respected. Once the Prophet (pbuh) said that one of the rights of a she camel is that it should be milked at a place of water.[9]

The Prophet (pbuh) was asked on one occasion whether there is a reward in serving the animals. The reply was: “Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (creature).”[10] The following is a glimpse of the reward for serving and looking after the horse, for example, which is kept for Allah’s cause (participating in holy battles): “…He (the owner) will get a reward equal to what its (a horse’s) long rope allows it to eat in the pasture or the garden. If that horse breaks its rope and crosses one or two hills, then all its foot-steps and its dung will be counted as good deeds for its owner. And if it passes by a river and drinks from it, then that will also be regarded as a good deed for its owner even if he has had no intention of watering it then…”[11]

The Prophet (pbuh) was seen one day wiping the face of his horse with his cloak. Somebody questioned him about it and he said: “I was reproached in the night about horses (for not taking proper care of them).”[12]

The Prophet (pbuh) once condemned the using of animals which people normally ride as sitting platforms or pulpits (manabir) saying that those animals, perhaps, are better than the people who mistreat them. It may be that those animals praise and glorify Allah more than their abusers.[13]

Indeed, one of the most amazing ways by which Islam intends to exhibit and inculcate in the minds and souls of people its extraordinary care for animals, are some authentic hadiths in which some animals were given an ability to talk and stand up for their own rights assigned to them by the Creator and Lord of the worlds. The Prophet (pbuh) said that while once a man was riding a cow, it turned towards him and said: “I have not been created for this purpose (i.e., carrying); I have been created for sloughing.”[14]

According to another hadith, a wolf caught a sheep, and when the shepherd chased it to rescue the sheep, the wolf said: “Who will be its guard on the day of wild beasts, when there will be no shepherd for it except me?”[15] The content of this story is somewhat similar to the content of another hadith — mentioned earlier — according to which a wolf spoke to a man near Madinah while the Prophet (pbuh) was still there spreading his prophetic mission. The man then hastened to the Prophet (pbuh) and having been formerly an infidel wholeheartedly embraced Islam. The story has it that a man called Ahban b. Aus was among his sheep in the environs of Madinah when suddenly a wolf caught a sheep. The man shouted at the wolf which did not run but sat on its tail addressing the man: “Who will look after it when you will be busy and not able to look after it? Do you forbid me the provision which Allah has provided me?” At this, the man clapped his hands saying: “By Allah, I have never seen anything more curious and wonderful than this.” But the wolf told him that there was something more extraordinary and beautiful; that is, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) in those palm trees (Madinah) inviting people to Islam.[16]

While discussing the subject of animals, Yusuf al-Qardawi rightly concluded: “Thirteen hundred years before any societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals were established, Islam had made kindness to animals a part of its faith and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into the Fire.”[17]

Perhaps one of the best attestations to the fair and just treatment of animals that Islam upholds, is the fact that seven Qur’anic chapters bear the names of different animal species: al-Baqarah (the Heifer), al-An’am (Cattle), al-Nahl (the Bee), al-Naml (the Ants), al-‘Ankabut (the Spider), al-‘Adiyat (Those that run, i.e. horses), al-Fil (the Elephant).



The Islamic position on rivers, trees and plants is also remarkable. There are many Qur’anic verses,[18] as well as the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) that testify to it.[19] For instance, regarding the importance of rivers and the necessary respect and care that we should accord to them, it is sufficient to say that four earthly rivers: the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates in Iraq, the Sayhan in Turkey, and the Jayhan in Syria, are the streams from Paradise — as expounded by the Prophet (pbuh).[20]

Water is one of the most priceless items on earth without which man’s existence would be a short-lived affair. As such, water must be honored and cherished most. Allah Almighty reminds man of this often taken for granted gift, aiming to stir in him a sense of appreciation, humility and submission: “Say: “See ye? – if your stream be some morning lost (in the underground earth), who then can supply you with clear-flowing water?” (al-Mulk 30)

The Prophet (pbuh) went so far as to say that water is the best thing to be given away as sadaqah (charity), on the basis of the verse in the Qur’an in which the inhabitants of Jahannam(Hellfire) will call to the inhabitants of Jannah (Paradise): “Pour down to us water or anything that Allah doth provide for your sustenance.’ They will say: ‘Both these things hath Allah forbidden to those who reject Him.” (al-A’raf 50)

The companion Abdullah b. Abbas was once asked what the best form of sadaqah (charity) is. His answer was: water, quoting the abovementioned Prophet’s words as an evidence.[21]  

 The Prophet (pbuh) said that humans are partners in three natural resources: water, pastures and fire.[22]

He also said on the subject of water: “Do not withhold the superfluous water, for that will prevent the people from grazing their cattle.”[23]

Of the persons whom Allah will not even look at on the Day of Judgment, nor will He purify them, and theirs will be a severe punishment, is a man who possessed superfluous water on a way and he withheld it from travelers.[24] We have already cited the hadith according to which a woman from the Children of Israel, guilty of fornication, was forgiven because she quenched the thirst of a dog which was helplessly lingering near a well.

The Prophet (pbuh) warned against defecating or urinating in water springs. He viewed such acts as seriously repulsive.[25]

The Prophet (pbuh) looked upon digging up wells and making streams flow as acts of the long-lived charity (sadaqah jariyah).[26]



Concerning trees and plants, to begin with, we shall refer to one of the Prophet’s sayings wherein he stressed that whoever for no valid reason cuts a Lote-tree (sidrah) in a desert, under which both travelers and animals used to shade themselves, God shall direct him to Hellfire.[27] Indeed, the same can be safely assumed about any deliberate and ill-intended harming of the people, crops, flora and fauna, especially if such actions were bound to spawn some detrimental repercussions for the people’s and their surroundings’ general wellbeing. This is so because cutting a tree (deliberately eliminating or damaging anything on the earth), in the manner described in the hadith, connotes one’s de facto detachment from the divinely prescribed code of living as to one’s relationship with God, nature and other men. Without a doubt, such things as the accountable custody of the earth, trust (amanah), appreciation of nature as a source of joy, inspiration and enlightenment, could no longer be found in the demeanor of the perpetrator of the said actions, whereas some novel and bizarre alternatives, customarily shrouded in egotism, hedonism, materialism and burning desires to conquer and dominate nature, were pursued instead. As a result, the very concepts of God, man and life were, at last, either distorted beyond recognition, or were dispensed with completely.

Furthermore, the Prophet (pbuh) strongly encouraged the Muslims to plant and nourish trees and crops. Whenever one plants something and a human being, an animal or a bird later eats or enjoys any benefit from it, one shall get a handsome reward from God, for it counts as if he gave in charity. Even if someone steals of it, the same applies. If the world is about to end, even then if one holds a plant intending to plant it, one is advised to go on and try to complete the job.[28]

Some go further and believe, supporting their assertion by some Prophet’s hadiths, that he who plants a palm tree, digs up a well, and causes a stream to flow, will have his good deeds recorded even after his death, so long as the effects of his actions exist on earth. Irrespective of whether the Prophet (pbuh) really proclaimed so, word for word, or not, this, however, is in no contradiction with another similar tradition (hadith), and which is authentic. According to it, the Prophet (pbuh) said that the recording of one’s good deeds comes to an end the moment one dies except when one leaves behind a long-lived charity (sadaqah jariyah), knowledge from which the people will derive benefit, and righteous descendants who will supplicate for him. The acts of planting date-palm trees, digging up wells and making streams flow, unquestionably fall under the category of the long-lived charity (sadaqah jariyah).[29]

In yet another hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) somewhat elaborated on the nature of the long-lived charity. In it, he categorized all of bequeathing a copy of the Holy Qur’an, building a mosque, building a house for travelers, making a stream flow, giving out sadaqah (charity) in the state of health — as the deeds for which their executors will procure rewards even after they die.[30]

The Prophet (pbuh) on one occasion said that the date-palm tree is as blessed as a Muslim. What the Prophet (pbuh) possibly had in mind here, was the enormous value and the diversified excellent properties which both of them in their respective ways and contexts embodied.[31]

The Holy Qur’an says (Ibrahim 24-26) that a goodly word is just like a goodly tree which is at all times characterized by stability, good health and the abundance of its nutritious fruits; whereas an evil word is comparable with an evil tree which stands at the diametrically opposite side due to its instability, rottenness, vanity and infertility.

This was one of the reasons why the first generation of Muslims possessed such a remarkable position on the matter of peaceful coexistence with flora. So concerned were they about planting and land cultivation – food provision was certainly the main reason, but not the only one – that both the Migrants (Muhajirun) and Helpers (Ansar) were called the “people of planting and cultivation” (ahl zar’).[32] Once a man saw the companion Abu al-Darda’ planting a nut (jawzah). Asked why he was doing that, for he was old and the tree will need a very long time to yield the fruits, Abu al-Darda’s answer was that others (future generations) will benefit from his efforts. Consequently, he will be rewarded accordingly.[33]

Another Prophet’s companion, Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, even combined gardening with imparting knowledge.[34]

It is not surprising, therefore, that issues like public land and its cultivation, public water and its use, reviving dead land, enclosing land, and the like, were treated in-depth in virtually every inclusive work on the Islamic jurisprudence. As a result, numerous rulings apropos those and other similar themes were generated in the process and were meticulously preserved.

The Prophet (pbuh) said on reviving dead land, for instance: “Dead land belongs to him who revives it, and no trespasser has any right.”[35]

Also: “He who revives dead land acquires it and what is consumed by the ‘Afiah (of its crops) is considered his sadaqah (charity).” “The ‘Afiah are those poor religious men and the ‘followers of the way’, seeking the means of subsistence of which they are deprived, and also birds and beasts.”[36]

            To this all can we add — as a concluding remark — that Islam, additionally, shores up its unrivaled stance on the subject of the environment and its sustainable use, by viewing cleanliness, be it the cleanliness of the body, dwelling places, courtyards, streets, markets, rivers and the total natural and man-made surroundings, as a branch of faith (iman). The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said so on many an occasion.[37] A branch of faith is also removing what is injurious from the path.[38] In order not to cause any damage to the environment, or inconvenience to themselves, the Muslims are furthermore cautioned against defecating or urinating in water springs, on paths and in shaded places. The Prophet (pbuh) called such acts as serious abominations.[39]




[1]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Dhabaih wa al-Sayd, Hadith No. 5090, 5091. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Sayd wa al-Dhabaih wa ma Yu’kal min al-Hayawan, Hadith No. from 3615 to 3620.

[2]Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Kitab al-Dahaya, Hadith No. 4370.

[3] Rafiq M. and Ajmal Mohd., “Islam and the Present Environmental Crisis”, in: Islam and the Environment, edited by A. R. Aqwan, (New Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies, 1997), p. 138.

[4] Ibid., p. 138.

[5]Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Ahkam wa al-Fawa’id, Hadith No. 1406.

[6]Ibid., Kitab al-Birr wa al-Silah ‘an Rasulillah, Hadith No. 1847.

[7] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Salam, Hadith No. 5567.

[8] Ibid., Hadith No. 5568.

[9] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of Distribution of Water, Hadith No. 565. 

[10] Ibid., Hadith No. 551.

[11] Ibid., Hadith No. 559.

[12] Malik b. Anas, al-Muwatta’, Book 21, No. 21.19.47.

[13] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, (Beirut: Dar al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1981), vol. 2 p. 379.

[14] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Muzara’ah, Hadith No. 517.

[15] Ibid., Hadith No. 517

[16] Al-‘Asqalani Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Cairo: Maktabah al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyyah, 1978), vol. 14 p. 159.

[17]Al-Qardawi Yusuf, Halal and Haram in Islam, (New Delhi: ALBOOKS, 1988), p. 343.

[18]See for example: Ibrahim 24-26; Al-Mu’minun 20; Al-Tin 1-2. 

[19]See for example: Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith No. 5553. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 439, Kitab al-Musaqah, Hadith No. from 2901 to 2904.

[20]Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Jannah wa Sifah Na’imiha, Hadith No. 5073. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Kitab Baqi Musnad al-Mukaththirin, Hadith No. 9297.

[21] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 2 p. 23.

[22] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Buyu’, Hadith No. 3016.

[23] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of Distribution of Water, Hadith No. 543.

[24] Ibid., Hadith No. 547.

[25] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 24.

[26]Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1980), vol. 2 p. 42. Ibn Majah, Sunan ibn Majah, al-Muqaddimah, Hadith No. 238.

[27]Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith No. 4561.

[28]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Muzara’ah, Hadith No. 2152. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqah, Hadith No. 2900, 2904.

[29]Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, vol. 2 p. 42.

[30] Ibn Majah, Sunan ibn Majah, al-Muqaddimah, Hadith No. 238.

[31] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 7, Book 65, Hadith No. 355.

[32]Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, vol. 2 p. 44.

[33]Ibid., vol. 2 p. 102.

[34]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 438.

[35]Ibid., Kitab al-Muzara’ah, see the chapter “Reviving dead Land”.

[36] Qudama b. Ja’far, Kitab al-Kharaj, Translation by A. Ben Shemesh, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965), p. 31.

[37]Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 328.

[38] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith No. 56.

[39] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 24.

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