TODAY, we live in a new world with new challenges. Though the world’s physical structure and its features like soil, surface, mountains, rivers and deserts are the same that have existed since millennia, human life has changed socially, economically and environmentally.
The new challenges include environmental degradation. Centuries ago, most people’s lives were very simple. They lived in a rural setting with a serene environment; their work was mostly manual; their sphere of knowledge was limited; and there was little movement towards neighbouring lands. Though diseases and epidemics were common, their immunity was much stronger.
However, during the last few centuries, human knowledge in all fields has expanded manifold, resulting in the development of technology. New electrical gadgets and home appliances have become part of a life that has replaced the old traditional ways of living, working and even thinking. The norms and etiquettes, attitudes and values, customs and traditions all underwent a process of change and modernisation.
This expansion of knowledge and development of technology also brought new challenges — the human instinct to acquire more power and pelf also became stronger. The race to become rich overnight made some people ruin the ecosystem, and created a precarious situation for the coming generations. Forests are cut indiscriminately, water channels contaminated and air is polluted through industrial, agricultural and domestic waste, leading to issues of environmental degradation, global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification and deforestation etc.
We should not live in a way that damages the earth.
Now we are facing huge environmental issues such as a hole in the ozone layer, extinction of rare spices, rampant deforestation, over-harvesting and climate change. Recent studies indicate that many people are still insensitive vis-à-vis their duty towards nature, causing more than their fair share of destruction. Therefore, strict measures are required as this is putting our own existence at risk. It is endangering economies, livelihoods, food security and the well-being of people.
In order to make people more careful, conscious and responsible vis-à-vis the environment, relevant religious teachings need to be re-invoked, and humans should be reminded of their responsibilities towards environment.
As per Islamic teachings, humans are the crown of all creatures — they are the vicegerent of God on earth, as mentioned in the Quran (2:30). The earth and its bounties have been gifted to humans as they are the apex of creation on earth. Therefore, they have a three-fold responsibility in connection with the environment. First and foremost is that of trusteeship. Humans are trustees; they should not live in a way that damages the earth. The heavens and earth are signs (ayat) of Allah’s creation. Humans are stewards, and not owners. Sovereignty is Allah’s alone.
The second responsibility relates to future generations. Humans have been entrusted with the responsibility of preserving resources for the coming generations. Allah says that all that is created on this earth is for you (humans) [2:29]. Thus, we have a collective responsibility towards its proper usage, maintenance, preservation and towards leaving the earth and its resources in a better condition for the coming generations.
The third responsibility relates to the safety and security of other creatures. The world and its resources are meant for all creatures. Every creature is considered to be a sign of God. It has a right to survive, thrive and use natural resources. But we are losing many species by degrading ecosystems thus undermining our own survival.
To reverse the situation, drastic measures are required. We must make people aware of their three-fold responsibility of becoming more sensitive in preserving the natural environment. Islamic teachings should be re-invoked at all levels. Islam is a natural religion and the environment is considered the most valuable God-given gift.
Further, it is also necessary that an environment-friendly attitude is developed in the coming generations. Students should be encouraged through various activities to promote and preserve the natural environment. A good example set by a school in Sindh is worth mentioning.
The school head encouraged his students to plant coconut palm trees in an identified open space of the school and its vicinity with the name tag of the student who planted and adopted the tree during the years of study in the school. In a span of five to six years, the school presented a serene environment with trees all around. It also generated funds for school development by selling coconuts once the trees started producing fruit.
Similarly, a Karachi-based school allowed its students to visit coastal areas, parks and other public places to collect plastic bags. In this way, we can inculcate the habit of environment friendliness in our children.
The solution lies in changing the attitude of people towards the environment, and education is an important vehicle for that change.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018