RELIGIOUS principles and guidelines regarding plants and the environment emphasise the need for adopting approaches that benefit the natural world for the sake of human beings and other living creatures.

Trees and plants have high significance in the Islamic view of creation. The Holy Quran states that heaven is a place of plants and greenery (8511). Then there are several kinds of trees and plants mentioned favourably in the Quran (5668-70; 556; 3415, etc). The physical world and its diverse entities provide enormous benefit to humankind, without which neither man nor any other species could survive on the planet.

It depends on human beings as to how they use natural resources and to what degree and extent. Trees and plants are concomitant and interlinked in the web of life with reciprocal benefits. Moreover, animals and plants in the service of human beings and other creatures of Allah have their own rights of survival, like human beings.

Therefore, it is an obligation to conserve and develop trees and plants, both for the sake of humankind and for their value as unique and irreplaceable living resources of the planet. The Quran says “...but waste not by excess; for Allah loves not those who waste.”(6141) Planting of trees should not be taken up to satisfy one's aspirations alone, but also to deliver to others their benefits of shade, fruit, fodder, etc.

The lack of observance of Islamic teachings in our daily lives and the unsustainable use of natural resources are fundamental contributors to upsetting the natural balance in our environment. God has created everything in this universe in due proportion and measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as evident from references such as, “Verily, all things We have created (are) by a measure” (5449).

The divine assertion is also reflected in verses 138 and 557. Moreover, it is mentioned in the Quran (1519) “And the earth We have spread out like a carpet; set thereon mountains, firm and immobile; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.”

The Quran and the hadith have mentioned this aspect several times with emphasis on humanity's responsibility for preserving trees and plants. They are a basic component of the ecosystem with which the lives of all living creatures are associated, directly or indirectly. Their conservation, no doubt, will benefit us not only in this world but also in the hereafter.

The importance of trees from an Islamic, socio-economic and ecological perspective cannot be overlooked. Hence it deserves due merit and reverence to ensure conservation and sustainability of plants and trees. In Surah 16, verses 10 and 11, the injunction says “(Allah) is the one Who sends water down from the sky. For you this is a drink and out of it (grow) shrubs in which you let (cattle) graze freely. Therewith for you He makes sown fields, olives, palm trees, grapes and all kind of fruit grow.”

Because God has given so many tangible and intangible benefits out of plants to human beings He has also obliged them to thank Him for His bounties and blessings. Planting trees and taking care of Earth has also been emphasised by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), mentioning that when a person plants a tree and that tree grows and yields fruit, then human beings and animals eat of it; this is an act of charity and he will be rewarded. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 841).

Another tradition mentions “If the Hour (Judgment Day) is about to be established and one of you is holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even that one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” Planting trees is a sadqa-i-jaria (continued charity).

Since Muslims believe that every living being worships Allah, irrational and irresponsible use of natural resources could also mean cruelty to others because it usurps the right of worship of other living beings. This thought is thus reflected in the Quran “Do you not see that before God bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the animals...” (2218)

These teachings must be reflected upon and action and approaches adopted to conserve our environment. This is necessary for enjoying nature's benefits as well as to fulfil our responsibility as human beings to justify the title God has given us of ashraf-ul-makhlooqat (best of His creations), and not to misuse this identity. Saving and planting more trees would not only help us improve the acreage of our forested land but will also fulfil our obligation as enjoined in the Quran and Hadith.

The writer is deputy conservator, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department.

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