With the general election having recently taken over most of the news headlines across Britain, the public has been made aware of several political agendas. Education, healthcare and immigration have been the usual contenders up for debate between political parties, but amongst them are also environmental policies.
When politics isn’t claiming a monopoly on the daily rag, the media portrays matters related to the environment using words that most of the public don’t quite understand. ‘Global warming’, ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘the greenhouse effect’ are the most used words associated with the environment and yet, they are the most bewildering.
It’s not a surprise then when it seems that the public simply doesn’t care given that the jargon used is enough to baffle the most frequent of readers. It’s no wonder that some people have come to the conclusion that global warming is a myth when the media is unable to report it clearly.
However, it does make one wonder as to how much the general public would genuinely care if they knew the full story in plain, simple words. Would it make much of a difference at all? And what if we were to divide the public into categories, say, race or religion? Does our culture, values and beliefs affect the way we approach ‘green issues’?
Muslims are traditionally viewed to be affected by matters pertaining to foreign policies whereas issues such as the impact of environmental policies being discussed in the Muslim community are quite unheard of. Part of this is due to the fact that we, too, are just as confused about it as the person sitting next to us on the tube reading the Metro over our shoulders.
On a more spiritual level, Muslims seem to view environmental issues as something external to Islam. Yes, some of them may recycle or reduce levels of water consumption, and perhaps some of them prefer not to litter, but active involvement in positive environmental schemes is practically non-existent amongst the Muslim community.
Overall, it seems that there are a few limiting factors that cause Muslims to become inhibited and reserved when recycling and ‘saving the whale’ are mentioned. There seems to be a cultural stigma attached to it – perhaps it’s seen as the ‘Western’ thing to do? If a Muslim was to care about saving the local 100-year old oak tree, his/her peers might even go as far as to brand them a ‘hippy’. In asking ourselves why this is the case, it seems that several factors affect the way the environment is perceived by Muslims.
The Big Issues
According to research studies on attitudes towards recycling and the environment, it seems that there are many factors affecting person’s perception on environmental issues, three of them I felt stood out particularly for Muslims:
- Social class/Quality of life – A research study conducted on attitudes towards recycling states that socio-demographic factors contribute towards a household’s recycling rates. Muslims come from variety of social classes, although they generally tend to come from the working class.
- Education – It is evident that social class impacts an individual’s education background, and therefore, it can have a transitive influence on recycling attitudes.
- Religion – An influential aspect of many people’s lives is religion, and unsurprisingly their beliefs impact on society.
It appears that social class and quality of life tie in with each other. Research suggests that quality of life, namely type of dwelling, education and income are all factors that influence whether one recycles. Furthermore, these factors can also motivate whether recycling will lead one to engage in further environmentally-friendly activities.
Those who live in an affluent residential area tend to have a better quality of life in contrast to those who come from less affluent backgrounds and have a lower standard of life. However, these variables alone are weak as indicators of environmentally-friendly behaviours.
Despite the fact that a study examining recycling attitudes within the Muslim community is yet to be published, given the current evidence at hand, one may assume that Muslims within the higher tier of society will have a tendency to recycle more. Why?
A higher quality of life also results in a greater likelihood of having access to some sort of recycling facility within their area. Studies have shown a clear correlation between the type of housing and income with recycling facilities,that is, homeowners are most likely to have access to some sort of kerbside collection recycling programme. It must also be noted that coming from a certain social class or having a higher quality of life can affect environmental shopping behaviours, as environmentally-friendly products are, naturally, more expensive.
But singling out quality of life as a determining factor for Muslim environmental behaviours is not tangible; it is, however, a contributing factor since the social class from which one originates can also affect an individual’s educational background.
However distasteful it may be to define individuals according to social class and stereotype them into a certain category, we are not without limitless evidence to support the claim that social class can determine an individual’s educational pathway. There is a colossal difference in the attitudes of high-income families and low-income families towards education and that is largely down to the approach towards education at home, as well as the opportunities they make available to their children.
This is mainly due to the fact that most families from a lower socio-economic background have less stable jobs, and therefore greater financial pressures, which can then impact the family dynamics and hence, result in a less stable family home. Consequently, children are brought up in a home that has little or no focus on education, let alone environmental issues. The parents have difficulty supporting their children through the educational system due to, perhaps, themselves being underachievers in their time at schoolor, for those parents coming from an ethnic background, face language barriers due to a lack of linguistic integration towards English and are therefore unable (or reluctant) to support their children through school.
The vast majority of Muslims in the UK are from ethnic backgrounds, mostly Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, Turkish, African – the list is endless. These ethnicities are known to have suffered the most academically with them being the most likely to have no qualifications. This results in them experiencing lower levels of social mobility, as little or no qualifications makes it difficult for people to move up the social class ladder. Taking social class and education into account, the lack of social mobility amongst Muslims only strengthens the explanation as to why, as a community, Muslims are not recycling as much as others. A lack of proper education may also affect one’s perception of the position of the environment within the realms of Islam.
Islam is a lifestyle, a way of life.
“Verily, this Qur’ân guides to that which is most just and right and gives glad tidings to the believers…”
The teachings of the Prophet (saw) showed us that Islam is not just limited to spiritual acts, but every day, supposedly meaningless tasks, which can become acts of worship with the correct intention, as per the hadith of ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him):
“Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. So the one whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, then his migration was to Allah and His Messenger. And the one whose migration was for the world to gain from it, or a woman to marry her, then his migration was for what he made migration for.”
But the significance of the Islamic view on environmental issues is seemingly non-existent. Environmental issues are not perceived as a Muslim problem, or part of a Muslim’s responsibilities. This is a gross misconception that is easily refuted if we go back to the basics – the Qur’an and Sunnah (Prophetic traditions).
“It is He who has appointed you as viceroys in the earth…”
According to Dictionary.com, a viceroy is ‘a person appointed to rule a country or a province as the deputy of the sovereign’. Applying the definition to the current situation, Muslims are viceroys of Islam in the Earth and our appointment from Allah (may He be praised) shows that this role is not to be taken lightly with every single step we take. Clearly, from this verse one can deduce that mankind has a moral responsibility towards Allah’s creation, and the imposition of trusteeship is evident.
“Truly, We did offer Al Amanah (the trust or moral responsibility or honesty and all the duties which Allah has ordained) to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (afraid of Allah’s Torment). But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust and ignorant (of its results).”
An assumption of accountability and the weight of the responsibility of the trusteeship that has been given to mankind by Allah (may He be praised) is a clear message in this verse, as something as powerful as the heavens, the earth and the mountains did not want to take on such a huge responsibility and yet, mankind chose to bear this responsibility. The latter sentence strengthens the ungrateful and selfish nature of man, due to our harmful effects on the Earth and Allah’s creation.
The bottom line: Humankind is the guardian of the natural order of Allah. Another definition from Dictionary.com tells us that a guardian is ‘a person who is entrusted by law with the care of the person or property, or both, of another, as a minor or someone legally incapable of managing his or her own affairs’. Again, applying this definition to our guardianship towards the Earth, we have been entrusted by Allah’s Law to care for something that is incapable of managing its own affairs, that something being the Earth and the creation of Allah (may He be praised). In the capacity of such guardianship, we are responsible for upholding and maintaining the Earth’s rights, ensuring that no-one exploits it. If anyone harms that which is under our care, then it is down to us to take some form of action, even if the transgressors are ourselves. We are, therefore, accountable for all of our actions and that includes our actions towards the environment.
Accounting for the three abovementioned factors, there are many highly-educated, religious, Muslim professionals from affluent backgrounds. They are devout Muslims trying to practice Islam in every aspect of their life. Why is it then that we see them littering or driving cars with diesel engines? Why are they not active participants in environmental schemes? If Islam places so much emphasis on looking after the Earth, then why are they not at the forefront of such schemes?
Every community has a leader, and as with the early Muslims, these leaders must work towards being examples in their communities. This is because Muslims generally look up to imams of their local mosques for guidance on matters. Issues pertaining to the environment don’t seem to be high priority and, perhaps, rightly so due to the many issues plaguing the Muslim community, such as divorce rates, crime rates, drugs, and so forth. However, this does not mean that problems with the environment should be placed on the backburner given that they can be resolved through simple awareness campaigns within the mosque or having the Friday sermon on Islam and the environment.
It would be pertinent for the imams of mosques to undergo imam training in order to be the ideal role models by balancing the problems in their community and continuously educating themselves on ways to impart environmentally-friendly habits to their community. Introducing recycling bins in mosques, placing emphasis on a severe discouragement of water wastage and having environmental awareness events would be a good place to start. In fact, the emphasis on water conservation in Islam is so great that one of the most prominent early scholars of Islam, Imam an-Nawawi, stated that there was consensus amongst the scholars on the prohibition of wasting water. He said,
‘The early Shafi`i scholars and others have agreed that wasting water during the ablution and purificatory bath is blameworthy. Bukhari said in his Sahih, “The people of knowledge have disliked wastefulness during it.” The prevalent opinion is that this wastefulness is offensive but not unlawful, although Baghawi and Mutawalli both said that it is unlawful. One of the proofs for its blameworthiness is the hadith related by `Abdullah ibn Mughaffal, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) say, “Verily, there shall be a people from among my nation who will be excessive in their purification and in their supplication.” Abu Dawud related this hadith with a rigorously authenticated chain of transmission. 
If the leaders of the Muslim community were to set themselves as environmentally-friendly examples, it would create a good foundation for educating and creating awareness of the importance of our actions to the average Muslim, thereby instilling a further understanding of Allah’s mercy upon us. Muslims won’t only benefit spiritually, but also by portraying themselves as proactive members of the wider society who do take an active interest in their community. Getting involved on the local level can make a resounding difference on the national one.