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Islamic Perspectives on Sustainable Development

By Muhammed Abdul Bari

The reason and purpose behind the creation of human beings are clearly transmitted by the holy verses of the Quran. Conservation of natural resources by human beings is a compulsory act. The concept of sustainable development in Islam enjoins on its followers consumer welfare and maintaining social justice as enshrined in Islamic law. Everything, which has power to satisfy the want of a person, can be considered a resource. On the basis of exhaustibility, natural resources are classified into renewable and non-renewable. Both forms of resources must be used with care so as to maintain a balance.

The Quranic view on sustainable development

The Quran is considered to be a guiding source for Muslims. It says, “All those things we created here in this earth are for you humans.” All human beings to the last person have a share in the resources. Moreover, the god kept a scale on all the resources. Thus negative actions will result in the de-scaling and its side-effects. Allah said, “We have made scale to all resources. We have made the sky up…” It warns the mankind on the negative impact it leaves on the land and the sea by their actions.

Land reclamation in Islam

According to the Quran, one who brings a dead land to life is rewarded for his actions. This is to encourage land reclamation. As every single bird, animal or any other insect benefits from this act of preserving land, this action is considered to be a charity in Islam. For every sapling he plants, Allah rewards. These examples testify to the importance of land reclamation. The Prophet had said, “Whosoever brings dead land to life, for him is a reward in it, and whatever any creature seeking food eats of it shall be reckoned as charity from him.”

Natural reserves

Wildlife protection is an essential part in Islam. Neither industrial development nor extensive grazing is allowed in such reserved areas. The Prophet and the caliphs made initiatives for biosphere reserve. Once the Prophet had said,

I declare Medina to be sacred throughout the area between its two mountain paths, so that leaves may not be eaten off except for fodder. The game in Medina is not to be molested not its fresh herbage cut. (Iyad Abumoghli, ‘Sustainable Development in Islamic Law‘, United Nations Development Programme, April 2007)

No hunting, poaching, cutting of trees, shrubs, and herbs were allowed in these hima or protected zones and the premises of the holy central mosque. At other places, all these were allowed, along with fishing, on a reasonable scale.

Water and related matters

The word ‘water’ is repeated about sixty-six times in the Quran because of its life-giving properties. The Quran says, “We send water from sky and in the morning you see the earth is green.” Islam denies monopolization of water if there is both upstream and downstream. After holding reasonable amount of water for irrigation, a farmer has to send down the rest of the water to ensure the sustainability of water.

Jurists such as Malik and Ibn Qudama spoke about the extraction of ground water and said, “A person has no right to adversely affect his neighbor’s well by lowering water level and polluting aquifer.” Water plays a socio-religious function. As Islam encourages cleaning most of the time, nobody is permitted to perform prayer with ‘impurities’. The quality of water required for purification is ‘tahoor’. Urination, discharge of waste water, washing and bathing in the stagnant water is forbidden in Islam.

All this encourages protection of water and pollution prevention. Few methods adopted for raising awareness include the sermons after the Friday prayers, where the chief priest of the mosque speaks on the importance of water with authenticated extracts from classical jurist manuals. As human beings are the co-owners of all the resources, no one is allowed to hold it without reason. Architecture in Islamic cities is designed in such a way that will ensure proper utilization of water. Artists designed special tanks and pools in Masjids for ablution and basins for cattle in public spaces. Offering water to others is part of charity and occasionally mandatory. Distribution of pamphlets and sticking of bills in public places are adopted for the awareness campaigns.

“No one can refuse surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man.” (Miskhat al-Masabih)

Afforestation in Islam

The Prophet is reported to have once said,

No Muslim, who plants a shoot, except that whatever is eaten or stolen from it, or anyone obtains the least thing from it, is considered [like paying] almsgiving on his behalf until the Day of Judgment. (Sahih Muslim)

The verse – “whoever plants a tree and looks after it with care until it matures and become productive will be rewarded hereafter” – appreciates afforestation. Most of the metaphors and similes used in the Quran are related to nature and trees. Special instructions by the Prophet not to cut trees and destroy water bodies during war time also emphasize the importance of afforestation.

The mandate for the individual

The ultimate responsibility for right action lies with the individual, whose actions will be accounted on the Day of Judgment, for what he did in his life regardless of what the governing authority and their various administrative and legal agencies exhorted him to do. The environmental protection and conservation of resources are a part of Islamic law and duty of Muslims. All should remember the following instructions:

  • No waste and over consumption of natural resources.
  • No unlawful obstruction or destruction of any component of natural resources.
  • No damage, abuse, befoulment or distortion of natural environment in any way. 

Muhammed Abdul Bari
, based in Kerala, is doing intensive training in classical Islamic education at Markaz Garden. He completed BA in Economics from the University of Calicut. His areas of interest are economics, Islamic studies, and Kerala History.


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2 Responses to “Islamic Perspectives on Sustainable Development”

  1. yasn umir

    “No one can refuse surplus water without sinning against Allah and against man.” (Miskhat al-Masabih) ???

  2. abdul bari

    Go through the explanations of hadees in ‘baabu ihyaul mawathi washurb. in kithaab al buyoo’ from mishkath al masabih.


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