Last month, Muslim leaders gathered at the Vatican to discuss the moral implications of climate change. Apart from Muslim majority countries expected to suffer the greatest from climate change, there is another reason the distinguished Imams were invited.
Islam, since its 7th century incarnation by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), has maintained a care for the earth as it reflects the powerful awe of Allah's (SWT) will. While Rudolph Otto referred to this as 'mysterium tremendum,' Muslims use a slew of other terms in the Qur'an with 453 mentions of the earth. This foundational bedrock has created a symbiotic relationship between Muslims and the earth, so much so that the earth's soil may be used in-lieu of water for prayer purification (wudhu). The line between earth and humankind is blurred in Islam, enabling them to act for an ecosystem that is simultaneously giving and dependent on their existence.
The Qur’an, Islam’s primary authority in all matters of individual and communal life, as well as theology and worship, tells of an offer of global trusteeship that was presented by God to the Heavens, the Earth, and the Mountains (Sura 33:72), but they refused to shoulder the responsibility out of fear. Humankind seized the opportunity and bore the “trust” (amana), but they were “unjust and very ignorant.” Even so, God through mercy has guided and enabled humankind in bearing the responsibility of the amana,although they have in the process also been subjected to punishment for their hypocrisy and unbelief. The Qur’an, however, is clear that God is the ultimate holder of dominion over the creation (e.g., Sura 2:107, 5:120), and that all things return to Him (Sura 24:42) and are thus accountable each in their own ways. There is, in the Qur’an and in the teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad, preserved in a literary form known as Hadith, much with which to construct an authentic Islamic environmental ethic that both sustains what Muslims have achieved traditionally in this direction and leaves open a wide avenue for creative and innovative solutions in the contemporary context.
With respect to humankind’s stewardship of the earth, the privilege entails a profound responsibility. Other living species are also considered by the Qur’an to be “peoples or communities” (ummas; Sura 6:38). The creation itself, in all its myriad diversity and complexity, may be thought of as a vast universe of “signs” of God’s power, wisdom, beneficence, and majesty. The whole creation praises God by its very being (Sura 59:24; compare with 64:1).
“With Him are the keys (to the treasures) of the Unseen that no one knows but He. He knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the earth’s shadows, not a thing, freshly green or withered, but it is (inscribed) in a clear record” (Sura 6:59).