The Green Quran

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The Quran has much to say about what we call environmental issues, about taking care of the earth. Fasad fi’l ard is usually translated “corruption on earth,” and one of its meanings is in fact corruption in the usual moral sense: cheating, bribery, promiscuity, abusive behavior, theft, oppression, political corruption, spree or senseless killing. But the term “fasad” also can refer to spoilage, as in spoiled vegetables or fruits. Or to something adulterated. Or pollution, such as environmental pollution. Why else would it be constantly called “corruption on earth?” Why mention this? We know corruption takes place on earth already.

The preposition word “fi” (pronounced “fee”) is a placement word with flexibility: used with “bate” or “home,” it translates “at home;” used with the word (“qalb”) for “heart,” it means “in the heart;” and used with “the heavens and the earth,” it means “inside the heavens and the earth.” So here the fasad or “corruption/ adulteration/ spoilage” is placed in/on/inside earth. The significance of this, and its specific application to the earth as an ecosystem, is emphasized in certain ayat (verses/signs) more than others (that emphasize other types of corruption, such as political or economic).

Often the ayat are ended with the phrase meaning “and Allah does not love those who corrupt/ adulterate/ destroy.” This emphasizes the admonition, an indication that not only is this prohibited, but it turns Allah against or away from those who do it. That in turn bodes consequences, possibly dire.

وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَالنَّسْلَ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَسَادَ

And if he gains power, he seeks to corrupt the earth and destroy its crops, and the lineage. God does not love corruption. (Surat al-Baqara 2:205)

This is clearly referring to directly corrupting the earth itself. “Crops” could also include plants generally, implying a type of corruption that causes crops to be destroyed, either by literally burning or uprooting them, or by creating an environment poisonous to them. “The lineage” is a good literal translation, which is often translated as “cattle” or livestock, etc., while it is more related to the actual genetic “lines” of creatures, and does not specify cattle or other animals, or even specify “livestock,” which is a different word. That meaning is especially appropriate today, with genetic modification and even seed modification, which makes seeds unable to reproduce other seeds — like Montsanto’s infamous “terminator seeds.”

Here is a direct injunction:

وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَاحِهَا وَادْعُوهُ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا إِنَّ رَحْمَتَ اللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ مِّنَ الْمُحْسِنِين

And do not corrupt the earth after it has been made right; and call on Him fearing and hoping. Surely the mercy of God is near the righteous. (Surat al-Araf 7:56)

Allah has created the earth “right,” balanced. Here “corruption” means ruining the natural order and balance. It could not be clearer! Yet few Muslims emphasize the significance of environmental responsibility. Here the word “la” or “no”, a negation word which also means “do not,” is a commanding word, an expression denoting that this is a clear command from God, not a suggestion (and there are those too), not an inference. It is clear and unequivocal, and mentioned frequently in various ways and circumstances throughout the Quran, at least 20 times.

The idea of balance is important too. Often interpreted solely to refer to fairness in buying and selling (because the word “meezan” means “balance scale”), it could also refer to the larger balance, ecological balance, or the entire systemic balance of creation.

وَيَا قَوْمِ أَوْفُوا الْمِكْيَالَ وَالْمِيزَانَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا النَّاسَ أَشْيَاءَهُمْ وَلَا تَعْثَوْا فِي الْأَرْضِ مُفْسِدِينَ

And my people, give full in measure and weight equitably, and do not hold back from the people what is theirs, and do not roam the land corrupting. (Surat Hud 11:85)

The word for “measure” is “meekaal” and for weight is “meezan,” the balance scale. So although this clearly refers to trade and economic fairness, there is also, “land” being in Arabic the same word as “earth,” the sense of corruption both against people and the earth. “Measure” is important to be included, as everything in nature is created with balance and measure. Note also that this passage is quoting a prophet, Shu’aib, directed to his people, who were described in the Quran as aggressive cheaters and robbers of travelers along roadways. So that is the emphasis; but the proximity of fasad fi’l ard to the idea of measure and balance leaves open a wider sense of corruption, that of the environment we live in. Those who cheat other people do not care about others, only caring about personal gain. This is precisely the attitude that destroys whole environments and ecosystems, as well as societies.

About balance, much is also discussed in the Quran. For example,

وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ

أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ

وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ

And He raised the heaven and He established the balance. Do not transgress in the balance. And observe the weight with equity, and do not fall short in the balance.
(Surat Al-Rahman 55:7-9)

Here “balance” is again the word “meezan” or balance scale. And clearly, establishing the balance is a reference to creation itself, to the whole of creation, that it is created with balance in weight and measure, followed with an injunction, “do not.” This is usually again translated with an emphasis on trade and economic fairness on an individual basis. But it has clear implications as well for the environment, as we are also, as humans and “bani Adam” or children of Adam, responsible caretakers of the earth, charged with its development and also maintaining its balance.

In fact, criminal behavior of all types tends to destroy ecosystems and environments that sustain people. Companies that produce useful goods, such as fertilizers, must also be responsible not to destroy other resources people need, such as seafood and ocean resources, by dumping what they know to be excessive or toxic waste into the sea. Once people were given knowledge of the dangers to climate and ecosystems caused by carbon emissions, they became responsible to rein in such emissions and act responsibly to protect the earth on which they live. Short-sightedness or the desire for immediate gain regardless of long-term impact is criminally irresponsible. The Quran condemns such acts and clearly prohibits irresponsible behavior that results in “fasad fi’l ard” or “corrupting the earth” and its balance of complex systems.

All humans are held responsible regardless of religion. But Muslims, who have this book, the Quran, as a guide they claim to believe in, should be a leading force in working toward drastically reducing carbon emissions and other environmental hazards, but they are not. Muslims should be the greenest of the green, but this is not the case, nor is there any sense of any discussion of this in mosques or elsewhere, except on a very small scale, a minority of believers.

The Quran is again being ignored in favor of other things…

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