1000 Years Amnesia: Environment Tradition in Muslim Heritage
by Salim T S Al-Hassani*
Table of contents
2. Central Concepts, General Principles and Guidelines
2.1 Central Concepts
2.2 General Principles and Guidelines
3. Examples from History
3.1 Environment Design in Sinan's Architecture
3.2 Wind Catchers and Wind Towers
4. Environment Issues in the Islamic Medical Writings
4.1 Early contributions by Al- Kindī and Qustā ibn Lūqā (9th-10th cent.)
4.2 Al-Rāzī, Ibn al-Jazzār and Al-Tamīmī (9th-10th cent.)
4.3 Abū Sahl al-Masīḥī and Ibn Sīnā (10th-11th centuries)
4.4 Alī ibn Ridhwān, Ibn Jumay' and Ya'qūb al-Isrā'īlī (11th-12th cent.)
4.5 Al-Baghdādī, Ibn al-Quff and Ibn al-Nafīs (12th-13th cent.)
5. Islam and Integrated Development
5.1 Conceptual Framework
5.2 Islamic Conception of Welfare
5.3 Care for Animals as Flagship of the Islamic Respect to Creation
6. The Muslim Seven Year Action Plan (M7YAP) on Climate Change
6.1 Istanbul Conference and Declaration
6.2 Istanbul Declaration
8. References and further reading
8.1 Articles on MuslimHeritage.com
8.2 Links related to Istanbul conference and declaration
8.3 General references and further resources
Although the Muslims today are becoming increasingly part of the new world order, which believes in economic growth as the vehicle to human happiness, they were previously a leading example in constructing environmentally and ecologically friendly societies which were guided by principles and ethics totally different from those adopted by the present industrialised world. The dangerous problems of overpopulation in concentrated areas and the resulting increasing consumption and waste accumulation, water (both soft and sea water) pollution, destruction of other species including micro-organisms, which are an essential part of the life cycle, change of the chemistry of the atmosphere with its associated problems of global warming and the insatiable appetite of technology to dominate social and economic order, with its consequent demand for energy and material, are the most apparent features of the crisis of environment and the economic model that governs world affairs today. Increasing are issues of great importance to human existence and warrant the utmost attention by all the citizens of the world.
Figure 1: World map of seas and oceans. A continuous body of water encircles the Earth covering 71% of the Earth's surface and divided into a number of principal areas: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Southern.
Figure 2: The retreat of Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps (situation in 1979, 1991 and 2002), due to global warming. Photograph in the public domain.
In this context, all cultures and communities are concerned. Consequently, uncovering the 1000 years of Muslims response to environment will serve to give a good example to present day Muslims to derive lessons from their successful past so that they may contribute positively with the rest of the world in its struggle to handle this titanic problem, which besets humanity. It will also enlighten non-Muslims - particularly those in Europe and America - on the position of Islam –as religion, culture and civilisation- on environment, and thus will generate a positive response and create a better image of Islam and Muslims and perhaps triggering process of common areas of interest and collaboration.
Before highlighting the missing history of environment in Islam, it is appropriate to examine some conceptual aspects and follow them by a review of the principles and guidelines, which produced the environmental friendliness attitude of Muslim societies in the past.
Figure 4: This Landsat satellite image reveals sand dunes advancing on Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. (Source).
2. Central Concepts, General Principles and Guidelines
The main sources of knowledge about the position of Islam on environment are the Quran, the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH), Sirah (documented life of Prophet Muhammad), and the life of his Companions and the ways in which the Muslim societies have conducted themselves when upholding the principles of Islam and facing the challenges of production of goods for maintaining human life and building economic growth as well as progress in civilisation.
Figure 5: Physical map of Islamic countries showing the variety of physical geographies and natural environments. The geography of Islamic lands imposed an early interest in nature and how to preserve it. Source: Malse Ruthven and Azim Nanjl, Historical Atlas of Islam (Harvard University Press, 2004, pp. 18-19).
2.1 Central Concepts
From these sources, we derive the following environmental concepts:
- God (Allah): Oneness of God is central in Islamic faith; He is The Creator and His attributes are manifested in His creation (the seen and the unseen environment, including all the universe);
- Man (Male and Female): The only being created as vicegerent on Earth until the day of judgement;
- Environment: All that which constitutes the universe (seen and the unseen) are subservient to Allah who sustains and maintains them through laws and principles, which He will not break. The Earth and all its assets are for Man to utilise in a responsible manner according to general principles and guidelines revealed through Messengers, the final of whom is Muhammad.
The Quran contains numerous verses highlighting principles and guidelines which were enforced and explained by the sayings and tradition of Prophet Muhammad and demonstrated by the lives of the Companions and followers on the utilization and protection of the environment. Some of these are given below:
Adl (Justice): This principle governs inter-human relationships and in an indirect way to other creatures including animals;
Mizan (Balance): This principal governs the inter-human social and economic relationships but also the environment in that one should not upset the equilibrium of nature, use of resources (air, water and energy) and life cycle of all species; this principle also affects design of buildings, towns and cities;
Wasat (Middleness): This principle comes in all relationships; choosing the middle way between extremes in economic planning, social conduct, scientific pursuits, ideological views, material, water and energy consumption (not excessive nor miserly);
Rahmah (Mercy): This governs all aspects of human relationships and treatment of all living animals, plants and insects including micro- organisms;
Amanah (Trustworthiness and custodianship): Just like a person holding the property of another in trust, Man is considered to be a trustee on all earth's assets appointed by the owner (Malik), Allah who created all;
Taharah (Spiritual purity and Physical cleanliness):
Figure 6: Drawing of the wudhu' machine designed and described by al-Jazari in his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (Al-Jami' bayn al-'ilm wa-'l-'amal al-nafi' fi sinat'at al-hiyal) completed in 1206. This hand washing device is an elaborate machine of ingenious engineering intended to prevent waste of water. Source: Salim al-Hassani (Chief Editor), 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World (Manchester, FSTC, 2006, p. 20).
Spiritual purity generates contented individuals conscious of the presence of Allah, resulting in a balanced society living in harmony with the environment; cleanliness generates healthy society devoid of air and water pollution and generates a clean economy devoid of usury and deceitful marketing techniques;
Haq (Truthfulness and Rights): Truthfulness in all dealings whether with other individuals or with institutions and the recognition of the right of others (humans, animals and plants) generates honesty and trust with consequent reduction of crime and cruelty to animals.
Ilm Nafi' (usefulness of knowledge and science): Knowledge, whether theological, scientific or technological, must be useful to others (individuals and society) including future generations; this affects all educational and research programmes.
To these basic general principles, are appended other principles that have the status of guidelines in current life. Some of these practical guidelines that should govern human conduct in society and vis-à-vis of Nature, we mention:
3. Examples from History
- Iman (Faith) is demonstrated through useful deeds and good actions ('Amal Salih); useful here refers to society and environment;
- Water, Air and fire (Energy) belong to all;
- Killing or elimination of creature is forbidden unless by sanction from the Creator (hence the word Halal meat; animal killed by permission).
Numerous examples exist of how Islam has influenced people in creating environmentally friendly societies and this influence is corroborated by a quasi infinite number of examples from the history of Islamic civilisation. 3.1 Environment Design in Sinan's Architecture
In construction for example, we can refer to Sinan's architecture (smoke filtering and its use as ink, also use of Ostrich eggs to drive spiders out) and to the spread of courtyard houses (as optimum environmental design). In water resource management reference may be made to water raising machines (including automatic animal water feeding, wind and water mills, qanats, dams, etc.)
Mimar Sinan (d. 1588) was the chief Ottoman architect and civil engineer for sultans Suleiman I, Selim II, and Murad III. He was, during a period of fifty years, responsible for the construction or the supervision of every major building in the Ottoman Empire. Benefiting from the long Islamic and Turkish traditions of architecture, building design and civil engineering, Sinan used ostrich eggs in the centre of the chandeliers that dangled from the dome to chase away insects which were attracted by candles or oil lamps.
At the centre of the circular frame that holds the numerous candles and oil lanterns in Ottoman mosques, there is usually a strange egg shaped object as if made of marble (see fig. 8). The object is actually an ostrich egg . Through research over many years, the Ottomans discovered that these eggs secrete chemical substances into the atmosphere, which repel spiders and mosquitoes away. Hence, due to these eggs there are no spider webs in Ottoman mosques.
Figure 7: Ottoman architects used to put ostrich eggs on the chandeliers in the mosques (here in The Sultanahmet Mosque known as the Blue Mosque built between 1609 and 1617) to repel spiders, hence avoiding cobwebs inside the mosque.
Another innovation regarded air purification, mainly in mosques. For instance, in the Süleymaniye Mosque, built by Mimar Sinan on the order of Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent between 1550 and 1557, there is a soot room on the main gate in Suleymaniye mosque. The oil lamps and candles that were used in large numbers to lighten huge buildings would generate smoke and burn oxygen. To solve this problem, Sinan and his followers made use of aerodynamics to drive the smoke to a filter chamber. The soot was then collected and used for making ink. In turn, clean air was driven to the outside ensuring sustainability. Soot obtained from the candles is one of the raw materials in the making of ink used for calligraphy adding with stirring. This ink protects the books from the book worms. This system filters the air pollution inside the mosque bad air that comes from candles and people breathing. In this example, we have a sustainable system, which is also environmentally friendly. The same device exists in Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I by the royal architect Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa, a pupil and senior assistant of Sinan.
Figure 8: Candles the in Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul. The architect of the mosque, Sinan designed an ingenious system to resolve the problem of stale air during times of the crowded attendance at prayer worship on winter nights by adding a room over the entrance for ventilation. What is most remarkable is the ink made from the soot collected in this room.
These two examples, the use of ostrich eggs and the air purification by collecting soot and its recycling for the fabrication of ink, are evidently environment friendly. Such research reminds us of the numerous discoveries in medicine such as the discovery of the catgut (the suture from the intestine of the cat used in internal surgery) by Al-Zahrawi which was found to be acceptable by the human flesh and is dissolved a few weeks after surgery.3.2 Wind Catchers and Wind Towers
Another example is the wind catcher (Bâdgir in Persian or Barjil in Arabic). It is a traditional architectural device used for many centuries to create natural ventilation in buildings. It is not known who first invented the wind catcher, but it still can be seen in many countries today. Wind catchers come in various designs, such as the uni-directional, bi-directional, and multi-directional. Examples of wind catchers can be found in traditional architecture throughout the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Figure 9: Illustration of use of wind tower and qanat for cooling (Source); used in many parts of the Middle East.
The countries of the Middle East have a large day-night temperature difference, ranging from cool to extremely hot, and the air tends to be very dry all day long. Most buildings are constructed of very thick ceramics with extremely high insulation values. Furthermore, towns centred on desert oases tend to be packed very closely together with high walls and ceilings relative to Western architecture, maximizing shade at ground level. The heat of direct sunlight is minimized with small windows that do not face the sun.
Figure 10: Al-Barjeel or Al-Kashteel, traditional wind towers in the United Arab Emirates (Source); used in many parts of the Middle East.
The wind-tower, or burj al-hawa', as it is still called today in the Arab Gulf countries, is designated in the United Arab Emirates Al-Borj Al-Kashteel. It is existent in certain traditional buildings in the Gulf region. It is a tall structure with vertical openings in all directions, with internal walls arranged diagonally so that any breeze is forced downwards and up again before it can escape. This creates a circulation of air in rooms used in summer. Rooms used in winter were not provided with wind-towers.
Figure 11: Old-fashioned air-conditioning with wind-towers in Qatar (left (Source) and Dubai (right Source); used in many parts of the Middle East.
Wind-towers were square in plan, showing an X configuration of interior planes. They were built around an armature of wooden poles, which stabilize and reinforce the structure, and whose projecting ends were usually left to serve as scaffolding for cleaning and maintenance.
The top half of the wind-tower was an enclosed funnel that accelerates the descending air into a room below. Al-Barjil became a symbol of architecture in the Gulf region. It provided a satisfactory solution for bringing air inside the rooms while being protected against the harmful sun.
Figure 12: The wind catcher of "Dowlat-abad" in Yazd, Iran, one of the tallest extant wind catchers (Source); used in many parts of the Middle East.
The use of wind catchers in classical Islamic architecture in hot and arid regions is just an example of the environment oriented measures taken by architects and builders. This long tradition of building constructions which are environment compliant needs to be promoted and revivified. We need to rediscover the merits of traditional Muslim houses (courtyard houses), building designs and town planning so that we use their energy efficient designs and building materials in our modern buildings so that we reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint. Instead of scrapping these and build totally new high rise glass boxes, we only need to use modern technology to enhance and improve them to make them more efficient and compliant with modern style of living.
4. Environment Issues in the Islamic Medical Writings
In ancient and medieval times, the problems of environment related to health protection, notably in what concerns the causes and treatment of widespread illnesses or crowd diseases, were considered as medical phenomena. Several books in this field were written in Greek, and then translated into Arabic in the 9th century, mainly the works of Hippocrates and Galen. But with the development of the Arabic medical tradition, the theme of environment and protection from pollution was the subject matter of dozens of original treatises. These books or sections in books were authored mainly by physicians, as the theme was considered a problem of public health protection and preventive medicine. Other literary genres of Muslim heritage were concerned with the issue of health protection against pollution, such as the manuals of hisba dedicated to market and industry control and the books of jurisprudence and regulation of civil works and buildings.
Figure 13: Front cover Māddat al-Baqā' (The Survival Material) by Al-Tamīmī al-Maqdisī (Cairo, 1999), a medical treatise dealing in part with environmental issues and their impact on health.
Several noteworthy Arabic texts studied environmental pollution as a cause of various illnesses, endemic and epidemic, from the 9th century up to the 13th century. Studying this subject in a recent article, Lutfallah Gari listed twenty books related to the field of environmental pollution. Unfortunately, some of them are not extant. From the extant ones, we learn that they are all concerned with environmental pollution and how to protect human health from its effects. The specific areas covered by those books are:
- Pollution and contagion
- Medical geography: environmental conditions of specific cities such as Alexandria, Cairo and Damascus
- Remedies, treatments and combating illness
- Prevention of air and water pollution
- Clinical observations
- Conservation of health for travellers
- Effects of weather.
4.1 Early contributions by Al- Kindī and Qustā ibn Lūqā (9th-10th centuries)
Al-Kindi (d. ca. 873 CE) is the author of several works on air pollution and the ways of its protection: Causes of Heavenly Fatal Toxicants Named Epidemics, Drugs Curing from Detrimental Odours and Incenses Purging the Atmosphere against Epidemics. The three works were not transmitted. Fortunately, Al-Tamīmī (see about him below) quoted seven precious pages from the last treatise about incenses that combat air pollution.
Figure 14: Syrian postage stamp depicting Al-Kindi. The earliest known writings concerned with pollution were Arabic medical treatises written between the 9th and 13th centuries by Al-Kindi, Qusta ibn Luqa, Al- Rāzi, Ibn Al-Jazzar, Al-Tamimi, Ibn Sina, Ali ibn Ridhwan, Ibn Jumay' and Ibn al-Nafis.
Qustā ibn Lūqā (d. ca. 912 CE) is a known scholar, translator of scientific works and medical author. Two of his medical writings include a clear interest in environment issues: a small treatise On Contagion and a text on the Medical Regime for the Pilgrims, a traveller health guide, especially written for a pilgrim to Mecca. He defines contagion as a transmission from one ill body to a healthy one. He then describes the ways of contagion and examples of transferrable diseases. He assigns two causes to widespread illnesses: surrounding air, and contagion/infection. He relates contagion to environmental pollution by saying:
"Surrounding air differs greatly according to different effects on it. Those are either from the earth or from the sky. The earth factors include: vapours ascending from forests and swamps, other ground humidities such as the smoke ascending from mountains and furnaces, other dry bodies which emit smoke when they are burned, corpses and other spoiled things which emit bad fumes and stinky odours when heated by the sun and nature. Heavenly factors include: extreme heat in summer and extreme cold in winter. These factors cause common illnesses that overwhelm most people. The most obvious cause is air spoilage which results from these factors".
4.2 Al-Rāzī, Ibn al-Jazzār and Al-Tamīmī (9th-10th centuries)
Figure 15: Front cover of Scientific Weather Forecasting in the Middle Ages: The Writings of Al-Kindi: Studies, Editions, and Translations by Gerrit Bos and Charles Burnett (London/New York: Kegan Paul, 1997).
Muhammad Al-Razi (d. ca. 925 CE), the famous scholar and author of systematic medical encyclopaedias, was also interested in environment as a factor of good health. He devoted to it several books: Epistle on Chronic Coryza at the Bloom of Roses, The Reason for which Simoom (Hot) Wind Kills Most Animals, Risala fi 'l-miyah (Epistle on Types of Waters) and Al-Risala al-waba'iya (On Epidemics). These works are not yet edited and exist only in manuscripts in several libraries. Few studies present some of their contents.
Ibn al-Jazzār (d. 369/980), the Tunisian well known medical author is the author of a book on epidemics in Egypt: Causes Generating Epidemics in Egypt, Methods of Prevention and Treatment. This made him subject to bitter criticism by the Egyptian physician ‛Alī ibn Riḍwān. Ibn al-Jazzār's work is not extant, except for small extracts quoted by Al-Tamīmī and Ibn Riḍwān. Al-Tamīmī quotes compositions of three syrups that were composed by Ibn al-Jazzār to be used as health protectors when crowd diseases attack the community. Ibn Riḍwān accuses Ibn al-Jazzār of writing about an environment that he did not knew.
Nevertheless, Ibn al-Jazzār deserves credit for being the first author in the genre of medical geography books, the books that study the environmental conditions of a specific town. This genre include the works of ‛Alī ibn Riḍwān, Ibn Jumay‛, Ya‛qūb al-Isrā'īlī, and ‛Abdullatīf al-Baghdādī.
Muhammad Al-Tamimi is a scholar from Jerusalem. He lived in the 4th century H/10th century CE. He died in Egypt in ca. 1000 CE. His book Madat al-baqa' bi-islah fasad al-hawa' wa-'l-taharruz min dharar al-waba' (Survival Material about Treating Air Spoilage & Avoiding Harms of Epidemics) is a real encyclopaedia of preventive medicine from the standpoint of the effects of the environment on health and the ways of preventing illness and diseases linked to pollution.4.3 Abū Sahl al-Masīḥī and Ibn Sīnā (10th-11th centuries)
Abu Sahl Isa ibn Yahya al-Masihi (d. in 1010 CE) was a Christian physician from Gorgan, in Iran. He was the teacher of Avicenna. He wrote an encyclopaedic treatise on medicine of one hundred chapters (Al-mā'a fi-l-sanā'a al-tabi'iyyah). He is also the author of other medical treatises, and in the field of environment his text Risala fi tahqiq 'amr al-waba' wa-'l-ihtiraz minhu wa-'islahuhu idha waqa' (Investigation on the Nature of Epidemics, Prevention and Cure) is a precious contribution. It is a well organized treatise in which he classified crowd diseases in terms of their causes, and specifying a certain remedy for each type of disease.
The treatise is divided into four sections:
- The necessity of air to life,
- Changes in air contents and the effects of these changes on health
- The ways by which epidemics harm the body
- Prevention and treatment according to the types of epidemics.
In the 2nd section we see a clear distinction between endemic illnesses (al-amrāḍ al-bilādiyyah), epidemics (al-wabā') and calamity (al-muwatān). Also in this section the author gives three causes of epidemics:
- Extensive humidity and warmth in air, compared to usual conditions at that time of the year;
- Extensive dryness in air;
- Air being changed into an abnormal condition, or when abnormal detrimental fumes are mixed with it; this latter condition causing more damages.
In his famous and influential Kitab al-Qanun fi 'l-tib (The Canon in Medicine), Ibn Sina (d. 1037 CE), the pupil of al-Masihi, follows on the steps of his master in devoting a special interest to environment issues. He dedicated several chapters of The Canon to moldiness, types of water, their quality and treatment, illnesses caused by impurity in water, air spoilage and its effect, designing houses and selecting their location according to health considerations, food quality and its effects, and animals transmitting pollution. Some of these ideas are treated in depth in another work of Ibn Sīnāentitled Daf' al-madhar al-kulliya 'an al-'abdan al-'insaniya (Repulsion of Inclusive Harms from Human Bodies). It discusses issues such as the types of harmful air, the harms and treatment of water types.4.4 Alī ibn Ridhwān, Ibn Jumay' and Ya'qūb al-Isrā'īlī (11th-12th centuries)
Abu 'l Hasan Ali ibn Ridhwan (d. ca 1060) was an Egyptian scholar and physician. He is also known for his observation of the supernova that burst in the sky in 1006 CE. Among his medical writings, his text Daf' madhar al-abdan bi-ardhi Misr (On the Prevention of Bodily Ills in Egypt) is particularly interesting for the environment issues.
In this book, Ibn Ridhwān opposed to Ibn al-Jazzār's views concerning the pollution in Egypt and he accused him of talking about Egypt's environment as a foreigner who never visited this country. However, he devoted his treatise to describe the following issues related to Egypt's air pollution:
- Specific causes of pollution in Egypt, especially in Cairo,
- The temperament of Egypt,
- The necessity to adhere to the local environment,
- Disturbances and corruption of air there,
- Causes of epidemics,
- Geographical comparison between various parts of Metropolitan Cairo,
- Geographical comparison between Metropolitan Cairo and rural areas,
- Methods of improving the quality of air, water and food in Egypt,
- Appropriate medical remedies to ill bodies,
- Advantages of living in Metropolitan Cairo,
- Emphasis on proper regime and prophylaxis rather than remedial treatment.
In the same vein of medical geography, Ibn Jumay‛ (d. 1198 CE) wrote a treatise about Alexandria, Tab' al-Iskandariya (Nature of Alexandria), where he exposed the results of a minute survey that he conducted to examine the various parts of the city, drinking water sources and how they are polluted and the types of food and drinks.
Another contribution in medical geography from the 12th century is the work of Ya‛qūb al-Isrā'īlī, known as Al-As‛ad al-Maḥallī (d. ca. 600/1204) on Damascus: Mizaj Dimashq wa-wadh'uha wa-tafawutuha min Masr (Temperament of Damascus, Its Location and Variance from Egypt).
Ya‛qūbstates, in the introduction, that when he visitedDamascusin 598 H/1202 CE he was asked several questions. The treatise is composed of the answers to those questions. One of them was about the temperament of Damascus, its location and variation from Egypt (again, the word Egypt here is used for Metropolitan Cairo). It is composed of four sections of which the first is devoted to the question of the environment in Damascus and Egypt. That article is divided into three sections: Presenting the seven climates, and proving that the equator is not a temperate zone; Egypt's temperament; and the temperament of Damascus. The conclusion of the author is a clear preference for Egypt, because of the differences in weather and terrain.4.5 Al-Baghdādī, Ibn al-Quff and Ibn al-Nafīs (12th-13th centuries)
Abdullatif al-Baghdadi (1162–1231) was a celebrated scholar and physician from Iraq. Being a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind, he left numerous works (mostly on medicine). The account of his travel to Egypt gave birth to a detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts) under the appealing title: Al-Ifada wa-'l-I'tibar fi al-'umur al-mushahada wa-'l-hawadith al-mu'ayana bi-ardh Misr (Instruction and Admonition on the Things Seen and Events Observed in the Land of Egypt).
Al-Baghdādi was in Cairo when great famine and spread of illness occurred in 597-598 H (1201-1202 CE). In his book, in addition to other subjects related to the history, geography and society of Egypt, we have a graphic and detailed eye-witness account of these calamities. To summarise the information contained in the book from the environment standpoint, we can enumerate:
- The effect of weather conditions and the rise of the Nile river on the health of people;
- The social effects and the behaviour of people at the time of crisis (here the calamity that resulted from drought and famine);
- The proper design of houses and city planning; he described the use of wind catchers or the towers containing ventilation shafts in houses;
- The bath houses were designed with proper ventilation, enough lighting and elevated vaults.
The contribution of the Christian Syrian physician Abū al-Faraj Ya‘qub Ibn al-Quff (d. 1286 CE) to the debates on pollution of the environment with regard to medicine and health protection was included in his text Jami' al-gharadh fi hifz al-sihha wa-daf' al-maradh (Prevention of Health and Avoiding Ills).
Ibn al-Quff's work belongs to preventive medicine, but it was marked with a special concern about environmental issues. This is the reason why it is considered by historians "outstanding among all the others, being the most comprehensive, finest and most original". Among the subjects of the book related to environment we mention: water quality and treatment, causes of epidemics, and diet and health protection of people according to the terrain and weather in their areas.
The last scholar in our list is the Syrian physician Ibn al-Nafīs (d. in 1288). Originally from Damascus, he spent much of his life in Cairo, where he became "Chief of Physicians". Environment related issues were dealt with by Ibn al-Nafis in his commentary on Hippocrates' Epidemics and his treatise Sharh kitab al-ahwiya wa-'l-miyah wa-'l-buldan (Commentary on Airs, Waters and Places), which is not extant. 5. Islam and Integrated Development
5.1 Conceptual Framework
Figure 16: Front cover of Jami' al-Gharad fi Hifz al-Sihhah wa-Daf` al-Maradh (book on the preservation of health and preventive medicine by Ibn al-Quff (Amman, 1989). Hifz al-Sihhah is a comprehensive and original contribution dealing in part with ecological and environmental subjects: water quality and treatment, causes of epidemics, diet and health protection according to the terrain and weather.
Based on some central concepts of the Sacred Texts of Islam, Man is entitled to regent Nature for his own use, but without hegemony or destruction. These very concepts allow to be extended for a modern theory of sustained and integrated development.
Allah SWT says in the Holy Quran: "It is He Who has made the earth manageable for you, so traverse ye through its tracts and enjoy of the sustenance which He furnishes: but Unto Him is the Resurrection" (Quran 67:15).
A Saying (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) affirms:
"I am closer to the believers than their own selves; any believer that dies and leaves some property, then his heirs are entitled to it. But if any believer should die and leave behind some debt or some orphans, then let them be mine" (Sahih Bukhari, Book 6, vol. 60, Hadith 304).
The Quranic verse "We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures" (Quran 21: 107) evokes the concept of Istikhlâf (or the appointment of Man as vicegerent). Other central concepts are those of Taskhir (the subjection of the earth to Man) and Tadhlil (making the earth tractable). Also the call upon Man to work diligently: "So traverse ye through its tracts" and to achieve the means of peaceful and prosperous life: "And enjoy of the sustenance which He furnishes." Everything in this universe is subjected to Allah's Will and Judgement: "but Unto Him is the Resurrection" (Quran 67:15).
The Hadith quoted above (Hadith 304) presents a practical image of the responsibility of the State towards its citizens, notably in what concerns their welfare. The saying refers to the principle of individual ownership, as well as the rights and obligations pertaining to it: "Any that dies and leaves behind some property, then his heirs are entitled to it." Equally significant in the Saying is the reference to social security and social solidarity.
The achievement of economic and social development requires human resource development as well as political and administrative development. Increasingly researchers, planners, and executive officials speak about sustainable and integrated development; they contend that development should not be restricted to a mere increase in production; it should see to the fair distribution of wealth and to the enhancement of the political, social, scientific, and cultural spheres. In sum, the entire human life should be enhanced and ameliorated. Such development should neither be confined to a given sphere nor limited to one social group. Here it is necessary to talk about woman and the family.
5.2. Islamic Conception of Welfare
Figure 17: Front cover of Environmental Protection in Islam (IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Papers, No 20/IUCN139) by Abou Bakr Ahmed Ba Kader and Abdul Latif Tawfik El Shirazy Al Sabbagh (Paperback, April 1986). To read the book online, click here
Islam does not simply cater for the orientation of individuals and society towards the achievement of economic added-value solely, but rather transcends it to underline the importance of any activity that has a social added value. Its interest in things worldly, such as the settlement of the land, should not be pursued at the expense of the Hereafter or the strengthening of ties with Almighty Allah. In fact, we read in the Quran: "But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good as Allah has been good to thee" (Quran 28:77).
Another Quranic verse says: "Do ye not see that Allah has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth, and has made His bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, (both) seen and unseen?" (Quran 31:20 ). Still another one also states: "It is We Who have placed you with authority on earth and provide you therein with means for the fulfilment of your life: small are the thanks that ye give" (Quran 7:10). Elsewhere, we read: "Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him We give a life that is good and pure" (Quran 16:97).
Consequently, it seems to follow that from the Islamic vantage point, the concept of development corresponds to the idea of settling the earth and leading a good and pure life thereon. Allah (SWT) says: "It is He Who hath produced you from the earth and settled you therein" (Quran 11:61).
What is meant is that Allah has commanded people to settle the land and use it in a way that reasonably fulfils the requirements of life. Reference is made here to the settlement of the land, its tilling, cultivation, and construction. Development, thus understood, suggests a divine obligation which Man was entrusted with by the Divine Authority. Regardless of the other implications of the concept, what is firmly established in the Islamic conception of development is that such development falls within the idea of Istikhlâf (or, the appointment of Man as vicegerent on earth). In this respect, the interaction of Man with the universe and with nature is governed by the idea of subjection and bestowal of bounties, and not by alienation and subjugation, as is the case in the secular modern perspective.
The fact of the matter is that development in Islam is not merely limited to material prosperity without any ethical standards, moral principles, social consciousness, and spiritual concern. Quite the opposite is true. The pursuit of material prosperity is balanced with, and tuned to, the aforementioned requirements, in addition to the promotion of social justice and the equilibration between personal interests and public ones. Such a balanced system, while preserving individual dignity, also mobilizes it to achieve the common weal by entrusting individuals with such material and moral obligations as would help advance the society and achieve its stability and progress.
Here, it is worth pointing to what scholars have said about the issue of Al-Massalih al-Mursalah (or unspecified public interests). The issue, which covers necessities, requirements, and contingencies, has been amply and aptly dealt with by the Jurists of the Malikite Rite who have striven to understand the overall aims and achievements of the Canonical Law. One may quote the writings of Al-Shâtiby, Al-Qurâfy, and others who sought to build upon the writings of Imam Mâlik.
This is what concerns work in the economic sphere, but if we look at the level of individuals, we will notice that any efforts deployed by the individual, including economic endeavours, are considered to be some form of worship. In this connection Muslim scholars have issued countless books and devoted entire chapters to the issue of work and the exhortation of individuals to work. Some cases in point: Al-lktisâb fi al-rizq al-mustatab (On Earning Decent Livelihood) by Mohammed Ibn Al-Hassan Al-Shibâny (d. 187 H); Al-Hath ‘ala tijarah wa-'l-sina'a wa-'l-‘amal (Exhorting People to Engage in Trade, Industry and Work) by Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311 H); and Al-Barakah fi fadl as-sa'y wa-'l-harakah (Benediction to be Had from Striving and activity) by Muhammad b.Abdurahman al-Habishi (d. 786 H). Given their importance and relevance, these books are really worthy of being re-issued.
In summary, scholars surveyed scores of Quranic verses and Hadiths in order to affirm this meaning. Suffice it here to mention the Quranic verse: "And when the Prayer is finished, then may ye disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah" (Quran: 62:10). In the same vein, the Hadith: "Whosoever has planted a tree or sowed a field from which a human, a bird or a beast has eaten shall be rewarded for his charitable deed" (Sahih Bukhari, Book 3, vol. 39, Hadith 513).
Commenting on such Quranic verses and Hadiths, one can deduce that based on these injunctions, the Quran and the Hadith represented a strong drive and a powerful engine of economic development. Indeed, the Shari'a (the Canonical Law of Islam) does not merely permit people to invest their efforts in productive activities but also it commands them to engage actively in intellectual and practical activities.
If a person is versed in a given trade, he should be given the means to thrive in it; and if he is acquainted with commerce, he should be granted the means to succeed in business; and if he is knowledgeable in farming, land should be leased or purchased for him so that he may cultivate it -all within the framework of comprehensive and full-fledged programs to be supervised by the State. This project finds its legal basis in a famous Hadith which great Islamic scholars often quote in this connection. The Saying is a long one, but in essence it recommends that the poor be given material support until "they have achieved the means of livelihood," that is, these people should be supported until they have grown somewhat independent and become capable of setting up and running their own projects. In fact, the on-going endeavours related to sustainable development projects as well as productive and rehabilitation programs.
We are reminded here, of the role played by Zakât in the eradication of indigence and the creation of wealth throughout the history of the Islamic society. I would like to conclude my comment here by pointing out to the fact that a Muslim ruler, in keeping with the progress of society, should strive to achieve social justice and to undertake fair and balanced distribution of wealth among the members of society. The principle is actually enunciated in the words of Allah when He specified the criteria to govern the distribution of war booty and explained the principles underlying such distribution: "In order that it may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you" (Quran 59:7). The levying of money in order to re-distribute it among the needy is a principle that is keenly catered for by religion, which has put the principles and bases that should govern such distribution of wealth: whether this be at the level of inheritance shares, general State expenditure, or redistribution of Zakât proceeds.
In this context, we all recall the unique Ijtihad (exercise of independent judgement) effected by the Second Caliph 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattâb when he purposefully barred the division of newly acquired lands, for he saw in this action only an instance of justice towards the generations to come. By the same token, he instituted Kharaj (a tax or tribute on land) to develop the land on behalf of progeny. On the basis of such decisions and actions, scholars stressed the importance of rationalizing the exploitation of resources in ways which do not compromise the welfare of the generations to come. They also insisted on the importance of a comprehensive and proactive vision --one that seeks to cater for the needs of the different sectors of society, including the needs of future generations.
by: by Prof. Salim T S Al-Hassani, Thu 10 September, 2009