Pro-Environmental Practices in Muslim Civilization

by Marwan Haddad Published on: 6th November 2021

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This paper is an overview of pro-environmental practices, behavior, and considerations as influenced by Islam. For a simpler presentation and discussion, pro-environmental practices in this paper are divided into technical and non-technical/social. Technical practices include water supply, sanitation, waste disposal, urbanization, vegetation and gardening. Social practices include hygiene, social services, healthcare, good behavior, knowledge, science, and education. Lessons drawn from Islamic influences on people’s practices are recorded in a separate section. The evidence in this paper establishes that technical and social pro-environmental practices were positively influenced by Islam throughout Muslim civilization. Clear influences on people are evident in the fields of engineering infrastructures and inventions, in translations of scientific books, urbanization, and in the conduct of Muslims either individually or collectively.

1. Introduction

Muslims perceive Islam as comprehensive beliefs concerned with all aspects of an individual’s life as prescribed by the revealed book, The Qur’an, and by the teachings and conduct of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

Lands that embraced Muslim rule were influenced in many areas. This included various aspects of their lives such as customs and traditions, science, medicine, health, hygiene, education, their development and prosperity, and pro-environmental practices.

Historians have acknowledged that Muslim civilization contributed significantly to the advancement of science, medicine, and philosophy. Will Durant, an American writer, historian, and philosopher stated in his book The Age of Faith that [1]:

“Muslims have made an effective scientific contribution in all fields.”

The rise and development of Muslim civilization can also be seen to have positively influenced environmental practices, interactions and perceptions of individuals of the world [2].

For clarity of the objective of this paper, key terms used must be defined and understood in their context. Environmental practices are understood as people’s actions and engagement with the environment that results either in harm (negative intangible effects), no-change, or benefit to the environment (positive tangible effects). It follows that pro-environmental practices are those producing benefits to the environment in the form of preservation, protection, and sustainable development (positive tangible effects). There are five main classes of the environment in which people live and practice their activities: natural, social, cultural, economic, and health.

The study of environmental practice provides a multidisciplinary forum for discussion and analysis of issues of wide interest to the community of environmental professionals, with the intent of developing innovative solutions to environmental problems for public policy implementation, professional practice, or both [3].

Two questions regarding the formation of civilizations present themselves. Was it the environment (water, air, land, soil, etc.) that influenced the formation, or was it man’s practices? Most historians agree with the second hypothesis, that man’s practices shaped civilizations [4].

Environmental protection and resource conservation is global concern in the world today. Muslims represent one-fourth of it [5]. It is therefore important to learn how people from Muslim civilization cared about, protected, and sustained the environment.

Pro-environmental practices impacted the social, economic, political, and moral conditions of people and led towards environmental sustainability in Muslim lands. Also, pro-environmental practices are considered an indicator of moral and ethical quality in society. Research has indicated that environmental quality is associated with human behaviour and practices; thus, pro-environmental practices are necessary and important to identify [6]. In a world in which the Muslim population accounts for 24.9% of the total [7], it is necessary to investigate their environmental contributions. This study intends to enrich this field and is particularly vital and timely.

Figure 1. Prevailing religious population by country (Source)

Finally, it is unfortunate that even though environmental practices from Muslim civilization have their own unique expression, they are not all visible today even in Muslim countries. The fragmentation of the Muslim world since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 led to the loss of centralized, unified leadership, leading to undeveloped countries with poor economies.

This paper is an overview of pro-environmental practices, behaviour, and considerations in Muslim civilization. It is hoped that this research provides lessons to be learnt and applied in the world today.

2. Islamic Concept of the Environment and its Management

Islamic concepts towards the various aspects of the environment and its management will not be presented and/or discussed in this paper. Readers could refer to the previous related papers published by the author in which he identified, discussed, and analyzed the Islamic approach to environmental management and environmental education, and other Islamic environmental-related research [8-14].

3. Pro-Environmental Practices in Muslim Civilization

 Pro-environmental practices and considerations include the application of the most appropriate combination of environmental control measures and strategies in a wide range of environmental issues of interest to the community such as areas of public concern, human wellbeing, waste management, water supply, sanitation, hygiene, good behaviour and consideration, removing something harmful from the road, ecosystems and wildlife care and protection, the use and management of natural resources, environmental research and development, good health and medicine, promoting knowledge, science, education, development, vegetation and food production, and others.

The above-mentioned practices can be categorized as follows:

  • Technical/Physical Practices: public institutions (treasury, charity, and endowment houses), water supply and sanitation services, waste management, security and safety, health and hygiene, cleanliness (public baths), urbanization, and others.
  • Non-Technical/Social Practices: knowledge, science, and education establishing schools, universities, libraries, research centres, translation centres and others, daily behaviour and related life matters such as caring about others.

The following sections will present and discuss each group separately.

Figure 2. “Food Production and Food Security Management in Muslim Civilization” article banner (Source)

3.1 Technical/Physical Practices 

3.1.1 Water Supply

Rulers of Islamdom were significantly concerned with making public services and utilities available to all of their subjects, including securing the water supply to houses, mosques, hospitals and health services, public libraries, gardens, fountains, and others. Water supply to agriculture was a parallel prime concern.

In cities, water was provided for drinking, cooking, ablution, cleanliness, and even for irrigating gardens and orchards. These practices made the quality of people’s lives better and invited those from outside Islamdom to come and live in Muslim cities.

The Umayyads (661–750 CE) built dams on rivers and valleys to prevent floods and secure water, deep wells to provide water supply, and constructed water diversion canals and networks to let the water reach long-distance cities and farmlands. They used an underground channel system to bring water from a distant aquifer (qanāt) [15,16]. Also, they cleaned canals seasonally and built archways over rivers to ease the movement of passengers and goods, while enhancing the flow of water [17-23]. They built water wheels or mills to raise water to the top of the water channel; this water supply was intended for agriculture and domestic purposes [24].

The complex and advanced systems and infrastructures of the hydraulic water supplies created by Arab Muslims for Andalusia’s cities, castles, and agricultural areas consisted mainly of large water cisterns (aljubes) which were supplied with the rainwater collected from the yards of these cities and castles [25]. Many small dams were established by Muslims and were built on the 150-mile-long River Turia, which flows into the Mediterranean at Valencia [26].

The Abbasids (750–1258 CE) worked on agricultural expansion to cultivate all the available space in Iraq and to supply water to major cities. For this purpose, they constructed dams on the Euphrates River to control its water and then distributed it using streams and channels to achieve maximum benefit and cover a wider area [27]. They dug and connected a dense canal network with the Nahrawan canal system from the Tigris River and built a dam at the eastern side of the Tigris River south of the town of Mosul so that the river would extend 150 miles north of Baghdad, then extend from Baghdad to the south for 100 miles up to the north of Wasit [28]. Another contribution the Abbasids were responsible for was building a water canal in Damascus starting from the Minin River at the foot of Mount Qassioun to Deir Maran [29].

In Spain, the Abbasids regulated water use through the establishment of a specialized water court by order of Abd al-Rahman Nasir in 318 AH, which created the function of the Sakia agency, a representative of the lands that are irrigated from a particular water wheel who acted as a judge in the Water Court. This was the first court known to the world specialized in resolving disputes related to water allocation and its fair distribution among beneficiaries [30]. The most important features of the Andalusian Water Court were the simplicity of legal articles and their implementation, the deliberations and decisions, the speed in passing judgements, and the low cost to the disputing parties [31-33]. It is worth noting that the Abbasids in Baghdad established a bureau for water management which they called the Diwan of al-Aqrah (meaning the department of water) [34].

One of the most monumental projects undertaken during Abbasid rule was Ain Zubaydah, a unique model of engineering for the time (ca. 800 CE) that secured a water supply for the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca. Al-Ain descends from Wadi Numan, below the Hejaz Mountains, through water channels up to a depth of 40 meters underground; the channels were constructed in a precise way so that they reach the holy sites of Mecca on the surface of the earth, enabling pilgrims to quench their thirst directly. It took 10 years to build the system and it includes 51 underground water tanks [35].

Water supply was so indispensable to Muslims that during the Ottoman period, (ca. 1669–1898) in addition to water supply for homes, there was a water tap in every mosque. Public baths or Hamams, which are also referred to as Turkish baths, played an important role in Ottoman culture and served as places of social gathering and ritual cleansing etc [36]. For this purpose, the Ottomans built (1) dams, reservoirs, wells, cisterns, and pools to collect water; (2) waterways, channels, aqueducts, and water scales to transport water; (3) pipelines and water reservoirs on the waterways to distribute water; and (4) fountains, waterfalls, floodplains, and baths as recreational facilities [37]. The city of Istanbul, formerly the capital of the Ottoman Empire for 470 years, undoubtedly has some of the most significant water systems in Muslim civilization [38-40].

Islamdom became fertile with developers of new, creative, and innovative water-lifting mechanical technology using waterpower. From the seventh to the fourteenth century (up to the Mongol invasion), this heritage stretched throughout Islamdom. For example, engineers like Al-Jazari (1136 – 1206 CE) designed water-raising machinery powered by water and gravity for the first time in history. Simulating the principle of balance (windmills and waterwheels, steel mill, bridge mill, double-twin acting principle water pumps, camshaft, crankshaft, and crank-slider) he aimed to bring water supply directly to local people in cities and enhance irrigation to improve the farming capacity [41]. Others invented and/or improved several new hydraulic water mechanical and technological equipment for water pumping, rising, or transporting, and for grain grinding, and others [42,43].

Waterwheels operated by oxen (bullock) were in use in Cairo up to the twelfth century, where they raised water vertically a distance of 80 feet from the Nile to an aqueduct that supplied the citadel of Cairo [44]. The Albolafia noria, or a waterwheel, is the last vestige of an array of mills and dams built on the Guadalquivir River in Cordoba between the 8th and 10th centuries [45]. Another example of a noria is the huge waterwheels on the Orontes River in Hama in central Syria [46].

Historically, the aqueduct – like the qanat, which was a system of supplying water in canals over long distances – was developed by Persians in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, and later spread towards the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. In Muslim civilization, canals became one of the most effective methods for providing water in regions that did not have direct access to any source of water. The expansion of Islamdom led to the diffusion of qanats in the Mediterranean and central European countries [47]. The qanat was widely adopted across the arid parts of Muslim lands and as far as Xinjiang province in China [48,49].

Public water fountains, called Sabeel water, were also set up all over the lands of Islamdom to provide drinking water for the public in the streets [50-52].

The Aflaj system in Oman, including the subsurface water channels, involves withdrawing valuable water resources such as groundwater, springs, or surface water and driving them into channels using gravity flow only for long distances to cities and villages where they are distributed and used for domestic and agricultural purposes [53,54].

Since early Muslim civilization, scientists actively devised groundwater (they called it hidden waters). Devising or discovering the location of groundwater was based on field experiences, sense, imagination, and wisdom. The depth of groundwater and its proximity to the surface of the earth was located by scientists and experts using (1) soil smell, (2) the smell of plants in the surrounding area, and (3) the movement of a specific animal found in the area [55,56]. Scholars called their devising knowledge ‘the science of the countryside’ [57].

Several Muslim scientists pioneered in the field of water purification, contributing to water boiling and filtering [58-60], water boiling and cooling, distillation [61,62], earth filtration [63], sun radiation [64], water flow under the sun and wind [65], boiling with alcohol [66], and the use of silver [67]. 

Figure 3. “Water Supply, Sanitation, Hygienic Considerations and Practices in Muslim Civilizations” article banner (Source).

3.1.2 Sanitation and Waste Disposal

Muslims in the medieval period emphasized the functional aspect of medical care of the sick, sanitation, and infectious diseases [68]. Medieval Muslim cities such as Baghdad, Córdoba (Spain), Fez (Morocco), and Fustat (Egypt) had sophisticated waste disposal and sewage systems with interconnected networks of sewers. The city of Fustat also had multi-story tenement buildings (up to six floors) with flush toilets connected to a water supply system, which flowed from each floor carrying waste to underground channels [16]. Cordoba, Andalusia, also had the first waste containers and waste disposal facilities for litter collection [69-71].

The existence of sewer-drain networks in the urban environment along with the presence of a toilet within domestic spaces demonstrates that sanitation in medieval Muslim lands was much more advanced in comparison with contemporary European cities [72].

In Andalusia during Muslim rule, even though river water was consumed for human needs, river courses were used as sewers and drains and as garbage disposal places. Nevertheless, the employment of watercourses as open sewers and drains was common in all of Islamdom, even in cities such as Damascus or Basra [73].

The work of scientists such as al-Kindi, Qusta ibn Luqa, al-Razi, Ibn Al-Jazzar, al-Tamimi, and Ibn al-Nafis covered several subjects related to pollution such as air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, municipal solid waste mishandling, and environmental impact assessments of certain localities [74].

3.1.3 Environmental Protection and Preservation in Islam

The focus on preserving the environment in Muslim civilization originated from Islam’s advocacy of environmental responsibility and stewardship which meant that protecting the environment was a prime concern. Several Hadiths (reports from the Prophet) emphasize that not only existing trees need protection, but also encourage the planting of new fruitful trees for a charitable cause. This is because trees and in addition to their fruits, provide sanctuary and protection for birds, insects and are a source of shade for humans and animals. In this regard, the Prophet said [75]:

“If the Day of Judgement erupts while you are planting a tree, carry on and plant it”.

He also strictly forbade the killing of animals except for provisions or in self-defence and gave special instructions to avoid endangering ants and not destroying ant nests by fire [76].

Another vital aspect related to our ecology is the protection and good treatment of animals whether domestic or wild. The Prophet exhorted Muslims to be kind to not just humans but every living creature. As such, another hadith states that:

“Anyone who kills a sparrow without a good reason will be called to account by God on the Day of Judgement.”

He also emphasized that neither the nests of birds should not be harmed in any way, nor their eggs should be stolen.

During the Ottoman Era, some positive glimpses of environmental preservation can be observed:

  • Caring for the environment did not simply constitute a societal duty stemming from religious and moral motives, but the Ottomans even legalized environmental affairs and enacted laws to protect them.
  • More than one-half of the [missing word] appointed by Osman bin Ertugrul, founder of the Ottoman State, were concerned with hygiene and environmental care.
  • During the reign of the famous Ottoman Sultan Suleiman al-Qanuni, the first legal regulation for the preservation of the environment was issued in 1539 [77].

 However, since the second half of the twentieth century, due to the discovery of fossil fuels in the Muslim world, the environment has been neglected and consequently suffered. For example, in Central Asian Muslim countries, environmental protection and conservation is not a priority as they are preoccupied with developing oil and gas deposits. What’s more, the threat of deforestation in Indonesia is ever-present, while Malaysian forests are being put under increasing pressure. The destruction of the Aral Sea is a major issue for most environmentalists [78].

3.1.4 Gardens

Gardens in Muslim civilization were intended for rest, reflection, and contemplation. A major focus of these gardens was to provide a sensory experience, which was accomplished through water and aromatic plants.

The Prophet enjoined water conservation, avoiding the wasteful consumption of resources, proper land use, stewardship of trees (the word is mentioned more than two dozen times in the Qur’an), and compassion for animals and birds; he even designated a special forested park near one of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah [79].

Several hadiths of the Prophet support green practices:

  • “Even if the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, let him plant it.” (Musnad Ahmad)
  • “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Muslim)
  • “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him.” (Bukhari)
  • “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded.” (Musnad)

In early Muslim civilization, the Baghdad of the Abbasids boasted several gardens influenced by the Persian pattern (gardens irrigated by canals which drew irrigation and fountain water from the river). The Umayyad Caliph Hisham I built the Al-Ruṣāfa garden in the city of Rusafa, north of Syria. The Umayyad rulers of Andalusia continued Roman and local Spanish traditions to develop exquisite gardens, some of which have survived until the twenty-first century, such as the Alhambra in Andalusia. Several extensive gardens were constructed during the Mughal period and have survived in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan [80]. In Kashmir, the Nishat Gardens (1633) remain as an example of Mughal gardens.

The terraced gardens of Madinat al-Zahra in Andalusia, built in the 10th century under Abd ar-Rahman III, are the earliest well-documented examples of asymmetrically divided and enclosed gardens in Andalusia. It is also amongst the earliest examples in Muslim civilization [81,82].

In modern times, to achieve sustainable development and improve the quality of people’s life, successful approaches from Muslim civilization should be considered, such as green practices. Green practices can be defined as any form of activity that involves the development and application of products, campaigns, policies, equipment as well as systems to preserve natural surroundings and environments. It also involves minimizing or alleviating the negative effects of human activities as mentioned by the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water [83]. Based on this definition, the connection between green practices and achieving sustainable development is apparent. Manakotla and Jauhari [84] defined ‘Green’ as being nature friendly and responsible for the environment. In addition, Divine and Lepisto [85] defined green practices as a green lifestyle [86].

One example is Malaysia’s commitment during the Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2010, which aimed at a 40% decrease in carbon emissions by 2020 [87]. An eight-step plan was adopted, three of which were concerned with greening the country, greening the technology, and greening buildings.

Figure 4. “Gardens of Islam” article banner (Source).

3.1.5 Civilizing, Urbanizing, Developing, and Inhabiting the Earth

Civilizing, urbanizing, developing, and inhabiting the earth are concepts rooted in Islamic teachings which Muslims are influenced by (Qur’an 7:74, 11:61, 22:82, 30:9, and 42:149).

Early Muslim civilization thrived and flourished through the spread of urbanization. Cities were built and structures were erected such as mosques, charitable institutions, markets, and libraries, spreading security and safety [88].

The distinctive characteristics and comprehensive practices of Islam influenced the corresponding social structure and living habits of the subjects of Muslim lands. These were reflected in certain special preferences, basic urban layout, and artistic urban concepts, which shaped the physical appearance of the environment [89].

Three features of Muslim civilization played an important role in the spreading and continuity of urbanization; these include (1) Waqf (endowments) and their role in preserving and maintaining Islamic civilizational edifices, (2) the intellectual freedom that Islam provided, and (3) the moral aspect of civilization that manifested in Muslims’ protection of Christians.

According to Akbar (1988), there are four major urban elements that “create the characteristics of the traditional Muslim-built environment” [90,91]. These are the finaa, dead-end cul-de-sac streets, hima, and public spaces such as streets and squares:

  • The finaa (a courtyard): the finaa is defined as the area adjacent to the property used exclusively by the residents of the property, but it could even be in the space inside the house. The courtyard may not always be residential – it could be in a commercial or industrial building. The courtyard length and width may differ according to its location – agreements between groups decide whether it is located on a wide, narrow, or dead-end street.
  • Dead-end streets: Dead-end streets, called “ghyr nafidh” or “zanqah” can be formed in two ways; either a group of people subdivide a piece of land and designate part of it as a dead-end street, or it can emerge over time upon movement needs. There are well-developed principles regarding ownership and control of dead-end streets.
  • Hima: Hima is an urban element and defined as the protection of a piece of landform indispensable to the public, revived or owned exclusively by individuals so that it will not be owned by one person but rather belongs to all collectively.
  • Public spaces: Public spaces are appropriated places mainly in the markets dedicated for public use. The use of the principle of proprietorship for public benefit is unique. In the markets, shop owners used public spaces to display their goods. An act resulted in the encroachment of the space. The land and properties authority seem to have not pressurize shop owners from stopping this practice.

Bianca stated that the Islamic urban fabric is shaped by Islamic culture, which is fashioned by members of the community (ummah). He divided the living environment of a traditional Muslim city into three elements: (1) the residential unit, (2) the mosque and related welfare buildings, and (3) the trade and production structures. His findings confirmed that Islam influenced culture and urbanization [92,93].

Creative diversity in the culture and environment can be seen as a result of the development of a range of local identities, grown over centuries of interaction between man’s inner vision and his evolving natural and cultural environment [94]. Examples of such Islamic cities include Isfahan, Kufa, and Cordoba, each with unique characteristics but clear commonalities too [95,96]. Muslim Spain was centuries ahead of the rest of Europe in its lifestyle; its capital, Cordoba, had street lighting, underground sewage, hot and cold running water, public baths, and other amenities [97].

Urban artisans produced carpets, luxury ceramics, and precious miniature paintings. Magnificent buildings are still evident until the present day in many places around the world such as Alhambra in Spain and Taj Mahal in India. 

There is a contentious argument made surrounding the extravagance of princes and sultans in constructing luxurious palaces – whether it was in Andalusia, Damascus, or Baghdad – while neglecting the social and economic situation of subjects living under their rule. There is no doubt that this point constitutes one of the failures in Muslim civilization, resulting in the collapse of Muslim rule in Andalusia and other regions.

3.2 Non-Technical/Social Practices 

3.2.1 Hygienic Practices 

Throughout Islamdom almost every house had a toilet known as mustarah. This differed from dialect to dialect; for instance, it was called kanif in the Kufan dialect, hushsh in Basran, madhhab in Syrian, Bayt al-khala in Medinan and mirhad in the Yemeni dialect [98]. It is known from the information scattered in different sources that there were two forms of toilets: (1) well-toilets, and (2) “service toilets”. Well-toilets, which were more common, were created from dug pits and slabs of stone to sit on [99]. When it was found that the privies were cramped and unpleasant, the well was filled in and put out of use. According to Tanukhi, well-to-do people had their privies reserved for their exclusive use and would not let anyone else enter them [100].

Furthermore, the existence of a group of people known as kannas, hashshash, kannaf (privy/toilet cleaners) indicates that public toilets were in use [101]. The cleaner would come at regular intervals to collect the human waste and transport it outside the city. In Basra, there was a group of people who had undertaken the contract of cleaning privies; when they collected the human waste, they would let it dry in the sun to sell later in the markets for burning as fuel [102].

As toilets were traditionally built either at a corner of the house or at the end of the house garden, privy cleaners could easily make an entrance into the toilet from outside the building without causing any disturbance to the inhabitants [103].

Wealthy people would build their lavatories from lavish expenses [104]. One merchant from Baghdad had his toilet plastered at the top with gypsum and the bottom with mortar; the roof was made flat, while the floor was paved with marble. It had a door made from teak and ivory [105].

In modern times, studies have shown that in India, there is a lower infant mortality rate found among Muslims compared to Hindus, which has raised the suggestion that Islam and associated hygienic practices may be important factors for infant mortality [106]. In support of this notion, Geruso and Spears [107] attributed the lower infant mortality rate of Muslims, relative to Hindus (despite Muslim parents being poorer and less educated), to a higher rate of toilet use among Muslims, concluding that it is due to differences in religious beliefs.

The teachings of Islam, which encourage personal purity and cleanliness, have been credited with developing the concept of the bathroom, which became one of the duties of public service in Islamdom, such as setting up mosques, schools, hospitals, and libraries. The Spanish historian Americo Castro stated that the map of the villages in Spain with public baths is the strongest indication that the land was shaped by Muslim civilization. He further pointed to positive hygienic influences by evidencing that public baths in the thirteenth century were managed by municipal regulations which lay down as a rule that the owner of the public bath must provide those who enter it with hot water, soap, and towels [108-110].

The spread of contagious diseases was also contained with a robust approach modelled on the saying of the Prophet (9-10) [111]:

“Do not let those infected transmit their disease to those who are healthy and if you know that plague is raging in a specific land do not enter it and if it happens in a land where you are, do not seek it.” 

3.2.2 Social Services: Caring About the Poor and Needy

One of the most important foundations that Muslim civilization was built on was financial resources that served public interests, such as the House of Treasury (Bait al-Mal), Waqf (pious endowment), and voluntary charity.

The House of Treasury was established in early Muslim civilization as a welfare institution for the poor, needy, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. It was first institutionalized during the Caliphate of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab to handle regular charity along with other state taxes and income. Other state taxes included (1) al-kharaj, an annual land tax, (2) al-usher, a ten per cent tax, which was also a land tax on land production or yield, (3) al-jizieh, a tax on non-Muslims living in Islamdom, (4) al-ganaem, war booty, and (5) the ten per cent tax on profits of commercial activities [112,113].

Historian Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun (d. 808 AH / 1406 AD) mentioned in his book The Muqaddimah (The Introduction) that the balances of the Bait al-Mal in the Umayyad state in Andalusia in 350 AH / 964 AD were the equivalent of about 2.5 trillion US dollars today. After the Caliph (leader) Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, several Caliphs developed and built on the House of Treasury [114]. 

The Umayyad Caliph Omar ibn Abdul Aziz established a special charity house devoted to feeding the poor, needy, and the people of Sabeel [115]. During his time there were no poor to use the services of this house, so he ordered the closure of the statehouse that imposed a tax on the people. Omar also provided loans to farmers to motivate them to serve the land, a measure that resulted in farmers returning to cultivating their lands and doubling agricultural food production [116]. 

Waqf (pious endowment) refers to a type of in-kind alms-such as lands, real estate, and movables-that are rendered charity once the owner devotes it to charitable services. One of the hadith (reports) that provide evidence for waqf is taken from Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, – who consulted the Prophet Mohamed– about his land in Khaybar, which was abundant in bounties and fruits. He was advised by the Prophet to make the land unalienable, and give the yield to the poor and needy as a charity, which Omar did [117,118]. Another instance can be found in the story of Abu Talha giving up his beloved garden as a charity (Bukhari), proving that generosity was quality was shaped Muslim civilization [119].

There has been documentation supported with data focusing on the Mamluk Caliphate’s experiences in tackling poverty and hunger which brought to light the role of waqfs (pious endowments) and charity in sustaining the poor and their food, education, and medical care needs [120]. 

Certainly, the function of the House of Treasury, charity houses, and endowments enhanced people’s quality of life and reduced, if not eliminated, poverty, hunger, and want.

3.2.3 Healthcare

The establishment of hospitals in Islamdom ensured that free services were provided in the form of treatment, medicine, food, and assistance to the families of patients. Hospitals supported patients by facilitating their access to natural resources and peaceful environments [121].

The first hospital was built by Al-Walid bin Abdul-Malik in the year 706 AD (88 AH) in Damascus. Early in Muslim civilization, Caliphs followed the establishment of charitable hospitals with great interest, and they chose an appropriate site considering location, an environment suitable for hospitalization, and spatial breadth away from residential areas. The first leprosy hospital was built in 707 AD in Damascus [122].

Possibly one of the most striking features of these hospitals which signalled that they were ahead of their time was that air was cooled in hospitals by providing water or using pneumatic spoons. This meant that there was an awareness of the importance of air quality, particularly for patients who would be in weaker health conditions than others. Supporting the infirm and weak groups in society was of utmost importance and this was achieved by creating a peaceful environment for them to heal [123].

 The construction, supply, operation, and maintenance of hospitals were financially supported mainly through waqf (pious endowment). 

However, it was in medieval Muslim civilization that what we would today label ‘public healthcare’ was instituted. The extraordinary provision of public bathhouses, complex sanitary systems of drainage (more extensive than the famous Roman infrastructures), fresh-water supplies, and the large and sophisticated urban hospitals, all contributed to the general health of the population [124]. 

3.2.4 Muslim’s Behavior and Ethical Conduct 

Charitable behaviour and ethical conduct form an essential aspect of the Muslim faith. This aspect is self-internal and planted deep in Muslim’s hearts. A central belief that underpins the conduct of Muslims is the notion that even if you don’t see Allah (God), Allah sees you – this acts as a reminder that one will be held accountable and questioned about what they do – including their responsibility as stewards in the earth. Thus, preserving water and food, not polluting any environmental elements, not overusing resources, and caring about others’ interests amongst other things, are highly emphasized.

Muslims also believe that they will be questioned in the hereafter about all their deeds. This includes how they use their hands, legs, mind, ears, eyes, mouth and other organs, The Quran impress upon them to use them in righteous and beneficial deeds (Quran, 28:77; 11:7; 11:61; 67:2; 94:4; 44:60; 39:18; 24:38; 16:90; 62:10; 10:26; 21:34; 7:168) [125]. Therefore, it is of prime importance to preserve components of the environment, including water resources, plant/agricultural resources, animal resources, the atmosphere, the cleanliness of roads, mosques, hospitals, schools, and libraries, and ensure calmness and the absence of disorder [126].

The individual pro-environment act of Muslims is influenced by the encouragement received from preachers and rulers. The clean streets, mosques, and house courts, gardens, clean and running Sabeels, peaceful friendly neighbourhood (minimum crime level), are examples of such conduct.

Several hadiths of the Prophet support and emphasize good behaviour and ethical conduct:

  • “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance celebrates the truth and looks down on people”.
  • “The most perfect man in his faith, among the believers, is the one whose behaviour is the most excellent” (Bukhari and Muslim).
  • “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily Allah, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Muslim).
  • “Verily Allah has revealed to me that you behave humbly. So no one may wrong another and no one may be disdainful and haughty towards another” (Muslim).
  • “Beware of sitting on the roads. If so, then give the road its due.” They said: What is the right of the road, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “…stop the harm…”

The responsibility of stewardship on the earth as defined by Islamic scholars as Allah (God) empowering Muslims to behave kindly, act justly and do righteous deeds on earth. For Muslims, an essential responsibility that stems from the entrusted position as vicegerent (khalifah) is fulfilling that right. Thus, educators, researchers, developers, farmers, industrialists, bankers, and businessmen must exercise corporate social responsibility, behaving morally and dealing with all people – as well as natural resources – in equity and balance [127].

Neighbours in Muslim society are also an important layer of society. The Quran and Hadith urge Muslims to look after and care about immediate and extended family and neighbours. For example, the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:

“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbour” (Sahih Al-Bukhari). 

3.2.5 Knowledge, Science, Education, and Development

Caliphs in the Abbasid era (750–1258 CE), understanding the value of knowledge in Islam, ordered the collection and translation of the works of the Romans, Greeks, Indians, and others in order to learn, build on and develop theories. Europe eventually picked up the baton held by Muslim civilization for centuries, benefiting from the wealth of knowledge that had been cultivated. This emphasizes the importance of sharing and spreading knowledge to other nations. Equally, it demonstrates the wisdom of learning from previous nations in order to advance and even challenge prevailing theories to solve present and future challenges.

Between the seventh century to the end of the sixteenth century AD, Damascus, Aleppo, Kufa, Baghdad, Kairouan, Cordoba, Cairo, Marrakesh, and Fez were the scientific centres of the world; their universities were thriving, industries were prospering, and science was constantly developing while urbanization was increasing. Islamdom became a pilgrimage for science seekers and an unprecedented civilizational marvel. In fact, this period established science in the world so much so that scientists were respected by the common people and appreciated by rulers [128-130].

During the Islamic Golden Age, there were major contributions made to various sciences, the most important of which are: [131]

  • Medicine: Many erudite physicians emerged during this period, whose books impacted medicine and public health development and are still taught in universities in Europe and France until the present time, such as: (1) al-Rāzī (865-925) in The Colleges in Medicine, (2) al-Zahrāwī (936-1013) in Kitab al-Tasrif, (3) ibn Sīna (980-1037) in The Law of Medicine, (4) ibn Rushd (1126-1198), (5) ibn Zuhr (1094–1162) in Al-Taysir and (5) ibn Nafīs (1213-1288) in The Comprehensive Book on Medicine [132-134].
  • Pharmacology: Pharmacology originated early on in Bedouin medical practices and was built on during the Islamic Golden Age (7th-10th century) when chemistry and botany developed, followed by pharmacology and toxicology. Yohanna bin Masayh and Hunayn bin Ishaq were among the pioneers in this field [135-137].
  • Mathematics: A Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (ca. 780-850 AD) adopted the zero and further revolutionized the world of mathematics by developing algebra in his book The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing.
  • Geography: Al-Idrisi (1100-1165) completed the first map of the world in which he labelled places and roads, proving that cartography originated in Muslim civilization.
  • Trade: Trade and navigation were vital as Islamdom expanded, which is why the compass, the astrolabe, and maps are among some of the major inventions in Muslim civilization. Merchants, missionaries, and pilgrims played a major role since the first century AH as they introduced Arab-Islamic civilization to many regions in East and South Asia and Africa [138,139].
  • Chemistry: Arabalchemy sparked the West’s interest in the natural world, the properties of chemical substances, and how to manipulate them to achieve desired results. Jabir ibn Hayyan (ca.815 AD) was known as the father of Arab chemistry, and about five hundred books are attributed to him. Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakaria al-Razi, switched from theoretical alchemy to practical chemistry, as is evident in his book Al-Asrar. The most famous works in the field of chemistry after that are attributed to the Andalusian scholar, Muslima bin Ahmed al-Majriti (ca.1008 AD), and then the Mamluk alchemist Izzie al-Din Aydamer al-Jildaki (ca.1342 AD). These books became the standard approved science studied in Europe for a large part of the modern era [140].
  • Agriculture: Muslim civilization followed agricultural mechanization techniques such as the plow, the waterwheel, windmills, the qanat irrigation system, the shadoof, the nourj, and the piston pump invented by Al-Razzaz Al-Jazari. The piston pump was a metal machine driven by the force of the wind or by an animal that rotates in a circular motion. It brought crops and seeds to Andalusia from Islamdom, which led to Europe adopting these agricultural techniques during the Andalusian era [141,142].

Abbasid Caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son, al-Ma’mun, established a House of Wisdom in Baghdad—a dedicated space for scholars and scholarships. The House of Wisdom flourished during al-Ma’mun’s rule (813 to 833) as he made a special effort to bring together the best scholars to work in the House of Wisdom – Muslims, Christians, and Jews all collaborated and worked in harmony to develop scientific knowledge [143].

One way the Abbasid dynasty was able to spread written knowledge so quickly was due to the improvements to printing technology they had acquired from the Chinese. Some historians believe that the Abbasids came to know of this technology after the Battle of Talas between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty in 751. As a result, printing, distribution, and translations became widespread throughout Islamdom which resulted in the following scientific advances [144]:

  • Ibn al-Haytham invented the first camera and was able to form an explanation of how the eye sees.
  • Doctor and philosopher Avicenna wrote the Canon of Medicine, which helped physicians diagnose diseases such as cancer.
  • Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician, invented algebra (a word that originates from Arabic). 

Bishop Raymond, who assumed the bishopric of Toledo between the years 526 and 547 AH, played a huge role in translating Arabic books into Latin. He headed a group of translators known as the Toledan School of Translators which benefited large numbers of European scholars who were interested in translation from Arab-Islamic culture into European languages. The monumental effect of such a project led one western writer to comment that [145]:

“All these translations in Latin Europe brought about a great revolution”

 4. Lessons and Understandings Learned 

Based on the discussion above, several valuable lessons can be learned, including:

  • Whether it concerned public services, education, or everyday actions, the implementation of various pro-environmental practices and considerations left positive influences during Muslim civilisation.
  • The cultivation and spreading of knowledge through education and research (from schools to colleges and specialized research institutions) effectively develop pro-environmental practices and conveys the importance of preserving and protecting the environment.
  • Many positive environmental practices in Muslim civilization were inspired by beliefs suggesting that faith was a driving force in the preservation and protection of the environment.
  • Pro-environmental practices are concerned with wide-ranging aspects of life that are necessary to know in order to identify and develop innovative solutions for emerging environmental problems and to set and implement sound environmental policies and action plans for sustainable development.
  • People throughout Islamdom invested financially in pro-environmental activities; therefore, financial support is an important element in environmental protection and sustainability.
  • Muslim rulers were keen to learn from previous civilizations by instituting the translation of works – they not only shouldered the monumental project of translation to publish these texts, but they also built on the theories of their predecessors.
  • The societal function of places of gathering – such as the mosque, the market, the house and the neighbourhood – shaped the urban structure of Islamdom.
  • There is a need in the Muslim world today to start implementing and practising the behaviour and ethical conduct – towards others and the environment – that shaped Muslim civilization and locate the legal, administrative, and financial means for their actualization in society.

5. Concluding Remarks

Based on the above discussion, the following concluding remarks may be made:

  • The contributions of Muslim civilization to environmental practices manifested in all aspects of life.
  • Muslim civilization preserved Greek and Roman culture and literature from being lost.
  • The Abbasids were able to disseminate written knowledge quickly due to the improvement of printing technology.
  • The House of Treasury, charity houses, and waqf (pious endowments) enhanced people’s quality of life and reduced, if not eliminated, poverty, hunger, and want.
  • During the Golden Age era, scholars made major contributions in many fields such as medicine, mathematics and chemistry, which were later discovered by Europe.
  • In early Muslim civilization, merchants, missionaries, and pilgrims introduced Arab-Islamic civilization to many regions in East and South Asia and Africa.
  • Water supply practices, infrastructures and technology made the quality of people’s lives better and appealed to those outside of Islamdom.
  • The translation of Greek, Indian, Persian, and other works into Arabic helped to ensure that scientific knowledge was constantly being reviewed. Europe soon began to translate Arabic scientific works into Latin, which resulted in a scientific revolution and the European renaissance. 

6. Acknowledgement

The author wishes to thank helpful colleagues whose names remain anonymous. Thanks are due to Fatima Sharif for her assistance and effort in copy editing the manuscript.


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[144] Ibid.
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This article was written by Marwan Haddad, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine.

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