My first encounter with the members of the Jain religion was at the Nehru Planetarium in Delhi last year. It was a group of about ten family members including two children who were all dressed in white and had their mouths and noses covered with a small piece of white cloth. Until that moment, I had no idea what Jainism is.
With an explanation from a friend, I understood that the Jains live their lives in perpetual struggle not to harm any living creature on earth. They cover their mouths and nostrils as a precaution against killing of innocent flies wandering in the air. In a nut shell, the fundamentals of Jainism aim at ensuring the welfare of every living thing in the universe and the wellbeing of the universe itself.
Extreme asceticism exhibited by Jain followers may be farfetched among most adherents of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), but being custodians of the living creatures on earth is a responsibility on us, humans, as prescribed in the scriptures. We either believe to have been created in God’s image to rule over the living creatures on earth and nurture from them, or have been put on earth as God’s representatives.
In any case, a creationist believes that he or she is created by God for a purpose, part of which is to take care of the universe. Similarly, other world’s major religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism encourage their followers to be kind and protective of other living things, specifically animals. Thus, people of faith only need a reminder on the responsibility of taking care of the universe and what it entails.
Do the scriptures contain broad injunctions on environmental and biodiversity protection? While others may prefer to sit back and gracefully watch the unfolding of the apocalypse prophesized in some holy books, many scholars of various religions have written or spoken extensively about environmental protection. I will highlight here, some excerpts from the teachings of Christianity and Islam on the subject.
What Christianity says
The Bible contains many injunctions on why humans should be the stewards of the environment. This responsibility is made clear in the very beginning when God is explaining to us how the universe was created. After creating the first male and female of the humankind, God said unto them,
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” – Genesis 1:28.
Contrary to some interpretations that God granted humans dominion over earth in an exploitative and destructive manner, Pope Francis explains that the verse is drawing an intertwined relationship that mankind has with God and the earth. The commandment by God, after putting the mankind in the Garden of Eden, to till and keep it clearly shows that we are expected to take care and preserve the land.
The account of Noah’s response to the flood under the God’s commandment presents an excellent and subtle example of how important conservation is. Knowing that the grand Flood was a threat to all living creatures, God told Noah to build an Ark on which he shall put a pair of every living creature. This underscores the obligation upon human beings to do everything in their capacity to preserve that which they domineer over.
In a letter calling to action on climate change, American evangelical Christian leaders emphasized the moral obligation upon Christians to respond to the problem. They stated that, any damage on God’s world is an offense against God as admonished by God Himself in chapter 24 and chapter 1 of Colossians and Psalms respectively. Furthermore, to fully emulate Jesus Christ, Christians must treat their neighbors with kindness and humility and that is not only limited to human neighbors. Everyone shall do what he is able to, in order to safeguard the environment and everything that crawls on it.
What Islam says
Islamic teachings on the subject are also explicitly contained in the Qur’an as well as prophetic traditions. In chapter 2, verse 30, the Qur’an implied that mankind was created to be a representative of God on earth. This responsibility is echoed by another verse commanding us not to corrupt the world after it has been reformed.
“And cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. And invoke Him in fear and aspiration.” – Qur’an 7:56.
Campaign on tree plantation has been one of the major activities defining most environmental protection groups in recent time. It is an important tool for fighting deforestation and climate change. Some hundreds of years back, prophet Muhammad tasked Muslim on doing just that. In his own words as reported by Bukhari Muslim and Ahmad:
“The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it. The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded. If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part.”
Many other hadiths (sayings of the prophet) have also been reported from the prophet on the importance of resource conservation. According to one Islamic scholar, conservation is mandatory upon Muslims similar to the obligation of fasting, praying and telling the truth. In one narration, Muslims were instructed to use as little water as they need while performing ablution (a ritual cleansing before prayers) or taking bath even if they are next to a flowing river. Regarding animals, prophet Muhammad stated that whoever kills even a sparrow wrongfully shall face God’s interrogations. Muslims should therefore be default activists on environment and biodiversity protection.
The quotations from the scriptures and religious scholars presented here are in no way an exhaustion of what our faiths teach on environmental protection. They should however be sufficient to lets us understand that God himself is for the wellbeing of our dear home, the earth. Next time you are cutting down your energy and water consumption or planting a tree with the intention of saving the environment, remember that God in heaven is happy with you.
Written by Sada.
Sada Haruna is the IT strategist at Green Habitat and a contributor to the blog. He is a PhD student in the department of Environmental Engineering at the University of Ottawa. His current research focuses on safe disposal of toxic mine wastes and remains an ardent advocate of environmental sustainability. He enjoys reading and programs at his leisure time. Follow him on Twitter @H_Sadah