The faith of Islam teaches followers to care for Allah’s creation, encouraging us to look after the natural resources which have been gifted to us, and not to waste or disrupt the delicate balance of nature. Since we only inhabit the earth for a relatively short time, each of us has a responsibility to leave behind a better social and physical environment for the next generation.
Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the importance of caring for the environment. In Ottawa in 2013, he said, “Our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”
Stewardship is the understanding that humans are responsible for nurturing, protecting, and conserving the earth, a tradition that has existed and been practiced for many centuries.
Historically, Muslims have adapted to the environment in diverse ways at different times, honouring the natural world. When constructing their capital city of Baghdad, the Abbasid caliphs designed large gardens, providing homes for animals, birds, and rare plants, and spaces for humans to enjoy. Under the Umayyad caliphs in the city of Cordoba, Spain, new farming methods were introduced from regions of the eastern Mediterranean such as water wheels, mills, and tree planting. This helped farmers grow better crops and cultivate more land. In Cairo, the Fatimid Imam-caliphs built networks of canals and water channels for transportation, dams to control flooding, and cleared streams to improve the flow of water.
As time has passed, the environment has changed immensely. Industrialisation has led to increased use of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas, and water, to fuel the continuing development of societies around the world. Today, the world is witnessing changes in climate, extreme weather patterns, and ecological instability, and many people are directly impacted by the effects of these changes.
Prince Aly Muhammad travelled to Northern Pakistan in 2017 to hear of and witness these effects first hand, and made a film entitled Close to Home to highlight the challenges faced by communities due to the effects of natural disasters and environmental degradation caused by climate change. Explaining the context behind his film at the International Film Festival last year in Lisbon, Prince Aly Muhammad said, “Climate change is an issue that is becoming more and more urgent. And it’s an issue that my generation and young adults will have to deal with. And that’s why I went to Northern Pakistan and I made Close to Home.”
The film illustrates the resilience and bravery of the young people in the region, who show a sense of hope and motivation to overcome the daily challenges they face due to a changing climate.
This example of hope can be harnessed and carried forward to help mitigate the dangers of environmental disaster, and reverse the negative impacts of industrialisation and over-consumption on our planet and its oceans.
Prince Hussain has been an avid environmentalist since a young age, and established Focused on Nature to share his passion and personal mission of conservation. Speaking at the inauguration of his Nature Photography exhibit at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration in Lisbon last year, he explained, “We have so many issues to deal with and the environment is a very important one, a very big one.”
His photo exhibit focuses on the fragile beauty of the underwater environment, shining a positive light on aquatic animals that are often feared or misunderstood. “[I am] doing the part that I can, a small part to reverse things and change people’s minds a little bit and to share the beauty I see,” Prince Hussain said.
All individuals and communities have a part to play in redressing the balance of nature. Even small actions can add up to a significant positive impact over time. Being conscious of our consumption is a good place to start; using reusable or recyclable bags and packaging, reducing excessive use of energy and water, and being mindful of how much we tend to waste.
Members of the Ismaili community are participating in environmental programming, and in the process, applying the ethic of stewardship to this real-world situation. Jamats around the world have organised tree-planting events, have been involved in park and beach clean-ups, and have gathered at events to dialogue on ways to reduce waste, and live in harmony with the natural world.
Similarly, Jamatkhanas and Ismaili Centres have been designed to complement their surroundings. Often incorporated within them are courtyards, gardens, and fountains, which promote a sense of peace, and mirror the beauty of the natural world’s open spaces, greenery, and flowing water. The elegant and timeless appeal of the buildings and their gardens is one way in which the Ismaili Imamat and Jamat gives back to the environment in various parts of the world, and is also a reflection of the Islamic tradition which gives beauty its own intrinsic value.
Respecting the gifts of creation by following examples from history and finding new ways to adapt to and care for our shared planet, can allow us to thrive and grow alongside the natural world, enabling us to handover a sustainable environment to those who will inherit the world after us.