In Surah an-Nahl, Ayah 68-9, Allah says:
“And thy Lord revealed unto the bee, ‘Take up dwellings among the mountains and the trees and among that which they build. Then eat of every fruit, and follow the ways of your Lord made easy.’ A drink of diverse hues comes forth from their bellies wherein there is healing for mankind. Truly in that is a sign (ayah), for a people who reflect.”
In the Qur’an, there are several such examples that call on us to reflect on the signs, or ayaat, of Allah in order to attain greater insight into ourselves as well as the created world.
Many of us have experienced moments when we are in awe of the natural world – whether it be during an encounter with a full moon on a clear night, an intricate flower, or a snow-capped mountain.
Yet, there are lessons in nature that still elude us. For instance, while we have always considered trees as single entities, disconnected, competing against each other for nutrients, some scientists argue that trees are in fact alert, social, and intelligent.1 They note that trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks, which they use to share water, nutrients, and even communicate with each other!2
The Qur’an says that Allah has subjected all that is in the heavens and earth for our benefit and lavished upon us His evident and hidden favors.3 But, it also says that He has placed His trust in us, as elaborated in Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 30:
“And when thy Lord said to the angels, ‘I am placing a vicegerent, khalifa, upon the earth,’ they said, ‘Wilt Thou place therein one who will work corruption therein, and shed blood, while we hymn thy praise and call Thee Holy?’ He said, ‘Truly I know what you know not.’”
In being Allah’s khalifa on earth, our Creator has made us responsible for looking after all the bounties and resources that He has given us. And He reminds us time and again to treat the earth with care. In Surah al-Furqan, Ayah 63, Allah tells us: “The servants of the Compassionate are those who walk humbly upon the earth...”; elsewhere, the Qur’an cautions us: “...O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Truly He loves not the prodigal.”
Unfortunately, in recent decades, much of Allah’s creation is threatened largely due to the actions of humans. Increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions have led to rapidly changing climate patterns. Decimation of trees and soil put agricultural harvests at risk, which in turn lead to worsening hunger, poverty, and displacement.4
The planet has lost around one-third of its arable land over the past 40 years, in large part due to climate disasters and poor conservation.4 Currently, one out of every nine people lack access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes. According to some estimates, by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.5
Our use of plastic and rising plastic pollution has negatively impacted marine life, impacting almost all sea turtle species and nearly half of all seabird and marine mammal species. These impacts include fatalities as a result of ingestion, suffocation, infection, and drowning.6
As we contemplate on the signs of Allah all around us, let us also think about our roles as khalifa in this world. Let us commit to engage in its preservation. Perhaps Prince Hussain’s recent speech at the Food Forum in Stockholm in June 2019 can provide us some insight:
“As an individual, one can make a difference. Might we try to stop using plastic completely? Buy glass instead. Insist on reusable straws and more. Might you please try to recycle everything you can? Plant more. Plant everywhere...Have a plant in your kitchen. Buy local as much as you can...if you don’t urgently have to travel for work, you can choose to teleconference instead. You can sometimes take a train instead of the plane...if being a carnivore isn’t paramount to you, you could consider eating less meat. A long list of options I know, [but] we can, must, all start somewhere.”7
Tomorrow, we will conclude our series of inspiration from the Qur’an through an exploration of the concept of rahma, which translates to care or mercy through its root of r-h-m.
1 Richard Grant, 2018, Do Trees Talk to Each Other?, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/
2 Diane Toomey, 2016, Exploring How and Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other,
3 Surah 31, Ayah 30, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Study Qur’an, p. 1006.
4 2019, How Climate Change Affects People Living in Poverty, https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/climate-change-affects-poverty
5 Fiona Harvey, 2018, Are We Running Out of Water? https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/18/are-we-running-out-of-water
6 The Problem of Marine Pollution, https://www.cleanwater.org/problem-marine-plastic-pollution
7 Clarion Call | Prince Hussain Aga Khan, 2019 EAT Forum, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbVLyCLejXg