When Less is More: Indian Practices for Protecting the Environment

Saad Razi Shaikh explores how tapping into India’s cultural practices can fulfil the Prophetic command to not waste resources, and to protect the environment.protecting the environment

And do not waste, for God does not love the wasteful. [Quran 6:141]

About two weeks back, I heard a scrap dealer passing by the road in front of my house. His booming voice announced the time had come to clear the unused items from the house. His voice was a familiar one in the neighbourhood, yet it was only now that I began to ponder about people like him, and the practices they represented.

In this case, I reflected on the many ways old objects are recycled and reused, and particularly so in my home country, India. Here, there exists a whole cultural system of reusing and recycling. In our house, there was a special place to store old newspapers, old plastic, and old utensils. Each of these would be separately sold to a scrap dealer, who would send it further up the recycling ecosystem.

The dealers had unique barter systems. We would exchange our old clothes for new utensils. As for old blankets, they would not be thrown out. A group of women would drop into our neighbourhood. Armed with needles and thread, they would sew together these blankets, creating what you could call a superblanket, a ‘godadi’ which would act as a  formidable defence against the winter cold.

Food, a dear necessity of life, had its own reuse routines. If curry and rotis were left from the night, they would be mixed and heated together the next day, a dish that we called sareed. If fresh roti was left, my mother would grind it together with sugar and cardamom, to make ball-shaped sweets called laddoos. Leftover meals would be taken by the domestic workers who came to our locality. If small morsels and bits remained, they would be fed to crows and other birds.

These routines, of reusing and recycling, were the traditions I grew up with. Much later, when I had seen the world a bit, and dug through a few books of the Deen, I came to appreciate them for what they truly were: a way to sustain, conserve and make the most of our limited resources. Little to nothing would be wasted in the house, and we were taught that from an early age.

But as we grew older, we became more susceptible to the consumerism of the society we lived in. Malls sprang up in place of the bazaar. We frequented it first, dazzled by the sheer breadth of products on display. If that wasn’t enough, Amazon landed in our homes, and we ordered products as if the world was ending tomorrow-which is not far-fetched, seeing the rapid depletion of resources and the sheer abuse and violation of the environment. Woke as we were, we read news pieces on the environment, cheered when the Paris Deal was signed, switched off our lights every year on Earth Hour, and furiously signed internet petitions for saving the environment.

Yet, we faltered where it mattered the most; in taking ourselves into account. Each one of us is mukallaf, a sane, believing adult  is accountable for his or her actions. We are the vice-regents of Allah, to whom the Earth has been entrusted as an Amanah, a trust. In our wanton consumerism, unsustainable lifestyles and poor management of our resources, how well are we carrying the trust we have been given?

Here’s my humble take:  the environment will continue to degrade until each one of us begins to take responsibility for our actions. Petitioning governments to change their policies is fine. But we need to make a real commitment to tone down our own consumption.

A good start is knowing our carbon consumption. Are you using your car when public transport is available? Are you using plastic when you can carry your own bag? Is your plumbing leaking the life out of the water systems? Do the products you are buying adhere to the latest environmental standards? Finally, are there ways you can reduce your wastage? Are there avenues for you to recycle and reuse your old stuff?

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, the best of creations, laid great emphasis on avoiding wastage. He asked the believers to marvel at the signs of Allah in the creation of  the heavens and the Earth. We need to return to that sense of awe, of marvelling at nature and knowing that we are entrusted with it. Our mindless consumerism is blinding us to the fact that we are accountable to Allah, and that on the Day of Judgment, every action of ours will be measured.  

It is said that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, when on his deathbed, asked his daughter Aisha, may Allah be pleased with them both, not to spend money to purchase cloth for his shroud, and to instead use the bedcloth he was sleeping on to shroud him. We need to remember examples like the actions of the righteous and how they can be of benefit to us, both in this world and the next. We need to respect the environment, to know that we do not own it, that we are its mere trustees.

This is where tapping into our traditional practices of sustainability can come in handy. Each culture has valuable practices which fit this concept, and my example is just one amongst plenty.  We need to revive them, for they allow us to follow an Islamic ideal while doing our part to save the environment.

May we be those who respect the environment. May we neither waste nor neglect the bounties entrusted upon us.

Saad Razi Shaikh is a journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on popular culture and community initiatives. He can be reached on Twitter @writweeter


Frequently Asked Questions – Living Green Series

The Living Green Series takes us through our responsibilities towards green living and environmental stewardship. In this segment, the panel speakers answer some frequently asked questions.

At the end of the panel, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Leslie Adams, and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin answer some questions about environmentalism and living green.

Why isn’t environmentalism  a more prominent issue in the Muslim community?

Every community goes through developmental stages, especially when they are a minority group. In terms of the Muslim community, the  priority of the first generation immigrants were financial security, as well as building religious centres for their children’s sake. Similar to voting, these relatively new communities are  addressing them a generation later, after their more pressing needs have been fulfilled.

Is there a connection between sin and environmental damage?
Yes, because sin comes from heedlessness, which is lack of concern. A lot of environmental damage comes from lack of concern and carelessness. For example, so much water and food is wasted because of our carelessness because we don’t realise the impact of what we are using.

How can we find out whether our smartphones, and other  products, have been ethically produced?

Before buying anything, we should do our research as much as possible and find out whatever we can about that material. In addition, we should make an effort to seek change ourselves. For example, we could write to companies to express our concerns, and share our research within our social circles.

About the Series

What is the place of green and environmental stewardship in Islam? How does the Qur’an view concern for the environment?  What is your responsibility towards the environment? Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin and Shaykh Ali Hani answer these are other critical questions by citing several prophetic traditions emphasising environmental consciousness and awareness.

Resources for Seekers


Day 26: Reduce Waste–30 Deeds 30 Days

26: Reduce Waste

In these days of fasting, many of us make an effort to host and attend iftar dinners. We do this to reconnect with others, and share in the joy of this blessed month. However, sometimes these events come with a lot of waste; wasted food, wasted materials, and wasted time.

For your next iftar, try your best to minimize waste. Use biodegradable plates and cutlery rather than the typical plastic and Styrofoam ones. Take only as much as you can eat, and encourage others to do the same. Use your time wisely, to ensure that you have enough time for worship. Most importantly, ask Allah to bless your efforts to help others and the environment.

Bring new life to this Ramadan by enrolling in a FREE On-Demand course.

Reflecting on Water, the Anti-DAPL Movement, and Our Stewardship of the Earth

In response to the call from a native American tribal leader, there’s been a groundswell of support among North American based faith leaders to pray and reflect in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock working to preserve local waters from the DAPL project. Ustadh Sharif Rosen delivered the following reflection at a prayer vigil, with particular focus on working to preserve the blessing of water. This movement combining both social justice and our roles as stewards of the earth appears to be one that Muslims should be invested in, however possible, he writes.


Ustadh Sharif Rosen’s reflection

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Allah, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth says in the Quran, in the chapter entitled “Rome”,
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَيُحْيِي بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
{And from His signs is that He shows you thunder which incites awe and hope, and He sends down waters from the sky by which the earth is revived after its death; indeed, in this, is a great sign for those of intellect} [30:24]
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
{Corruption has surfaced in the land and the sea from what human hands have earned that they might turn back} [30:41]
The current struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project in the United States represents only one flashpoint in the wider crisis affecting each living creature. The insatiable desire to control and exploit our most precious resources is nothing less than a declaration of war on our own selves.
God invites us to witness and reflection upon His signs in the creation; to view existence through the lens of sacred meanings embedded therein.  As scholars like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remind us, we might then see that the state of the earth’s waters mirrors the inward and outward state of humanity who have been tasked as custodians of the earth.  Thus, when our oceans, rivers and streams are corrupted with acidity, garbage, and toxins; when our seas are over-fished and then, overrun with hyper-consumers like the brainless, heartless, spineless jellyfish on one hand; and the far more destructive predator, ourselves on the other, by sacred measures, the imbalance we have caused is setting the table for our own annihilation.
Water is among the greatest proofs of God’s mercy; in this life as our sustenance and means to purity; in the next life, where the lush, shaded groves of the Garden are nourished by pure, flowing waters.  The Arabic word for water is ma-a, whose letters form the roots for the word mahiya which means “essence”.  Water is who we are, in the very composition of our bodies, and what will enrich us again in the world to come.  Yet, in our relationship with water now — whether through our care or our abuse — we may see the reflection of who we really are, or rather, what we have become.
The noble poet, Imam Muhammad al-Busiri, God have mercy on him, may as well have been describing the blessing of water when he said, “The more familiar and obvious a thing, the more subtle and hidden it is.”
Our prayer is that we not be of those who let all of that which is most valuable, most near to us, go neglected, and then, damaged beyond repair.
May we aid the struggle to preserve the right of all peoples to access the cleansing and pure water that is among God’s great mercies to all of creation.
May we support the centuries-old cause of the native peoples of this continent, and in all lands as they defend their lives, their water, their cultures, their sovereignty and dignity.
May we apply our entire selves to the restoration of sanity and balance in this world — in its ecology, in our consumption, in our political and economic systems, in our social discourse, in our aspirations, in our religion and spirituality, and in our very souls.
May our life’s impact be wide in benefit, but our footprint, gentle.
And all praise is God’s alone.

Protecting The Environment – In Allah’s Words, by Shaykh Ali Hani

Shaykh Ali Hani is one of the greatest living experts of the Arabic language, the Quran and their sciences. In this video, Shaykh Ali describes what Allah tells us in the Quran about the environment – an important and timely lesson. The translator is Shaykh Hamza Karamali.

Resources on protecting the environment: