Home / All / Islamic Teachings on Environment: An Interview with Shaykh Naghavi Nia

Islamic Teachings on Environment: An Interview with Shaykh Naghavi Nia

Hujjat al-Islam wa al-Muslim Rasul Naghavi Nia is the President of Mufid Academic Seminary. Prior to joining the Ph.D. program at the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in 2014, he spent sixteen years at the Islamic Seminary of Qum in Iran where he studied and taught Islamic law, legal theory and logic. Other than Islamic legal theory, Shaykh Naghavi Nia’s academic interests include spirituality and mysticism.

Ijtihadnet has interviewed him on the Islamic teachings on environment.

14th June marks the National Day of Flower and Plant. How do you consider the role of religions in encouraging their adherents to protect the environment?

As Muslims, we believe that Islam is the birthplace of our values and the source that provides meaning for our existence and relationships. This means that Islam, in particular, and religions, in general, are responsible to define and give meanings to our relationship with our nature and environment. Without that meaning and without religions, individualistic theories like hedonism and egoism emerge and with these theories, humankind and their short-term desires become the center of this universe, as if humans own everything and everything else in this universe should circle around them. This individualistic worldview is detrimental to the health, stability and the survival of the nature. I think religion has an untapped potential to fight consumerism, and to restore and redefine men’s relationship with its mother earth.

Generally speaking, how do you evaluate Islamic teachings with regard to the environment?

As I briefly mentioned in the previous question, Islamic teachings are able to change our worldview toward nature. We need a transformation from thinking that we own the universe to becoming united with the universe. This requires us to believe that human being is a player that needs to play his or her role and not a leader that wants to justify everything else toward his or her desires. There is a verse in the Holy Quran that redefines this relationship by referring to other beings in this universe as “nations like humans”. In Surah al-An‘am, verse number 38 Allah (SWT) says:

وَ ما مِنْ دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَ لا طائِرٍ يَطيرُ بِجَناحَيْهِ إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثالُكُمْ ما فَرَّطْنا فِي الْكِتابِ مِنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ ثُمَّ إِلى‏ رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُون‏

And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you.We have not omitted anything from the Book. Then they will be mustered toward their Lord

I think this worldview elevates other creations of God to the level of human beings and orders similar respect toward them.

Water is one of the main concerns of our time. What are Islamic teachings regarding water and the proper usage of it?

“If a plant or an animal needs water, it is not permissible to use that water for making wudu (minor ablution)”. This ruling, as you know, is agreed upon by all Muslim scholars, across the centuries of the history of fiqh (jurisprudence). It is amazing that Islam compromises using water for purification when there is a need for that water to save a plant or an animal. Avoiding extravagance in using water is another significant issue according to Islamic teachings. Verse 31 of Surah7 reads:

يا بَني‏ آدَمَ … كُلُوا وَ اشْرَبُوا وَ لا تُسْرِفُوا إِنَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفينَ

O Children of Adam! … and eat and drink, but do not waste; indeed He does not like the wasteful.

Some verses refer to water as an element for purification and also to the importance of purified water.

وَ هُوَ الَّذي أَرْسَلَ الرِّياحَ بُشْراً بَيْنَ يَدَيْ رَحْمَتِهِ وَ أَنْزَلْنا مِنَ السَّماءِ ماءً طَهُوراً

And it is He who sends the winds as harbingers of His mercy, and We send down from the sky purifying water. (The Holy Qur’an, 25:48)

وَ جَعَلْنا فيها رَواسِيَ شامِخاتٍ وَ أَسْقَيْناكُمْ ماءً فُراتاً

and set in it lofty and firm mountains, and given you agreeable water to drink? (The Holy Qur’an, 77:27)

As an interesting example, we may pay attention to the amount of water that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was using for his wudu and ghusl (major ablution). According to our sources, the Prophet (PBUH) used less than one gallon, about three litter, for his ghusl and urged moderation when using water during ablution. I think this should be our roadmap in using water.

How the narrations and Sirah (lifestyle) of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (AS) encourage Muslims to plant and protect trees and jungles?

I have a personal story to share with you here. I grew up in a small village, and as a kid, I loved to play on our farm. Sometimes, when playing with other kids, we would climb trees and my mother was always cautioning me and the other kids to watch out the small branches. She used to mention the hadith from Holy Prophet (PBUH) where he said that tree branches are the wings of the angels and breaking them is as if you break the wings of the angels. I never searched the authenticity of the hadith but it has engraved a stable image in my mind that always flashes back as a reminder to respect the nature around me.

In Islamic teachings, the forest and the tree are of special significance and place, and in the narrative sources of Islam, planting trees has been given great importance and a great reward has been promised for it, and all the people have been encouraged to participate in this precious measure.The Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (AS) always encouraged Muslims to revitalize nature, including lands and forests. Imam Sadiq (AS) is quoted as saying:

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع … ازْرَعُوا وَ اغْرِسُوا فَلَا وَ اللَّهِ مَا عَمِلَ النَّاسُ عَمَلًا أَحَلَّ وَ لَا أَطْيَبَ مِنْه‏

Imam Sadiq (AS) said: ‘Farm and plant trees. I swear by Allah (SWT) that no job is more lawful and pure than that’.”

The following narration from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) mentions the reward for planting trees:

قالَ رَسولُ اللّه ص: مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَغْرِسُ غَرْساً يَأْكُلُ مِنْهُ إِنْسَانٌ أَوْ دَابَّةٌ أَوْ طَيْرٌ إِلَّا أَنْ يُكْتَبَ لَهُ صَدَقَةٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ

”The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: ‘When a Muslim plants a tree whose fruits are eaten by humans, animals or birds, this would be written an act of charity for him till the Day of Judgment.”

Garbage is a modern problem. Can we find some instruction regarding garbage in the Islamic sources?

I think the transformation that I mentioned in answering the first question should also occur here. What is garbage? I define it as something that we, human beings, lack the creativity of using it. If we define garbage like this, we encourage ourselves to find ways of recycling and reusing it and reducing the consumerism theory that I mentioned before.

Because of the importance of sanitary disposal of waste, this issue has been addressed in some traditions. Imam Ali (AS) says:

لَا تُؤْوُوا التُّرَابَ خَلْفَ الْبَابِ فَإِنَّهُ مَأْوَى الشَّيَاطِينِ

Do not leave the remains behind in the house because it is the place of demons (germs).

How about the air and its pollution? Is there any guideline in this regard?

Can I see air as another creation of Allah (SWT),as something that needs to be respected, as a gift from Allah (SWT) that when I inhale, I should thank Him and when I exhale, I should do the same? How would I allow myself to pollute this creation when we both are teaming up to do the zikr (remembrance of Allah)? This is a fact mentioned in the Holy Quran, 17:44:

تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّماواتُ السَّبْعُ وَ الْأَرْضُ وَ مَنْ فيهِنَّ وَ إِنْ مِنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ إِلاَّ يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَ لكِنْ لا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبيحَهُمْ إِنَّهُ كانَ حَليماً غَفُوراً

The seven heavens glorify Him, and the earth too, and whoever is in them. There is not a thing but celebrates His praise, but you do not understand their glorification. Indeed, He is all-forbearing, all-forgiving.

That is what I meant by being united with nature and seeing ourselves and nature as part of Allah’s plan.

How do you evaluate the role of religious leaders in promoting committed people’s attention toward the environment?

I see pollution as a worldwide problem.Religious communities and leaders, regardless of the religions they follow, can play a significant role to solve this problem. Religions are not only a bunch of doctrines and creeds; rather,they also have fruits for humans’ life and they should solve human problems. I see different religions as different people sitting on the same table to collaborate in solving a problem that is on the table. That is how I see different religions. Muslims, Jews, Christians, and the adherents to other religions are around a table that one of its main problems today is pollution and global warming. There is no way other than collaboration and coexistence. We all are in this boat together!

That brings us to the end of this interview. All that remains is for me to thank you very much for the enlightening answers you gave to our questions on organ donation. I really appreciate that.

You are welcome.

About Ali Teymoori

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