In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Friday 29th August 2014/3rd Dhu al-Qa`ida 1435
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
As part of its commitment to being an eco-friendly religious institution, the Claremont Main Road Masjid has resolved to regularly feature environmental justice issues during the Friday congregational sermons (khutbahs). Consonant with this objective, in this khutbah I would like to focus on Arbor Week from the perspective of Islam.
Once a year many countries around the world celebrate what is known as Arbor Day (from the Latin arbor, meaning tree). It is a day on which people are not only encouraged to plant trees, but also to create awareness with regard to the important role trees play in the cycle of life. Since 1996 Arbor Day in South Africa has been celebrated for an entire week known as Iviki Lezihlahla and takes place during the first week of September.
You may wonder, but what role do trees play in the environment and how does planting trees raise awareness about the cycle of life? Trees absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen, which we breathe in to live. This cycle of nature, of absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen, keeps a balance in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. But it is human actions and behaviours that cause changes which upset this natural balance. We produce excessive amount of carbon dioxide by burning coal and petrol in our power plants, factories, cars, other forms of transport, and in deforestation. This is what we call our carbon emissions, which causes an imbalance with heat being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the overall average temperature resulting in global warming. Planting trees is one of the most cost-effective ways of offsetting our carbon emissions, because trees can absorb some of this excessive carbon dioxide. So, when we cut down trees and forests, we are threatening our own existence. Moreover, trees play a vital role in rural and urban populations. They are needed to enrich and anchor soil, to maximise water supplies, to beautify and humanise townships and urban areas and to provide shade and shelter. They are also crucial for biodiversity conservation. Products and services from trees include food, timber, fibre, medicines and energy.
In this khutbah, I counsel that Arbor Week resonates well with the teachings of Islam and advise Muslims to be in the forefront of tree planting and other activities that promote an awareness of the importance of trees in the cycle of life. My purpose in this khutbah is to remind us that environmental justice and consciousness is an integral part of what it means to be a conscientious Muslim. In this regard, the companion, Abu Sa`id al-Khudri narrated in the hadith collection of Jam`i al-Tirmidhi, that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advises us as follows:
The world is green and delightful,
And Allah has made you a custodian over it (the world),
And is observing carefully how you deal with it.
The Virtues of Planting Trees According to the Qur’an and Sunnah
The Arabic word for tree, shajara, appears 26 times in the Glorious Qur’an, the most primary source of Islamic guidance. Its Qur’anic usage is often symbolic, like the tree in the Garden of Eden that our ancestral parents, Adam and Eve are warned not to consume from (2:35; 7:19; 7:22; 20:120).
One of the most beautiful texts from the Glorious Qur’an pertaining to trees and the natural environment in general is the first section of Surah al-Rahman, Chapter 55 wherein God, the Lord of Compassion proclaims:
الرَّحْمَنُ (1) عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآَنَ (2) خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ (3) عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ (4) الشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ بِحُسْبَانٍ (5) وَالنَّجْمُ وَالشَّجَرُ يَسْجُدَانِ (6) وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ (7) أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ (8) وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ (9) وَالْأَرْضَ وَضَعَهَا لِلْأَنَامِ (10) فِيهَا فَاكِهَةٌ وَالنَّخْلُ ذَاتُ الْأَكْمَامِ (11) وَالْحَبُّ ذُو الْعَصْفِ وَالرَّيْحَانُ (12) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَان(13)ِ
(God) The Lord of Mercy and Compassion! Has imparted and taught this Qur’an, created the human being, and gave him articulate thought and speech. At the Lord of Mercy and Compassion’s behest the sun and the moon follow fixed and computed courses; and the herbs and the trees prostrate in adoration (to their Lord); and the Sky has He raised high, and set up the balance (of Justice) for all things, in order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish justice and fall not short in the balance (of Justice). It is He who has spread out the earth for all living beings: Therein are fruit and palm trees, producing clusters of dates: and corn with (its) leaves and stalks for fodder and sweet-smelling plants. Which then of the favours of your Lord will you deny? [Q55:1-13)]
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who is the surest guide for understanding the Qur’an and whose life was an embodiment of the virtues espoused by the Qur’an not only encouraged the planting of trees but forbade the destroying of vegetation. Through his Sunnah (exemplary conduct and teachings) he has bequeathed to us a rich reservoir of wisdom concerning the preservation of trees and water and the compassionate treatment of animals – all this is most promising guidance for our contemporary environmental concerns. Thus there is a famous prophetic tradition (hadith) reported by the companion Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) recorded in the authentic collection of Imam Bukhari which powerfully illustrates the great virtue of planting trees. It advises us as follows:
|When the hour of Day of Judgment is about to strike and one of you was holding a palm seed in his hand, let him take advantage of even this time to plant this tree.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari in Al Adab Al-Mufrad, see also Ahmad’s Sahih Al- Jami’ Al-Saghir, No.1424)|
According to the above Islamic teaching it is a blessed and highly virtuous act to plant a tree, even if it be at the exact time of the end of the world i.e. the Day of Judgment. In another prophetic tradition (hadith) the planting of a tree is equated to that of giving alms:
“A believer who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a human being or an animal eats of it, will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity.” (Sahih Bukhari Vol. 8, Book 73, No. 41)
In this hadith, planting a tree is analogous to a sadaqa jariya (a perpetual charity). You may plant a tree, but never see it grow to maturity. But if you leave it as a legacy for the next generation, and as long as people benefit from the fruits or shades of that tree, you will reap perpetual reward, even after you have passed on to the life hereafter.
Last but not least, in the following hadith recorded in the collection of Imam Ahmad the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) teaches us that planting trees is one way of attaining salvation in the life hereafter:
“Whoever plants a tree and it matures, Allah plants a tree in paradise for that person.” (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, IV, 61)
We should thus think of our participation in Arbor week not only as an investment in the future of this world and the world of our children, but also as an investment in the life hereafter.
In conclusion, it should be crystal clear from the above that Arbor Week resonates fully with the teachings of Islam and a conscientious Muslim should be in the forefront of planting trees and promoting awareness concerning environmental justice issues not only during Arbor Week but throughout the year. Besides planting a tree and supporting the many Arbor Week events that ourorganized by the Department of Water and Forestry and civil society organizations dedicated to environmental justice concerns there are many other practical things that each one of us can commit to as eco-friendly consumers. Furthermore, we should try to build our environmental knowledge and make “Green Thinking” part of our everyday lives.
I end with some inspirational words from a 17th century poet, Lord Orrery, who wrote:
“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.” – Lord Orrery, 1749
At this sacred hour of jumu`ah please join me in a special supplication for the flourishing of our natural environment including our trees:
للَّهمَّ حَوَالَيْنَا وَلا عَلَيْنَا، اللَّهمَّ عَلَى الآكَامِ وَالظِّرَابِ، وَبُطُوْنِ الأَوْدِيَةِ، وَمَنابِتِ الشَّجَر
‘O Allah, let the rain fall around us and not upon us,
O Allah, (let the rain fall) on the pastures, hills, valleys,
And most of all the roots of trees.