Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth

Humanity has thrown God’s creation out of order

By ISNA Green Initiative Team

July/August 2022

According to Islam’s teachings, humanity enacts the Divine will in our divinely instituted role as khalifat al-ard (steward, guardian, protector) of our common home, Mother Earth. 

We’ve been given the unique ability and, along with it, the awesome responsibility to freely choose how to act in and upon Earth. According to this understanding, we have been charged with the trust (33:72), meaning to behave justly, fairly and with the utmost goodness toward all others, as well as to administer everything placed under our control and use. 

Humanity fulfills this duty by maintaining the natural cosmic order of balance, for “The Sun and Moon move according to plan, the stars and the trees prostrate. And He raised the heaven and imposed the balance (mizan), so don’t transgress within the balance. Maintain the weights with justice, and don’t violate the balance” (55:5-9)

When we began to consider ourselves Earth’s real and sole owners, as having absolute dominion over it and all its other inhabitants and natural resources, as well as having the right to treat them as we please, our home began to fall apart. This reality has led to the ongoing climate emergency and existential threat in which we now find ourselves. 

The impacts of climate change (e.g., stronger storms and more erratic and extreme weather events) threaten human life, healthy communities and critical infrastructure. Catastrophes (e.g., famines, dangerous heat waves, droughts, fires, floods, plagues like the zoonotic Covid-19 virus) leave trauma and grief in their wake. These are already being felt across ecosystems and all of our planet’s communities and economies, and will only get worse if immediate action isn’t taken. 

Our greed for more, driven equally by the soaring arrogance of conspicuous consumption and the unbridled and insatiable corporate greed of the few, has driven us to this scary situation. All of this comes at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable of our human family: those who contribute the least to global warming yet pay the highest price in terms of its devastating effects and harms. 

We’ve ignored the Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) wisdom and guidance that “Muslims are partners in three — water, pasture and fire — and their price is unlawful” (Ahmed, Ibn Maja, Hadith no: 2472, cited on the authority of Ibn Abbas).

These three are limited public resources, and human rights demand free access to them. They’re not to be privatized by corporations who put profit over people. Instead, we must share these life-enabling resources equitably and sustainably among all of our planet’s inhabitants, as well as secure them sustainably for future generations 

Social, environmental, racial and economic justice are inextricably entwined. Climate change, pollution and environmental degradation and destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental and economic injustices. And who has been the most disproportionately affected: the Indigenous peoples; communities of color; migrant, deindustrialized and depopulated rural communities; the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, youth who collectively make up our frontline and vulnerable communities in general.

Only transformational and radical change on all levels can reset and restore the natural balance and order and thereby make a true difference for our descendants and the planet’s future.

Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth is a novel international, intersectional and multi-organizational and institutional undertaking by Sunni and Shia scholars, academicians, environmental leaders and activists worldwide. Their institutions have teamed up with Faith for Earth at the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP); the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science; Uskudar University (Istanbul), the Qur’anic Botanic Garden and the College of Islamic Studies and Hamad Bin Khalifa University (Qatar) to draft it. 

Imam Saffet Catovic, a member of Al-Mizan’s scholars drafting team, observed, “This historical collective undertaking is one which will, insha Allah, be a game changer in bringing to the fore Islamic perspectives on the environment and guidance for effectively addressing the many interlocking crises of the global climate emergency based on Islam’s teachings.” 

This document takes its name and inspiration from the verses cited above. It builds upon the legacy of Islamic and Muslims’ scholarship on the environment (fiqh al-biyya), ecology coupled with the broad lived experiences of eco/environmental activists and impacted communities, as well as the important prior foundational work found in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change and similar international statements. This restatement and rearticulation of the Islamic principles governing Earth’s protection and guardianship and all its inhabitants meets today’s complex global challenges. In addition, it examines the ethics behind the social patterning of human existence and inquires into how they can be brought to life and reintegrated and connected by working in harmony with the heartbeat and rhythms of the natural world. 

Environmentalism is deeply embedded in the veins of Islam. It’s about personal behavior and how we manifest it while interacting with others, about being conscious and considerate while interacting with the natural world and all sentient beings, who, as both our neighbors and fellow worshippers, have rights upon us. 

These principles grew out of the foundations emanating from the life example and practices of the Prophet, who was sent as a mercy to the worlds and “walked gently upon the Earth” (25:63), and codified over the millennia into a range of rules and institutions that manifested a truly holistic expression of life. This holistic approach can be distilled into encouraging the public good, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong and always acting in moderation, “Let there be a community among you that calls for what is good, urges what is right and forbids what is wrong. They are the ones who succeed” (3:104).

As a religious responsibility, the ISNA Green Initiative Team urges Muslim communities and individuals to do their part by adopting practices that alleviate environmental degradation.

ISNA Green Initiative Team members: Huda Alkaff, Safet Catovic, Nana Firman, Uzma Mirza and Saiyid Masroor Shah (chair).

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