In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind
Ecosystem Services, Global Environmental Change, and Local Actions that can help
As Muslims, we believe that Allah’s Rahma (Mercy) and His blessings have no limits. We live on a planet that contains all the resources that humans need for survival: water, food, materials for buildings and machinery such as wood, metal and rubber. The Quran provides illustrations of the relationships between water, plants, animals and humans (Ahmad 2010). Allah SWT says:
“Have they not seen how We drive water to the dry land that has no vegetation, and therewith bring forth crops providing food for their cattle and themselves? Will they not then see?” (As-Sajdah 32:27).
Alhamdulillah, all these benefits and provisions from natural resources, known as “ecosystem services”, were provided to us by Allah SWT, through nature. Allah SWT has given us the means to use these resources through his infinite Rahma. However, this does not mean that we can be wasteful. On the contrary, it means that we must appreciate these blessings and use them with utmost care and respect. To do so, we must make an effort to understand them (nature and ecosystem services) and learn how to safeguard them.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans derive from nature and are crucial for human well-being (MEA 2005). They include:
- provisioning services of water supply, food, medicinal resources, building materials and harvesting products;
- regulating services of climate regulation, water and air purification, flood mitigation, biological regulation, and/or disease control, hazard regulation, and maintenance of biological diversity;
- cultural services of aesthetic, recreational, cultural, and educational services;
- supporting services, providing living spaces (habitats) and maintaining diversity for plants and animals (important for crops and livestock development).
Figure: The links between ecosystem services and human well-being (from MEA 2005)
Cities and their populations are growing rapidly, with increasing rates of transformation from natural to urban (built-up) areas. Increasing populations also require more resources to survive, while producing more waste and contributing to air, water, soil and noise pollution. This increasing urbanisation is placing pressure on natural systems and their ability to provide ecosystem services. The growing strain on ecosystem services is especially concerning for the well-being of poorer communities, many of whom depend on ecosystem services for survival.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), and the more recent Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Assessment (2019), showed that biodiversity and ecosystem services are rapidly declining, due to changes in land and sea uses; exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species – all of which are underpinned by values and behaviours of society, such as local governance, consumption and production patterns, trade and technological innovations and population dynamics (IPBES 2019).
The global ecological footprint is a calculation of the number of natural resources being used by humans, compared to what is being reproduced through natural processes. Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot, using more resources than the Earth’s capacity to reproduce them. In fact, today, we are using the equivalent of 1.6 Earths’ to produce the resources we use, and absorb our waste! That means, it takes the Earth one year and eight months to regenerate what we use in only one year (footprintnetwork.org).
Global ecological overshoot (footprintnetwork.org)
Allah SWT instructs us to not be wasteful and to pay our dues through charity:
“It is He Who produces gardens trellised and un-trellised, and date palms, and crops of different shape and taste (their fruits and seeds) and olives, and pomegranates, similar (in-kind) and different (in taste). Eat of their fruits when they ripen, but pay the due thereof (their Zakat /charity according to Allah’s ordered proportions 1/10th or 1/20th) on the day of their harvest, and waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not the wasters.” (Al-An’am 6:141).
This verse from the Glorious Quran is incredibly powerful. It reminds us of the blessings that Allah SWT has provided through nature, (crops we could eat or use as a means of livelihood/sale), instructs us to give a portion thereof to charity and warns us not to be wasteful or extravagant. As shown in the figure above, if we change the way we use land and resources, we can work towards living within the Earths’ regeneration capacity.
Nabi Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) warned us not to be wasteful, even when we have an abundance at our disposal:
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this excess?” Sa’d said, “Is there excess with water in ablution?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.” (Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 425)
The Quran and the Sunnah guide for mankind to live in harmony with both people and the planet. Alhamdulillah!
It is predicted that the Muslim population is the fastest-growing religious group in the world (Pew Research Centre), and by 2100, there will be more Muslims in the world than other religious groups (Goodstein, 2015). This gives me much hope for the planet! If Muslims all over the world take heed of the advice and warnings in the Quran Kareem, and those provided by the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), we could really have a positive impact on global environmental change!
Estimated percentage of growth by religious group 2015 – 2050 (Pew Research Centre).
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to live and work differently, and in many respects, our environmental footprints have reduced during the pandemic, due to reduced travel and associated reduced pollution and carbon emissions. While this could be considered as a positive head-start towards living more sustainably and addressing climate change, we must remain steadfast towards green living for the pleasure of Allah SWT, and contribute towards global sustainability for the sake of our well-being, and that of future generations. As Muslims, it is our duty to abide by the Quran and the Sunnah, and aim to please our Creator through gaining beneficial knowledge and practising upon it.
Here are a few simple actions we can adopt towards more sustainable living:
- Reduce water wastage wherever possible: When making wudhu, follow the sunnah way of using no more than a mudd (1,25 litres of water). Collect rainwater or re-use grey water for flushing toilets, irrigating crops or plants in the garden or washing cars. Grey water is gently used water from showers, bathroom sinks, and washing machines, without faecal contamination. Aim to use biodegradable products and avoid using water from the kitchen sink on your plants.
- Reduce energy consumption: South Africa’s power is still the majority from coal, and reducing energy consumption in the home reduces impacts on climate change. Switch to energy-saving light bulbs, switch off lights when leaving the room, switch off your geyser when not in use and unplug devices not being used.
- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle paper, plastic, cans and glass – Commit to separate waste at source and recycle, ensuring that the bare minimum goes to landfill.
- Avoid pollution of any kind and dispose of any waste that is not recycled responsibly.
- Plant indigenous trees and vegetable in your garden or community: This will improve usage and enjoyment of natural areas, reduce the effects of climate change, contribute to food security, increase wildlife-friendly habitats and enhance biodiversity, in sha Allah.
- Remove invasive alien plants: Make conditions favourable for indigenous plants and animals to return and thrive.
- Avoid vehicle emissions as much as possible and engage in online activities as an alternative.
The [faithful] slaves of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly (Al-Furqan, 25:63)
May Allah SWT grant us all the tawfeeq to gain beneficial knowledge, and to practice upon it, for our benefit and the benefit of future generations, Ameen.
And Allah SWT knows best.
Author: Rashieda Davids
Ahmad, Yusuf Al-Hajj, 2010. The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Quran. Darussalam, Riyadh ISBN:978-603-500-040-6
Global Footprint Network 2020. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/
Goodstein, Laurie (2 April 2015). “Muslims Projected to Outnumber Christians by 2100”.
IPBES, 2019. Summary for policy-makers of the global assessment report on
biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science‐Policy Platform on
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), 2005. 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: health synthesis: a report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. World Health Organization 18(2).
Pew Research Centre, 2015. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050. Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population.