Articles & Blog Posts
The following is an article published by the Invitation Magazine, October 2010.
Ask someone about environmental pollutants and without a doubt most would firmly base their answers on CO2 emissions – a greenhouse gas that is held to be partly responsible for global warming. Pushed further and asked about endocrine disruptors (ED’s), most people would answer with a vacant look. Endocrine disruptors, a part of what we usually just call “environmental pollution”, are waste products of industry. They are pesticides used by intensified farming practices, compounds of air fresheners and household cleaning products, they are even found in food containers.
What is perhaps most startling is the use of materials that have been shown to have endocrine disrupting activity in baby bottles and breastfeeding instruments. The culprit is something called Bisphenyl-A, which is found in plastic bottles used by the drinks industry to sell us water, which in some cases is merely tap water.
Unbalancing the Human Body
Essentially the endocrine system of animals, including humans, is responsible for the hormonal balance of the body. At exquisitely small concentrations, glands within the body secrete hormones into the body in response to various stimuli. When foreign chemicals that have structural characteristics that can mimic human hormones enter the body, either through breathing or through the consumption of food and water, our natural balance is disrupted. This imbalance could manifest itself through the changing of our metabolism, our ability to reproduce, a lowering of concentration and even effect our moods. However, the most susceptible group in society are children.
The Green Shaykh
Leading a charge to highlight the effects of endocrine disruptors is Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), who is well known for pulling no punches when it comes to environmental matters; this has lead to him being labelled within some media circles as “The Green Shaykh”. Shaykh al-Yaqoubi ‘s knowledge of the modern global problem of pollution makes his ‘green’ moniker a worthy title, and he is using his prestige along with his near-boundless energy to highlight the environmental issues we all face from an Islamic perspective.
Interestingly, Shaykh al-Yaqoubi sees beyond the effects of the wanton neglect of creation to the sociological aspects of the degradation of our ethics and values, to an increase of street litter within our communities, and draws parallels to the almost total disregard we have shown towards corporations who have been pouring millions of tons of hazardous materials into the ecosystem of the world.
We asked the Shaykh if he could explain from an Islamic perspective what is incumbent on our individual stewardship of creation and how he sees our relationship to big businesses. In particular, What how we should be guiding the latter’s moral obligations without threatening our economic prosperity.
Shaykh al-Yaqoubi Speaks
“Praise be to Allah who has allowed us as human beings to benefit from what He Almighty created;
Prayers and Salutations be on the Merciful and Compassionate, who is sent but as a Mercy to the worlds.
Allow me first of all to express my thanks for choosing this important subject to discuss. There is indeed a lot of ignorance amongst Muslims and indifference amongst those who know the obligation to protect our environment. Yes, there is no doubt from an Islamic point of view that pouring hazardous material into the ecosystem of the world is forbidden. There is no difference between doing this on an individual level, community or state level.
The legal judicial basis for this ruling is derived from the Book of Allah (The Holy Qur’an) and the Sunnah (The traditions and teachings) of the Prophet (ﷺ). The Ulama (Islamic Jurists) summed up general rules which can cover and include many examples such as the following:
'No harm to be inflicted and no harm to be exchanged.'
This is a translation of the exact words of our beloved Prophet (ﷺ). Although this topic, like many modern issues, was not a subject of discussion during his time, but in his anticipation of this environmental matter, he issued several statements which became guidelines for the Ulama in earlier generations until our present time. From this ruling, we have two other related rulings which are:
1. Harm is to be removed.
2. Harm can never be justified on the basis of being ancient.”
Be Careful with your Fruit and Veg
Non-organic food produce in the fruit and vegetable sections of our shops have small amounts of pesticides, fungicides and all manner of chemicals that can become toxic to the health of the human body when exposed to them at high levels. Although these compounds are vigorously regulated so that residual levels on our food produce is kept to a minimum, there is evidence that long term consumption of small amounts of ED’s can still have negative effects – the increase of male infertility is one prime example. At a time of economic hardship, especially for people living on a small income, it is not possible for everyone to switch to organic produce as it is marginally more costly in comparison to non-organic produce. You can, however, take steps to reduce the intake of ED’s by washing all fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption.
Can We Afford to Neglect Chemical Pollution?
On this subject, Shaykh Al-Yaqoubi is fully aware of how the focus of public attention is firmly placed on the rise of CO2 emissions. However he discussed at length the importance of highlighting the poisonous materials that are placed into our food chain, and are found within food containers, cleaning materials and air fresheners and so on; chemicals that are far more hazardous to human health then CO2 which, after all, exits our mouth every time we breathe..
“On protecting life: This is one of the major higher purposes of our Shari’ah (Islamic Law) which are known as 'Maqasid al-Shari’ah'.
Life is on top of these principles. Here, it means human life. Prioritisation in our Islamic Shari’ah puts protecting human life on top of all other priorities, but without neglecting the rest. These would be our requirements when a budget is apportioned or a media campaign is launched. When we have two threats: one imminent and another anticipated; of course the priority is given to the imminent. Another point would be drawn in this context which is the difference in scale between the impact of CO2 emission on humanity and impact of endocrine disruptors on large communities and individuals; neither should marginalise the other. The problem in my view, lies in the media which is heavily influenced by the gigantic corporations and manufacturers of fast foods, tinned and genetically modified (GM) foods. On the contrary, there are media campaigns to market such products.
As a practical measure, as it has become forbidden to advertise for tobacco, I personally called for the ban of such commercials and adds in all types of media. And as it has become mandatory in secular law to have printed on all cigarette packaging a warning that tobacco smoking may cause cancer and other diseases, then it should be obligatory to place a label on all fresh food products a warning of what chemicals have been used in its production, coupled with clear information on its hazards to human health.”
Are we Polluters in our Own Homes?
Other sources of contamination come from ordinary household cleaners and everyday cosmetics such as soaps and deodorants, air fresheners and kitchen sprays. On average a small family will consume 250ml of liquid soap bi-weekly, which is 6 litres of soap a year. If someone was to turn up at a lakeside or at a tranquil river spot and poured a bucket of detergent into the water, onlookers would be horrified, but that is essentially what we all do, year in year out. Annually, we as individual families, dump millions of litres of chemically enriched products into our food chain, destroying creation and placing suffering onto the creatures of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى). Furthermore, in regards to aerosol deodorants, are you aware of that dryness at the back of the throat after spraying? Think about what those chemicals are doing to your lungs, and the lungs of the youngsters in your household. Perhaps we need to consider alternatives and use under-arm roll-ons – it is cheaper and more environmentally benign.
On a final note, Shaykh al-Yaqoubi mentioned further Islamic principles which are to be used while dealing with environmental issues.
“The theological basis for protecting the environment and preserving the ecological world is in the Holy Qur’an, the Book of Allah. This includes the following principles:
Everything belongs to Allah; it is on loan to us to use but not to destroy. An example for this is that a person is religiously (morally) prohibited from breaking a glass of his, although he purchased it and he legally owns it; he is ordered to keep it so that others can use it after his demise, or sell it so that others can use it (recycling). Spiritual leaders amongst the Muslim scholars put this principle into practice. In one of the major Islamic works known as Qut al-Qulub (the Nourishment of the Hearts) the author, Imam Abu Talib al-Makki, mentions that earlier generations liked using kitchenware made of pottery because when it is destroyed, it can dissolve into the earth and it is not foreign to its soil.
Long term planning or looking ahead to the future of human beings: this is taken from our plans for the Final Day and our preparations for the Reckoning. This means, as Muslims, we are trained to look ahead of ourselves and to look at the consequences of our works and avoid what is harmful. This applies on everything we do in our life, be it business or study, travel or manufacturing. So, why not look at the consequences and the harm caused by industry and find a solution to it at the time of establishment not two centuries on. The whole Islamic system is based on looking thoroughly at the outcome of the project and judging it at the time of planning to either cancel it or find solutions to the expected problems.
There are other principles which cover the other aspects of our environment such as: rules for protecting animal life; rules for protecting forests and green open areas etc. which I am not going to tackle in my answer to your question due to time limits. This is one of the most important issues which needs to be highlighted.
There was not much emphasis in the past in our literatures on this subject because it was part of everyday practice. Children grew up while being taught not to litter, not to cut a plant, not to cause harm to an animal, etc. I find it strange that nowadays, children should educate their parents. It is a signal of the deterioration of ethics in our communities. However, I also see it as a revival in the practice of our deen amongst the youth.
Muslims would be better to hold to the preservation of the environment, as it is a way to come closer to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) and earn rewards. As our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) put it: “Belief is of seventy-plus branches; the top of if is la ilaha illa Allah, the bottom of it is removing any harmful material from our streets; and protecting one’s chastity is a branch of belief”. We should be proud that Islamic civilisation did not produce anything harmful to the world or to human life, quite the opposite, there is every reason for us in Islam to be the first and foremost amongst all nations around the world in protecting the environment and having health awareness to observe what we intake as food, beverages and medicine.”
Shaykh Al-Yaqoubi sends his blessings to all the Muslims of the UK for their dedication to the environmental cause. We thank him also for taking the time to speak to us at The Invitation Magazine.