The Creation of an Environmental Conscience (part 2 of 4): Man – God’s Steward on the Earth


By AbdurRahman Mahdi

And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know. (Quran 2:30)

Our In habitat - Earth

Mankind, through the father, Adam, was sent to earth as its khalifah – a term which simultaneously means: successor, steward, trustee, viceroy, and guardian. That is, man was made responsible for utilizing the earth’s resources with due consideration; resources which God has subjected to his every need.

Man was made responsible for utilizing the earth’s resources with due consideration

“God is He Who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down (rain) water from the sky, and thereby brought forth fruits as provision for you; and He has made the ships to be of service to you, that they may sail through the sea by His Command; as (likewise) He has made rivers to be of service to you. And He has made the sun and the moon, both constantly pursuing their courses, to be of service to you; and He has made the night and the day, to be of service to you.” (Quran 14:32-33)

Fruits of all kind for provision

Ships to serve Mankind by God's command

“See you not (O humanity!) that God has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and has completed and perfected His Graces upon you, (both) apparent and hidden? Yet of mankind is he who disputes about God without knowledge nor guidance nor an illuminating Book!” (Quran 31:20)

Thus, the earth has been created with a definite cause and affect: to facilitate humans in fulfilling the purpose with which they were themselves created: to worship and serve their Creator.

“And I (God) created not the jinn (spirit-like creatures) and humans except they should worship Me (alone).” (Quran 51:56)

Although the creation of the heavens and the earth is actually greater than the creation of humanity in the Sight of God [see Quran 40:57], humans bear a responsibility that the heavens and earth do not. In fact, God did offer to entrust to the heavens and the earth moral responsibility. However, they understood the weightiness of what was being asked and so respectfully declined. Adam, however, accepted to bear moral responsibility on behalf of humanity. Alas! unlike their father, many of Adam’s descendants were and are unfaithful, incompetent and unwilling to remain true to their obligations.

The creation of the heavens and the earth is actually greater than the creation of humanity in the Sight of God

“Truly, We did offer the trust and moral responsibility to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of (failing to discharge) it. But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust (to himself) and ignorant (of the results).” (Quran 33:72)

When man does faithfully discharge his trust by obeying and worshiping God in accordance with his primordial nature, he attains God’s Pleasure and reward; when he does not, he is in need of His Forgiveness. Incidentally, the only reason a person does succumb to false and oppressive desires is because that person is allowing himself to be misled from his nature; straying away from the straight path and onto the crooked road taken by the enemy of God and man alike: Satan.

The straight path is the path prescribed by God

“He (Satan) said: ‘See! This one (man, Adam) whom You have honored above me, if You give me respite till the Day of Resurrection, I will surely seize and mislead his offspring – all but a few!” (Quran 17:62)

“And he (Satan) said: ‘I will take an appointed portion of your slaves; I will surely mislead them, and surely, I will arouse in them false desires; and I will surely order them to slit the ears of cattle, and surely, I will order them to change the nature created by God.’ And whoever takes Satan as a protector instead of God has surely suffered a manifest loss. He (Satan) makes promises to them and arouses in them false desires; and Satan’s promises are nothing but deceptions.” (Quran 4:118-120)

So, after learning a most important reality about the natural environment and our place in it, which is that, other than mankind (and the jinn), all the creation, animate and inanimate, is inherently obedient to God and in harmony with itself, we also learn how man can reclaim his innocent natural state: by serving and obeying God. And from the great many and praiseworthy acts of obedience is our behaving responsibly with the world around us. A world that, for the purpose of this discourse, can be divided into two principle realms or resources: the subjects of the animal kingdom and their natural habitats.

We learn how Man can reclaim his innocent natural state: by serving and obeying God

“God is the One Who has subjected to you the sea, that ships may sail through it by His Command, and that you may seek of His Bounty and be thankful. And (just like) He has subjected to you all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; it is all as a favor and kindness from Him. Verily, in it are signs for a people who think deeply.” (Quran 45:12-13)

Signs for a people who think deeply

THE STORY OF THE PEOPLE OF THE DITCH


This story is mentioned in the beginning of Surah Al-Burooj and it is one of the most wonderful stories that you’ll ever read.

Suhaib reported that Allah’s Messenger (salallahu alaihi wasallam) thus said:

There lived a king before you and he had a (court) magician. As he (the magician) grew old, he said to the king: I have grown old, send some young boy to me so that I should teach him magic. He (the king) sent to him a young man so that he should train him (in magic). And on his way (to the magician) he (the young man) found a monk sitting there.

He (the young man) listened to his (the monk’s) talk and was impressed by it. It became his habit that on his way to the magician he met the monk and set there and he came to the magician (late). He (the magician) beat him because of delay. He made a complaint of that to the monk and he said to him: When you feel afraid of the magician, say: Members of my family had detained me. And when you feel afraid of your family you should say: The magician had detained me.

It so happened that there came a huge beast (of prey) and it blocked the way of the people, and he (the young boy) said: I will come to know today whether the magician is superior or the monk is superior. He picked up a stone and said: O Allah, if the affair of the monk is dearer to Thee than the affair of the magician, cause death to this animal so that the people should be able to move about freely.

He threw that stone towards it and killed it and the people began to move about (on the path freely). He (the young man) then came to that monk and informed him and the monk said: Son, today you are superior to me. Your affair has come to a stage where I find that you would be soon put to a trial, and in case you are put to a trial don’t give my clue.

That young man began to treat the blind and those suffering from leprosy and he in fact began to cure people from (all kinds) of illness. When a companion of the king who had gone blind heard about him, he came to him with numerous gifts and said: If you cure me all these things collected together here would be yours. He said: I myself do not cure anyone. It is Allah Who cures and if you affirm faith in Allah, I shall also supplicate Allah to cure you.

He affirmed his faith in Allah and Allah cured him and he came to the king and sat by his side as he used to sit before. The king said to him: Who restored your eyesight? He said: My Lord. Thereupon he said: It means that your Lord is One besides me. He said: My Lord and your Lord is Allah, so he (the king) took hold of him and tormented him till he gave a clue of that boy. The young man was thus summoned and the king said to him: O boy, it has been conveyed to me that you have become so much proficient in your magic that you cure the blind and those suffering from leprosy and you do such and such things. Thereupon he said: I do not cure anyone; it is Allah Who cures, and he (the king) took hold of him and began to torment him. So he gave a clue of the monk.

The monk was thus summoned and it was said to him: You should turn back from your religion. He, however, refused to do so. He (ordered) for a saw to be brought (and when it was done) he (the king) placed it in the middle of his head and tore it into parts until a part fell down. Then the courtier of the king was brought and it was said to him: Turn back from your religion. And he refused to do so, and the saw was placed in the midst of his head and it was torn until a part fell down.

Then that young boy was brought and it was said to him: Turn back from your religion. He refused to do so and he was handed over to a group of his courtiers. And he said to them: Take him to such and such mountain; make him climb up that mountain and when you reach its top (ask him to renounce his faith) but if he refuses to do so, then throw him (down the mountain).

So they took him and made him climb up the mountain and he said: ‘O Allah, save me from them (in any way) Thou likest’ and the mountain began to quake and they all fell down and that person came walking to the king. The king said to him: ‘What has happened to your companions?’ He said: ‘Allah has saved me from them’. He again handed him to some of his courtiers and said: ‘Take him and carry him in a small boat and when you reach the middle of the ocean (ask him to renounce) his religion, but if he does not renounce his religion throw him (into the water).’

So they took him and he said: ‘O Allah, save me from them and what they want to do.’ It was quite soon that the boat turned over and they were drowned and he came walking to the king, and the king said to him: ‘What has happened to your companions?’ He said: ‘Allah has saved me from them’, and he said to the king: ‘You cannot kill me until you do what I ask you to do. ‘And he said: ‘What is that?’ He said: ‘You should gather people in a plain and hang me by the trunk (of a tree).

Then take hold of an arrow from the quiver and say: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the worlds; then shoot an arrow and if you do that then you would be able to kill me.’ So he (the king) called the people in an open plain and tied him (the boy) to the trunk of a tree, then he took hold of an arrow from his quiver and then placed the arrow in the bow and then said: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy; he then shot an arrow and it bit his temple.

He (the boy) placed his hands upon the temple where the arrow had bit him and he died and the people said: We affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man. The courtiers came to the king and it was said to him: Do you see that Allah has actually done what you aimed at averting. They (the people) have affirmed their faith in the Lord.

He (the king) commanded ditches to be dug at important points in the path. When these ditches were dug, and the fire was lit in them it was said (to the people): He who would not turn back from his (boy’s) religion would be thrown in the fire or it would be said to them to jump in that. (The people courted death but did not renounce religion) until a woman came with her child and she felt hesitant in jumping into the fire and the child said to her: 0 mother, endure (this ordeal) for it is the truth.” 

[Saheeh Muslim, Hadeeth No. 7148]

The Story in the Quran:

By the heaven, holding the big stars.

And by the Promised Day (i.e. the Day of Resurrection);

And by the witnessing day (i.e. Friday), and by the witnessed day [i.e. the day of ‘Arafat (Hajj) the ninth of Dhul-Hijjah];

Cursed were the people of the ditch (the story of the Boy and the King).

Fire supplied (abundantly) with fuel,

When they sat by it (fire),

And they witnessed what they were doing against the believers (i.e. burning them).

They had nothing against them, except that they believed in Allah, the All-Mighty, Worthy of all Praise!

Who, to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth! And Allah is Witness over everything.

Verily, those who put into trial the believing men and believing women (by torturing them and burning them), and then do not turn in repentance, (to Allah), will have the torment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the burning Fire.

Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the great attainment.

(Surah Al-Buruj 85:1-11)