Islam’s care for environment, streets and cities
Written by Dr. Ragheb Elsergany
The house, street and city represent the surroundings where people live in. This surrounding is known in the world these days by the name “environment”.
It is worth noting that Allah has made the beauty of this surrounding one of the goals he created man for. Allah says in the Quran quoting his messenger Salih: “It is He Who hath produced you from the earth and settled you therein.” [Hud: 61]. Ibn Kathir says: “The verse means that Allah has made you to construct and exploit it.” Zayd Ibn Aslam also said: “Settled you in it means that he ordered you to construct whatever you need in it, including houses and planting trees. It was also said that the verse means Allah has inspired people to construct the land, including ploughing, planting and digging rivers.
Clearing away obstacles from people’s path
The least form of beauty in the street was closely linked to how deep is faith in the hearts of Muslims. The Prophet (PBUH) made clearing obstacles away from the path of people part of faith. He says: “Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allah, and the humblest of which is the, removal of what is injurious from the path: and modesty is the branch of faith.” Removing obstacles from people’s path means taking away objectionable stuff such as stones, thorns etc.
Removing away harmful things from the road is a sadaqah (charity). Abu Huraira quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: “Removing a harmful thing from the way is also Sadaqah”.
Removing harmful things from the path of people was also one of the deeds by which Allah forgave one of his slaves and let him into paradise. The Prophet says: "While a man was on the way, he found a thorny branch of a tree there on the way and removed it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him." In another narration by Ibn Majah: “A thorny branch of a tree thrown on the way used to hurt people. A man removed it and Allah let him into paradise.” Removing obstacles from the streets is considered one of the best deeds of the Muslim nation according to a hadith that reads: “The good and bad deeds of my nation were shown to me. I found amongst its good deeds removing obstacles from people’s path”.
We even wonder when we hear that a great companion like Aba Barza asked the Prophet (PBUH): “Allah's Messenger, teach me something so that I may derive benefit from it. He said: Remove the troublesome thing from the paths of the Muslims”.
We might even wonder more when we hear the prophet threatening those who disobey this order. The Prophet (PBUH) says: “He who hurts Muslims in their way deserves their curses”.
Imagine. Seven texts from the sunnah call for removing obstacles from the street. These are not all. As far as we know, no other philosophy, legislation or methods reached this level of taking care of the street. If we suppose that this happened, do they say that “removing obstacles from the path makes it a reason to enter paradise and have one’s sins atoned”?.
We should stop for a minute at this story: A female companion of the Prophet we never knew anything about except that she used to clean the mosque. The Prophet (PBUH) missed her. He asked about her only to learn that she passed away. When he learnt, he blamed his companions for not telling him. He said: “Should not you have told me? Take me to her grave. They took him where he prayed for her”.
This woman, who was mentioned in the history of Islam and became memorable in the books of sunnan has not done anything except that she used to clean the mosque. She deserved- in the Islamic history only- to be remembered for ever and for the Prophet (PBUH) to blame his companions for her sake and to pray for her.
The prophet also ordered us not to urinate or defecate at places frequented by people. He said: “Guard against the two practices which invite people's curses". When the Prophet PBUH was asked what these practices were he said: "Evacuating one's bowels by the roadside and in the shade" . This means that if a man urinates or defecates at a place frequented or used by people for sitting, he would be bringing curses upon himself. Imam Abu Sulayman al-Khatabi said: The two curses here mean the two things that bring curse to their doers. ” The Prophet (PBUH) even said: "Spitting in the mosque is a sin and its expiation is to bury it".
The Jews used not to clean their houses. The Prophet (PBUH) ordered his companions by saying: "You must clean your houses and do not follow in the footsteps of Jews" . In another narration: “Clean your homes because the Jews are very dirty”.
In this recommendation, we find evidence that the Islamic beauty is original and not related to the fact that Arabs used to live in hot weather as some Western researchers said.
Cleanliness of houses in Islam
Islam ordered us to clean our houses and take care of them. Islam urged Muslims to perform extra prayers at home. Jabir quotes the Prophet (PBUH) as saying: “If anyone of you prays at mosque, he should not pray nafela there. Let it be in his house because Allah will bring good to his house because of these prayers.” Thus, houses turned into small mosques and that is why they should be pure to be fit for prayers. The Prophet (PBUH) ordered his nation, Sumrah Ibn Jundub quotes him, to “build mosques at residential areas and to clean and perfume them”.
He also disliked a man to urinate at his bathing place. He said: “Never urinate at your bathing place and then do ablution”.
These are some of the texts that were mentioned about avoiding dirt at home or street.
Planting and afforestation in Islam
Islam has called for planting and afforestation. Anas Ibn Malik quotes the Prophet (PBUH) as saying: “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him." In a narration in Sahih Muslim, it reads: “If any Muslim plants something or sows seed from which man, bird, or beast eats, it counts as sadaqa for him".
The Prophet has even called for planting even if Doomsday comes. Anas quotes him as saying: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it”.
There is no stronger evidence and encouragement to plant trees than this hadith because it reveals the productive nature of a Muslim. By nature, a Muslim gives to life like a spring that never runs out. If Doomsday is about to come, he would continue to plant and sow seeds even though he knows well that he and others would not live to eat from their fruit. Work here is done for the sake of working because it is a branch of worshipping and man’s duty to construct the earth until the last heartbeat.
Construction of earth is well known in the Islamic Jurisprudence as revival (reclamation) of mawat (dead land). The expression is taken from a prophetic saying: “He who revives a dead land has a right to its ownership”.
Islam, on one hand, has ordered its followers to observe cleanliness and ordered them not to be dirty and to avoid dirt. On the other hand, it urged afforestation and planting and that is why Islamic cities and houses in the glorious ages of Islam were masterpieces.
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