The Sustainable Development Goals from a Shariah Perspective – VI

Since the religion of Islam sets the agenda for development in predominantly Muslim societies, it is interesting to examine to what extent the SDGs conform to the Islamic vision of development. In order to explain the Islamic vision of development, Islamic scholars have come up with a broad framework rooted in what are called, the Goals or the Maqasid of the Shariah (MaS). The MaS (as originally presented by the 12th-Centurey Islamic scholar Al-Ghazzali) are broadly discussed in five (05) categories: protection and enrichment of faith (deen), self (nafs), intellect (aql), progeny (nasl) and property (maal).

In recent times there have been some attempts to map the SDGs against the MaS. However, such attempts have often resulted in one-to-many as well as many-to-one mappings and the resultant clutter that adds little value in terms of comprehending the underlying relationships. In what follows, we seek to explore the relationship by going to the basics. We seek to delineate the relevant Shariah norms and prescriptions from the primary sources, i.e. the Qur’an and the Hadith for each one of the SDGs one by one. 

We have covered SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger) in the first part and SDG3 (good health and well-being) and SDG4 (quality education) in the second part; SDG5 (gender equality) and SDG6 (clean water and sanitation) in the third part  and SDG8 (decent work and economic growth) in the fourth part and
SDG10 (reduced income inequalities) in the fifth part of this series.

In Part VI of this series, we focus on SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on earth).

sdg12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Sustainable consumption and production is about promoting resource efficiency and a better quality of life for all. It aims at doing more and better with less. Net welfare gains from economic activities can increase by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing quality of life.

In the following verses, the Quran calls on human beings to be responsible as a consumer and a producer and cease to contribute to resource shortage. Verses of the Quran also clearly highlight the importance of responsible behavior and avoiding wastefulness.

But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters. (6:141)

Eat and drink, but waste not by excess; Verily He loves not the excessive (7:31)

And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. (17: 26)

And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate (25: 67)

sdg13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly today and even more tomorrow. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, weather events are becoming more extreme and greenhouse gas emissions are now at their highest levels in history. Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is likely to surpass 3 degrees centigrade this century.

According to Shariah, human beings, as vicegerents of God, have the mission of faithfully observing the values given by their Creator. During their short life in this world they may utilize the scarce resources of the planet as trustees. They must interact with each other in accordance with rules and have a responsibility towards ensuring the well-being of all humans as also, protecting the environment, including animals, birds and insects.

sdg14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

The world’s oceans their temperature, chemistry, currents and life drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.

While some of the early Islamic scholars may have missed out the Shariah emphasis on protection of the planet, it is understandable due to absence of evidence on perils of climate change and the importance of protecting the planet and environment. The Quran however, provides clear reference to the perils of putting the planet at risk due to irresponsible human action.

Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return. (30:41)

sdg15 Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

An example of massive irresponsible human action is the large-scale deforestation resulting in disappearing forest cover. Forests cover about 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface and, in addition to providing food security and shelter, they are key to combating climate change, and protecting biodiversity. Deforestation and desertification caused by human activities and climate change pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the fight against poverty.

The significance of afforestation is underscored in the following saying of the Prophet (pbuh).

If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it. (Musnad Ahmad)

The planting of trees is highlighted as a significant pious deed in Islam. According to another widely known tradition, the planting of a tree is regarded as an act of continuous charity.

Islamic forbids willful destruction of the planet as all creations of Allah, including animals and trees, glorify God in their own way and serve a certain purpose in His larger scheme of the world.

Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth,- the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind? (22:18)

This Islamic notion reinforces the scientific concept of chain of life, and interdependence among species, maintaining the balance of life on earth.

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. (6:38)

The Quran reminds humans not to tamper with the Creator’s divine balance (here referred to as measure) by reminding them:

And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof. (55:7-9)

There are numerous verses of the holy Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, which establish the inviolable rule to preserve and protect the environment and conserve resources. Maintaining the balance of life on the planet is a supreme duty of humans and therefore, forms part of the divine objectives of the Shariah.

In terms of the five MaS, the Shariah concerns about the planet may be clearly linked to the objective of protecting and nurturing the posterity (nasl) or the future generations of human-beings.

To be continued

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