Islam And Sustainable Consumption
Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) represents one of the key target goals for the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, SCP is defined as “a holistic approach in minimising the negative environmental impacts from consumption and production systems, while promoting quality of life for all”.
Resource or economic efficiency however, can only be made possible if consumers demand sustainable products. From demand or consumer side, the objective of SCP is to meet the consumption need of poor and low income group, as well as managing the overconsumption issues among higher income societies.
Research into the influence of values in sustainable consumption in the past decade suggests that a paradigm shift is needed within a society in order for a sustainable economy to take place. This includes the shift of values from self-centred to self-sacrificing; from material to spiritual; and from a cultural to an ecological consumption culture. A consumption culture characterised by self-sacrificing, spiritual and ecological values is indeed in line with Islamic values.
Contrary to modern thinking in addressing the environmental degradation from the view of ecological crisis, some Muslim scholars and activists have on the other hand, framed it as spiritual crisis. For example, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who can be considered as the founding father of Islamic eco-theology wrote a book titled Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man in 1967 to address the issue of concern.
Recognising that the ecological crisis is not a crisis by itself, but instead, a reflection of spiritual crisis, the approaches in dealing with the environmental situation will be different. The focus will be on the individual’s spirituality to fight against worldly lusts rather than working solely on the outer material world. In the case of sustainable consumption progress for the UN Sustainability Agenda for instance, it is measured based on domestic material consumption, whereby it accounts for the amount of natural resources used in economic processes. Hence, the end results to govern the consumption behaviour will be the policies to incentivise the extrinsic rather than the intrinsic consumer motivation, in which the latter symbolises one’s spiritual consumption that leads to happiness.
In Islam, the ethics and spirituality including environmental ethics are guided based on the sources of divine revelation in the Quran and the authentic collection of hadiths. Sustainability in Islamic worldview recognises Allah as al-Razzaq or the Sustainer (Qur’an 51:58). The Qur’an further describes humankind as khalifah or vicegerent of Allah on earth (Qur’an 2:30). Thus, environmental stewardship has in fact, been divinely mandated to human beings from the very beginning of human existence on earth.
The Qur’an also demonstrates the final Messenger of Allah i.e. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as mercy for all creatures (Qur’an 21:107), as well as uswatun hasanah or an excellent role model (Qur’an 33:21) for human civilisation. From the hadith, which is the compilation of narratives describing the sayings and deeds of the Prophet, a number of examples can be applied in the context of present-day ecological issues and sustainable consumption.
For example, through the practices of the Prophet, also known as sunnah, eating with three right fingers (Sahih Muslim No. 2032) may help keep one’s hand clean and healthy, prevent food contamination, limit food intake, improve digestions, avoid mouth and tongue burning and so forth. In the context of sustainable consumption, this humble eating manner can help avoid using up disposable cutleries such as forks, spoons and chopsticks which can be toxic, non-biodegradable and raise concerns over forests depletion. In other examples, the sunnah also inspires us to simply wear white colour (Sahih At-Tarmidhi No. 2810). Apart from the purity, cleanliness and comfort, it can also contribute to the environment positively by having less of coloured garments as dyeing in the textile industry has been criticised for its chemical release, water consumption and river pollution.
Considering that the sustainability agenda at stake demands every individual’s action for sustainable consumption, eco-jihad or striving for environmental cause as initiated by Zaufishan Iqbal may possibly be a way forward. Eco-jihad can be in the form of active participation of social or economic activities that support environmental-friendly lifestyles. It can also be in the form of passive movement by practicing zuhd or asceticism, an anti-dote to materialistic or consumerism culture itself.
Following the national effort to attain Maqasid Shariah or Islamic goals, the results as reported in the Malaysian Shariah Index published last year revealed the lowest score was obtained for infrastructure and environmental component benchmark (62.31 per cent). Therefore, environmental aspect definitely deserves a priority either from the perspectives of Maqasid Shariah or Sustainability Development Goals. In aspiring to be a high-income nation, sustainable consumption can also play a role in mitigating the risks associated with high income society e.g. overconsumption and materialistic lifestyles. For Muslims, it is time to strengthen hablum minal ’alam or relationship with nature through sustainable consumption.