Saturday, November 17, 2018 - 9 Rabi' al-Awwal 1440

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Waste Not, Want Not

Waste Not, Want Not

As we begin 2018, we realize that the world we live in is facing challenges on a scale unseen before in human history. Overpopulation, food shortages, drought, depletion of natural resources, disease, etc. challenge humanity’s ability to survive. Despite our advancements in fields such as medicine and technology, humanity is facing a long battle to confront and solve these challenges. What kind of world will our grandchildren and their grandchildren live in? Of course, the answer to this question comes about in our own actions. They will live in the world we leave them.

To truly tackle our problems, we must first understand the causes, and build effective strategies to solve them. As Muslims, we must draw upon the guidance of religion to understand these problems, from a spiritual aspect, as well as a material one.

While each challenge has its own unique causes, we find that many of them revolve around one specific issue related to human behavior, and that is the issue of Waste, or what some have termed Overconsumption. In other words, we are using, or misusing, the resources of the planet in a way that will eventually lead to an existential crisis. The two most vital aspects of our waste involve food and energy. Solving these two issues form the basis of our ability to sustain ourselves in the future, when the population of our planet will rise to as many as ten or fifteen billion people. From the spiritual side, how can we tackle this issue, starting with ourselves, our homes, and communities?

To begin with, let us remind ourselves of what Islam teaches us about wastefulness, and about how we should use the blessings that God has given us.

God tells us in the Quran, “Children of Adam! Take your adornment at every time of Prayer; and eat and drink without going to excesses. For God does not like those who go to excess.” (7:31)

In another verse, He tells us, “Give the relatives their (due) right, as well as the needy and the traveler, but do not squander wastefully. Indeed the wasteful are brothers of satans, and Satan is ungrateful to his Lord.” (17:26-27)

Speaking about the beautiful qualities of His beloved servants, God says, “And those who, when they spend, are neither wasteful nor stingy, but choose a middle course between that.” (25:67)

From these clear and succinct verses, we can understand Islam’s view of the material world, and how we should use it. Even in actions that are in and of themselves praiseworthy, we are called to practice moderation and balance. For example, supporting loved ones who are in financial need is extremely praiseworthy in Islam. As God says, “Those who spend their wealth by night and day, privately and publicly, will receive their reward from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:274) Yet, even with that in mind, God reminds us to be balanced, and to manage our affairs in a way that is productive, both physically, and spiritually. Therefore, a wealthy person would not be encouraged to give all of their wealth away, especially if they had no other means of supporting themselves afterward.

We find a clear example of this in a hadith related by Sa’d (may God be pleased with him). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once visited him when he was sick, and he said to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “"You see how sick I am. I have much property but have no heir except my only daughter. May I give two thirds of my property in charity?" He said, "No." I said, "Half of it?" He said, "No." I said "One third?" He said, "One third is too much, for to leave your heirs rich is better than to leave them poor, begging of others. Nothing you spend seeking God's pleasure but you shall get a reward for it, even for what you put in the mouth of your wife." [1]

Islam’s holistic approach to life, and specifically to how we use the resources given to us, is a model that the world is in dire need of. Even while we believe that God is the giver of all blessings, we know that He has asked us to use them in a sensible manner, so that those blessings might be shared with others.

With this in mind, let us turn now to some of the causes of our wasteful lifestyle, and some steps we can take to decrease our consumption, while increasing our happiness.

Amongst the most common causes of our overindulgence and waste are as follows:

 1)      Love of this life. From a spiritual perspective, the believer knows this life is not meant to be a heaven, nor is our purpose for being here to merely enjoy ourselves. One of the false messages we are given in many societies is to “enjoy yourself while you can, because you only live once (YOLO!).” Theologically, this is a false statement, if not an intentional lie. We indeed will live again. In fact, the other life… the other world that so many of us forget about, is in essence our actual life. God describes a person who loves wealth and possessions[2] excessively to the extent they ignore those in need, such as orphans. He mentions that on the Day of Judgment they will see the hellfire, and, “He will say, ‘Oh, I wish I had sent ahead (some good) for my life.’" (89:24)
 Yet how many of us remember this fact as we go about our days? How many of us ask ourselves, “Will what I’m doing at this moment benefit me in the life to come?” How many of us ask, “Is this pleasing to God?” before doing something? This is where the problem lies. If we go about our day-to-day lives only seeing the material world in front of us, while ignoring the spiritual and otherworldly consequences of our actions, it becomes so easy for Shaytan (the devil) to come along and point us in the wrong direction.
 “Relax!” “Take it easy!” “Enjoy yourself!” Yes, it’s true we can relax, take it easy, and enjoy ourselves in Islam. God has made our faith easy and not over burdensome to the point that we live in a constant state of suffering. But at what cost, and at whose expense, do we enjoy ourselves? Yes, it’s true God tells the believers in the Quran, “…Yet do not forget your share of the world,” (28:77) but we ignore to whom those words were revealed. In comparison to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions (may God be pleased with them), are we forgetting our share of the world? Or are we forgetting our share of the otherworld?
 As believers, when we live our lives seeing the finish line ahead; seeing that our goal is to live a life pleasing to God, so that He may be merciful to us and admit us into His Paradise, it becomes very easy to recognize the delusion and false happiness that material possessions give us. A good analogy is that of the traveler, who no matter how nice the hotel room seems, understands that he/she is there for a temporary period, which has a purpose, and that Home is elsewhere. Imagine the traveler who sells his or her home to move into a hotel, knowing full well that the stay will be temporary and they will be forced to leave in the end. Now imagine that same traveler doing so when their home is in fact the most beautiful and luxurious mansion the world as ever seen, and the hotel room in comparison is more like a prison cell. What would we call such a person? Crazy? Delusional? Lost? O God, guide us back to our real homes in peace and security!
 When the believer has this mindset, it is easy to manage our worldly affairs, including how we consume material resources. It becomes easy to use less electricity, food, water, etc. because we understand that what we have sacrificed of these possessions, is nothing in comparison to what we will get as a reward from God for such a meager sacrifice. Not only does it become easy, but it actually becomes enjoyable, because God has placed in every good action, when done with a pure intention and in a state of presence, a kind of happiness which reaches deep into the heart of the believer.
 2)      Ignorance. Because we don’t necessarily see the problems immediately effecting us we are unaware of the dangers they pose. Scholars and scientists conclude that based on current rates of population growth and human consumption, we are facing a crisis ahead of us. This conclusion is not a whim, nor is it a product of personal or corporate interests, aimed at stopping people from living free and happy lives. It is a conclusion based on reality. Our resources are limited. Our consumption rates and our population are increasing, thus those resources are diminishing faster than ever before. At what pace can this trend continue without gravely effecting the planet? 
 Educating people about these realities is one of the first steps to helping people curb their consumption, while making informed decisions about how best to balance their needs versus the needs of future generations to come, who will inherit the planet after them.
 Moreover, from a religious point of view, ignorance about the trust God has given the human being, and how we have been charged with taking care of the earth, is a big factor in how we behave (or misbehave.) Some people are truly ignorant of these issues and need to be taught. Others are in a state of heedlessness (Ghafla) that causes them to forget these truths. Both groups of people are in need of education and reminders to help get them back on track. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave an example of those who people who obey God and follow His commands (or disobey Him), as two groups on a ship. One group being below deck and one above. The group below deck has to go above deck to get water, which disturbed the people above. So to not bother them, the people on the bottom decided to make a hole in the boat to get water. If the people above deck were to allow them to make a hole they would be ruined as well, yet if they stopped them they would be saved along with them.[3] This is our situation when it comes to our use and misuse of our natural resources as well. We are all in the same boat, and we must work together to stay afloat.
 

3)      Environmental Relativism. What we mean here is that we often weigh our consumption/conservation in relation to those around us. For example, if you live in the United States, where usage can be as high as 500 liters per person per day[4], using only 300 liters per day seems great. Yet, in comparison to other countries around the world, both developed and developing, that number is actually still very high. Being able to have a realistic understanding of our consumption in terms of global needs and resources will help us make better decisions in the future, if God wills.

 

These are just a few of the way in which we can reorient our lives to live happier and healthy, in a way that will leave the world in a better place. We pray that this reminder allows you, dear reader, to reflect on your own life, and how best you can bring about positive change, starting with yourself and your household.

 

"Our Lord, forgive us our sins and the excess (committed) in our affairs…”



[1] Al-Bukhari, Sahih, Vol. 7, Book 70, Hadith 572.

[2] Literally “Maal”, which can refer to any possession of value, such as money, property, livestock, etc.

[3] See al-Bukhari, Sahih, Vol. 3, Book 44, Hadith 673.

[4] http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=757