SDG 12 addresses the issues related to excessive and irresponsible consumption of natural resources. In this article I intend to shed some light on how Islamic values and teachings play an instrumental role in addressing the issues and challenges related to SDG 12. These challenges face countries, societies and individuals face due to irresponsible consumption of natural resources. In my view, the unique holistic approach with which Islam addresses SDG 12 challenges can be found nowhere under secular and materialistic worldviews. Here I am attempting only to scratch the surface.
Islam and SDG 12
First, the Quran makes it very clear that all the resources we enjoy on earth (and the entire universe) belongs to Allah. Read Surah al-Maedah verse 17
To Allah ‘alone’ belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and everything in between. He creates whatever He wills. And Allah is Most Capable of everything.
Second, the Quran makes it clear that we – son of Adam – were sent to this world as Allah’s “Khalifa” or viceroy, who successively inherit the resources of the earth from one generation to other. This noble title entails responsibility and taking care of our environment.
Allah said in Surah al-Hadid verse 7:
Believe in Allāh and His Messenger and spend out of that in which He has made you successive inheritors.
Third, the Quran teaches us that all the natural resources are gifts from Allah to mankind. Allah has subjected these bounties to us so that we consume them responsibly and use them in a way that yields no harm rather bring benefit to us.
Allah says in Surah al-Jathiyah, verses 12 and 13:
Allah is the One Who has subjected the sea for you so that ships may sail upon it by His command, and that you may seek His bounty, and that perhaps you will be grateful.
He ‘also’ subjected for you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth—all by His grace. Surely in this are signs for people who reflect.
Combining the three above facts entails that we have a noble role to play on earth. We cannot mess-up with what Allah has given us in this world because we will have to eventually meet Him on the Day of Judgement, and we will be hold accountable. This accountability attached with bounty is a unique value-system under Islam that brings harmony and responsibly between human and environment in terms of sensible consumption.
Fourth, the Quran links irresponsible consumption of Allah’s gifts (and showing ingratitude) with decline of that society and subjecting them to economic and political instability in the form of hunger and fear. This is evident in verse 112 from Surah an-Nahl. As a footnote, this surah often is given the nickname of surah an-Neam (the surah of bounties) as it lists all sorts of bounties Allah bestowed to mankind.
And Allah sets forth the example of a society which was safe and at ease, receiving its provision in abundance from all directions. But its people met Allah’s favors with ingratitude, so Allah made them taste the clutches of hunger and fear for their misdeeds.
Fifth, Islam does not promote asceticism where one abandons food, drink, and material enjoyment, yet it regulates these consumptions to be within boundaries. Allah said in Surah al-A’raf, verses 31 and 32
O Children of Adam! Dress properly whenever you are at worship. Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely, He does not like the wasteful.
Ask, ‘O Prophet, ‘ “Who has forbidden the adornments and lawful provisions Allah has brought forth for His servants?” Say, “They are for the enjoyment of the believers in this worldly life, but they will be exclusively theirs on the Day of Judgment. This is how We make Our revelations clear for people of knowledge.”
The Prophet -peace be upon him - said, “the son of Adam has never filled a vessel worse than his stomach. It would be enough for a person to take morsels of food that would keep his energy. If he insists to eat, then let him keep one third for food, one third for drink and leave one third for breathing”. (Narrated by Tirmidhi (2380), an-Nasai (6769), Ibn Majah (3349), and Ahmad (17186))
Sixth, the Quran did not leave us with theoretical guidelines alone, rather it went to tell us stories of societies and individuals who were perished due to their irresponsibility towards Allah’s gifts and bounties. Through these stories, Allah conveys key lessons for later generations and warns them that the same fate will befall them if they repeat the same behavior. For example, read what has befallen the people of Saba who enjoyed food security, prosperous trade and political stability, but they were irresponsible towards Allah’s gifts. Surah Saba, verses 15-17.
Indeed, there was a sign for ‘the tribe of’ Sheba in their homeland: two orchards—one to the right and the other to the left. ‘They were told: ‘ “Eat from the provision of your Lord, and be grateful to Him. ‘Yours is’ a good land and a forgiving Lord.”
But they turned away. So, We sent against them a devastating flood, and replaced their orchards with two others producing bitter fruit, fruitless bushes, and a few ‘sparse’ thorny trees.
This is how We rewarded them for their ingratitude. Would We ever punish ‘anyone in such a way’ except the ungrateful?
Seventh, one of the often-repeated term in the Quran is “fasaad” or “corruption/ mischief” on earth. Some of the common manifestation of this corruption is irresponsible consumption of natural resources, the spread of harmful materials, the polluting the environment. We read the story of Qarun in Surah al- Qasas (verses 76-83) who symbolizes a hedonistic ultra-rich who did not use Allah’s gifts in a responsible way. His advisers warned him that his ingratitude to Allah’s favors and irresponsible consumption was a form of “fasaad” on earth. Read what they said to him in verse 77:
Rather, seek the ‘reward’ of the Hereafter by means of what Allah has granted you, without forgetting your share of this world. And be good ‘to others’ as Allah has been good to you. Do not seek to spread corruption in the land, for Allah certainly does not like the corruptors.”
Thus, irresponsible consumption by the super-rich is - according to the Quran- a form of corruption on earth. In another location, Allah describes vividly the acts of a corrupted person in the following verse (no. 205 of Surah al- Baqarah).
Whenever he attains authority, he goes about the earth spreading mischief and laying to waste crops and human life, even though Allah (whose testimony he invokes) does not love mischief.
Eighth, through its unique style, Surah al-Ma’un opens with describing the characters of a person who denies the Day of Judgement. This person behaves badly with the orphan, he does not feed the poor, he shows-off and is unmindful of his prayer, and finally he refuses “neighborly needs”. These neighborly needs are further explained in books of tafsir as the basic needs that a person goes and borrows from his neighbor, like (in our times) screwdriver, an USB charger, an utensil, and so on. Thus, Islam promotes recycling, reuse, optimal utilization of unused resources, sharing, and so on.
Nineth, unlike the consumer capitalism who nudge the population towards irrational consumption, Islam promotes a responsible consumption. It brands those who spend wastefully as “Satan’s brothers” (as in Surah al-Isra’ verse 27) and honors those who spend neither wastefully nor stingily as “chosen servants of Allah” (as in Surah al-Furqan verse 67).
Tenth, through the story of the Prophet Yousef in the Quran, Allah gave later generations a lesson on how governments play vital role in setting responsible austerity plans around rationalizing consumption during the time of crises.
IsDB and SDG 12
Given the above sketch of Islamic view on achieving SDG 12, here are few humble suggestions to integrate SDG 12 at the Bank.
- IsDB Institute can commission research on the subject portraying the holistic solution of Islam in addressing SDG 12. The research will bring not only the rich contents from Quran and Hadith but also the practical solutions adopted by the early Islamic Caliphates in maintaining a responsible consumer society. The research can be structured such that to appeal for both Muslim communities as well as non-Muslim audience. The Bank can own this research and campaign its mass publication as one of its niche contributions to SDGs where other MDBs can benefit from.
- Enlightened by the above research, the Bank can launch – in collaboration with interested countries - randomized control trials on pilot projects that adopt SDG 12 solutions inspired by Islamic values. Design of these projects should have well defined M&E system to evaluate the SDG 12 results.
- Charity begins at home. The Bank can introduce good corporate practices and culture that portrait mature consumer behavior and environment friendly cultures.
The world today is passing through difficult times. The COVID-19 health crises followed by the war in Ukraine created a perfect storm that brought a very grimy outlook on food production and income inequality. The SDG 12 is more relevant than ever in such hard times. Islam came up with its unique holistic solution that the entire mankind can benefit from. These solutions promise stability, security, prosperity, and development. It is about time that we take these holistic Islamic solutions seriously and give them a chance to bring our societies back to its glorious golden ages.
note this article was published in the Islamic Development Bank, SDG digest Issue # 17 (May 2023).