Green Laws of 7th Century Arabia

During the public preaching era of Islam, Prophet Muhammad frequently demonstrated he was an environmental steward of God. In the 7th cent...

During the public preaching era of Islam, Prophet Muhammad frequently demonstrated he was an environmental steward of God. In the 7th century Arabia had a reputation for brute force and fast business. But many Arabs willingly worked alongside the Prophet, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, to establish shared systems of community programs for sustainable land management; the institutions of the Haram(similar to Haraam: prohibited), and the Hima.

Both the Haram and Himā concepts became well-integrated into Islam's Shariah (laws) and continue to provide privileges for people throughout the Middle Eastern world today.

Still used to define sacred boundaries, 'Haram' describes an inviolable zone or sacred area. It's named so to promote the welfare of the inhabitants of that area-both animal and plant.
“...They are similar to a green-belt surrounding each Islamic settlement and natural and developed water sources. Harim (plural) around settlements were used for forage and fire-wood but could also be used to preserve species intentionally, cleanse air, and provide green space for recreation or asthetic purposes. Harim around water also prevent water pollution, facilitate the maintenance of the water sources, and, by prohibiting new wells within their boundaries, preserve the water supply of the existing wells.” (Sarah E. Fredericks: Measuring and Evaluating Sustainability: Ethics in Sustainability Indexes)
Similarly, a Himā (pronounced Himaa) is a reserved pasture “where trees and grazing lands are protected from indiscriminate harvest on a temporary or permanent basis”.

The Himā system allocates a designated area “as a grazing reserve for restricted use by a village community, clan or tribe as a part of a grazing management strategy.” (Lutfallah Gari: Ecology in Muslim Heritage - A History of the Himā Conservation System)

Studies show that following Himā conservation laws existed since earlier times in Arabia:
  1. Arabs prohibited grazing and permitted cutting during periods after plants gained height, flowered and bore fruit. The tribe council specified the number of people from each family allowed to do the cutting. Certain trails were specified for the workers to prevent destruction of soil fertility. Days were allocated for men and women separately.
  2. Grazing and cutting was allowed only plants processed their natural seeding of the soil for the next year or season.
  3. Grazing was allowed all year in some land parts dependent on the number and type of animals specified. There was restriction on grass-cutting.
  4. Reserves were kept for for bee-keeping!
  5. Reserves were kept for forest trees, e.g Juniperusprocera, Acacias spp., Haloxlonpersicum. Cutting was only allowed for great emergencies or acute needs. Prophet Muhammad only ever cut trees down once.
  6. In dire circumstances, the Arabs held the right to reserve a woodland to stop desertification of an area or sand dune encroachment.”

So Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, set a precedent in demonstrating sustainable management of natural capital. His example was followed well in his land even up to recent times.
“The system enjoyed a long life throughout the Middle Ages... Some traditional Himā were the best managed rangelands in the Arabian Peninsula; they have been grazed correctly since early Islamic times and are among the most long-standing examples of rangeland conservation known.”
As mentioned by Llewellyn, “few established systems of protected areas are known that have a history comparable in length with traditional Himā.”

But today, the Muslim national-states which claim to uphold Islam, have let this ecological institution slip into distant memory:

“In Saudi Arabia the government wanted the tribes to be unified under one umbrella; hence it took the responsibility of management and security of the rural lands through governmental agencies. In 1954 a decree was issued designating the Ministry of Agriculture and Water as the custodian of the rural lands in this country. This created a new statute for the Himās that became public lands. There was no immediate alternative conservation system. The first national park in the country (i.e. ‘Asīr National Park) was established in 1980. The National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) was established in 1986.

The period between the banning of the Himī system and the start of constructing national parks and protected areas was a period characterized by severe destruction of the plant cover through overgrazing and felling of trees as well as over-hunting of wild animals.

An estimated three thousand Himās existed in Saudi Arabia in the 1950's. But a report issued by the NCWCD in 2003 mentions only four that are called "old Himās" that are managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, in addition to a few dozen Himās that are still managed by local communities in "isolated" rural areas.”

Waiting for politicians to fix the situation is not going to get us anywhere. Nagging at them, protesting, launching revolutions and armed insurrections are all also very unlikely to get us anywhere – in fact politics generally is a waste of our time and energy at this stage. But we can take practical direct action at both the personal and community levels.

How? Well you must have some free time. You have to remember what Prophet Muhammad and his companions gave up to follow their faith through and through. They gave up life as they knew it. Yet you don’t even have to do that. But look at what they achieved (with the permission of Allah).
We are talking about Eco-Jihad here. That means struggle, that means some sacrifice, soul searching and taking steps into the unknown.
Taking steps towards a sustainable Muslim community is like taking steps towards Madinah! And that is called Hijrah – setting out to build a better society, a better community.

#GreenUp IDEAS:
  • Start by doing the work to set up a club at your local masjid to start developing it into an Eco Masjid. What do we mean by this? Well we need to develop ways to lower our environmental impact as a community: energy and water consumption, use of industrially grown food.
  • Start growing some of what you consume, and if you can’t produce much buy the rest from keyword: Local markets which support local market gardeners and farmers coops.
  • Don’t shop at supermarkets who import from all over the planet to undercut local production. Buy organic! Start making compost from your household waste and plant veggies and some trees!
  • Join existing clubs at your school or university to establish a community garden. Look at joining in with the work of the Transition Movement (politely ignore the stuff about beer).
  • You can get your eco-Muslim club to coordinate work with the wider society by joining in with transition town activities in your local area as a group.

Prophet Muhammad said that the lowest branch of faith is to remove obstacles from the road. So let’s move up the tree from individual to social action for community mobilization to improve the whole environment. Insha-Allah (God willing).

If you are not sure where to start we can help you! We run trainings and internships in Permaculture – a system of design for sustainable land use and food production. We run courses and practical internships in this which will help you learn techniques and strategies for efficiently reducing your negative and increasing your positive effect of the environment – from gardening, to energy systems, to farming and forestry, whatever is relevant to you in your life situation, we can help you make it happen with the permission of Allah.

Abdurrahman McCausland has been running two Permaculture courses in Jordan at the PRI Greening the Desert Site and in Marrakesh Organics, including the Islamic Mu’amalat (Economic systems of Sunnah).

Images + Geogdata.csun


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