What's Prayer Got To Do With The Environmental Crisis?
What does Salat have to do with greenhouse gases? No, I'm not talking about you losing your wudu. I'm talking about the environmental crisis.
Recently, the COP26 finished—and there was a big drama and there were lots of things going on, and it was being reported in the news day in, day out—and in the end, there was some progress. But it was a bit disappointing.
For a believer reflecting on this particular issue, there are a few things to bear in mind. But the most important thing I want to draw your attention to is what the connection is between one of the core rituals in the life of the believer—the act of prayer—and the state of the world as we see it, and especially in this context, in the context of the environmental crisis.
How Salat Regulates Our Consciences
One of the purposes, benefits, and blessings of Salat is that it regulates our consciences. It centres us. It reminds us that we are subservient to a higher order, that we have a responsibility, that we have accountability.
We bow, we prostrate, and the point of bowing and prostrating and praising and glorifying our Lord is to restrain us from acting in ways that are contradictory to those actions.
The prayer is a training ground. It's a school in and of itself.
When we go through the process of prayer in a mindful and in a meaningful way, it has the effect—as Allah ﷻ describes in the Qur'an:
<< إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاء وَالْمُنكَرِ >>
The prayer prevents and restrains immoral, illicit deeds and anything harmful or evil that causes problems for people elsewhere.
Allah says in the Qur'an:
<< ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ >>
A very interesting verse, that corruption has spread in the land and in the sea because of what people have done—literally because of what people's hands have earned—because of what are the actions of people.
<< لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ >>
So that He makes them taste the consequences of what they have done so that they might return.
Part of the Sunnah of Allah ﷻ, part of his design, if you like in creation, is that when human beings veer away from where they're supposed to be, the ill effects of that will manifest around them as a warning signal as a warning sign for them to return to some sort of centre point.
It's interesting that it's exactly that centring that Salat achieves for us.
God-Consciousness In Salat Helps Us Avoid Climate Catastrophes
With Salat, we are human beings reminding ourselves that we are servants—that we are temporary, contingent, needy beings in front of the owner, the Lord of the universe and the one who has created this Earth and put us here in part as Guardians and stewards of the Earth.
Then—in a way that should be completely self-evident for us—in salat we are reminded to then strive to preserve and protect what we have on Earth. To maintain the conditions for life which seem to be now under threat in the not-so-distant future (because of what we are doing and because of our mass production kind of practises, etc.) All of this should remind us or should help us in salat to make the decisions that are required outside of prayer that won't result in these kinds of catastrophes.
When we engage with these kinds of discussions as believers—yes, there are all the
“practical,” “material” strategies and actions that need to be taken to reduce, for example, carbon emissions and to reduce the negative impact on the environment of human action—but part and parcel of our call should also be to remind people that they need to come back to God. They need to come back to God.
Because until that is the central part of our call—and until people adopt this and remind themselves of who they truly are, whoever they are right now, and whatever their persuasion —then any solution that we come up with will simply be a short term solution.
We Only Self-Regulate When Mindful of Our Lord
We saw this very clearly because right at the end of the COP26 (as it was reported) two countries—China and India emerging, or you could even argue existing superpowers in many respects—simply muscled through and altered the original commitments from this particular conference at the expense of smaller, less powerful nations.
From their perspective, why shouldn't they? Who was going to stop them anyway?
The only thing that would have stopped them was a higher consciousness, a higher awareness, a realisation that they have far greater accountability to God than to the other nations on Earth. They have an accountability to the King of all nations and everything beyond.
Now, if that was in the hearts and minds of people we would make far more responsible decisions. Not just for the environment, but everything else as well. We would fear making decisions simply to advance our power or our authority on Earth. We would remember that we have a duty of responsibility and care.
Islam Is A Message For All People
This kind of regulation, the centring, the schooling, the restraining that Salat achieves is something that is not just what we, as Muslims, need and hope to experience. This is a solution for all people. This was part and parcel of the call and the guidance of all prophets for all people.
Sometimes we forget this as Muslims. We think that Salat is just for us, and Islam is just for Muslims.
No, Islam—which means submission to God—is for all people. Until people come back as Allah ﷻ says, until they return to who they truly are—mindful of their origin and mindful of their end—then we will continue to see environmental catastrophes and all sorts of other catastrophes affecting our social political-economic systems in such a way that becomes unstable and in such a way that doesn't allow collective wellbeing and collective prosperity.
This should be something that we reflect on, and it should be part and parcel of the messages that we advocate for all people.
We ask Allah ﷻ for guidance. We ask Him for help, and we ask Him to help us become responsible for the beautiful Earth that He has given us, in which we find our nourishment, our enjoyment, and to which we must preserve for all people to come.
Get INsights Straight to Your Inbox
To get your journey started, subscribe to INsights, my fortnightly newsletter, full of relevant and actionable content. You'll join a growing community of more than 12,000 fellow believers worldwide.