Your Questions Answered

A Muslim neighbour of mine cut a beautiful tree from his compound citing the reason that the fallen leaves were a source of annoyance for him. Please tell us what Islam has to say about trees.

Vegetation, plants and trees have been described in the Quran as special blessings of God. According to the Quran, Paradise is a world of highest quality, where the God’s chosen people, will be settled. Paradise, meaning a garden, the Quran also refers to it as “the Garden of Eternity”—gardens being a special feature of this abode.

In the Quran, a believer has been likened to a tree (14: 24). This is a very meaningful simile. As we all know man receives shade, fruits and flowers from the tree. The sight of a green tree serves to cool the eyes. All such qualities should be found in human beings too. This is the spiritual lesson a tree gives us. So, having a tree in one’s own compound or in the vicinity is a source of spiritual food.

Coming to other benefits of vegetation, the Quran mentions farming and gardening as means of human existence. The Prophet of Islam once observed: “When a person plants a tree and the tree grows and yields fruit which human beings and birds eat, then this will be an act of charity on the part of the planter of the tree.”

In a similar vein there is another Hadith. The Prophet once observed: “If you have a plant in your hand and you can see the Doomsday approaching, even then, without any further delay, you should sow the plant in the earth".

Such teachings show how great importance is attached to planting and vegetation in Islam. In this way Islam inculcates the spirit in a person to strive to make the earth green and verdant. Even if there is the fear that after planting a tree an earthquake was to come and destroy the earth, one should not hesitate to plant the tree. This is the lesson of planting for the sake of planting alone.

Is there a special day or event for thanksgiving in Islam?

Thanksgiving for man is to acknowledge the blessings of God. This acknowledgement first arises in the heart, then taking the form of words, it comes to the lips of the grateful person.

From birth, man has been superbly endowed in body and mind by his Creator. All his requirements have been amply catered for, every object in the heavens and on earth having been pressed into his service. All the things necessary for his leading a good life on earth and the building of a civilization have been provided in abundance.

Man experiences these blessings at every moment. It is, therefore, incumbent on man to thank God for His blessings at all times. His heart should be eternally brimming with gratitude for these divine blessings.

Thanksgiving is the most comprehensive term for worship: gratefulness is the essence of the godly life. The best expression of gratefulness is the expenditure of time and money in the way of God. It is God, after all who has given man the reason to worship Him and the means to do so.

What are the teachings of Islam regarding living in a multi-religious society?

In chapter 109 of the Quran the Prophet is enjoined to address the adherents of other religions in these words: “To you your religion, to me mine”. This verse of the Quran coupled with other of its teachings amounts to an easily applicable formula for mutual respect. It simply means that all believers, whatever their elected religion, must have due reverence for the religions adhered to by others.

What established the need for such a formula, is the edifice of religion being founded on the total conviction that it is the whole truth. To have any followers at all, a religion must carry that conviction. It is in the nature of things. But religious conviction alone is not a broad enough base on which to form a just society, particularly if that conviction is publicly expressed by different groups through the widely differing practices of different faiths. In the multi-religious context, it also takes broad mindedness, compassion and fellow feeling. Only when in possession of these virtues can members of society display that tolerance in their dealings with others which will ensure a lasting peace.

The principle of mutual respect is a natural one and is to be found in all areas of civilized living. One of the major demands made by Islam is that this natural principle be upheld and acted upon by adherents of different religions, so that societal structures may be strengthened by stable and enduring human relationships. For the greater part of his life, the Prophet of Islam lived in a society where adherents of other religions existed side by side with believers in Islam. The Prophet’s behaviour towards the former was invariably that of respect and tolerance. The Prophet’s conduct with them consistently conveyed his high moral character. On the one hand, he communicated to them the message with love and kindness and on the other, fulfilled all of their human rights.

Islam recognizes no difference between Muslims and others from the ethical standpoint. The rights granted to a Muslim are exactly the same as those granted to followers of other religions. The Prophet observed that every human being is worthy of respect as all are creatures of one and the same God. All are descendants of Adam and Eve.

Everyone certainly has the right to adopt one religion according to his beliefs. But with that choice comes the ineluctable responsibility of giving respect in full measure to adherents of other faiths and in the light of those faiths, giving them what is ethically their due.