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Lecture for 1st year medical students on 11th January 2001

A. DEFINITION OF TASKHIIR, mafhuum al taskhiir


Among the great blessings that Allah gave humans was to make all other creations subservient to them so that they may use them for their benefit, taskhiir al kaainaat (p 695-696: 2:22, 2:29, 2:164, 6:96-97, 6:99, 10:5, 10:67, 14:32-33, 6:5-16, 16:79-81, 17:12, 21:31-32, 22:65, 23:18-22, 25:45-49, 29:61-63, 31:29, 32:27, 35:13, 36:72-73, 39:5, 40:79-80, 45:12-13, 55:10-12, 67:19). This includes living and non-living things as well as the angels and the jinn.


COMPONENTS OF TASKHIIR, muhtawa al taskhiir

Allah made the earth, the heavens, the seas and their contents, living and non-living, subservient to humans. Humans can make use of them for their benefit and can change them in various ways. The Qur’an has given the following examples to illustrate this subservience: rivers, seas, animals, day & night, the biological clock, the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains, time, and plants (p 695-696: 2:22, 2:29, 2:164, 6:96-97, 6:99, 10:5, 10:67, 14:32-33, 6:5-16, 16:79-81, 17:12, 21:31-32, 22:65, 23:18-22, 25:45-49, 29:61-63, 31:29, 32:27, 35:13, 36:72-73, 39:5, 40:79-80, 45:12-13, 55:10-12, 67:19). Angels and jinn are creations of Allah in the unseen, ‘aalam al ghaib. Humans are superior to both in the scale of Allah’s creations. Humans have no control over the angels and jinn except in a few exceptional cases that the Qur’an has mentioned. Sulaiman for example had control over the jinn.


LIMITS OF TASKHIIR, huduud al taskhiir

Humans must always remember that taskhir is temporary and on specific matters. Allah could at any time and for reasons understandable to humans or not understandable take away their control over other creations. Human control and exploitation of the universe is not complete or perfect. Unfortunately humans in their arrogance do not understand that there are limits to taskhiir. The destruction of the environment has been due to the lack of self-limitation and care in the exploitation of the universe.



Study of the food chains shows that it is not only humans who use and benefit from other creations. Herbivores eat grass while carnivores eat herbivores. These animals do this almost by instinct and have limited ability to manipulate the situation. Humans are different. They are on top of the food chain; they can benefit from all other creations. They have the ability to control the situation. They can grow plants or domesticate animals. They are able to hunt and kill stronger and faster animals because of their bigger brain. Taskhir also operates in reverse when other living things benefit from humans. This is however the exception and is not a consistent relationship but is necessary for a balanced eco-system.



Humans throughout history are the only living things able to change the environment around them in a radical way for their benefit and convenience. All other creations adapt to the environment without disturbing it. That is why humans are able to live in varying eco-systems. Some live in the frozen tundra of the north while others live in the steamy equatorial forests yet others live in hot scorching deserts. In all these habitats they can change the physical conditions to suit their physiology. On the other hand humans have to make very few and very superficial adaptations to suit their environment for example black people in the tropics have more melanin in their skins, the Eskimo have thicker sub-cutaneous lipid deposits.



The relations of interdependency and harmonious existence of living and non-living things in any ecosystem are further evidence for existence of one creator. Too many creators could not have reached perfect agreement to produce such a well-coordinated ecosystem. Humans have been able to establish close and inter-dependent relationships with animals and plants. They have for example domesticated the dog over the past 12,000 years. Through selective breeding many types of dogs have been produced: sporting dogs, hunting dogs, pets etc. Cows, sheep, and goats were domesticated to provide food. The horse provides labor and transportation. Plants have been domesticated and used in many ways. The interdependence is not one-way. Humans derive benefits from plants and animals just as they also derive benefits from humans and their civilizational activities.



Islam in many of its teachings reminds humans of the responsibilities of taskhiir. Humans must always remember that taskhir is a privilege and not a right so they must always remember the ultimate creator. When slaughtering an animal for food the human must mention the name of Allah who has made that animal subservient to the human in the food chain. If this is not done the meat cannot lawfully be eaten. All life is important and cannot be destroyed except with Allah’s permission under the privilege of taskhir. This is also the basis for the basmalah when eating or when slaughtering. The power given to humans to control the environment must be exercised within the requirements to maintain harmony and equilibrium in the universe. This requires much restraint. There are many things that humans can with their powers do but they desist for the higher goals of harmony and equilibrium. Humans in their arrogance forget or deny the great bounties Allah gave them by taskhir. They get punished for this on earth and in the hereafter. Recent human history has shown lack of sufficient responsibility in managing the earth’s resources. Selfish exploitation has predominated over conservation and maintaining a balanced and harmonious eco-system. The human race will pat dearly for this in the form of ecological disasters that may reduce the size of the human habitat.





The human is not biologically the best-endowed creation of Allah. There are many animals bigger, stronger, and faster than humans. Humans are however able to control and use them because of a more developed brain and intellect. The human intellect is so important that the Qur’an condemns those who misuse or under-use it, dhamm ta’atiil al ‘aql (p 818-9 2:44, 2:67, 2:170-171, 3:65, 5:48, 5:103, 6:32, 7:169, 7:179, 8:22, 10:16, 10:100, 11:51, 12:109, 21:10, 21:67, 22:46, 25:44, 28:60, 29:63, 36:62, 39:43). It is the intellect that enables humans to understand Allah’s signs in the universe and to benefit from them (p 819-20 2:73, 2:164, 2:242, 3:118, 13:4, 16:12, 16:67, 23:80, 24:61, 26:28, 29:35, 29:63, 30:24, 30:28, 36:68, 37:138-138, 40:67, 45:5, 57:17).



Human intellect enabled the development and use of tools. This gave humans more ability to exploit and benefit from the earth’s natural resources. Tools and machines are double-edged swords. They on one hand enable a more effective use of resources but give humans more power to destroy the eco-system. The first tools were for cutting food or hunting and were made of wood. Later stone and metals were made. For millennia human and animal muscles provided the energy to turn the machines. During the industrial revolution, heat energy was used. Later chemical, electrical and nuclear energy were discovered. Humans now have a lot of potential to change the ecosystem. Humans are beginning to explore space and may also change its environment. It will be a test of human restraint that the mistakes made on earth are not repeated in space. There are also other forms of energy that may be discovered in the future.



Through development of a sophisticated means of communication in the form of language, humans have been able over the millennia to share and expand knowledge especially of technology. This has given them extra advantage in the control and exploitation of natural resources.



Humans can learn from one another. They can also learn from past experience as well as empirical experiments. All these enhance human ability to control and exploit natural resources.



The ability of humans to move around easily has given them much adaptability in solving their problems. The methods of transportation known to humans are: walking, riding beasts of burden, wheeled vehicles, ships, and recently air and space travel. The first wheeled vehicles were used in Mesopotamia in about 3500 BC.  Since then transportation has progressed. Humans are now bracing for a new era of space travel and space exploration. Ability to travel enhances human ability to control the eco-system and exploit natural resources that are far away. By traveling humans can get new experiences and learn new skills. They can move from inhospitable environments to more habitable ones. They can travel great distances to reach and exploit resources. They are able to bring together resources that previously were geographically separated to produce new products and services.




The Qur’an defines the concept of rizq (p 498 3:37, 6:140, 6:151, 7:32, 8:26, 10:59, 10:93, 11:6, 11:88, 16:56, 16:72, 16:75, 16:112, 17:31, 17:70, 29:60, 30:28, 30:40, 40:64, 56:86). This concept is thus wider than material food and the best English translation is the word sustenance. The Qur’an mentions that Allah provides sustenance in the form of food for all living things on earth (p 499 2:22, 2:57, 2:60, 2:126, 2:172, 2:233, 4:5, 4:8, 5:88, 5:114, 6:142, 7:160, 12:37, 14:32, 14:37, 16:67, 16:114, 18:19, 20:80-81, 22:28, 22:34, 28:57, 34:15, 40:13, 45:5, 45:16, 50:9-11, 67:15). The food we eat is from Allah (p 745 5:66, 6:14, 14:24-25, 16:114, 20:81, 26:79, 34:15, 36:33, 36:35, 36:47, 51:57-58, 67:15, 80:24-32, 106:3-4). Allah provides a variety of foods (p 745 2:61, 6:141, 13:40). Humans need food as a biological necessity (p 746 2:35, 5:75, 6:14, 7:19, 15:3, 19:25-26, 20:121, 21:8, 23:33, 25:7, 25:20, 32:27, 47:12, 106:4). Animals also need food (p 746 7:73, 10:24, 11:64, 12:14, 12:17, 12:36, 12:41, 12:43, 12:46, 16:68-69, 32:27, 34:1, 47:12). Humans unlike animals can eat food for social and other purposes.



It is Allah’s design that some organisms feed on others in what is called a food chain or food web. Humans sit on top of this food chain. Carnivores are animals that feed on meat exclusively. Herbivores are animals that feed on plants exclusively. Omnivores feed on both plant and animal food. Humans are omnivorous. The digestive and metabolic systems are adapted to the type of food that each animal eats. Imbalances in the food chain cause harm. Any deficiencies lower in the food chain will cause animals higher to starve or be malnourished.



Relationships between and among living things vary. Symbiosis is a relationship in which both partners benefit. None of the symbiotic partners can live without the other. In a commensal relationship, one of the partners benefits without causing harm to the other. In a parasitic relationship, one partner benefits while causing harm to the other.



Many atheistic scientists have tried to argue that growth of human population will overtake food production. The argument is that if human population increases beyond the capacity of the food chain there will be widespread starvation and perhaps violence. Much of the evidence was based on animal experiments. Such arguments ignore two cardinal principles: (a) Allah is the sustainer who provides for all (b) Human ingenuity can always find means of feeding an increased population. Data from previous human history and the situation today proves the fallacy of these arguments. Situations of severe famine have always been associated with bad leadership and social break down than with natural elements of the weather. It is an irony that as countries and societies become richer with material resources to care for more people, they start vigorous efforts to reduce their birth rates and hence the total population. The paradox is more resources for fewer people, which is a relatively new phenomenon in human history.



The industrially developed countries argue and push for population control. The given reason is insufficiency of resources. The more compelling and underlying reason is their refusal to share the earth's resources more equitably. If resources were distributed equitably, everybody would have the minimum necessary. The injustice is felt acutely in developing countries that are forced to curb their population growth so that more of their resources (in the form of raw materials) can be available to raise the standards of living in the industrialized countries. If the population of non-industrialized countries increases, there will be more people demanding an equitable share in the resources of their own countries and if they had their way, people in industrialized countries would have to accept lower standards of living because of a narrower resource base.




The term 'natural resources' refers to sources of energy and raw materials that Allah placed in the universe for the service of humans. Some are renewable like forests and others are non-renewable like minerals.

The Muslim world stretching in a belt from the Atlantic seaboard of Morocco to the Indonesian archipelago is endowed with many natural resources that make it potentially rich.



Air provides the life-giving oxygen. It is also a form of transportation for those who travel by airplanes, gliders, or balloons. Wind energy is due to movement of masses of air. These wind movements clear the air, help in stabilizing temperatures and transfer pollen from one plant to another to cause fertilization.



Water is the most important natural resource. About 65% of the human body is made of water. About 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. There are 13.8 billion cubic meters of water on earth. Only 3% of this is fresh-water; the rest is seawater that humans cannot drink because of a high salt content. Most of the fresh water is held up in ice or is too deep beneath the earth to be reached. One of the signs of Allah is that water is the only liquid that expands on freezing; this ensures that ice is lighter than water and floats on top of water in oceans and rivers otherwise all these would turn into snow and destroy all life in them. Water in the Qur’an is described as an important resource. Water is the source of all life (Anbiya: 30, Nur:45). Water can irrigate arid land and return it to productivity, ihya al ardh (p 1051 2:164, 16:65, 22:5, 22:63, 29:63, 30:24, 41:39, 43:11). Water is needed for growth of plants (p 1052 2:22, 6:99, 7:57, 10:24, 14:32, 20:53, 27:60, 31:10, 32:27, 35:27, 50:9, 57:20, 80:25-35). Water can be from the atmosphere in the form of clouds and rain (p 1052 7:57, 24:43, 30:48, 56:68-69, 78:14 & p 1052 2:22, 2:164, 6:99, 8:11, 10:24, 13:17, 14:32, 15:22, 16:10, 16:65, 18:45, 20:53, 22:63, 23:18, 25:48, 27:60, 29:63, 30:24, 31:10, 35:27, 39:21, 43:11, 50:9, 54:11). Rain is the most important source of water. Water can also be obtained from wells dug into the ground (p 1053 2:60, 2:74, 17:90-91, 18:33, 36:34, 54:12, 79:31). There is a water cycle in the ecosystem. Water evaporates from large bodies like oceans, rivers, and lakes and ascends into the atmosphere where it becomes clouds. The water droplets in the air condense and fall as precipitation either in the form of rain or snow. This water later evaporates again into the atmosphere. The water cycle plays a role in cleaning and purifying the water. When it evaporates from the surface of the earth it leaves behind all impurities. It comes back as clean snow or rain. Seawater is found in seas and oceans. Oceans are large bodies of salty water (p 185 2:50, 6:59, 7:138, 7:163, 10:90, 18:60-61, 18:63, 18:79, 18:109, 20:77, 26:63, 30:41, 31:27, 44:24). The Qur’an has provided a lot of scientific details about the oceans. The water of different oceans is different (p 186 25:53, 27:61, 35:12, 55:19-20). The depths of the oceans are dark (p 186 6:63, 6:97, 10:22, 17:67, 21:87, 24:40, 27:63). The large body of water in the oceans has many benefits for humans (p 186 2:164, 10:22, 14:32, 17:66, 17:70, 22:65, 42:32, 45:12, 55:24). It is a means of transportation (    ). It has an abundance of fish and other sea animals that are food for humans (p 186 5:96). Its waves can be turned into hydroelectric energy. The rich mineral deposits on the ocean floor have not yet been exploited (     ). Recently mining of off shore oil is introducing pollution that was not known before in seawater.



Fire is the earliest and still the most important energy source. Allah gave humans fire for many uses (p 1180 21:69, 29:24). It is used in building (p 1179 18:96), manufacture (p 1179 13:17), smelting iron (p 1179 18:96), providing heat in cold weather (p 1179 27:7, 28:29), and providing light (p 1179 20:10, 24:35, 27:7, 28:29). Besides fire and heat, humans use other sources of energy: wind, electricity, light, sound, mechanical, nuclear, chemical, solar, and magnetic energy. The energy sources are inter-related and inter-convertible. Wind can be turned into mechanical energy that can turn turbines to produce electricity. Chemical energy in batteries can be turned into electrical energy. Nuclear energy can be used to produce heat and electric energy. The awesome power of nuclear energy can be used for both peace and war. Most of the Muslim world lies in a belt of abundant sunshine; so far solar energy has not been exploited. Humans can navigate using compasses that depend on magnetism. The North Pole of the compass is attracted to the North Pole. The Northern Star, Polaris, is also used in navigation because of its constant position vis--vis the North Pole.



The bowels of the earth provide minerals and metals that humans use as tools and as ornamentation. These metals are used in arms, and construction of buildings. The soil, clay, and stones are used in construction of houses. Trees are cut to provide fuel and building materials. Paper that has made the spread of knowledge so fast is made from trees. Most of human food is plant in origin; the energy needed by the human body is generated from the metabolism of the food. Animals provide food and transportation. Many of their products are used by humans as medicines, clothing, ornamentations, and tools. Soil is used for farming and animal husbandry. It is used to build homes as shelters from the elements of the weather. Mountains are a source of esthetic pleasure.




A habitat is an area where a given group of organisms live together. There are interdependent relations in such eco-systems. Ecosystem refers to the physical environment and the organisms that it supports. Ecosystems change and adapt to new circumstances.



The stability and harmony of the eco-system depend on balanced mutual exploitation with renewal such that all benefit. Disturbance of any aspect of this harmonious system leads to dislocations of the whole ecosystem unless a new level of equilibrium and harmony is reached. Many phenomena are cyclic. We have already discussed the water cycle. There are also other cycles: oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon.



Pollution of the eco-system is a contemporary problem that has taken on dimensions unknown before in human history. Water pollution, air pollution, soil pollution, and noise pollution are increasing. Whole habitats and ecosystems are being destroyed. Many materials produced industrially are of two types: biodegradable and non-degradable. The biodegradable products like paper can return to the eco-system and be used again. Non-biodegradable products like plastics are a cause of permanent waste that we cannot get rid of. Industrial processes produce a lot of fluoro-hydro-carbons that are emitted into the air. They cause depletion of the ozone layer. Ozone protects the human body against dangerous rays from the sun.



Conservation is protecting the resources and using them wisely. Modern industrial processes have led to destruction of many natural resources. Forests, water, and energy resources are not used wisely. Waste disposal is not wise resulting in severe environmental degradation. Some environmental extremists want to preserve things as they are. This may block useful development. In any case humans have already wrought so much destruction to the natural habitat that the point of no return has been passed. The solution to today's environmental problems will lie in further technological development to overcome the problems.



Failure to reach a satisfactory solution to environmental problems may destroy whole human habitats. Previous communities of humans have suffered similar fates. The Qur'an talked about communities that prospered and sinned. They committed excesses that justified their destruction. In most cases the destruction was through environmental forces.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. January 2001