Abu Hurairah, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions (peace be upon him) said: “The believer (Muslim) will not allow himself to be bitten by the snake twice from the same hole.” (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim).
The hadith (words of Prophet Muhammad) clearly teaches us that we must always be careful not to fall into the same problem or predicament twice.
Unfortunately, the recent Pasir Gudang chemical pollution could be perceived as the opposite of what the hadith tried to teach us.
It seems that we never learnt our lesson. The Pasir Gudang calamity, which refers to the areas around Sungai Kim Kim and in Taman Mawar, are not the only environmental tragedy that repeatedly happens in Malaysia.
We should also not forget the landslides due to agricultural activities that recur in Cameron Highlands for example.
These are some of the examples of our lackadaisical attitude towards our environment and natural resources. We seem to be ignorant and arrogant towards the environment. We disregard our responsibilities to conserve our natural environment.
In Islam, Allah has appointed humans as the caliphs of the Earth. The position is great and noble, but as the caliph of Allah we also have many responsibilities and one of them is to protect the natural world.
In order to protect the environment, we must seek knowledge on how it works. Scientific and technological knowledge of the environment are vital but so are the spiritual and cultural understanding of it. For example in Islam, there are six basic principles Muslims must understand regarding the environment.
These principles are the oneness of Allah and His creations (tawhid), nature as a sign of Allah’s greatness (ayat), humans as the steward of the Earth (caliph), our responsibility to fulfil our role in this world (amanah), to uphold justice (adl) and living in balance with nature (mizan).
These six principles not only need to be understood but also extended in the form of actions to help conserve the environment.
We desperately need further and better action to protect our environment in order to have a better quality of life, not only for humans but other living creatures as well. This is the obligation and responsibility of all parties including the government, community and individuals.
There will be more cases like the Sungai Kim Kim and Taman Mawar incidents if we fail to protect the environment.
There is a quote which says “mistakes are made, lessons are learned”. Therefore, for every mistake we make, we must be able to learn something valuable from it. This is also true in the Pasir Gudang case.
To begin with, the problem needs to be addressed with tighter monitoring. In Malaysia, there are laws and regulations to protect the environment and these must be strictly implemented without any discrimination. If we fail to implement them, then the laws and regulations will be the laughing stock of unscrupulous parties.
Secondly, these incidents prove that the various ecosystems have no boundaries.
In the case of Sungai Kim Kim, hazardous chemicals were dumped into the river and the evaporation process of the toxic materials polluted the air.
In the end, the dangerous chemicals affected the residents and animals in the area and they required urgent treatment. This clearly demonstrates that one type of pollution can lead to another.
The river pollution can lead to air pollution which eventually harms humans and other living creatures.
Obviously, there are no boundaries in nature. In many cases, one may not avoid becoming a victim even if the actual pollution occurs in other areas.
Finally, the community should be empowered to become observers or act as a “watchdog” in their surrounding area or environment. This is crucial so that they can identify any environmental problems and lodge complaints immediately. Likewise, any complaints received must be treated fairly and responded to promptly.
In conclusion, it is important to learn a lesson from the environmental problems that occur. We should then take the necessary actions to overcome them.
We must also understand that there is no benefit in destroying nature. When nature strikes back, we will have to face the consequences and, as mere human beings, we will not be able to protect ourselves.
There is no point in living against nature. We are part of it and must learn to live in harmony with the environment.
The writer is Fellow, Centre for Science and Environment Studies, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM)
Published in: New Straits Times, Wednesday 10 July 2019