Sunday, 2 September 2012

Stewardship of the Planet Starts with Being Good Stewards of the Self

The current buzzword in business and development is sustainability, which basically means both having the capacity for long term endurance and meeting current needs without jeopardising the needs of tomorrow. Usually, the term sustainability is synonymous with growing economically while being environmentally friendly - particularly by keeping it clean and safe, and using alternatives to fast-depleting natural resources and raw materials - so that our future generations can continue to live and prosper on a habitable planet. Essentially this is what good stewardship of the earth is: develop the land, make a living and live comfortably, but do not neglect and ultimately destroy the very source of human survival. However, another significant but often overlooked aspect of sustainable growth is people – which is why, as God’s vicegerents to this Earth man is not only given the duty of tilling the earth but also sending out word of da’awah and helping others. These responsibilities would be difficult should man neglect himself. After all sustainable societies are made of sustainable individuals. In this entry I would like to stress the importance of good stewardship of the self to facilitate excellent stewardship of the earth.

We need to remain physically, mentally and spiritually healthy in order to continue to be in helpful capacity. The modern person lives to be over 70 years old on average (last statistical report from the World Bank was 74.4 in Malaysia, and almost 80 in countries such as the US and UK). If care is not taken as to one’s lifestyle and dietary habits, the dire consequences will show even before one hits middle age. There is no good in a long life if much of it is spent in sickness and helplessness. Allah says “O ye who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He whom ye worship” (2:172). And again (23:51) “O you messengers, eat from the good provisions, and work righteousness. I am fully aware of everything you do.” ‘Good’ things to eat need not be fancy; they are simply halal foods, clean and pure as Allah intended. The Grand Prophet reminded us that the most nutritious food is that which is halal. There is no point in consuming health foods and dietary supplements if the money used to purchase them is not halal, for example. It will only wreak havoc on our health and unfortunately, our iman. Simple foods that come from halal sources would benefit the body and the soul in more ways than we can imagine, as only Allah Most Wise knows.

Besides not paying attention to food there are other things people do at the expense of their health. For example we often see people smoking while they know for a fact smoking is a health hazard. The ill-effects of smoking will not usually go away even after the smoker has quit the habit, even after many years. By the time they are diagnosed with a smoke-related illness it is usually too late. Numerous medical studies have also shown that many health issues are often simply related to dehydration, and can simply be remedied and prevented by drinking enough water but water is often ignored, in favour of other beverages. We also know that physical exercise helps with energy levels, cardiovascular health and stress management, and therefore one should be physically active to maintain good mental and physical health but many of us are happy just sitting down all day and wasting away life by sleeping or some other inactivity.

In addition to poor lifestyles, many also do not read and seek knowledge. The first ever verse revealed to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was about reading yet avid readers are becoming a rare species. The English novelist W. Somerset Maugham (d 1965) was also quoted to have said, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” In the modern world knowledge is power; lifelong learning is a tool for survival anywhere, not just at the workplace and in business. Sadly, in lieu of reading and seeking knowledge people waste time scheming how to get ahead in the shortest way possible. Many other people on the other hand do not learn to be more productive or simply be better people. They seem to be happy to let others do the reading up and thinking for them. Good stewards cannot surrender unquestioningly to whatever is thrown at them, they need to evaluate information and make well-informed decisions. More importantly as good stewards of this earth we cannot be mere followers; we have to lead. And no good leader is one that does not read.

Allah says in surah al Asr (103) that “man is ever in a state of loss except those who have attained faith and do good deeds and enjoin others in truth and in patience”. If we take heed we would know the value of time and be accountable for the time on this earth that Allah has so kindly given us. I have only tried to bring to light some things that we need to do to be better stewards of this planet, ultimately better servants of Allah. It starts with the man in the mirror.

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