Man is Allaah’s vicegerent on earth! Allaah has created him in total perfection. He says : “We have indeed created man in the best of moulds” ([The Qur’an, 95:4]). Allaah has created the heavens and the earth in total perfection, made it full of bounties, and developed it over billions of years to be suitable for man’s living. Numerous are the verses of the Qur’an that mention all the bounties He has bestowed on humankind. “And He it is Who produces gardens, trellised and untrellised, and palms and seed-produce of which the fruits are of various sorts, and olives and pomegranates, like and unlike; eat of its fruit when it bears fruit, and pay the due of it on the day of its reaping, and do not act extravagantly; surely He does not love the extravagant” ([The Qur’an, 6:141]).
Allaah has endowed Man with reason and gave him the faculty to choose and decide his own deeds for which Allaah has thus made him accountable. Being the vicegerent of God on earth, Man has been made responsible for keeping the balance that Allaah has set up in His creation, in which the balance of measures and quantities is mind-boggling. “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed; And the herbs and the trees – both (alike) prostrate in adoration. And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice), In order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. And the earth has He appointed for (His) creatures, Wherein are fruits and sheathed palm-trees, Husked grain and scented herb” ([The Qur’an, 55:5-12]).
Vicegerence on earth means respecting all the “religious” laws that Allaah has sent down with his prophets, the seal of whom, is Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as well as all the physical laws that Allaah has set in the universe. Thus the meaning of the “balance” that we have been directed not to transgress encompasses all these meanings at once. In other words, we are obviously directed to worship Allaah and obey Him in everything that has been sent down to us in the Quran and explained to us through the Sunnah (deeds and sayings of the prophet PBUH). But, we have also the duty to protect the environment, using its bounties in the strictly needed quantities and avoiding any mischief on earth. Is it not thought-provoking that one of the characteristics of the unbelievers that Allaah has condemned in the Qur’an is to spread mischief on earth? He says: “And when he turns away (from you) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; but Allah loves not mischief.” ([The Qur’an, 2:205]). He even warns (and blames) mankind for the spread of mischief: “Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return” ([The Qur’an, 30:41]).
We are here concerned with the balance in the universe which we are ordered to set up and not transgress. In modern terminology, we are also ordered to be environment-friendly, even more… environment-minded! The above Qur’anic verses and others are very clear with this respect.
Environment-friendliness in the west
The concept of being environment-friendly (also eco-friendly, nature-friendly, and green) has been developed to a large extent in the West. It refers to “goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies claimed to inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment”. Laws have been decreed in various countries (USA, Europe, etc.) to protect the environment. For instance, in June 2012, the city of Los Angles banned plastic supermarket bags. Also, since January 2013, China, the world number one importer of waste, set stricter conditions on the quality of waste it would allow into the country for its recycling industry. It thus started rejecting poorly-sorted or dirty shipments of recyclable waste from foreign exporters. Various laws and policies exist in all the developed countries to protect the environment and promote a safe use of its resources.
More than twenty years ago, working as a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (that has since then been renamed as the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU), I realised how seriously the society was made aware of the protection of the environment and everybody was encouraged to be part of the global effort. In my university office, I had two (paper) waste bags, one for paper recycling and the other for ordinary waste. In the district where I lived, a large steel container was available for the neighbours to throw their newspapers and other paper-made stuff in. Close to the supermarket, at a short walking distance from the district, we would find a container to collect glass bottles, the coloured ones on one part and the clear ones on another. And so on. The whole society was cooperating towards this effort, which is the starting point of the chain of recycling that is meant not only to put less burden on the earth resources, but also to represent an important business outlet. I recall also that about 30 years ago in the UK, supermarkets started charging customers for plastic bags. This quickly got customers in the habit of bringing their own bags, which had the immediate impact of reducing the use of plastic bags.
Nowadays, recycling manufacturing plants exist for all kinds of materials: glass, plastic, cartons, paper, etc.. They exist in large numbers in China, but also in various other countries including the USA, the UK, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. Just to give an idea of the importance of the recycling business, we mention that China controls a large portion of the recycling market, with about “70% of the world’s 500m tonnes of electronic waste and 12m tonnes of plastic waste” each year. Just the USA alone exported to China in 2011 what is worth 11.3 billion dollars (top US export to China!!). Various countries have also been rushing into the recycling business. For example, a new carton recycling plant is to start in September in Yorkshire, UK, and is expected to cover 40% of the UK’s carton recycling needs. Eventually, the plant will stop all these cartons from being exported or buried in landfills.
Needless to say, that the people’s awareness is such that one finds in Europe and other western countries all kinds of products (nutritional or not) which claim to be eco-friendly and a good chunk of the population tries to adhere to purchasing such products. The recycling movement and the creation of manufacturing plants has the advantage of eliminating waste, while recreating raw material that can be used to manufacture products anew while creating jobs locally.
People’s attitude towards the environment in Algeria
In Algeria, we are unfortunately still far from such a concerted effort between the local administrations, public and private companies, and the citizens at large to protect the environment while promoting new business opportunities. We are still at the very basics of wondering why our cities are getting dirtier and dirtier, why the notion of sorted waste is far from our minds, and especially those of our local administrators, why our beautiful nature is desecrated by the people who stop by to spend a day in the mountain, by the sea side, or in any natural setting.
I just spent days in the paradisiac city of Jijel, 400 kms East of Algiers. The city is beautifully surrounded by a mountainous chain in its south and a blue-green seen in its north, a sea which reflects both the colour of the clear blue sky and the green landscape of the mountainous chain. This summer, just like every summer, the city was submerged by tourists coming from all parts of the country. These would easily be recognised by the codes on their car plates.
The landscape of the area is absolutely breath-taking. I could hardly imagine more beautiful a place to find numerous, excellent holiday resorts and quality hotels! Nothing of that! It turns out that the city is very poor in terms of such facilities, especially given its natural richness! But this is not the focus of this article. What has rather attracted my attention is that the attitude of the average national tourist is appallingly negative towards nature. This tourist would, except for very few exceptions, display so uncivilised attitudes with respect to nature that I kept wondering what has made the average Algerian so careless about cleanliness of the environment. One would systematically find, in any beach, loads of garbage, plastic bags, plastic bottles, cans, etc., that one would feel so sorry for not only the status of our beaches but also for the long-term impact on the environment of such waste.
Every day, whatever the beach and whoever the users, people would come, spend the day, picnic, enjoy themselves and relax by the sea side. Unfortunately, rare were the people who would collect all the waste they produced and take it back with them to the closest garbage bin they would find (often at home!!!). People would throw their soft drink bottles, their plastic bags, biscuit and ships packs, melon garbage, etc. If some of the waste is (luckily) biodegradable, in spite of its ugliness in such a beautiful landscape, most of the waste is unfortunately not bio-degradable! Many mothers would even go to the extent of leaving their babies’ nappies a bit everywhere! It is a heart-breaking feeling which re-occurs on a daily basis unfortunately!
This assessment of things is not an exaggeration (it might even not describe the problem as strongly as it really is!) and is definitely not specific to the city of Jijel and its surroundings! It is the very same feeling of desolation I have had year after year, each time in a different city and region along the coastline in Algeria! I have seen the same attitude in sea-side cities like El-Kala, Skikda, Azeffoun, Cherchel, Mostaganem, etc., as well as in the mountains of Chréa, Tikjda, etc. In all of them, nature suffers tremendously at the hands of our brothers and sisters. Most of the people have this nasty habit of throwing their garbage anywhere (sea, mountain, etc.) and throwing plastic bottles at the car park after they have washed their legs from the sand!! All this is done despite the fact that the Islamic teachings, as explained earlier, are very clear in terms of promoting the protection of the environment, being clean and keeping the environment clean. Al-Tirmidhiy reported that the prophet PBUH said: “God is good and loves what is good, clean He likes cleanliness, generous He loves generosity, bountiful He loves largess; so clean your courtyards…” (Narrated by Saa’d).
The Failure of the local administrations
The first and foremost responsibility is individual: each person is responsible not to cause mischief on earth. It is not difficult, even in the absence of garbage collectors or bins, to collect one’s waste in a bag and take it along in the car to the nearest garbage disposal bin, even if this would be at home.
However, the failure of the local authorities is appalling as well. Why is it that there are no large enough garbage collection bins or containers which are kept clean and that are emptied daily? Is it such a difficult task for the municipality to organise this? Why is it that our beaches, even the official ones, i.e. those protected by official guards, most of the time do not provide the very basic facilities such as toilets, showers, a garbage collection system, clean and decent fast food shops and restaurants, etc.? Let all these services be for money of course but let them be decently organised and run by a professional staff, not by amateurs who are given permits to do whatever they want without the least standards of quality to uphold and be accountable for! Is this not a way of creating jobs, better promoting tourism, preventing the spread of diseases, and protecting the environment?
Before talking about major national plans to develop a recycling movement and eco-friendliness awareness among the population along with major investments in waste recycling manufacturing plants, let us start with simple measures that help us not pollute our environment. This starts with the education of the people which means using schools, mosques, and the various media to develop some simple reflexes of nature-friendliness. Let us also put the maximum pressure on the local municipalities to understand that their responsibility is big in terms of helping the citizen develop the basic reflexes of keeping the environment clean. It simply takes the systematic placement of enough waste bins/containers and organising the garbage collection daily and everywhere.
Let us save the country… Let us save the earth… for the sake of Allaah!
Ahmed Guessoum is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene (USTHB) in Algiers.
« Nature-friendly ». Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC
 Katharine Earley, “Could China’s ‘green fence’ prompt a global recycling innovation?”, The Guardian, 27/08/2013.
 Tim Smedley, “A new carton recycling plant could mean an end to shipping waste overseas as the UK’s only carton recycling factory opens”, The Guardian, 15/08/2013.