Trees and religion – Islam

See Part I of this series on trees and religions here.

Another monotheistic religion, that of Islam, is also seen as having been destructive, in the arboreal sense. For largely the same reasons as those stated above with regards to Christianity, sacred groves and sacred trees were sometimes cut down, or their sanctity lost, upon acquisition of the land by the faith of Islam (Campbell, 2005; Dafni, 2006; Wessing, 1999). Despite this, the holy texts do state that trees should be both protected and planted, though the reasons behind such a stance largely involve the benefit their retention has for humans, and notably in the economic (Kula, 2001; Mangunjaya & McKay, 2012), social (Khan et al., 2008), and religious (trees may exist around sacred tombs, and are protected as a result) sense (Deil et al., 2005; Khan et al., 2008; Swamy et al., 2003). This does not make the trees themselves sacred, however – some Islamic scholars have stated that it is in fact impossible for trees to be sacred (Dafni, 2011), and trees and forests were still cleared during conquest in an attempt to ‘restart’ the cultural history of the land (Wessing, 1999).

Groves of trees, nonetheless, are very important in rural areas, across the Islamic world, where they may serve as cemetery grounds, as places where male circumcision takes place, as sites that can provide blessing, and where other religious ceremonies are undertaken (Ben-Ami, 1998; Dafni, 2007; Lebbie & Freudenberger, 1996). The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), in this regard, is considered a particularly important tree (Musselman, 2007); as are the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), olive (Olea europaea var. oleaster), date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), and fig (Ficus spp.), which feature prominently within Muslim graveyards (Dafni et al., 2006), and it is said that Allah himself blessed the olive and fig trees (Braverman, 2009). Subsequently, de Cleene & Lejeune (1999) allege that the olive was the axis mundi of the Islamic faith. A reason for why rural areas retain sacred groves of trees may be because pre-Islamic (traditional) beliefs and customs persisted following conversion – the same applies to Christianity, also (Blench, 2004; Dafni, 2011). However, even in rural areas, visiting sites of sacred trees can still be forbidden (Dafni, 2011).

The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Source: Islam and Evolution.

In more recent decades, criticism of the world’s environmental issues have been raised by some individuals of the Islamic faith, who state that the lack of faith in the secular West has led to the downgrading of morality and the upgrading of consumerism and disposability. Therefore, the West is home to a growing number of Muslims that support pro-environmental projects (Gillat-Ray & Bryant, 2011). Granted, certain authors have suggested that this critique of Western culture has a more nefarious undertone, as the two cultures collide more broadly (Erdur, 1997). Such issues do not escape the haunts of the Islamic world however, as certain countries that practice the faith have also experienced similar adverse environmental circumstances (Kula, 2001; Mangunjaya & McKay, 2012; Rice, 2006; Wersal, 1995), and a drive back towards religiosity is therefore being sought to return the faith to its more protective stance (Mangunjaya, 2011; Rice, 2006).

Much like in the Bible, trees also feature within the holy texts of the Islamic faith – albeit to a lesser degree, in terms of the diversity of species mentioned, and the frequency of their mentions (Khafagi et al., 2006; Musselman, 2007). The acacia (Vachellia seyal), for example, is considered to be a tree in which followers of Islam relaxed underneath in the Quran, after God rewarded them with the trees’ presence. Similarly, allegiance to God was sworn under the acacia (Musselman, 2007). Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is however the most abundantly-referenced (a total of ten to twenty times) tree species in the Quran, with its valuable fruit crop being its prized asset (Musselman, 2007). Moreover, its much wider range of possible uses as stated in the Quran, such as using its foliage for roof covering, means it was (and is) a very well-utilised tree (Farooqi, 2011).

Vachellia seyal within the Egyptian desert. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Other tree species or genera mentioned in the Quran include the fig (Ficus carica), olive (Olea europaea var. oleaster), pomegranate (Punica granatum), and tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla), and it is usually the fruits of such trees that are referenced to (Khafagi et al., 2006; Ranjbar et al., 2013) – be it in the practical sense (fruit products), symbolic sense, social sense (giving fruits, such as the pomegranate, to those in need), or religious sense (Farooqi, 2011). In the case of the olive, the Quran remarks on its medicinal value, and suggests that olive oil be consumed orally (Farooqi, 2011; Ranjbar et al., 2013). Medicinal values of other tree species are similarly noted within the Quran, too (Farhangi et al., 2014; Farooqi, 2011; Marwat et al., 2009; Muhammad, 2014), and additional species of tree and their associated medicinal values are addressed, alongside the aforementioned tree species, within some of the Hadiths (Ahmad et al., 2009; Marwat et al., 2009). One Hadith (by Abu Nu’aim, a medieval scholar) also remarks that there is no pomegranate that does not possess at least a single seed from the pomegranates of the (holy) Garden (Farooqi, 2011).


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Blench, R. (2004) Cultural and biological interactions in the savanna woodlands of Northern Ghana: sacred forests and management of trees. In Sheridan, M. & Nyamweru, C. (eds.) Trees, Rain and Politics in Africa [seminar]. Oxford. 29th September – 1st October.

Braverman, I. (2009) Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine. USA: Cambridge University Press.

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Dafni, A. (2011) On the present-day veneration of sacred trees in the holy land. Electronic Journal of Folklore. 48 (1). p7-30.

Dafni, A., Lev, E., Beckmann, S., & Eichberger, C. (2006) Ritual plants of Muslim graveyards in northern Israel. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 2 (38). p1-12.

de Cleene, M. & Lejeune, M. (1999) Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe – Volume I: Trees & Shrubs. Belgium: Mens & Cultuur.

Deil, U., Culmsee, H., & Berriane, M. (2005) Sacred Groves in Morocco: A Society’s Conservation of nature for spiritual reasons’. Silva Carelica. 49 (1). p185-201.

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Khan, M., Khumbongmayum, A., & Tripathi, R. (2008) The sacred groves and their significance in conserving biodiversity an overview. International Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. 34 (3). p277-291.

Kula, E. (2001) Islam and environmental conservation. Environmental Conservation. 28 (1). p1-9.

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Marwat, S., Khan, M., Khan, M., Ahmad, M., Zafar, M., Rehman, F., & Sultana, S. (2009) Fruit Plant Species Mentioned in the Holy Qura’n and Ahadith and Their Ethnomedicinal Importance. American-Eurasian Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Science. 5 (2). p284-295.

Muhammad, A. (2014) Therapeutic flora in Holy Quran. African Journal of History and Culture. 6 (9). p141-148.

Musselman, L. (2007) Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran. China: Timber Press.

Ranjbar, A., Tavilani, H., & Mohsenzadeh, F. (2013) Quran and Pharmaceutical Plants: Antioxidants. Quran and Medicine. 2 (1). p5-9.

Rice, G. (2006) Pro-environmental behavior in Egypt: Is there a role for Islamic environmental ethics?. Journal of Business Ethics. 65 (4). p373-390.

Swamy, P., Kumar, M., & Sundarapandian, S. (2003) Spirituality and ecology of sacred groves in Tamil Nadu, India. Unasylva. 54 (1). p53-58.

Wersal, L. (1995) Islam and environmental ethics: tradition responds to contemporary challenges. Zygon. 30 (3). p451-459.

Wessing, R. (1999) The sacred grove: founders and the owners of the forest in West Java, Indonesia. In Bahuchet, S., Bley, D., Pagezy, H., & Vernazza-Light, N. (eds.) L’homme et la forêt tropicale. France: Travaux de la Société d’Écologie Humaine.

Trees and religion – Islam

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