Thursday , February 4 2021

Superstition and conservation

Department: Orientation and Facilitation Centre

Course (module): Conservation and Environmental Care

May 25th 2020

Lesson: Superstition and conservation


Usually, in Da Pulay Poray parts*, the trees growing in graveyards are considered sacred. No one cuts them, or takes wood away from graveyards.

In recent decades, some of those who make light of the sacredness of graveyards, have taken it upon themselves as a kind of challenge to cut the wood from these graveyards. Their position is that not cutting the trees of graveyards is just a superstition – nothing is sacred. What harm can come to us from cutting the wood of graveyards, they say. Our fate is in the hands of Allah alone.  Who has said that one should not cut the trees of graveyards? They even think that considering the trees growing in graveyards as sacred might be some type of grave-worship. So they take it upon themselves to cut that wood, for their own use.

Well, looking at the matter from a strictly practical point of view, there is a very good reason why the trees of graveyards should not be cut. Graveyards are public property, and it is a crime to plunder public property. Quite apart from that, the idea that considering the wood of graveyards sacred might be some kind of grave-worship – that also amounts to looking at the situation from one angle, the strict Tauhid angle. There is another angle from which this custom, not to cut trees in graveyards, should be viewed, and that is from the conservation angle.

When the trees of graveyards, unlike other trees, are not cut, then this becomes a great cause of conservation, benefiting the environment. However much trees here and there may be cut, the trees in graveyards are sacrosanct. This make the graveyards into a kind of haven, a wooded area that benefits people and the environment all around. It  may be a superstition, but it is a good superstition, in that it preserves trees, which in turn are good for our environment.

The idea that the trees of graveyards should be preserved, as these trees have been preserved in the graveyard of Madyan, Swat, may have its origins in superstitious beliefs, but it is a good superstition, since it benefits the environment 

If one insists of looking at the matter from a strictly religious point of view, then there is a practical, religious reason why one should not cut the trees of graveyards. The Holy Prophet allowed Muslims to visit graveyards, to cultivate thoughts of the next world, so what better than to be able to visit graveyards in an environment conducive for reflection and prayer, in other words a shady environment in which there is an abundance of trees? 

وعن ابن مسعود أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال : « كنت نهيتكم عن زيارة القبور فزوروها فإنها تزهد في الدنيا ، وتذكر الآخرة » . رواه ابن ماجه

ibn Masood reported Allah’s messenger as saying, ‘I forbade you to visit graves, but you may now visit them, for they produce abstinence in this world and act as a reminder of the next.’

(Ibn Majah)

The same goes for mountains. There are all sorts of superstitions attached to mountains. In Da Pulay Poray parts, many superstitions and myths are attached to the highest peak in Da Pulay Poray parts – Tirich Mir. It literally towers above Da Pulay Poray parts. It is the highest peak in the world, outside the Himalayan range of mountains, being itself part – not of the Himalayas – but of the Hindukush range.

Tirich Mir towers above other mountains in the Hindukush range. It is like a crown of Da Pulay Poray parts

Many of these myths maintain that Tirich Mir is inhabited by various beings – jinn, demons, whatever. The long and the short of the myths is that the mountain should not be climbed. It is said that locals are happy to take foreign mountaineers a certain distance up the mountain, but not to the actual summit.

Who knows, if it had not been for these superstitions, which prevent unbridled and uncontrolled mountaineering, then Tirich Mir might have become like Everest, the highest mountain in the world, where greed for the money that foreign mountain tourism brings in has led to shocking and almost unbelievable congestion on the world’s highest mountain.

Such is the congestion on Mt.Everest that sometimes a queue forms to reach the summit. That is what happens when greed for money supersedes myths that see such mountains as sacred

In life, it is important to see matters from every angle. Superstitions may be superstitions, with no basis in fact but because of the salutary effect that such superstitions have on conservation, and protection of the environment, then one can appreciate their worth.

In fact, it is a case of something being intrinsically worthless – قبیح لعینه – but invested with worth because of some external factor – حسن لغيره. This pertains to a principle of Islamic jurisprudence. We will be looking at other instances, where this principle can be applied in a modern setting, in an upcoming dars, Inshallah.

*Da Pulay Poray parts are a name for the mainly Pashto speaking lands that straddle the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Further reading on superstitions, science and conservation:


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