Reflections

IMASE Reflections 7: The Giver of Life

The most significant feature of Earth that separates it from the rest of the planets in the known Universe is that the Earth is a living planet. Although there is no definitive definition of life, some scientists define life as a characteristic of organisms that exhibit phenomena such as metabolism, growth, adaptation, response to stimuli, reproduction, and homeostasis.

Life on Earth has been known to exist for more than 3.5 billion years. Life on Earth also began and evolved in stages, starting with single cells to multiple cell organisms. Life forms can therefore be divided into the broad classes of plants and animals, which in turn may be further sub-divided. The discipline of biological classification is called Taxonomy where the term ‘species’ refers to one of its basic units, each having a determined name.

 

Complex molecules that make up living beings consist of carbon bonded with other elements, especially oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen (4 elements) which make up the building material of life as we know it. Carbon forms the base of most if not all living beings, probably because carbon is able to bond with all of the basic building materials of life. These four ‘building blocks’ make up chemicals used in the processes of living organisms, such as proteins (form the structure of the vessels that contain life), nucleic acids (carry genetic information), enzymes (catalyse reactions and contain trace amounts of metal, etc), carbohydrates and fats (store energy), and so on. For living processes to occur, living beings use the solvent called water, which is made from hydrogen and oxygen. Amazingly, these four atoms are the main materials that make up all living beings on Earth.

Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem or a planet. Biodiversity today consists of millions of distinct biological species. The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro defined biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. Although biodiversity is everywhere, it is distributed unevenly on Earth with the tropics having the most diversity and the polar-regions having the least. However, in the last century, there has been a steady drop in biodiversity across the planet which has caused much concern.

Some studies show that about one eighth of known plant species are threatened with extinction. These figures indicate unsustainable ecological practices, because only a small number of species come into being each year compared to their rate extinction. Almost all scientists acknowledge that the rate of species loss is greater now than at any time in human history, with extinctions occurring at rates hundreds of times higher than background (natural) extinction rates. Many factors threaten biodiversity, but they can be generally categorised into four main causes which are: habitat destruction, overkill, introduced species, and secondary extensions.

Habitat destruction is one of the most prevalent reasons for the reduction in biodiversity. This is mostly the result of an increase in human consumption, which then leads to forest destruction for agriculture, livestock production and city expansion, to meet humanity’s ever increasing demands. Since the stability of an ecosystem is dependant on its biodiversity, scientists warn that the global ecosystem is destined for collapse, as we are already seeing in our oceans, if its complexity is further reduced.

Some estimate that if the current rates of human destruction of the biosphere continue, half of the species will become extinct in 100 years. Habitat fragmentation is another major problem, today most endangered species live in smaller and smaller pieces of fragmented habitat interspersed with human settlements, farmland and recreational facilities, such as golf courses, making it impossible for them to naturally meet and breed with others of their kind. Furthermore, the replacement of local varieties of domestic plants and animals by higher yielding or exotic species (including GMOs) is being introduced into traditional farming systems, resulting in a relatively new development called mono-culture - the general tendency towards genetic and ecological uniformity imposed by the development of modern agriculture.

This problem is not limited to the Earth’s land mass but is also evident in the seas where overfishing occurs when fishing activities reduce fish stocks below their acceptable level. This can occur in any body of water, from a pond to the oceans. In 1992, about 30,000 Canadians suddenly lost their livelihoods when the once plentiful stocks of cod off the coast of Newfoundland completely collapsed. Many fishermen have not seen the cod return and communities have still not recovered from this sudden loss of income. Overfishing has depleted fish populations to the point that large scale commercial fishing, on average around the world, is not economically viable without government assistance. We are losing species as well as entire ecosystems with the destruction of corals. As a result, the ecological unity of our oceans is under stress and at risk of collapse. In living systems this collapse is likely to occur suddenly and without warning.

Furthermore, many areas around the planet have already seen an “ecosystem shift”, which is a dramatic change in species composition to a new equilibrium involving new dominant species compositions that were not present previously. One such instance is the case of ‘jellyfish blooms’ which are sometimes attributed to the impact of humans on marine systems. Jellyfish may be filling ecological niches formerly occupied by overfished creatures which feed on the same kinds of prey that jellyfish do. Hence, if fish are removed from the area, jellyfish would probably move in to fill the space vacated by the over exploited fish stocks. Pollution, such as an increase in nutrients in the water due to agricultural runoff, can also result in jellyfish proliferation.

Biodiversity, life on earth, whether big or small, fast or slow, strong or weak, black or white, are the nature or disposition of the Almighty‚Äôs creation, for He is Al-B?¢ri‚Äô - The Maker.

“And it is God who has created all animals out of water; and [He has willed that] among them are such that crawl on their bellies, and such that walk on two legs, and such that walk on four. God creates what He wills, for verily, God has the power to will anything.” (Holy Quran, 24:45)

And He has taken upon himself to nurture and provide for all of His creation, living and in need of nourishment, although we may think that we have gained mastery over nature, for He is Al-Kar?Æm - The Generous, and Al-Barr - The Benign and The Source of All-Goodness.

“The parable of the life of this world is but that of rain which We send down from the sky, and which is absorbed by the plants of the earth, whereof men and animals draw nourishment until when the earth has assumed its artful adornment and has been embellished, and they who dwell on it believe that they have gained mastery over it …” (10:24)

And after He created, he scattered all forms of life across the world, in all places, in the mountains and rivers, in the plains and forest, on the exterior and interior of our bodies, for He is the M?¢lik-ul-Mulk - The Owner of the Kingdom, the seen and the unseen.

“And in your own nature, and in [that of] all the animals which He scatters [over the earth] there are messages for people who are endowed with inner certainty.” (45:4)

And in the wide expanse of the planet we see all types of life forms. They are all so alike in the basic principles of their life and growth, made up mostly of just four atoms - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, and yet so different in physiology, appearance and taste. For He is Al-Mughn?Æ - The Enricher, the One who creates all from nothing.

“And it is He who has caused waters to come down from the sky; and by this means have We brought forth all living growth, and out of this have We brought forth greenness. Out of this do We bring forth close-growing grain, and out of the spathe of the palm tree, dates in thick clusters, and gardens of vines, and the olive tree and the pomegranate; [all] so alike, and yet so different!” (6:99)

And from this life and immense diversity which God has created, He produces healing and remedy from some of the smallest and humblest life forms, for He is Al-Muhaymin - The Protector and Al-Mugh?Æth - The Sustainer.

“And then eat of all manner of fruit, and follow humbly the paths ordained for thee by thy Sustainer." There issues from within these [bees] a fluid of many colours, wherein there is health for man. In all this, behold, there is indeed a message for people who think!” (16:69)

And yet He, the Almighty, did destroy the life of the wicked and saved those who believed in Him, of which animals were included, to be inheritors of the new land, enriched with new life. For He is Al-Muntaqim - The Lord of Retribution, The Avenger, and Al-Mu‚Äò?Æd - The Restorer to Life.

“So it went on till when Our judgment came to pass, and waters gushed forth in torrents over the face of the earth, We said [unto Noah]: ‘Place on board of this [ark] one pair of each [kind of animal] of either sex, as well as thy family, except those on whom [Our] sentence has already been passed, and all [others] who have attained faith!’. For only a few [of Noah's people] shared his faith.” (11:40) “... We delivered him and those with him in the Ark, and We made them inherit (the earth) ...” (10: 73)

And yet, as many that have gone before us, we do not share our inheritance with those who had inherited, because we are greedy. We destroy all other life forms and their homes as we want it all for ourselves, forgetting that God is Al-W?¢rith - The Ultimate Inheritor.

“At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: ‘O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) unknowingly’. So he smiled, amused at her speech and he said: ‘O my Lord! So order me that I may be grateful for Thy favours, which thou hast bestowed upon me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee. And admit me, by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous servants.” (27: 18-19).

So we ask Al-Muhy?Æ - The Giver of Life, to protect all living beings from those who are ungrateful. For He is Al-Musawwir - The Bestower of Form - all forms, big or small, fast or slow, strong or weak, black or white. And that we, human, sons and daughters of Adam, originated from a single clot, should fulfil our trust from Ar-Rahm?¢n - The Most Compassionate, The Beneficent and The Gracious - as khalifahs or trustees on His Earth, knowing well that it is He who is Al-Wak?Æl - The Ultimate Trustee and The Disposer of Affairs.

And we ask Al-Mu‚Äômin - The Granter of Security, to Him whom belongs the Most Beautiful of Names, that He protects us from the fate which befell the people of Salih. For You are Al-H?¢d?Æ - The Guide to the Straight Path, the path that leads us from darkness to You, An-N?ªr - The Light.

“And [then he said]: ‘O my people! This she-camel belonging to God shall be a token for you; so leave her alone to pasture on God's earth, and do her no harm, lest speedy chastisement befall you!’ (11:64) “… For We will send the she-camel by way of trial for them. So watch them, (O Salih) and possess thyself in patience! And tell them that the water is to be divided between them: each one's right to drink being brought forward (by suitable turns). But they called to their companion, and he took a sword in hand, and hamstrung (her). Ah! How (terrible) was My Penalty and My Warning! For We sent against them a single Mighty Blast, and they became like the dry stubble used by the one who pens cattle.” (54: 27-31)