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Maintaining Mizan: Protecting Biodiversity in Muslim Communities

January 2002

Citation: ELR 10020

Author: Ali Ahmad and Carl Bruch

Protecting biological diversity in Muslim communities presents a paradox. On the one hand, Islamic law, which governs all aspects of Muslim life, has a broad set of principles and mechanisms that mandate respect for all the elements of God's creation, the prevention of waste and harm, and maintenance of the balance of life on earth (mizan). On the other hand, there have been relatively few legal, institutional, or on-the-ground developments to protect biological diversity in many communities and nations that adhere to Islamic law.1

Recent decades have seen significant population growth in North and West Africa, with concerted efforts to promote social and economic development. Without a strong environmental framework to guide sustainable development, many Muslim nations in the region have seen significant losses of habitat (especially forests and grasslands), air and water pollution that degrade habitats and human settlements, and depredation of wildlife. For example, between 1990 and 1995, Sudan (which harbors the second largest total forest areas in sub-Saharan Africa) lost 1.763 million hectares of its total forest area, an average annual rate of destruction of 0.83%.2 This trend occurred throughout Muslim Africa, with Algeria recording the highest annual destruction rate of 1.22%, Cameroon (0.65%), Chad (0.84%), Mali (0.96%), Morocco (0.31%), Nigeria (0.86%), and Senegal (0.66%).3

Ali Ahmad was, when this Article was prepared, a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) in Washington, D.C. He is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. Carl Bruch is a Senior Attorney at ELI where he directs the Africa Program. Philip Fryers conducted supporting research for this project. Support for this project was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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