Muslims and the Environment: A Mischance

sustainability-islamThe detachment of the modern-day man from the environment can be attributed to the desacralization of nature, and the modernist destitution of the inner state of the soul which, according to the scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr in ‘Man and Nature’, accounts for the phenomenon of the ‘prostitution of nature’: “For modern man, nature has become like a prostitute ─to be benefited from without any sense of obligation and responsibility toward her.”

Eradication of Natural World

Mankind has surrounded itself with square walls and barren concrete structures for the sake of creating this artificial industrial world. Its constant need to feed the badgeringly ravening consumerist lifestyle, is rapidly and dangerously eradicating the natural world ─humanity’s very own cradle.

Drifting along into this new design of a world, are Muslims who today, have been alienated from the roots of their own religion. It is harrowing to see the population of one of the world’s biggest religions, so acutely uninformed about the current dilapidated state of the natural world, so cavalier about the fact. But why is this the case?

Seemingly, the Quran never outright demanded the ‘jihad’ to conserve nature, or what some are calling, eco-jihad. No verse can be found that literally calls for Muslims to mobilize every tool in their hands for the sake of saving the environment. But this was obviously the case as the state of the world in which the Quran descended, was not in disrepair. Ergo, this fact does not only apply to the Muslim world.

Notion of Nature in Islam

Never has there been in the past, a philosophy, literature, religion or societal movement intensively committed to the idea of ‘saving’ nature before the advent of the industrial revolution. Nature simply did not need much saving back then.However, the primal essence of Islam as a religion, encapsulates and engulfs the notion of Nature in the extending intricacies of its own doctrine.

The very message of Islam is conveyed by the Quran through the use of Nature as its auxiliary pedagogical tool. God honors Nature in the Quran by elevating its position as ‘Aayah’ or ‘Sign’, which is so imperative that it is termed to validate His very existence:

“We will show them Our Signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth.” (41:53)

In another example, after establishing the orbital paths of the sun and moon, God explains that these celestial objects are Signs that he uses:

“…He explains the Signs (in detail) so that you may be certain of the meeting with your Lord.” (13:2)

The Quran constantly utilizes natural elements to impart its canonic principles. It refers to inanimate creations and living species as serving their purposes in the larger scheme of this world:

“There is not a thing that moves on the earth, no bird that flies on its wings, but has a community of its own like yours.” (6:38)

Additionally, God remarks how every creation is subservient to Him in their own ways:

“Do you not see that Allah is He, Whom obeys whoever is in the heavens and whoever is in the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars, and the mountains and the trees, and the animals and many of the people.” (22:18)

And the Quran goes on to address the grave magnitude and the vibrant eminence of this natural world, mentioning how most people could not even understand it:

“The creation of the heavens and earth is greater than the creation of mankind, but most of the people do not know.” (40:57).

Mizan – The Philosophy of Balance

Subsequently, in regulating our interaction with the natural world, the Quran introduces its philosophy of miizan or balance, stating:

“And the heaven, He raised it and He has set up the Balance (mizan). So that you transgress not in the Balance (mizan).”

It stresses this warning against the upsetting of the terrestrial miizan:

“Do no mischief on the earth, after it has been set in order.” (7:56)

Further than that, the Quranic dogma teaches Muslims that their existential purpose in this world is to serve as the position of ‘viceroy’ or ‘khalifah’ who is responsible for the preservation of the Earth:

“Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how you behave” (10:14).

It becomes clear that the natural world, living species and the ecosystems are regarded as being more dignified than our devalued and secularized perception of them. Veritably, Nature which the Quran imbues with effervescent spirituality, is more exalted than the industrial mankind’s current treatment of it. Against the backdrop of our current age of excess and overconsumption, these verses certainly leave us but with an unnerving sense of disgrace.

Detachment of Muslims from Natural World

There is no grain of doubt then that the responsibility of preserving the balance of Nature serves as an integral part of the Muslim faith. To say the least, a Muslim who professes to espouse the Islamic creed should have fundamentally grasped the spiritual import of Nature to begin with. In other words, so conspicuous is the significance of the natural world in the Islamic scripture that it never had to spell out the blindingly obvious. The conscious Muslim should already instinctively be alarmed at the current precipitating deterioration of the ecosystems, wildlife populations and their habitats.

Clearly this has not happened with the majority of Muslims, considering how muted their worry for environmental protection is. But why? The majority of clerics, who supposedly are the flag-bearers of Islam, do not even arduously champion campaigns for environmental conservation. This, at a time when scientists have been presenting fact after fact on the damages caused by detrimental everyday human activities on the environment.

Imagine for a second if this enormous section of the world population is energized by clerics who actually comprehend the spiritual intimacy between Islam’s Revelation and the world’s nature. Vast areas of the natural world could be saved from anthropogenic crimes and benefit from sustainable attitudes emanating from the Muslim world’s endearing concern for the environment.

This evidently tragic detachment of Muslim societies from the natural world will not only affect the lives of future generations, but ultimately, demerit the quality of their very own faith. It is an injustice to the Islamic doctrine that Muslims remain aloof from the destruction of these Quranic Signs of God.

The Way Forward

Now is high time to disseminate awareness among Muslim scholars and preachers around the globe, to revitalize the discourse on the spiritual bearing of Nature to a Muslim individual’s faith, in the endeavor to once again sacralize Nature in the eyes of mankind. Realizing this spiritual connection between Nature and the Islamic faith, it can never be too late to initiate sustainable development and the preservation of the environment.

The Quran reiterates this, as even when it foreshadows the destruction of the environment by the hands of mankind, it closes the same argument with a reconciling persuasion that we will be able to learn from our mistakes:

Corruption doth appear 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. (30:41)

About Wan Muhammad Saefullah

Wan Muhammad Saefullah is a lecturer at the Centre for Fundamental and Liberal Education, University Malaysia Terengganu (Malaysia).
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