What is Islamic Eco-theology?

The incessant creation and recreation process happening in nature is witness to God’s omnipresence
"And, everything manifests the ‘Creative Will’ of God and serves, borrowing Faruqi’s expression, a purpose of making “the world one telic system, vibrant and alive, full of meaning”." [Representational Image]
"And, everything manifests the ‘Creative Will’ of God and serves, borrowing Faruqi’s expression, a purpose of making “the world one telic system, vibrant and alive, full of meaning”." [Representational Image] pixnio [Creative Commons]

Islam, like other Abrahamic faiths, does not subscribe to materialistic reductionism rooted in Cartesian philosophy rendering nature as “dead and meaningless”. Instead, Islam considers nature meaningfully sacred. Implying, nature cannot be reduced to spatiotemporal arrangement and interaction of physical matter.

To illustrate the point, Haq starkly writes: “nature represents the inexhaustible logoi of God”, therefore, it is by default sacred. The principle of ‘sacred nature’ is built upon the three corresponding premises. First premise is: the creation of nature has a meaning.

According to Haq, “it [nature] is a means through which God communicates with humanity.” Second premise is: God’s divine will is ubiquitously operating in nature.

The incessant creation and recreation process happening in nature is witness to God’s omnipresence.  Inferring, nature is not God’s primordial activity, but rather God’s ‘Creative Will’: the horizontal cause of creation, is ever present in nature since its beginning. Hence, comprehending nature and its immutable laws directly means comprehending the Will of God and acknowledging God’s operative method, i.e., Way of God (sunnat al-Allah).

Third premise is: nature manifests both God’s creational unity as well as creational unicity. This premise is suggestive of ‘oneness of creation’ (wahdaniyat al-khalq) which means everything created, irrespective of role, form and quality, does belong to the same One God.

And, everything manifests the ‘Creative Will’ of God and serves, borrowing Faruqi’s expression, a purpose of making “the world one telic system, vibrant and alive, full of meaning”.

From this premise, we get the underpinnings of interdependency between diverse forms of creation. Nevertheless, I need to be more distinctive here that ‘oneness of creation’: a systematic networked interaction between all created entities of the cosmos, is not suggestive of pantheistic equivalence that would mean “everything is Godly.” Rather, it advocates a unified view of the creation. And, a medium wherein everything is pulled together in the oneness of creational design.

The fundamental purpose of nature as reflected in its design of creational continuum, ranging from subatomic particles to colossal celestial bodies, including the fundamental forces of nature, is to primarily support the principle of ‘oneness of creation.’ Colloquially, it implies: a sand particle, a leaf, a star, and a human are connected through the bond of oneness.

At philosophical level, one can say, the principle of ‘oneness of creation’ stands complimentary to the advanced scientific description of “quantum entanglement” implying that universe is monistic in nature: i.e., each entity consisting of energy and matter is part of a single unified whole. For example, the “four forces of nature”, we all might have learned in the school days, explain how things interact with each other at both colossal and atomic level.

Similarly, the biological food chain explains the nature of relation between living organisms. Artistically, all forms of creation represent different dots in a pattern. And, all dots are significant by virtue of their specific place, meaning and function. Thus, when connected appropriately we can draw a meaningful and harmonious cosmic picture. From the Islamic perspective, all created things related to environment serve a dual function.

That is, alongside their physical function they also serve a deep spiritual function. Physical function is empirical and defines the causal interrelatedness between them. The method to understand this function is “scientific ecology”. The spiritual function is metaphysical and defines their sacred purpose.

These two functions are fundamental to Muslim ecotheology. From here we can also trace the foundational basis of Islamic Environmentalism advanced by Muslim intellectuals such as Syed Hussain Nasr (Iran), Ibrahim Ozdemir (Turkey), Fazlun Khalid (Sri Lanka), Mustafa Abu-Saway (Palestine) and Mawil Y. Izzi Deen (Iraq). Drawing insights from religious scriptures, these scholars responded to climatic crisis and emphasized the need to discuss climate justice from the Islamic perspective.             

Having understood the sacred, symbiotic and cyclical nature of the environment, Muslim scholars since late 1960’s, have been consistently adding ummatic: Muslim as a collective potential, voice to “global action on climate change”- a global project on environmental sustainability.

They propound that ecological sensibility manifested through ecological justice is embedded in the Islamic worldview and living a true Muslim life demands shunning off exploitative behaviour towards the environment.

They have engaged with the Islamic theology and conceptualised a systematic account of believer’s everyday activities and their impact on ecosystem. The writings they have produced are assertive of three principles. First is the principle of sacralisation of the elements of nature such as land, air, water, and forests.

Second is the principle of emotional and spiritual interconnectedness between human consciousness and the elements of nature. Third is the principle of wholeness wherein every single element of the nature represents the intertwined cosmic unity.

These three principles produce a theological critique of modern man-nature dualism: a reductionist approach to view nature as a “purposeless atomised matter of exploitation”. For example, hedonism is one such reductionist approach that fragmentises human from nature and defines human as the rightful exploiter and nature as a ‘subject of exploitation.’ Furthermore, given the profundity of their content, these principles have persuasive potential to impede over-consumptive human behaviour.

To educate Muslim masses and also to transform the theory into a meaningful “action-based-movement”, on 17-18 August 2015, Muslim faith leaders, ecologists and policy makers from more than 20 Muslim countries, gathered at a seminar in Istanbul, Turkey, and unanimously issued Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change– a document urging world’s 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide to take immediate, well-mechanized and optimal action to combat climate crisis.

The speakers deliberated on diverse themes problematizing negative human qualities, for example, “endless greed for natural resources.” In the preamble, the document introduces God as the Creator (al-khaliq) and human as God’s khalifah on earth: a position with balanced roles and responsibilities. This key anthropological motif is described in the Qur’anic verse: “I am appointing on the earth a khalifah”. Therefore, while enjoying this position, humans have a moral obligation towards the protection and conservation of earth and its resources.

As per Muslim diagnosis, the tragic deviation from stewardship to absolute ownership is the root cause of climate problem. The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change iterates the call for reviving the broken relation of khalifah.

The Declaration became the first agreed-upon Islamic ecotheological document that highlights the issue of ecological injustice and Islamic response thereof. Given its content, Islamic ecotheology falls under Hussein Nasr’s ringing epistemological description of the “sacred science” (Latin scientia sacra) that connects metaphysical knowledge and natural world.

Drawing from the above discussion, Islamic ecotheology can be defined as a normative and ethical view of nature that demands a shift in attitude and practice. In contrast to utilitarian rationalization of nature, Islamic ecotheology advocates a faith-based: combining meaning, reverence, purpose and utilization, understanding of nature. It encourages acquiring wholisitic knowledge of the creation (ilm al-khalaq). It views creation as the sign of the Creator (ayat al-Allah).

It comprises all those concepts and precepts that have been referred in the Islamic scriptures vis-à-vis God’s purpose behind the creation of nature and human responsibility for its proportionate utilization, maintenance and preservation.

It is pertinent to mention that some Muslim ecotheologists like Mustafa Abu-Sway have moved a step ahead. He advanced the idea of a specialized jurisprudence for environment namely fiqh al-bi’ah, i.e., the environmental jurisprudence.

This specialized jurisprudence could be regarded as the legal-application side of the Islamic ecotheology. Similarly, Prof. Al-Jayyousi’s “Green JIZ model” based on the three principles namely Green Activism (jihad), Green Innovation (ijithad) and Geen Lifestyle (zohd) could be seen as the sustainable development application side of the Islamic ecotheology. In nutshell, the purpose of Islamic ecotheology is to promote good life (hayat al-tayebah) and facilitate conditions for human stability and happiness.

It is striking that Muslim ecotheologists have found around 750 verses in Qur’an that are directly or indirectly related to different natural phenomena, the laws that govern them and their impact on human life. For example, the Qur’an has mentioned word water (ma’) at more than 60 places and introduced it as the origin of whole biological life.

It has also provided details regarding its source, its forms, its cycling, and its impact on the entire ecosystem. Similarly, the word earth (ardh); a sanctuary in which humans nurture, comes in the Qur’an more at than 400 hundred places in different contexts. Muslim ecotheologists emphasize the fact that all ecological factors such air, water, earth, plants and animals support sustenance and well-being of human life.

Therefore, Muslims, after recognizing their deep dependency on the all environmental factors, need to rediscover their relationship with the environment. The relationship should be restored on the principles of justice (‘adl), wisdom (hikmah), moderation (i’etidal) and compassion (rahmah). It should be mentioned here that these principles form the underpinnings of environmental sustainability in Islam.

The unique human capacity of istikhlaf (stewardship) acts as the operational mechanism anchored to the integrated function of these principles. It evokes a deep sense of love and respect for the environment. In this holistic context, infliction of harm or maltreatment to natural world would amount to negligence and disrespectfulness towards God’s work.

(This op-ed is actually part of the authors recently published book chapter “Islamic Ecotheology: A Muslim Response to Climate Crisis” in Islam and Environment: Ethics, Theories and Practices. Click the link to access the full chapter https://www.academia.edu/98228821/Islamic_Ecotheology_Muslim_Response_to_Climate_Change )

Dr. Bilal Ahmad Malik, Faculty Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies,  University of Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir