Ecology and Environmental Justice: Spiritual Guidelines

Ecology and Environmental Justice: Spiritual Guidelines

Posted 02 August 2011, by Dr. Robert D. Crane, The American Muslim (TAM),


In Islam, the fundamental doctrine of tawhid combines human ethics and divine law into a single discipline.  The Islamic emphasis on ecological balance is part of a global ethics fundamental to all religions.  This is why, especially in Islam, justice in our relationship with all of Creation, known as “nature”, is part of both economic and political justice, and vice-versa.

The Islamic environmental ethic is emphasized in the Qur’an as a central theme and has been simply assumed, so much so that it did not even form a widely recognized jurisprudential category until the term haqq al mahid was adopted in the Year 2010 as one of the eight irreducible principles or maqasid al shari’ah by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who has written numerous books on the subject.  Of more than 6,000 verses in the Qur’an, some 750 or one-eighth of the Book, exhort one to reflect on nature as a revelation of ultimate truth.

The shari’ / maqsudi approach to environmental ethics is based on three basic premises or hajjiyat.

1) Sacredness of Creation.  Until recently ecology was part of the first normative principle in Islamic jurisprudence, haqq al din, which requires respect for God and freedom of religion.  Respect for God requires respect for Creation because its diversity and coherent balance points toward the Oneness of its Creator and Sustainer, as summarized in the phrase, “Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God”.  The de-sacralization of the cosmos, and indeed of ourselves, has led to the denial of consciousness as both a process of knowing and as a state of being, which, in turn, has led to the plight of modern man.

2) Stewardship of Creation.  Traditionalist awareness of the sacred nature of our natural surroundings and their “inner truth” makes imperative the traditionalist concept found in all world religions that every person and every community is a steward of nature or khalifa.  Our responsibility is both to conserve and multiply the bounties of creation based on the mercy of God, Who has provided everything needed for the flourishing of civilization if we will but use our reason in overcoming the false appearance of material scarcity.

3) Balanced Moderation.  Balance or mizan is a fundamental principle for translating the guidance of normative law (the maqasid al shari’ah) into moral action.  The development and use of unlimited resources, including those yet to be discovered, and technologies yet to be invented, must be governed by the rational maintenance of a wise balance between productive use and destructive exploitation.

I. Environmental Justice: A Divine Trust

One of the four transcendent purposes in the maqasid al shari’ah is respect for the human soul (haqq al nafs), which includes as a second-level purpose respect for life (haqq al hayat).  This, in turn, has been elevated in the modern world into a new maqsad, haqq al mahid, at the highest level of the maqasid al shari’ah, requiring respect for ecology and the environment as necessary conditions for life.  This principle of environmental justice reflects the duty to protect the environment as a part of human stewardship of the earth.  This haqq al mahid is based on the Oneness of God and on what is known as haqq al bayah, which is the primordial commitment of humankind to serve as guardians of Creation.

The responsibility or fard ‘ain of every person, and the collective responsibility or fard kifaya of every community, is to recognize the sacred nature of everything in Creation in all of its diversity as signs pointing to the Oneness of its Creator and Sustainer.

The theory of haqq al mahid has always remained in the center of perception throughout the history of Muslim civilizations, even though otherwise they might not qualify as Islamic.  The practice was once far ahead of anything anywhere else in the world.

Reviving what is now popularly known as Eco-Islam is being advocated by an expanding literature on the subject.  For example, Sigrid Noekel of the Munich-based Stiftung Interkultur in Eren Guvercin’s interview with her, entitled “Islam, Environment, and Sustainability”,, described the early Islamic harim and hima protective zones around springs and streams where in order to prevent pollution no settlements were permitted.  Entire meadow and forest preserves were maintained in order to provide emergency support during times of draught and famine.  Centuries of encroachment by expanding populations, however, especially in the modern period of corporate agriculture designed for exports and quick profits, have largely eliminated these traditional eco-Islamic practices, which were designed originally to maintain a balance between destructive exploitation and productive use.  During the past twenty years, environmental heroes and heroines in some Muslim countries are successfully challenging the vested interests by reviving these old conservation practices.  Varying widths of stream buffers are now an essential part of environmentally sensitive planning and zoning codes also in most localities in the United States.

This new environmental ethic, which is arising from the resurgence of the traditional Islam that arose during the classical period of the 3rd through 7th centuries A.H., has been successfully championed even in Arabia, the land of the super-skyscrapers, which some ahadith associate with the crass self-indulgence that will mark the end of the world.  In 1987, a non-Muslim consultant from the University of Wisconsin was hired to plan a system of national parks.  After spending two years studying all the world’s major national parks for guidance, he came to the conclusion that by far the best guidance for a truly ecologically sound system of parks in Saudi Arabia came from the Qur’an.

The best literature on the normative principle of haqq al mahid includes one booklet specifically focused on it as a discrete maqsad or principle and many equally long and even more sophisticated articles, such as those by Frederick M. Denny and Ibrahim Demir , as well as the booklet, Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust, by Denny, et al.

All of these scholars emphasize that the maqsad known as haqq al mahid, from the verb wahada and the noun wahda, is primarily a spiritual concept that serves to justify and guide the implementation of environmental philosophy and action.  Indeed, the very idea of respecting and protecting the natural environment might be included in the ghraiba or “the unseen” aspects of reality that can be known primarily by personal experience, that is experientially.

II.  Consciousness of Inner Truth

The Qur’an speaks of an inner truth in Creation.  Thus in Surah al Hijr 15:85 we read: Wa ma khalaqna al samawat wa al ‘ard wa bainahum illa bi al haqq, “and We have created the heavens and the earth and all that lies in between with an inner truth.” And again in Surah Yunus 10:5, “He it is who has made the sun a radiant light (diya’) and the moon a light [reflected) (nur), and has determined for it phases so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure time.  None of this has God created without [an inner] truth.” This is repeated again and again in different contexts, such as Al-i Imran 3:191 and Sad 38:27, where the term batilan is used and best translated as “meaning and purpose.”

Introducing Surah 15:85 is 15:75, which reads ina fi dhalika la’ayatin li al mutawasimin, “In this are messages for those who can read the signs.” The root verb wasama in its fifth form tawasama means to watch or examine closely.  Both of the classical commentators Razi and Zamakhshari say that mutawasim means “one who applies the mind to the study of the outward appearances of a thing with a view to understanding its real nature and its inner characteristics.”

Part of the inner truth, which is beyond the competence of modern science to either prove or disprove, is the human responsibility to serve as a vice-regent or khalifa of the Creator in multiplying and conserving the bounties of God.  At the beginning of the Qur’an in Surah al Baqara 2:30 the origin of this trust or amana is revealed: “Behold, your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a viceregent on earth’.  They said, ‘Will you place in it one who will make mischief and shed blood, while we celebrate your praises and glorify Your holy name?’ He said, ‘I know what you do not know’.” In the next verse, 2:31, we read wa ‘alama Adam al asma’ kullaha, “And we gave Adam the power of conceptual thought (taught him the names of all things)”.

The Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, emphasized the sacredness of everything that is created by God, including the creative power of women manifested through the fruit of the womb, when he said, “Verily, this world is sweet and appealing, and Allah placed you as viceregents in it; He will see what you do.  So, be careful of what you do in this world and what you do to women, for the first test of the children of Israel was in women”.

Another part of the inner truth is indicated in Surah al Rahman 55:6 of the Qur’an, wa najmu wa al shajaru yasjudan, “and the stars and the trees bow down to God.” Further, in Surah al Nur 24:31, “Are you not aware that it is God whose limitless glory all [creatures] that are in the heavens and on earth extol, even the birds as they spread out their wings?  Each [of them] knows indeed how to pray unto Him and to glorify Him.  And God has full knowledge of all that they do, for God’s is the dominion over the heavens and the earth, and with God is all journey’s end”.  Surah al ‘Isra’ 17:43-44 expands even further on this: “Limitless is He in His glory, and sublimely, immeasurably exalted above anything that men may say about Him!  The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they contain.  And there is not a single thing but extols His limitless glory and praise.  But, you [O men] fail to grasp the manner of glorifying Him!”  The Qur’an summarizes all this in the simple phrase, “whithersoever you turn, there is the face of God”.  This may be considered to be the central message of David and the Psalms, which modern man appreciates only as poetry, if at all.

According to Professor Hossein Nasr in the Dudleian Lecture, which he delivered at Harvard Divinity School on May 1, 2003, entitled “In the Beginning of Creation Was Consciousness,” all the world religions, other than orthodox Christianity, have understood the term “in the beginning was the Word” (in principia erat verbum) not as time-oriented but as a statement of timeless reality.  In other words, consciousness is an inherent part of all that exists.  This is not to say that there are many gods, which is pantheism, or that God is all that exists, or even that God pervades all that exists, which is the doctrine of panentheism.  The understanding of traditionalist religions is that consciousness is not merely a process of knowing but a state of being, and it is present in all living beings, not only in trees but even in the stars of distant galaxies.  This is why many of the so-called Sufis recite in their wird (dhikr) the verse of the Qur’an, “Even the stars and the trees bow down to God”, but in higher ways that you do not understand.

“This leaves a deep negative effect,” he says, “on theological concerns, one of which is the lack of attention to nature as a theological category, a category that Christianity began to leave aside in the seventeenth century”.  Increasingly, modern theologians have accepted the scientistic view of nature and are restricting their explorations to theologizing within this restricted paradigm of thought.

He continues, “As a result of the loss of the presence of consciousness throughout reality … not only was the sense of the sacredness of human life put into question – because the word sacred does not mean anything in the context of modern science; it is just sentimentality.  And with the loss of the sense of the sacred came the loss by human beings of their home in the cosmos – that is, we became homeless in a cosmos that was seen as being no more than energy and matter. … The result has been a very profound sense of alienation, including psychological alienation, which is one of the maladies of the modern world. … The world around us from which we feel alienated becomes spiritually worthless, in a sense, and therefore is valued only as far as our own immediate impulses and so-called needs are concerned”.  The result is catastrophic to the world of nature, because we must then conclude that the environmental crisis is merely the correctible result of bad engineering and not a crisis of religious, theological, and spiritual understanding.

Nasr suggests that, “Our abominable treatment of nature is, I believe, a direct consequence of our alienation from a world in which there is no participation in a shared reality beyond the material.  … How is it possible for us to know the world out there if there is no common element, nothing that unites the knower and the known?  This enfeeblement of the methodology of epistemology, which was never a problem for traditional philosophies, has everything to do with the total and radical partition created between what we call consciousness and matter”.

This bifurcation or dichotomy of reality explains why even Muslim jurists do not sufficiently distinguish the transcendent purposes in the maqasid al shari’ah from their social applications, so that we can then holistically unite them as cause and effect.  Nasr writes, “This desacralization of the cosmos and the ensuing alienation has made a sham of the metaphysical and philosophical basis of ethics. … In all periods of human history, ethics was related to a vision of reality.  It had a cosmic aspect. … We have made any ethical act toward the world of nature contrived and without a metaphysical and cosmological basis. … In the sacred scriptures … animals and plants were seen as God’s creation, with spiritual value, as were rivers and mountains.  Those notions are now scientifically meaningless, and any environmental ethics based on that view of the world is [considered to be] based on mere sentimentality.  It is not based on reality, if you accept the scientific view of the world as reality. … If we reject the sacred, reject that it is the wisdom of God that is imprinted upon the DNA, that all creation bears the imprint of God – a meaningless statement in modern biology – where then does the sacredness of human life come from?”

He concludes, “I believe that ultimately, of course, consciousness will have the final say, but it is for us while we have consciousness – this great, great gift – to use it properly to understand what it means to live consciously, to live fully with awareness, to know where we are coming from, where we are going, and why we are here”.

The environmental movement to respect our home in the cosmos is new in America and Europe only because the sapiential basis of this respect has been lost.  There was no maqsad in the maqasid al shari’ah for ecology until recently because respect for the environment was part of the primary maqsad, haqq al din, which is the responsibility to respect God in the sense of loving awe in return for God’s love for every person.

The purpose of human existence is clearly stated near the end of Surah al Dhariyat 51:56, “And [tell them that] I have not created the invisible beings and men to any end other than that they may [know] and worship Me”.  The invisible beings include jinn and angels, those beings who are normally concealed from the human senses.  The responsibility to worship God comes from the fact that God is worthy of worship.  Everything in God’s Creation is worthy of respect and even love, but not of worship, which is why the Qur’an warns so strongly against elevating any created thing to the level of divinity.

Muhammad Asad in his commentary on this verse of the Qur’an in footnote 38 writes, “Thus, the innermost purpose of the creation of all rational beings is their cognition (ma’rifah) of the existence of God, and, hence, their conscious willingness to conform their own existence to whatever they may perceive of His will and plan; and it is this twofold concept of cognition and willingness that gives the deepest meaning to what the Qur’an describes as ‘worship’ (‘ibadah)”. This ‘ibadah’ is often translated merely as submission to God, as is the term “islam” itself.  From this comes the sakinah or transcendent peace that is the fruit of such worship, because in this all beings fulfill their purpose and become what God has created them to be.

The environment and everything in it deserves respect because the diversity and coherence of the created world points to its origin in the Oneness of God.  Everything that God has created is considered in the Qur’an as a signpost.  Thus Surah al Jathiyah 45:1-6, the title of which means “kneeling,” opens by revealing that the visible signs in Creation of a consciously creative Power convey a spiritual message to humanity: “Ha Mim.  The bestowal from on high of this divine writ issues from God, the Almighty, the Wise.  Behold, in the heavens as well as on earth there are indeed messages for all who [are willing to] believe.  And in your nature, and in [that of] of the animals which He scatters [over the earth] there are messages for people who are endowed with inner certainty.  And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence that God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the winds: [in all this] there are messages for people who use their reason.  These messages from God do we convey to you, setting forth the truth.  In what other tiding, if not in God’s messages, will you, then, believe?”

Surah Ibrahim 31:20 develops this point further by asking us, “Are you not aware that God has enabled you to derive benefit from all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, and has lavished upon you His blessings, both outward and inward?”  The word sakhara is often translated as “make subservient to,” but its second meaning is to use, or derive benefit from, or turn to profitable account.  Thus according to Asad, “Almost all classical commentators agree that God’s having made the natural phenomena ‘subservient’ to man is a metaphor (majaz) for His having enabled man to derive lasting benefit from them”.

The beginning of Surah al Rad 13:1-3 reads: “He governs all that exists. … Clearly does He spell out these messages, so that you might be certain in your innermost that you are destined to meet your sustainer [on Judgment Day].  And it is He who has spread the earth wide and placed on it firm mountains and running waters, and created thereon two sexes of every [kind of] plant; and it is He who causes the night to cover the day.  Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who think”.
III.  The Jurisprudence of Divine Balance

The key to Islamic wisdom in respect for the environment is the term mizan or balance.  This is a primary hajja or secondary principle of haqq al mahid.  Surah al Hijr 15:19 reads, “And the earth – We have spread it out wide, and placed on it mountains firm, and caused [life] of every kind to grow on it in a balanced manner”.  Surah al Mulk 67:3 announces: “Behold, everything We have created in due measure and proportion”.

In Surah al Rahman immediately after verse 55:6 stating that the stars and the trees bow down to God, verses 7-9 compare the balance in the heavens to the balance of justice required in human social life.  “And the firmament has He raised high, and has devised [for all things] a measured balance (mizan), so that you may not transgress against due balance.  Weigh, therefore, your deeds with equity (qist)”. Justice thus is a heavenly virtue inscribed in all of nature, not only in the fitra or nature of human beings.

Surah al Shura 52:17 compares revelation as a source of truth with the human faculty to differentiate between right and wrong as two complementary sources of human capability and responsibility to know and observe in practice the highest purposes in life as humans can best conceive them to be: “It is God [Himself] who has bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, and given man a balance (mizan, by which to weigh conduct)”.  The development of the maqasid al shari’ah is the highest human effort to articulate such purposes and fulfill them in action.

The challenge is developed in Surah al Hadid (Iron), verses 20 and 25, warning that man’s technology, symbolized by the use of iron as a tool, can be used either to respect the balance of nature or to destroy it: “Indeed, [even aforetime] did We send forth apostles with all evidence of [this] truth; and through them We bestowed revelation from on high, and [thus gave you] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong] so that men might behave with equity; and We bestowed [upon you] from on high [the ability to make use of] iron, in which there is awesome power as well as [a source of] benefits for man”.

This surah in verse 20 warns against the ignorant who would subject the natural world to their own greed in violation of justice:  “Know (O men) that the life of this world is but a play and a passing delight, and a beautiful show, and [the cause of] your boastful vying with one another, and [of your] greed for more and more riches and children.  The life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion”.

The issue of balance in the maqsad of haqq al mahid concerns the relative priorities in protecting the environment versus protecting the other essential purposes of human life.  This is part of the broader problem of relating the spiritual and the social as foci in a single paradigm of tawhid.

The rationale for placing high priority on protecting the environment, even at the expense of any adverse economic impact, was pioneered 150 years ago in the Western world by Henry Thoreau who wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”, by which he meant that without appreciation of natural beauty the human spirit will decay and civilization along with it.  The ensuing classics in environmental theology range from Rachel Carson’s book, The Silent Spring, almost half a century ago, to the prolific writings of Wendell Berry today, including his book A Continuous Harmony.

Some of the more startling warnings were presented at a panel discussion on “Spirituality and the Environment” hosted by Jerry Schubel, President of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, in February, 2007, as reported by a participant, Hassan Zillur Rahim.  Dr. Schubel quoted E. O. Wilson’s famous prediction that within 50 years we will have lost half of all living species.  Schubel says that, “We are now going through the sixth greatest extinction” in the history of the earth.  “In the previous five extinctions, it is said to have taken 10 million years for the earth to recover each time”.  Other predictions are that the melting of the Greenland Ice Cap alone would cause a rise in sea-level that would flood the entire sea-level country of Bangladesh, as well as most of the great cities of the world.

These predictions are based on worst-case scenarios and on debatable data, but these scenarios keep getting worse as feedback loops are discovered and more so-called exogenous variables are factored into the computer simulations.  According to an article in the Journal of Climate, reported in The Washington Post of May 25th, 2009, “If an unusually detailed computer simulation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has it right, global warming in this century is on track to be about twice as bad as predicted six years ago. … After running the model 400 times with slight variations in the inputs, the new predictions … are for a 9.4 degree increase in the median temperature, more than double the 4.3 degrees predicted in a 2003 simulation”.

Professional long-range global forecasters would argue that all such forecasts are wrong, mainly because they either optimistically assume human rationality or pessimistically prefer the threat of irrationality.  This, however, is not or at least should not be the nub of the issue.  There is no debating the trends, nor is there any doubt that at least some of the threat is caused by reversible human activity as shown in the award winning documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth and in a book by the same title by Al Gore.

The real issue is paradigmatic, because paradigms shape agendas, and agendas control policy.  The issue has even been seen as a clash among civilizations, though in reality it involves a clash within each one of them more than between any two of them.

For example, Dr. Hassan Zillur Rahim, a physicist writes: “Qur’anic verses describing nature and natural phenomena outnumber verses dealing with commandments and rituals.  In fact, of more than 6,000 verses in he Holy Qur’an, some 750 or one-eighth of the Book, exhort believers to reflect on nature, to study the relationship between living organisms and their environment, to make the best use of reason, and to maintain the balance and proportion that God has built into His Creation”.

He continues, “Nature is created on the principle of balance, and as a steward of God it is the human’s responsibility to ensure that his or her actions do not disrupt the balance.  Stewardship does not imply superiority over other living beings, because ownership belongs to God alone”.  “A Muslim cannot love God in Heaven,” he writes, without also loving His creation.

Dr. Rahim emphasizes, however, that there are other “practical” considerations for the Islamic environmental ethic.  “Inherent in Qur’anic teaching” he says, “is the notion that ecology is not only religion but farsighted economics. … One of the great principles of ecology is diversity of life and the role it plays in making the earth habitable.  Without the biotic diversity of plants, animals, and microorganisms that share the planet with us, life as we know it could not exist. … All living species have a right to live and flourish on earth, not because of their potential use to humans, but because their presence sustains the harmony and proportion of God’s creation. … A diminishing biotic diversity whose principal cause is man changes his role from a steward to a predator. … Knowledge that gives man a false sense of sovereignty over God’s creation cannot be pursued or morally defended. … ‘Mastery of nature’, with its implied one-sided benefits for man, is a concept foreign to Islam. … Man is dependent on a world he did not create, and therefore he has no right to destroy it”, because that would be suicide, which in Islamic law is one of the worst crimes.

As a “practical” consequence of man separating science and faith into categories that do not even overlap, Hassan Zillur Rahim quotes the warning in Surah al Rum 30:41: “[Since they have become oblivious of God in the pursuit of material power as a false god], corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought; and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path]”.  It is noteworthy that the earlier civilizations that carried arrogance to extremes, as recorded in the Qur’an, such as the ‘Ad and Thamud, were destroyed by environmental cataclysms.

An Islamic theoretician, S. Parvez Manzoor, writing in 2003 on the “Environment and Values: An Islamic Perspective,” refers to the “unprecedented dominion over nature” as “a singularly impressive feature of the modern, albeit Western, civilization”.  He perceives, however, that “the sheer impossibility of maintaining the wanton ethos of ‘progress and meliorism’ forever” already has and increasingly will eliminate “yesterday’s confidence in the powers of Promethean man”.

He forecasts optimistically that “dominion ethics” may be replaced by “Franciscan conservatism,” based on the Qur’anic Weltanschauung, according to which “to infuse the natural world with transcendental ethics is the main purpose of man”.

Manzoor writes again in 2005, “The creation of Man is a major theme in the Qur’an. … As the supreme creation of God, being His masterpiece, man has been endowed with all the faculties essential to his special mission.  First of all, he is a moral being and as such, he is a sort of cosmic bridge through which the divine will, in its totality and especially its higher ethical part, can enter space-time and become concrete.  Furthermore, gifted with ‘Aql, discursive intellect, and the power of conceptualization, Man has been given divine guidance in terms of moral imperatives – the revelation of God’s will in a prescriptive form.  In short, he is the highest of God’s creation, a theomorphic being.

This is why, according to Manzoor, “Every discussion of ethics in Islam must, of necessity, proceed from tawhid, as it is the sine qua non of Islamic faith” in its focus on the “principle of oneness” and on its “teleological axiom” that “God, who has created this universe, is also its final end”.  He writes, “The final end is actually one for the whole universe, including all beings and creatures.  That end is God”.

This is also why Manzoor writes perceptively that, “There is no division of ethics and law in Islam.  The ultimate consequence of man’s acceptance of trusteeship is the arbitration of conduct by divine judgment.  Perceived thus as a preparation for the final trial, every human act, humble or grand, public or private, becomes charged with legal consequences.  All contradictions of internalized ethics and externalized law, of concealed intentions and revealed actions, are resolved in the all-embracing actionalism of Shari’ah, because it is both a doctrine and a path”.

This is why, “Shari’ah or law, rather than theology, has been the main Islamic contribution to human civilization.  For a practical community, such as that of Muslims, existential imperatives (law), rather than moral or teleological speculation (theology), should be the matter of paramount concern. … The moral perspective of Shari’ah … is thus not a stereological ontology but a moral existentialism”.

“Shari’ah is also the methodology of history in Islam.  By its application, temporal contingencies are judged by eternal imperatives, moral choices are transformed into options for concrete action, and ethical sentiment is objectified into law.  It is in fact the problem-solving methodology of Islam par excellence.  The theoretical Islamic search for an environmental ethics must pass through the objective framework of Shari’ah in order to become operative and be part of Islamic history. … Its answers are given in terms of a strategy for action; all this has universal validity”.

This action-orientation of the maqasid al shari’ah requires community solidarity in perfecting the societal institutions that shape public policy.  Without such reform within existing institutions, the effectiveness of individual action will continue to be marginalized by the existing political, economic, gender, and educational constraints.

Hossein Nasr has been criticized for emphasizing so heavily the need for education of individuals to rise above the regnant anthropocentrism of contemporary culture toward a cosmicly holistic approach to life so that they can take personal actions in their daily lives.  For example, individual persons might deliberately consume less in order to counter the pressures of a materialistic culture toward consumption either as an aim in itself or as a form of what Thorstein Veblin in his masterful analysis, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, more than a century ago called invidious and conspicuous consumption.

Nevertheless, advocacy of a personal rather than a collective shift from a materialistic to a spiritual conception of reality, as Nasr and such leaders as Rabbi Michael Lerner advocate, is a call to recalibrate our priorities and concepts of cause and effect not merely at a philosophical and theological level but precisely as guidance and as motivation for community solidarity in social and political action to transform the institutions of society and overcome the built-in biases that shape agendas and control policy.  The issue is not either/or but how to pursue both the spiritual and the social in a tawhidi episteme of negentropic synergy.

In policy making the two poles of danger are either to overestimate or underestimate the threat of environmental collapse.  Most of the literature by scholars of every religion has emphasized the dangers of under-reacting.  The best presentation of counterarguments by scholars of equal competence was published in 2007 by The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a 120-page book entitled Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment.  This is designed to point out the dangers of over-reacting at the expense of the economic goal of prosperity and the political goal of freedom.

Maintaining the balance between the spiritual and the social premises of life is just as important as maintaining the balance at the level of program planning and courses of action.  Maintaining the balance at both levels is the major challenge to scholars and activists who are undertaking to develop for this purpose the set of human responsibilities and human rights known as the maqasid al shari’ah or purposes of both personal and community life.

The greatest interfaith challenge is to develop a deeper understanding of these universal guidelines, known by Muslims as the maqasid al shari’ah but found equally in all the world religions, and to develop greater solidarity in promoting compliance with them as part of the human obligation to work for peace, prosperity, and freedom through compassionate justice.

Further Readings

Camille Helminski, Editor.  The Book of Nature: A Sourcebook of Spiritual Perspectives on Nature and the Environment.  (Bristol. UK, The Book Foundation, 2006), 491 pp.

Martin Lings and Clinton Minnaar, Editors.  The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy. Essays by Titus Burckhardt, Ananda K. Coomarawaswami, Rene Guenon, Martin Lings, S. Hossein Nasr, Lord Northbourne, Marco Pallis, Frithjof Schuon, Philip Sherrard, Ghazi bin Muhammad, William Stoddart, Tage Lindbom, and Reza Shah-Kazemi.  (Bloomington, IN, World Wisdom Books, 2007), 344 pp.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr.  An Introduction to Cosmological Doctrines: Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study.  (Boulder, CO: Shambala, 1978).  318 pp.


1 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, see, e.g., Man and Nature – The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man; Religion and the Order of Nature; An Introduction to Cosmological Doctrine: Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for its Study; Knowledge and the Sacred; Traditional Islam in the Modern World; Science and Civilization in Islam; and Islam and the Plight of Modern Man.

2 From direct personal knowledge of Dr. Robert Crane, while he lived in Saudi Arabia studying Arabic in 1987-88.

3 Mustafa Abu-Sway, Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment: Fiqh al Bi’ah fi al Islam, ( )

4 Frederick M. Denny, “Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust Inviting Balanced Stewardship,” (

5 Ibrahim Demir’s “Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s Approach to the Environment,” posted on August 31, 2003, in ( )

6 Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust, prepared by Richard C. Foltz at the University of Florida, Frederick M. Denny of The University of Colorado at Boulder, and Azizan Baharuddin, who is Director of the Centre for Civilizational Dialogue at the University of Malaysia.

7 Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic science and spirituality, is University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University.  Professor Nasr is the author of numerous books including Man and Nature: the Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (Kazi Publications, 1998), Religion and the Order of Nature (Oxford, 1996), and Knowledge and the Sacred (SUNY, 1989).

8 Wird or dhikr refers to a set portion of the Qur’an, or any other specific act of worship performed either at a particular time or on a regular basis, e.g., repeating the name of Allah as in “Allahu.”

9 Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, translation.

10 Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony : Essays Cultural and Agricultural, Counterpoint (later printing edition, December 1, 2003)

11 Hasan Zillur Rahim, Spirituality and the Environment, The American Muslim ezine, February 16, 2007.
( ).

12 Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, Rodale Books, 2006.

13 Dr. Hassan Zillur Rahim, a physicist and long-time editor of Iqra, the bi-monthly newsletter of the South Bay Islamic Association in South Bay, California, published an article entitled, “Ecology in Islam: Protection of the Web of Life a Duty for Muslims,” in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, which was reprinted electronically on June 12, 2005, in ( ).

14 Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, “Environmental Ethics in Islam,” (

15 S. Parvez Manzoor, “Environment and Values: An Islamic Perspective”, Islamonline, August 14, 2003 ( ). Note: S. Parvez Manzoor is the Swedish Editor-in-Chief of the journal Islam-21 (referring to the 21st century), whose homepage is entitled “Reconciling Transcendence and Existence: Parvez Manzoor on Islam, Modernity, and the Human Condition,” (

16 S. Parvez Manzoor “Islamic Conceptual Framework,” Islamonline, May 27, 2005 ( ).

NOTE:  This article is adapted from Dr. Robert D. Crane’s unpublished book, Rehabilitating the Role of Religion in the World:  Laying a New Foundation.  The first ten chapters, including Part II, Chapter 9, entitled “The Spiritual Principle of Haqq al Mahid,” were made available electronically on May 30 and June 7, 2009, in four parts, in the ezine, which serves as Dr. Crane’s de facto blog,  Chapter 9 is in Part Two-2,


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