I remember growing up hearing about the problem of the environmental crisis.
And honestly, I wouldn’t think much about it. Everything around me looked fine, while there were other problems that always seemed “bigger” and “more urgent”.
War. Famine. Poverty.
The problem of environmental crisis seemed just like a bad use of technology, and somehow I thought scientists would solve this problem with better technology.
However, in spite of many years of being aware of climate change, things have only gotten worse.
In fact, the effect of climate change is so drastic and taking place so fast that young people are wondering whether they’ll even have a habitable planet by the time they become adults.
In such dire situations, our minds immediately lookout for solutions. And the ones presented to us are:
Reducing carbon emissions
But if we have to find lasting solutions, we need to look deeper to understand what caused this crisis?
Was it just bad engineering? … Or something more?
The better we understand the problem, the more prepared we can be to address it.
Let’s start with asking “Why do we have an environmental crisis?”
Most people will trace the start of the crisis back to the industrial era. A time when man developed the technology to mass extract resources from nature for the purpose of economic growth.
The reality is that the environmental crisis did not start with the Industrial era. It started when man adopted a worldview of being separate from nature. Nature became a “thing” to tame, control, and master over.
The moment this worldview became the “truth” it transformed the systems of science, economics & engineering to serve this view.
Science became about dissecting nature to understand it.
Economics was about extracting from nature to profit from it.
Engineering was about controlling nature to meet economic demands.
The more progress we made in science, economics & engineering, the more the natural world suffered.
Fast forward to the present day.
The environmental crisis cannot be solved just by better science, economic policies or engineering.
This is not a secular problem.
This is a spiritual problem.
The problem was created at the level of man’s relationship with nature, which is based on a false premise of looking at nature.
Unless we change our relationship with nature, no amount of technology will solve this problem.
I mentioned earlier that the root of the environmental crisis was when man saw himself separate from nature.
So what was the worldview before that?
How did pre-industrial man view nature?
When we turn to sacred scriptures they all viewed nature as a living system, and man was part of this larger system.
As a Muslim I wanted to explore how the Qur’an on what’s a spiritual view of the natural world. Here are 5 verses that I found:
1/ Nature is alive
God calls nature its Ummah (Community)
“All living beings roaming the earth and winged birds soaring in the sky are communities (Ummah) like yourselves.” (6:38)
2/ Nature glorifies God
“Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth declares the glory of Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (61:1)
3/ Nature contains the signs of God
“In the creation of the heavens and the earth,
in the alternation of the day and night…
in the beasts of all kinds…
in the change of the winds and clouds…
indeed are signs for people that are wise” (2:164)
4/ Nature has rights
In Islamic ethics, it’s not just humans that have rights. Nature has rights.
We see this in the laws around the treatment and use of animals, water & trees.
“And the heaven He raised and set the balance. That you do not transgress within the balance” (55:7-8)
5/ Man is care taker of nature
“Indeed, We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it…” (33:72)
Rituals connect with nature
As Muslims many of our rituals are connected with nature:
God has made earth the first mosque.
The timings of 5 daily prayers follow the sun’s movement
Before prayer we purify ourselves with water
Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon
I could see from the Quranic point of view, nature is not just “raw resources” that are a “means to an end” for an economic purpose.
Nature is alive, it glorifies God, it has rights, and we are the caretakers of nature. The rituals in Islam are deeply connected to nature.
When we see nature this way, it changes the way we understand science.
Science is no just about understanding nature by dissecting nature into parts. It’s about understanding the relationship between parts.
Engineering is no longer about extracting resources, but creating systems that are in harmony with the environment.
Economics is no longer about maximizing profits, but creating policies to meet the needs of the whole.
And once we change the way we approach our sciences, it will no longer be destructive. It will be in harmony with nature.
Therefore as Muslims and spiritual seekers, we have an important role to play. It’s to remind first to ourselves and then to those around us that nature is not some machine that needs to be fixed. We cannot solve this problem by outsourcing it to scientists.
The environmental crisis is a deeply spiritual problem. In order to solve it, we have to rediscover the role of nature in Islam and the Qur’an. How it connects with the world view and rituals.
In bringing peace within through practice, will create peace outside with the natural world.
As spiritual seekers, we’re always looking for a way to become better.
Instead of operating from fear, we want to operate from a place of abundance
Instead of feeling pain we want to experience bliss
Instead of feeling separate from God, we want to get closer to God
Inherent in that approach is the feeling that we are not perfect, and we’re on this infinite journey towards perfection.
However, that perspective is not always helpful.
It’s not wrong, because that’s how the time-trapped ego looks at the world ie a linear fashion where things need to move from imperfection to perfection.
As spiritual seekers, it’s more helpful to bring our awareness to the reality the world is perfect. God is perfect, and a perfect God can only create a perfect world.
The ego is a temporary identity to function in this physical world but is not our true self.
Our true self in a sense is already perfect. And the journey is from perfection to perfection.
That can be difficult for the mind to grasp.
Let’s explore what we mean by we’re moving from perfection to perfection
Take a look at a rose. At every stage it’s perfect.
There’s nothing wrong with it when it’s a seed, and nothing wrong when it’s dying. It doesn’t need “fixing” at any stage. Every stage is a perfect expression.
So what we see as “problems” in ourselves or the world, is a perfect expression.
How can the world be perfect if there’s so much pain?
But you may wonder how can the world be perfect if there’s so much pain, problems & suffering?
The world is perfect because it’s fulfilling its purpose perfectly.
Think of it this way: What’s the purpose of a mirror?
It is to reflect back reality.
That reality may be pleasant or unpleasant. Either way, the mirror is doing a perfect job.
Similarly, the purpose of this world is not to always make us happy, but for us to know God through his attributes.
And we cannot know His attributes without experiencing contrast. You cannot know what is:
White without experiencing black.
Forgiveness without experiencing abuse.
Ease without experiencing hardship
Hence the pain and suffering is not a sign of an imperfect world. This world is giving us contrast, to help us know God.
And it is through this knowledge, we move in the direction of our highest potential.
How do I deal with my pain?
It starts with being aware that the pain is not wrong. It’s a perfect expression.
To move beyond the pain, the question to ourselves, is “What quality do I need to be (or express) at this moment?”
This is different from asking “How do I fix this problem?” Because that question inherently assumes something is wrong, and hence needs to be fixed.
How does this perspective change the way we look at the world?
When I look at the world from this perspective I find that it affects all areas of my life.
How I look at myself
When my ego tells me I’m not good enough, I can remind myself that a perfect God has created a perfect me. It’s ok that I cannot meet my ego’s standard. I can stop running behind a mirage (ie ego’s standard of perfection), and take action that taps into my God-given internal potential.
It changes the way I parent. Like every seed has the potential to grow into a tree given the right conditions and time period, the same applies to our kids. I can see them as perfect expressions at every stage. Instead of rushing and pushing them to achieve some ideal, I can focus my attention on the conditions I provide my children and give them the time to blossom.
Instead of trying to fix my business so that it reaches some unending goal for profits, I can build it to see what purpose it wants to express in this world.
Next time you find yourself thinking that there’s something wrong with you, remind yourself that a perfect God has created a perfect you. You don’t need fixing. Inside you is this awesome power to reflect Divine qualities. In that remembrance, you’ll be able to access a vast power that will express itself at the right time.
Every day, we are faced with hundreds of choices about what to do. Choices like:
What to eat and not eat
What to give and what to take
What to say and what to hold back
Most choices we encounter are simple, and we decide without much thought. But there are some that create a dilemma because the stakes are high, the situation is grey and we want to make the right decision.
It could be a conflict situation with a loved one or making a big life-changing decision.
When I would face such choices I would ask myself “What’s the right thing to do?”
My experience has shown that asking this question in difficult situations is not helpful.
For example, if I’m in a conflict with someone that has many grey areas, it’s not useful for me to ask “Am I doing the right thing?” because what is “right” is subjective.
Instead, a more useful question to ask is, “Is my action coming from sincerity?” Another way to frame this question: “Am I acting in integrity with my values?“
This question is useful because it shifts my attention from trying to control something external and brings my awareness to the intention of my action.
If it’s clear to me that my action is coming from integrity then I can worry less about the outcome. I can surrender to what happens. I accept I cannot control the outcome.
I can be happy that I acted from sincerity, and that is the best action.