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
- Conserving water
- Reducing waste
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.