Academic journal article Islam & Science

The Islamic Perspective on the Environmental Crisis: Seyyed Hossein Nasr in Conversation with Muzaffar Iqbal

Academic journal article Islam & Science

The Islamic Perspective on the Environmental Crisis: Seyyed Hossein Nasr in Conversation with Muzaffar Iqbal

Article excerpt

Keywords: Environmental crisis; science, technology and the environment; Islamic perspectives on environment; Scientific Revolution; Western civilization; Muslim world.

Bismi'Llahir-Rahm'nir-Rahim (In the Name of Allah, the most Gracious, the Most Merciful).

Iqbal: Perhaps we should begin by defining what we mean by environmental crisis; in fact, we should talk about "crises" rather than "crisis", for we now have multiple dimensions of this issue about which you have written so extensively during the last fifty years. We could begin by pinpointing various dimensions of this crisis, for what is generally called the "environmental crisis" is not merely the crisis of the environment; it involves both the natural world as well as the microcosm within us. There are integral links between these dimensions. We have even corrupted the food that we consume! Then there is the role of science and technology in the making of this crisis. Could we, then, begin with definitions and then go on to details?

Nasr: When one talks about crisis, it means of course that things are not in a normal state but in one that is dangerous and in disequilibrium. If everything were in crisis all the time, there would be no crisis. For example, if you have waves at the edge of the sea, you do not say there is a crisis because you have waves all the time--but if you have a tsunami, then there is a crisis. A crisis implies already that a normal state has been disrupted in a dangerous direction and manner and that we are aware of what has happened. Otherwise it does not appear to us as a crisis. When we speak of the environmental crisis, therefore, we mean that a crisis in this sense has been created in the natural environment; one that has upset the balance and harmony of the natural world which has surrounded and nourished human beings for as long as they remember, as long as history records, as long as they have lived on this earth. Not that there was no contention or strife between man and nature before, not that ten thousand years ago when man was becoming agricultural, that shift had no impact on the natural environment, but such shifts did not create a crisis for there was a remarkable ecological harmony which continued. Had there been a crisis of the dimension we have now at that time, it is most likely that we would not even exist today.

So, there was a remarkable harmony in the workings of nature, in the coming and going of seasons, in the alteration of cold and heat, in winds and calm air, in oceans and deserts, in how animals and plants existed. Now what is called the environmental crisis is a "crisis" because, as a result of modern technology and its applications driven not only by need but also greed and the creation of artificial needs over the globe, that balance has been destroyed. This is obvious; it can be observed in the extinction of many species and in the destruction of their natural habitat. Global warming--about which everyone in now talking--is, in fact, only one aspect of the environmental crisis, but it is so acute that it has finally caught the attention of everyone, whereas other aspects, especially the loss of species, has more or less been neglected by most people. As long as their cats and dogs are around, ordinary people do not realize what is happening to the diversity of life forms in the natural order. And of course, now, this pollution of the world of nature has entered into the food chain, into our bodies--through chemical and bio-technological technologies as well as the air that we breathe and the water we drink. This process has become so widespread and "normal" for many people that we even do not recognize it as yet as a crisis, because we do not feel its full impact upon us until someone we know falls seriously ill or dies due to causes obviously related to the pollution of the environment. Otherwise, those who think that there is a connection between all kinds of cancers and various chemicals which have polluted our internal environment through the corruption of the food chain do not seem to be concerned enough to take any action, there being of course some exceptions. …

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