Academic journal article Islam & Science

Inner and Outer Nature: An Islamic Perspective on the Environmental Crisis

Academic journal article Islam & Science

Inner and Outer Nature: An Islamic Perspective on the Environmental Crisis

Article excerpt


This article presents a short overview of the Islamic approach to nature and the Islamic perspective on modern science. (1) These topics are addressed in light of the ongoing environmental crisis, to which this essay proposes a solution. The framework through which this is conducted is Islamic in particular and universal in principle. (2)

The main thesis of this essay is largely inspired by the work of the Islamic scholar and philosopher, Seyyed Hossein Nasr--in fact, its bulk may be considered a humble summary of his writings regarding the intersection of religion, nature, and modern science. In 1966, Nasr delivered the Rockefeller Lectures at the University of Chicago, in which he traced the root issues of the environmental crisis to the spiritual crisis of modern humanity. The transcripts of the lectures became the basis of his book, Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man, which has been used as a prime text for direction and reference in this essay. The writings of the twentieth-century metaphysician Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) have also had significant influence on this essay. The Islamic portrayal of the problems of modern science, as well as the metaphysical perspective on the environmental crisis, is primarily provided today by the Traditionalist school, (3) to which both Frithjof Schuon and Seyyed Hossein Nasr belong. (4) The traditionalist corpus is thus drawn upon as a main body of reference for this essay.


With endangerment of various animal species commonplace and climate change continuously a cause for concern, today's environmental crisis seems ongoing and perhaps far from ending. (5) Moreover, the massive loss of natural recreational areas for people and the perennial intense "natural" disasters show that humanity itself is in grave danger. With this overwhelming plethora of catastrophes having become commonplace in the modern world, humanity must ask: How has such a pattern of calamity come to be, and how can it be stopped?

Simply put, the environmental crisis is an outward reflection of the inward crisis of modern day humanity. It is not just the environment itself that is in crisis, but humanity as well. In fact, humans' own inward disharmony serves as a causal force for the disharmony prevalent in their surroundings. Humans' lack of self-discipline and morals--such as in excessive consumption and a lack of compassion--has translated onto their environment and into the crisis apparent today. The root of humanity's disharmony with nature is therefore the disharmony within humans' own selves.

More specifically, this inward crisis is a spiritual one. The lack of spirituality, rooted in a general lack of adherence to sacred tradition, has spurred the loss of merciful aspects such as benevolence, love, and compassion. Such a loss created a void in the soul that was instantly filled by the very antithesis of such spiritual characteristics. Vicious characteristics such as greed, apathy, and cruelty filled this void that was previously occupied by the fruits of sacred religiosity and spirituality. This marring of the human soul has translated from humans' inner nature onto the outward nature around them. Thus, the best method for the modern human to redeem harmony in the outer environment is by restoring harmony in the inner environment, that is, the human soul. Only with a purification of the heart, and hence the replacement of its diseases with attributes of a primordial and healthy character, can peace be attained both inwardly and outwardly.

In turn, direction is needed. Generally, the human self seems too prone to lawlessness to direct itself to a selfless state of peace. In order to understand how to best travel on the route of love, humanity can best turn for guidance to the Loving. A turn to God, regardless of the sacred tradition taken by each individual, is necessary for lasting inner peace. Humanity's solution to the environmental crisis depends on a solution to its own spiritual crisis, which, for each individual, depends on his or her relationship with God. …

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