The Inner Dimension of Going Green: Articulating an Islamic Deep-Ecology

By Setia, Adi | Islam & Science, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Inner Dimension of Going Green: Articulating an Islamic Deep-Ecology


Setia, Adi, Islam & Science


Our interaction with nature is clearly constrained and directed by such foundational ethical precepts as mercy, moderation, and gratitude, which, when systematically understood and applied, result in ecological health. But ethical precepts refer ultimately to human nature, and therefore ecological health is rooted in psychological health. From this deep-level perspective, environmental degradation is less a resource-problem than an attitude-problem. This psycho-ecological approach toward preserving and enhancing environmental health is explored by considering some pertinent aspects of Islamic socio-intellectual history and their relevance for re-articulating and re-applying authentic Islamic environmental ethical values in today's world.

Keywords: Deep-ecology; psychology; human nature; resourceproblem; attitude-problem; greed as growth; prodigal consumption; stewardship of nature; hima; harim; mercy; gratitude; moderation; contentment.

Introduction: Resource-problem or attitude-problem?

Muslims' interaction with nature (mu'amalah 'alam al-tabi'ah) (1) is clearly constrained and directed by such foundational religio-ethical precepts (2) as rahmah (mercy/kindness/compassion), (3) mizan/tawazun (balance/ moderation/equilibrium/harmony) (4) and shuhr (gratitude/thankfulness/ appreciation). (5) These precepts and the operative principles derivable from them, when systematically understood and implemented through the ethico-juridical discipline of fiqh al-bi'ah (jurisprudence of the environment), (6) result in ecological health of the socio-natural environment. But ethical precepts refer ultimately to human nature (tabi'at al-nafs as opposed to tabi' at al-kawn) and therefore ecological health is ultimately rooted in the psychological health of the human soul. (7) From this deep-ecological perspective, environmental degradation is less a resource-problem than an attitude-problem. This attitude-problem results from the general failure of the human ego (al-nafs al-ammarah bi al-su = the evil-commanding soul) (8) to forgo short-term gratification for long-term prosperity, hence its short-sighted inclination for the proximate and the fleeting at the expense of the ultimate and lasting: Nay, but you covet what is immediate and abandon what is later to come, (9) and hence forget to prepare and send forth provision for the morrow. (10) This psycho-ecological approach (11) toward preserving and enhancing environmental health is explored in thematic outline by considering some pertinent aspects of Islamic socio-intellectual history and their relevance for a systemic rearticulation and reapplication of authentic Islamic environmental ethical values in today's world at both the communal and governmental levels of socio-political organization.

To walk lightly on the earth

The faithful servants of the Beneficent are they who tread upon the earth gently.... (12) To walk lightly (hawnan) upon the earth is the attitude of spiritual humility enjoined by the Qur'an on believers in regard to their temporal sojourn in the world. Thus reflective, thinking Muslims today can critically appropriate the secular, quasi-paganistic Gaian (13) notion of reducing one's 'ecological footprint' (14) and re-ground it into an authentic Islamic eco-spiritual ethos of the environment. As elaborated by al-Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209), this is an ethos that is imbued with the religio-spiritual and ethico-moral qualities of mildness (rifq), gentleness (lin) and serenity (sakinah) combined with reverential humbleness (tawadu') and emotional fortitude (qarr). These are the people who are not arrogant (la yatakabbarun wa la yatajabbarun), nor are they who would seek to spread desolation (fasad) in the land, or who would seek domination by imposing themselves upon others on earth out of a false sense of superiority (azamah, fa hum la yuriduna 'uluwwan fi'l-ard). (15) This positive psycho-spiritual demeanour is contrasted with that of those who would walk with pertness (marahan) in the land, (16) in haughtiness and wanton abandon, as if they own the earth, indifferent to any sense of self-restraint or accountability to the Creator, the True Owner of all. …

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