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March 31, 2014

Quranic ecological imperatives:
A new global perspective

By Arthur Scott

We all know the world is in the throes of an ecological crisis, the Goliath of our era, described by some as “Climate Change,” and this crisis has come from the disconnect between the world of nature and humanity. The magnificence of the planet resonating with the Divine energy of the Sacred has been forgotten and reduced to a product, thing or commodity that is brought and sold in the marketplace of globalization.

This ignorance is fired by corporate/personal materialism. Intensifying the crisis is the growing impersonality of life: we barely know our neighbors, have very little contact with animals, birds, plants, and never take time to look at the beauty of the night sky, and know nothing about the spiritual significances of the equinoxes or solstices. We are literally choking on carbon fuels, the polar caps are melting, salmon fishing has been marginalized, and the poor in the world are in a serious shortage of basic needs.

Islam has two meanings: one is surrender and the other is peace. Peace depends on learning how to surrender and submit to the will of Allah, which represents the core Jihad of human existence. Paradoxically, although the Quran teaches that “man was created in the best form,” and Muhammed is considered the best exemplar of a Perfect Human Being, surrender for humanity has proven difficult because of the intersection of mind, senses, and culture.  Paradoxically, the purest surrender is found in nature – bees, winged creatures, four legged, the tree and stone people. Nature/Mother Earth captures perfectly the Jalal (awe)/and Jamal (intimacy) of Existence that literally drips throughout the Suras and Aayats of the Quran.

You may be wondering what Mother Earth/ Father Sky has to teach us about the mystery of surrendering? Creation is full of wonderment, awe/intimacy. The Universe is at least 13 billion years old, Mother Earth, our wondrous planet, is calculated at 5 billion years old and man, the baby of Creation, man has been around for only a few million years. Everything in the macro/micro cosmos is pulsating with the sacred rhythm/knowledge of Compassion/Mercy, the Deeper Matter of Existence. Everything, as Rumi puts it “yearns to return to the Reed Bank”, to capture the Majesty/Beauty of the verse that Prophet David heard while in deep meditation: “I was a Hidden Treasure and I desire to be known so I created the Universe so that I could be known.”

This knowledge, this beauty, this intimacy, which abounds best in nature, by watching animals play; for instance, puppies/dogs regardless of the mood of their masters greet them with happy tails wagging, plants resurrect/burst in spring from the deep soil of the unknown, and then blossom into myriad glory in the fall as they return to the Mystery. Fish swimming in water flash the brilliant rainbow of colors that dance across the spectrum; and light shimmering from the stars or moon on a cloudless night embody the timelessness of the Divine rules governing the billions of planets within the universe.

These examples constitute the Aayats, or miracles, or imperatives that the Quran insist that man study/imitate in the quest for surrendering and discovering our humanity.

First Quranic imperative or miracle is that Nature mirrors Reality, the School House of Divine Wisdom. It provides insight in the great mysteries of the Ninety-Nine Names: compassion, mercy, justice, love, ET. Al.  Simply watching the interplay and organization of ants and bees teaches man about the dynamics of community, cooperation, collaboration, communication and harmony. Ant and bees never say to Allah “they can’t do” or worse “don’t want to”; rather they act harmoniously and gratefully. Native People, too, always emphasize the cultural significance of tree people, four legged, winged creatures, and rock people as exemplars of spiritual principles. The Lakota people believe that the Creator placed man last behind the trees, rocks, animals, birds, plants so that nature can guide/illuminate man not only in the majesty and glory of Allah but more importantly in the act of surrendering. Unfortunately, man’s dark side tendency is to get lost in the clay rather than the Light of Existence.

The second imperative is that the universe is holistic; whole, and complete, and it seeks at every turn its Source. The question becomes where does one find Unity? The answer is within “To know thyself is to know thy Lord”. The Universe echoes this message all the time. Dr. Ali Kianfar writes in Seasons of the Soul: “Neither your problems nor your guidance come from outside. Why are you looking there?”Throughout nature, animals, plants, sea creatures, the forest act according to a divine prescription encoded within their DNA. Their entire movement is to glorify the Existence by being true to their nature. Bees fertilize the food we eat by being the carriers of pollen as they move majestically from one plant to another. Bears hibernate during winter; go within themselves, become quiet, reflective, and meditative. The lesson here for man is to be quiet during the winter months. Winter represents an opportunity to re-evaluate what has already happened, to cultivate new seeds or goals that can be planted in spring, and bring about a great abundance in fall. In fact, the four seasons show an exquisite Unity pointing to an underlying Wholeness that simultaneously embody and parallel the journey of life from the inception of spring, to the exuberance of summer, to the glory of fall and to the introspection of winter as life prepares to exit from clay and enter into the light of Eternity.

The third imperative consists of interconnectedness. Life can be viewed an as an interconnected web, and every point on the web simultaneously acts on the whole and is acted upon. Quantum physics teaches that the wings of a butterfly in China have the potential to create a hurricane in the West Indies. In the Sura, The Spider, the Quran alerts us to the importance of being responsible and compassionate toward Mother Earth and Father Sky for Allah has “the power to produce a later creation” (29/20).  Homo sapiens need to move away from the modern pattern of instant gratification, the day- after-pill, for the Wisdom of appreciating the long term ecological consequences of choices on itself and the planet. Both man and nature embody and reflect the Divine principle of “Reciprocity” which simply says that every action carries an effect, and that nature responds in direct proportion to the way in which we treat it. This sacred relationship between the people and land is described as a cosmological correlative and was viewed as inviolate by Native People. This awareness explains why tribal councils were prudent in decision making unlike their modern counterparts and realized that before a decision was made they had to discuss its implications on both the seventh generation (150 years) and on Mother Earth.  Interconnectedness of man to earth and to the Creator is expressed in the four elements of wind, fire, earth and water.  Each is crucial to life and any imbalance of one of the four can have serious health consequences.

As we all know, man is seventy-five percent water and requires clean water to survive, and one of the serious ecological challenges confronting the planet is that water has become an “endangered resource,” flowing from the abuses of industrialism, as exemplified by acid rain, mercury and inadequate waste disposal.

The fourth imperative is interdependence. All of life embodies an eloquent interdependence so awesome/intimate that relationship/service/surrender to one another represents the central calling or prayer of existence.  Psychologically, Homo sapiens reflect four levels of consciousness: physical, emotional, mental, & spiritual. A problem in any one of these conditions impacts the entire system regardless of how small.  Having a headache and doing nothing about it can in time have serious consequences on one’s emotional and mental health leading to worry and anxiety. When we desecrate the planet thorough excessive consumerism, greed and detachment, irrevocable harm is done and done so subtly that the dangers are often missed until the calamity strikes as it did in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

In Sura 16, The Bee, Allah reminds us of his abundance/generosity in nature and man’s callous indifference to the qualities of Jalal/Jamal.  Fascinatingly, one of the serious crises today is the plight of bees, which are central to global food supply.  Bees are shipped and hauled across the world, overworked, stressed and in their weakened condition vulnerable to viruses that are wiping out their hives.  When bees collapse, so will world food supply?  Interdependence between man and nature mirrors the same interdependence existing among all of creation expressed best in the phrase in-shallah.

The fifth imperatives consist of recovering energetic proportionality and complementariness between Mother Earth and Father Sky, or between the feminine and masculine principle as represented by mind/heart polarity.  Planetary survival, indeed the survival of species, ultimately rests in the hands of men and women, and when the violence between the two ends, then and then only will the planet heal.  The feminine qualities of compassion, mercy and nurturing, historically has been too often sacrificed to the masculine blade of fear, power, control, and greed, the touchstones of modernity.  In nature, Sister Moon and Brother Sun play off exquisitely on one another, each providing a complimentary light pointing to the underlying Unity or Tawhid that permeates all Existence. When we learn to surrender in the heart as Nature teaches then peace will prevail, a peace so wonderful that even the lamb and the wolf will lie down together in a never ending embrace of peaceful oneness.

A question that is often raised is what can be done? My suggestion is that each of us must purify our own individual ecology first by returning to the core of our existence which is in the heart, the point where Divine and the profane intersect. The One Heart which unites all of Creation reminds us compassionately and with great love that we can end the illusion of separation by “removing everything that isn’t you.” Only when our heart unites with the Heart of Mother Earth, Father Sky, and joins with the One Breath that unites us all, will the world become Whole and Sacred again and will we find Gratefulness as an Ethical Shepherd to our souls and the land.

In conclusion, reading the first 16 ayats from Sura 55, Rahman demonstrates the intimate interrelationship that exists between Nature and humanity captured in the beautiful Refrain: “Then which of the favors of your Lord would you deny!”

In a simple way, the most eloquent gift that Nature offers man is reverence for its sublimity, for in it, one finds one own highest ecological teaching; namely, Peace. Love of Nature transforms. Reverences to the planet will awaken within us the Jalal and Jamal or Awe/Intimacy of Creation.

Read Also: The Middle East and climate change

 Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies.