This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
The theme of “Islam and the Environment” has recently gained much popularity, both at the general-public level and with Muslim scholars and institutions. Many conferences on the topic have been taking place: in Turkey in 2009, in Indonesia and in Jordan in 2010, and in Algeria over the next few days; in fact, I am headed to Algeria to take part in the latest one, organized by the High Islamic Council there. Several books have also been published, in Arabic and English (and quite certainly in other languages too), among them, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s ‘Green Deen: what Islam teaches about protecting the planet’, which Salman blogged about last December, with excerpts from an interview with the author.
I really don’t know what to expect at the Algiers conference on Islam and the Environment; I don’t even have the program yet. I am told an international ensemble of speakers will be present, and this type of conference is always heavily covered by the local media (being organized by the highly official High Islamic Council). I will report back later on the main themes and highlights; hopefully there will be some serious discussions, not the usual “Islam is great on this issue, and the only problem is that we are not following its teachings” type of discourse. As always, my presentation will be somewhat critical, but I’ll save my views until I’ve attended and listened to others.
In the meantime, I tried to do my homework, so I read a couple of book and a bunch of articles on the topic, including two books in English: ‘Green Deen’ and ‘Islam and the Environment’, a volume edited by Harfiyah Abdel Haleem, including contributions by scholars like Seyyed H. Nasr.
As a bi-product of my research, I published a review of ‘Green Deen’ in Gulfnews, the large-circulation English-language newspaper in the UAE and the Gulf. The editors chose to title the piece “Islamic route to conservation”. Here are excerpts from it:
The author quickly reminds us that "deen" is the Arabic/Islamic term for religion, path or way of life, thus "green deen" is "living and practicing Islam while honouring the principles that connect humans to protecting the planet". He insists that he is not a scholar and that his book is not a treatment of how the Quran and the hadith address our interaction with Earth (although I counted more than 30 verses in the book), but presents the Islamic principles which, in his view, (should) govern our day-to-day relationship with the world: tawhid, which he defines as "Oneness of God and His creation"; ayat, the signs of God that are to be seen everywhere; khilafah, humanity's stewardship of Earth; amana, the trust we must honour with God; adl, the justice we must apply to everything; and mizan, the balance of nature we must uphold.
Abdul-Matin then sets out to apply these principles to various environmental topics, always relating them to people's day-to-day situations, often telling stories of how Muslims in the United States have been dealing with such issues. The book is thus divided into four parts — waste, watts, water and food — each with three or four chapters.
On some topics he [was] very effective but on others I was not totally satisfied with his approach…
Let me mention some of the great ideas that Abdul-Matin presents. Most notably, there was the whole "eco-mosque" idea… On each topic the author cites real examples, thus driving home the point that these steps can be (and have been) implemented and made to succeed. For example, he tells us that the holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah recycle water for wudu (ablution), Muslim scholars having authorised it, and important mosques from Arizona to Indonesia have been designed to be environmentally friendly.
I was less convinced by other views of the author, particularly his tendency to oversimplify some Islamic principles to make them applicable to the environment. For example, he has stretched the concept of tawhid to "human beings and the planet are One [tawhid]" (page 43), "we are the environment [tawhid]" (page 114) and "everything has a relationship with water" (page 118) … Likewise, he has used the hadith "the whole earth has been made a mosque for me" to insist that "everything is [thus] sacred".You can read the whole review here.