What is the Islamic viewpoint on the Universe and natural environment?
Everyone talks so much about the danger of war and environmental
pollution that peace and ecology have become quite fashionable words. However,
those who are expected to diagnose these problems wish to remove them through
the further conquest and domination of nature.
This problem has arisen because the humanity–nature equilibrium
has been destroyed by the modern materialistic conception of, and corrupt attitude
toward, humanity and nature. Most people are reluctant to perceive that social
peace and peace with nature is possible only through peace with the spiritual
order. To be at peace with Earth one must be at peace with his or her heavenly
self, and this is impossible if one is not at peace with Heaven.
What about the relation between
Modernity, Christianity and nature?
Modernity and nature
The dangers caused by our domination of nature are well
known, despite new measures taken to protect it. Nature is no longer considered
sacred, as it was in the medieval era, and so has lost its meaning. The resulting
void caused by the disappearance of this indispensable aspect of human existence
continues to exist within our souls and manifests itself in many ways, sometimes
violently and desperately.
This domination of nature is largely responsible for many
problems, among them urban sprawl and congestion, the exhaustion of natural
resources, the destruction of natural beauty, and the abnormal rise in mental
illnesses. And this, together with giving our animalistic tendencies complete
freedom, has made the problem of war so crucial.
Our present encounter with nature, as well as its associated
problems, carry within themselves elements connected with the Christian civilization
of the Middle Ages. When Christianity came to replace or save the civilization
of Antiquity, it found itself in a world dominated by naturalism, empiricism,
and rationalism. Human knowledge gradually became sanctified, and the Church
considered giving such attention to nature to be a blasphemy blinding people
to the vision of God. As a result, the Church opposed this naturalism and emphasized
the boundary between the supernatural and the natural. Theologians neglected
nature’s theological and spiritual significance because they believed that nature
had nothing to teach humanity about God, and therefore it had no theological
and spiritual significance.
Although some Western writers such as W. Temple, claim
that Christianity and science have a close relationship because Christianity,
as the most avowedly materialist great religion, can dominate matter, in fact,
Christianity has shown a certain negligence regarding knowledge and certainty.
The Renaissance ushered in endless controversies between the Church and science.
Moreover, due to the Church’s opposition to human reason and knowledge, as well
as its depriving nature of its spiritual significance, modern science developed
as a fatal instrument in materialistic hands.
Divine Love as the reason behind existence
There is an inseparable relation between God, nature,
and humanity. Nature and humanity are two “books” written with different material
but having the same meaning. The reason behind their existence is Divine love.
Suppose a kind, compassionate, and generous man wills
to feed some very poor, hungry, and destitute people. So, he prepares a banquet
on his fine ship and watches them from above while they eat. You may understand
how much of their grateful enjoyment and happiness they can express only by
giving thanks and praising that noble and generous person so that he is pleased
Similarly, the All-Merciful and Compassionate One has
spread out a vast food-laden table on Earth’s face and causes Earth to travel
in space with all of its inhabitants. He feeds them from the food on this
table and invites those of His servants who are infinitely hungry and destitute
to Paradise’s everlasting gardens. He prepares each garden as if it were a magnificent
table laid out with all kinds of food and drink, which are of pure pleasure
and delight. Consider the pleasure and happiness that the above-mentioned person
feels at his guests’ enjoyment, although he is not the true owner of what he
offers, and then compare it with the indescribable sacred love and pleasure
felt by the All-Merciful One.
Consider another example. If a skillful technician invents
something that works as intended, he or she is pleased and says: “What wonders
God has willed.” The Majestic Maker invented the vast universe. He made Earth
(in general) and each creature in it (in particular), especially our
such a way that science should be lost in admiration. Each creature displays
the expected results to the utmost degree and in a very beautiful way. Their
obedience to God’s laws for the universe’s creation and operation, which comprise
their worship, glorification, and specific praise and exaltation of Him, as
well as the attainment of Divine purposes for their lives, please Him to a degree
beyond our comprehension.
Or, say a just judge receives great pleasure from doing
and establishing justice, and becomes extremely happy when he or she can restore
the rights of the oppressed against the oppressor. Compare with this the sacred
meanings arising from the reality that the Absolutely Just Ruler, the Majestic
Overwhelming One, gives all creatures the right of existence. He gives animate
beings the right of life, protects and maintains their existence and lives against
aggression, restores all rights in the universe, acts with absolute justice,
and will judge humanity and jinn in the Hereafter and establish absolute justice.
As in the examples above, each Divine Name contains many
sorts of beauty, grace, and perfection, as well as many levels of love, pride,
honor, and grandeur. This is why exacting saintly scholars, who manifest the
Divine Name the All-Loving, have concluded: “The essence of the universe is
love. All creatures move with the motive of love. All laws of attraction, rapture,
and gravity originate in love.” One of them even said:
With love the spheres are intoxicated,
angels are intoxicated, and so are stars.
The heavens, the sun, the moon,
and Earth are intoxicated.
Intoxicated are the elements and plants
and trees and human beings.
All animate beings are intoxicated,
and so are all atoms of creation.
Every creature is intoxicated, according to its capacity,
with the “wine” of Divine love. People love those who are kind to them, as well
as true perfection and transcendent beauty. They also love those who are kind
to those whom they love and for whom they have mercy. Given this, we can understand
that the Majestic and Beautiful, the Most Beloved of Perfection, in each of
Whose Names are innumerable treasuries of kindness, Who makes all those whom
we love happy with His favors and is the source of countless perfections and
levels of beauty and grace, is worthy of infinite love and the creation’s intoxication
with His love. This is why some saints who have manifested the Divine Name the
All-Loving have said: “We do not even want Paradise. A gleam of the Divine love
is eternally sufficient for us,” and why, as Prophet Muhammad said: “A single
minute spent in beholding the Divine Beauty in Paradise excels all the bounties
So, perfect love and all perfections attained through
love are possible within the spheres of the universal manifestations of Divine
Names on beings as a whole (Unity) and the spheres of their particular manifestations
on individuals (Oneness or Uniqueness). Any perfections imagined outside those
spheres are false.
The reason behind the events in the universe
If someone enthusiastically performs a natural or social
duty, an observer may infer two reasons for his doing so: the ultimate cause (what
can be obtained from doing so) and the motive or necessary cause (one’s yearning
to do it and subsequent enjoyment in doing it.) For example, eating when hungry
gives some satisfaction (necessary cause), while food nourishes the body
Likewise, the existence of the universe and the incessant,
amazing activity in it are caused by two kinds of Divine Names and for two comprehensive
purposes or results. The first purpose and cause is that God’s Beautiful Names
manifest themselves in countless ways and kinds. This causes multiplicity in
creation. Further, the Divine Names manifest themselves incessantly and seek
to display their works continuously. This causes the Book of the Universe, with
all of its “sentences, words, and letters” to be renewed constantly. Each part
of this Book, which is the manifestation of the Divine Names, is a sign or indication
of the Sacred Divine Essence so that conscious living beings can know Him.
The second cause or purpose is that every creature is
active because it yearns for and takes pleasure in activity. Activity itself
is a pleasure. Likewise God, the Necessarily Existent Being and in conformity
with His essential independence of creation and absolute perfection, feels infinite
sacred affection and love. Such affection and love cause an infinite sacred
enthusiasm, which engenders a limitless sacred joy that, in turn, is the source
of infinite sacred pleasure. Due to this pleasure special to His Divine “Essence,”
God has infinite compassion. In turn, this compassion causes His creatures to
attain their relative perfection by enabling them to realize their full potential.
His creatures’ perfection and the pleasure they find in attaining it pleases
God so much that His infinite sacred pleasure requires the whirl of creation.
However, the followers of materialistic philosophy and
secular natural sciences, unaware of this subtle Divine wisdom, attribute
such activity, which displays perfect knowledge, wisdom, and insight, to unconscious
nature, blind coincidence, and causality. This causes them to fall into the
dark pits of misguidance.
Islam and nature
Islam contains an elaborate hierarchy of knowledge integrated
by the principle of Divine Unity (tawhid). This hierarchy includes juridical,
social, and theological sciences, as well as spiritual and metaphysical ones,
all of which derive their principles from the Qur’an. Elaborate philosophical,
natural, and mathematical sciences, each originating from one of God’s Beautiful
Names, also developed within Islamic civilization.
For example, the Name the All-Healing shines on medicine;
geometry and engineering depend on the Names the All-Just, All-Shaping, and
All-Harmonizing; and philosophy reflects the Name the All-Wise. Each level of
knowledge portrays nature in a particular light. Jurists and theologians consider
knowledge to be the background for human action, philosophers and scientists
see it as a domain to be analyzed and understood, and metaphysicians view it
as the object of contemplation and the mirror reflecting suprasensible realities.
Muslim scholars have no tradition of separating the study
of nature from knowing God. Thus many Muslim scientists, such as Ibn Sina, Nasir
al-Din Tusi, and Jabir ibn al-Hayyan, either were practicing Sufis or attached
intellectually to Sufi schools [44. Muslims
have always considered observing and
contemplating nature very important aspects of their spiritual journey.
Furthermore, Muslims have maintained an intimate connection
between science and other fields of Islamic studies. This connection is found
in the Qur’an itself, for as the Divine Scripture of Islam it corresponds to
the macrocosmic revelation (the universe). Thus Islam is also the name of the
Divine system of the universe. The Book of Islam is “the recorded Qur’an (al-Qur’an
al-tadwini)” and the entire universe is the “Qur’an of creation (al-Qur’an al-takwini).”
Humanity is also a Divine Book that corresponds to the
Qur’an and the universe. Given this, ayat designates a Qur’anic verse, events
taking place within our souls, and all phenomena occurring within nature. Human
life is so interrelated with natural phenomena that those who can discern them
can draw absolutely correct conclusions about the world’s future. In other words,
the laws of history can be deduced from the laws of nature. For example:
Your Lord is God, Who created the heavens and Earth in
six days. He then mounted the Throne, covering day with night, which pursues
it urgently—and the sun, moon, and stars subservient, by His command. Verily,
His are the creation and the command. Blessed be God, the Lord of all being.
Call on your lord, humbly and secretly. He loves not transgressors. Do not do
corruption in the land after it has been set right. Call upon Him in awe and
eagerly. Surely the grace of God is nigh to the good-doers. It is He Who looses
the winds, bearing good tidings before His grace, till, when they are charged
with heavy clouds, We drive it to a dead land and use it to send down water
and bring forth all fruits [from the soil]. Even so, We shall bring forth the
dead. Hopefully you will remember. And the good land’s vegetation comes forth
by the leave of its Lord, and the corrupt [land’s vegetation] comes forth but
scantily. Even so We turn about signs for a people who are thankful. (7:54-58)
These verses apparently discuss natural phenomena yet
mention the Resurrection and prayer’s importance. Corruption in the land is
forbidden, and we are told that God commands everything and has no partners
either in creation or command. Thus the main principles of faith (belief in
God’s Oneness and the Resurrection) are emphasized while we are reminded of
our function or duty: As God’s vicegerents, we are to pray, establish justice,
and avoid corrupting and transgressing the Divine law.
Other inner meanings are hinted at. For example, day and
night symbolize happy moments and misfortunes respectively, which alternate
in both a person’s and a nation’s life. Rain, the symbol of Divine Grace, is
mentioned as the grace of God, which is close to those who do good. The winds
bearing the good tidings of rain correspond to the pioneers or leaders of a
religious revival, and their message is likened to heavy clouds of rain.
Hearts without faith and minds without good judgment and
sound reasoning resemble dead lands that need rain to be made fruitful. Just
as a fertile land’s vegetation emerges by its Lord’s leave, hearts and minds
ready for the Divine Message are the sources from which faith, knowledge, and
virtues radiate. However, there will always be some desert-like minds and hearts
that do not receive enough rain to produce any vegetation and so do not benefit
from this grace.
Finally, these verses console believers living as small
oppressed minorities amidst a corrupt, wrong-doing community with the good tidings
that victory is near as long as they keep striving for God’s cause and seeking
help in patience and prayer.
Thus revelation is inseparable from the cosmic revelation,
which is also a book of God. By refusing to separate humanity from nature, Islam
preserves an integral view of the universe and sees the flow of Divine grace
in the arteries of the cosmic and natural order. As we seek to transcend nature
from its very bosom, nature can be an aid in this process, provided that we
learn to contemplate it as a mirror reflecting a higher reality:
In the creation of the heavens and Earth and in the alternation
of night and day there are signs for people with minds, who remember God and
mention His name, standing and sitting and on their sides, and reflect upon
the creation of the heavens and Earth: “Our Lord, You have not created this
for vanity. Glory be to You! Guard us against the chastisement of the Fire.
Humanity and nature
Humanity is located at the axis and center of the cosmic
milieu. By being taught the names of all things, we receive the keys to knowledge
of all things and so gain domination over them. However, we receive this power
only in our capacity as God’s vicegerent (khalifa) on Earth, not
as a rebel against Heaven.
In fact, humanity is the channel of grace for nature,
for our active participation in the spiritual world causes light to enter the
world of nature. Due to our intimate connection with nature, our inner state
is reflected in the external order. Thus when our inner being turns to darkness
and chaos, nature turns from harmony and beauty to disequilibrium and disorder.
We see ourselves reflected in nature, and penetrate into nature’s inner meaning
by delving into our own inner depths. Those who live on the surface of their
being can study nature as something to be manipulated and dominated, while those
who turn toward the inner dimension of their existence can recognize nature
as a symbol and come to understand it in the real sense.
This concept of humanity and nature, as well as the presence
of a metaphysical doctrine and a hierarchy of knowledge, enabled Islam to develop
many sciences that were influential in the West’s own development of science
and yet did not disturb Islam’s intellectual edifice. Someone like Ibn Sina
could be a physician and Peripatetic philosopher and yet expound his “Oriental
philosophy” that sought knowledge through illumination. A Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
could be the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day as well as the
author of an outstanding treatise on Sufism.
Muhy al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi could be a leading personage
in the most esoteric dimension of Sufism and yet explain the universe’s expansion
and the motion of objects. Jabir ibn al-Hayyan’s adherence to Sufism did not
prevent him from founding algebra and chemistry. And Ibn Jarir al-Tabari
of the most outstanding figures in Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Qur’anic
interpretation, wrote about the winds’ fertilizing clouds so that rain would
fall. Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum, a well-known seventeenth-century Sufi master,
was a brilliant astronomer and mathematician as well as a specialist in the
There are many more such examples, but these are enough
to show that Islam’s hierarchy of knowledge and its possession of a metaphysical
dimension have satisfied its followers’ intellectual needs. And so they never
sought to satisfy their thirst for causality outside of religion, as happened
in the West.
Islam is the universal order, the integral religion of
harmony, and the unique system that harmonizes the physical with the metaphysical,
the rational with the ideal, and the corporeal with the spiritual. Each dimension
of our earthly life has its own place within Islam’s matrix and thus can perform
its own function, enable us to be at peace with ourselves and our community
and nature, and to gain happiness in both worlds.
Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom
(Turkish trans.). Hurriyetten Kacis: 1982).
Nasr, S. Hossein.
Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhrawardi, Ibn ‘Arabi.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964.
Nasr, S. Hossein.
The Encounter of Man and Nature. London: 1968.
Nasr, S. Hossein.
Science and Civilization in Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press,
Nursi, Said. Sozler (The Words,
2 vols.). Istanbul: 1958.
Nursi, Said. Lem’alar. Istanbul:
Nursi, Said. Mektubat (The
Letters, 2 vols.). Istanbul: 1990.
Schumacher, E. F. Small Is Beautiful:
A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs, 1973.
Batinin Inanc Temelleri. Istanbul: