Universe and Natural Environment

Home Contents Search About us

...

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.

How does Islam view the relation between God, nature and humanity?

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 and exhilarated.

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 minds, in 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 of Paradise.”

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 (ultimate cause).

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.

What is the Islamic view of nature?

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. (3:190-91)

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 [5], one 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 occult sciences.

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.

Bibliography

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, 1968.

Nursi, Said. Sozler (The Words, 2 vols.). Istanbul: 1958.

Nursi, Said. Lem’alar. Istanbul: Kaynak, 1986.

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.

Scognamillo, Giovanni. Batinin Inanc Temelleri. Istanbul: 1972.

 

Back | Home | Up | Next