Guardians of the Natural Order

The Islamic approach to environmental protection ...

In our eagerness to 'progress' and 'develop' we have lost sight of the finite and delicate nature of planet Earth and of humanity's place in it. Islamic teaching offers an opportunity to understand the natural order and to define human responsibility. It could be said that the limits of the human condition are set within four principles - Tawheed, Fitra, Mizan and Khalifa.

Tawheed is the fundamental statement of the oneness of the Creator, from which everything else follows. It is the primordial testimony to the unity of all creation and to the interlocking grid of the natural order of which humanity is an intrinsic part. God says of Himself in the Qur'an:

Say; He is God, One, God, the Everlasting Refuge (Quran 112:1-2)

and about creation:

To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth, all obey his will And it is He who originates creation, ... (Quran 30:25

The whole of creation - being the work of one Originator - works within one stable pattern, however complex it may be. Another verse in the Qur'an refers to the heavens and the Earth as extensions of God's throne, thus conveying the idea that creation was designed to function as a whole. Each of its complimentary parts, including humankind, plays its own self-preserving role, and in so doing supports the rest.

The Fitra describes the primordial nature of creation itself and locates humankind in it. The Qur'an says:

So set thy face to the religion, a man of pure faith - God's original upon which He originated mankind. There is no changing God's creation. That is the right religion; but most men know it not (Quran 30:29)

God originates humankind within His creation, which He also originated. Humanity is then inescapably subject to God's immutable laws, as is the rest of creation. Creation cannot be changed: global warming can be seen, in this light, as the Earth's endeavor to maintain a balance in the face of the human assault against it.

The Mizan is the principle of the middle path. In one of its most eloquent passages the Qur'an describes creation thus:

The All-Merciful has taught the Qur'an.
He created man and He taught him the explanation.
The sun and the moon to a reckoning, and the stars and trees bow themselves;
and heaven - He raised it up and set the balance.
Transgress not in the balance,
and weigh with justice, and skimp not in the balance.
And earth - He set it down for all beings,
therein fruits and palm trees with sheaths,
and grain in the blade, and fragrant herbs.
Of which your Lord's bounties will you and you deny?
(Quran 55:1-12

God has singled out humans and taught them reason - the capacity to understand. All creation has an order and a purpose. If the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees and the rest of creation did not conform to the natural laws - 'bow themselves' - it would be impossible for life to function on Earth. So we have a responsibility not to deny the 'Lord's bounties' and actively to recognize the order that is around us, for ourselves, as much as for the rest of creation.

Khalifa - or the role of stewardship - is the sacred duty God has ascribed to the human race. There are many verses in the Qur'an that describe human duties and responsibilities, such as the following which aptly summarizes humanity's role:

It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth (Quran 6:165)

Humankind has a special place in God's scheme. We are more than friends of the Earth - we are its guardians. Although we are equal partners with everything else in the natural world we have added responsibilities. We are decidedly not its lords and masters.

We may deduce from these four principles that creation, although quite complex and yet finite, only works because each of its component parts does what is expected of it - in the language of the Qur'an, submits to the Creator. Humanity is inextricably part of this pattern. The role of humans - who uniquely have wills of their own and are thus capable of interfering with the pattern of creation - is of guardianship. This added responsibility imposes limits on their behavior and should lead to conscious recognition of their own fragility. They achieve this by submitting themselves to the divine law.

Until quite recently the human race - both rebels and conformists, the ignorant and the enlightened, whether in small self-governing communities or vast empires, barbarian tribes or points of high civilization - functioned unconsciously within natural, unwritten boundaries. It had an intuitive disposition to live within the Fitra, though this was only achieved by conscious recognition of the existence of a superior force, the divine. This was an existential reality, neither idyllic nor utopian.

We are clearly no longer functioning within these limits. Two events in 16th and 17th century Europe allowed the human species to break free from the natural patterning of which it had always been part. One was the appearance of the Cartesian world view, which propounded a dualism that separated mind and matter and allowed for the development of science on purely mechanistic lines. Cartesian skepticism brushed aside the accumulated wisdom of the ages and sowed the seeds of doubt. From then on humanity began to worship itself: in Descartes' own words humans were 'lords and masters of creation'. They now had reason on their side to support them in their acts of predation.

This period also saw the laying of the foundations of the banking system to which we are all now in thrall. Bankers have, in Islamic terms, sabotaged the Mizan of creation by not only charging interest but by doing so on money which they create endlessly out of nothing. This explosion of artificial wealth provides the illusion of economic dynamism: but in reality it is parasitic. Endless credit devours the finite Fitra. If kept up, this would eventually result in the Earth looking like the surface of the moon.

People who lived in the pre-Cartesian dimension, that was before we were told that nature was there to be plundered, were basically no different from us. They had the same positive and negative human attributes, but the results of human profligacy were contained by the natural order of things, which transcended technological and political sophistication and even religious disposition. Excess in the natural order was contained because it was biodegradable. When old civilizations, however opulent, profligate, greedy, or brutal died, the forest just grew over them. They left no pollutants, damaging poisons or nuclear waste. By contrast, and assuming we survive as a species, archaeologists excavating our present rampant civilization are going to have one or two problems...

The Qur'anic references are from 'The Koran' Interpreted by A. J. Arberry, 1983, The World Classics Series, Oxford University Press.

Fazlun Khalid is the Founder Director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, the International Convener of the Alliance of Religion and Conservation, and a consultant to World Wildlife Federation (WWF). He is author of Qur'an, Creation, and Conservation and editor, with Joanne O'Brien, of Islam and Ecology (Cassell, 1992).

Source: Our Planet

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
Gee, Sirius, what I meant by saying that we wrongly applied the technology is exactly what you are saying, man. Namely,"Summa summarum: first time in human history we are in a position that we have technology and knowledge to produce enough food for all human kind, tech to cure people, tech to do many positive things that were impossible earlier. But do we use this moment?" I would clarify it even more with some extreme examples, but there are many small ones that affected us over time. The nuclear power, misused to create a horrible death device, genetic engineering and God forbid, cloning. Who knows what else there is still in the bud out there and is going to bite us in the ass later on, like polution, global warming, etc. My last clause describe not the fundamentalist Christians of the South, but rather the growing atheists in the science circles all over the world. France is a good example. These people challenge God by even declaring him either dead or inexistent. Remember the Titanic? On its first journey it was said:"Not even God could sink it." Did I convey my meaning, o Sirius? About the Carthesian thing is the same in Islam and your presentation of it and your proper questioning whether the science should be stopped are legitimate. Personally, I don't think so, however if putting basis in space on the Moon and Mars, is a futility, I would rather support this enterprise than the insane one of building a super war machine in the detriment of mankind.
No, Sirius, I guess not. I don't really get what the author was exactly pointing at, and most of my comment is my own understanding of the concepts he presented. However, since he's rather ambiguous in this article, I believe you are also rightfully entitled to your own interpretation. Which of the two would hit closer to home would be the author himself to tell.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Hi, Hudd. Thanks for your comments. Agree with you in many parts. Still got something to ask. Did I get it right that you/the author means by natural order a moral life, as descriped in Holy Texts?
"What really went wrong is not that we invented technology, but the way we applied it. By discovering technological advancements we denied God or attributed weeknesses to Him or partners." Hmm... am I splitting hair, but I think there's a contradiction here? Could you explain more, specially the last clause needs extra clarification.
" We do not safe-gard anything else but capital and power! This is what is about, mon ami Sirius, we could have the technology and the Natural Order as well. But our greed is greater than our reasoning."
This is the part I agree totally. Greed, which is both reason for and outcome of (almost) unlimited market economy (=jungle) plays one of the key sources of the evil we see around nowadays. It makes people compete with each other all the time. It brakes families due to 10-14 hour working days, at the same time when many don't have jobs at all. It is a manifestation of ultra materialistic worldwiev, which is bound to everlasting economical progress. Everlasting progress, pumping up all the volumes in production is something this planet won't stand in a long run. But capitalism has got nothing to do with long time planning, which is necessary. It lives only in a moment, in a present.
Religion, faith, is a strong antidote to materialistic worldwiev, which I think goes hand in hand with capitalism. It gives human something else to reach for than all the material goods, which never can satisfy deepest human needs.
Summa summarum: first time in human history we are in a position that we have technology and knowledge to produce enough food for all human kind, tech to cure people, tech to do many positive things that were impossible earlier. But do we use this moment?

Hey, Sirius, you're back old chap! Although your comment is worth considering I don't think the article is conveying the message you attributed to it, though. There are two ways of regarding Islam, as a religion and as a way of life. There shouldn't be religion in the world. Prophet Muhammad,pbuh, destroyed all religion of Arabia by his entry in Mecca and the distruction of the idols of the Kaaba. Thus, he established the Deen of Islam or the Way of Pacificy(my attempt to translate the Arabic in word, not enterpretation). Religion is an illogical acceptance of a system of believes consistent with the believes of the ancestors and which are taboo for the modern generation. When those believes are challenged by modern day discoveries of the contrary, we have the grounds for Reformation! Many Muslims and Islamic countries took Islam as a religion, hence the problem. Things don't jibe! What our ancestors did is hardly doable today! Islam as a way of life is liberating. In Islam as a religion the Muslim is subjected to the mullas, to the concensuses and shariah(which is a collection of laws or practices inspired from the Quran or Sunnah, their application sometimes is controversial and differs from country to country). In Islam as a Way of Life, the Muslim is subjected to God alone. He is not bound by mullas or shariahs or concensuses, all these are guide lines and he is free and uncompelled. Islam is followed thus merely out of love for God and His creation. And God created the worlds in the Natural Order. Man's nature is to develop a "para-nature". The way we create our para-nature or by-nature must be in agreement with the Natural Order. Therefore, the article does not arrest progress or industrial revolution, nay, favours it but in a responsible caring way. This can be achieved through the 4 principles: Tawheed-The Oneness of God(without partners), Fitrah-The natural instinct, Mizan-The balance in which we do all things, Khalifah-The safekeeping of the creation.

excellent piece , i believe strongly with what you wrote ,this earth is our mother you can not abuse your own flesh and blood, it sustains us all we should honor it ,preserve it and love it

Amazing! Oh, thank you so very much for this article, Fazlun Khalid! I showed it to my children that became very pensive and inundated me with a multituted of questions, which of course, I welcomed, because discussing your religion is one of the best Salayhat. Interestingly, these concepts are there in the back of the head of every Muslim, but to be brought out in such a systemic way, it's just great! Inescapably, the concepts of Tawheed, Fitrah, Mizan and Khalifat will never fade in our visions of the world, my children and mine. Thank you again.
As-Salamu 'Alaykum!

What a profoundly analytic article. Fazlun Khalid has really researched extensively and found the answers to our problems in the Glorious Qu'ran. It's an eye-opener to all of us to THINK and READ as espoused in the first revelation to our beloved prophet Muhammad and to act and behave as human beings following the dictates in the Qu'ran.
Br. Fazlun Khalid's originality is refreshing. We see the criminal effects of the modern banking system and it's interest-based lending on our daily lives. I wish to add that the effects of separating God and the material world in terms of economic progress and "human rights" have created a so-called normal and natural way of life of homosexuality,lesbianism and same-sex marriage. This surely will not only lead us to our doom in this world but also in the hereafter!

Great article, :-)

It is undeniable. All of creation bows to Allah's will, the trees, the rocks, the stars, our sun, our moon - they all bow in servitude to Allah because it was Him who created everything in existence. So the question is, what is stopping us from bowing down five times a day to do the same. What is stopping us from bowing down in humility to uphold what Allah commands us to do as vicegerents of this Earth that we are blessed with to have?

It's like being superintedants of this Earth, and the Owner of this property is Allah, that's right. He is the boss. If we don't do our jobs the way he wants us to, we're gonna be fired bigtime. :-o


Wonderful, taking Islam to solve problems we have created in modern age. Insha'allah as we reform the materialistic behaviour of many Muslims that have most to the West we will improve the image of our community.

Assalam o alikum,
I agree with you totally. Being a khalifa on earth, it is the duty of human beings to maintain the orignal order i.e. fitra within themselves and in their environment. There is plenty of resources available and there is no need for plundering and looting. Only if people did not take others' shares unjustifiably, it would be sufficient for everyone and would not create corruption in the natural order of things.