Reviving the Significance of Nature

Ruba Hinnawi


Ruba Hinnawi | 17 May 2023

“And there is no creature on (or within) the earth or bird that flies with its wings except (that they are) communities like you. We have not neglected in the register a thing. Then unto their Lord They will be gathered.” Al-Ana’m:38

It was a true revelation to me when I came to realize the divine meaning of this verse from the Holy Quran, despite the many times I have read it. It beautifully revealed the similarity between us, the humankind, and all other Allah’s creation. The verse holds many implications, first, the similarity of realities and characteristics that distinguish each type from others and the innate systems upon which God created the various types of creation. Second, that these communities of life are given by God a predetermined life and systems and thirdly and most importantly, there is a warning to be kind to such communities of life as we will stand accountable on the day of judgement for our deeds towards them. That is a true call for cultural transformation from an anthropocentric towards a biocentric mindset!

There is an agreement across the theology of the three main monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism on the recognition of the Stewardship (Khelafah) role of humans, and that the creation belongs to God. There is no script in any of the three religions that imply directly or implicitly that humans should dominate earth or objectify it.

In Islam and Judaism, it was indicated that God created man from soil of the earth and thus not above creation but made from it. In the three religions’ texts, there are bountiful nature scenes and cosmic scenes and that is for many purposes, some of which are as a sign of divinity and monotheism (specially in Islam) or a revelation of scientific or esthetic truths, or a statement of nature’s relationship with God the creator or a reminder of God’s blessings to humans. In these religions, God and God’s greatness can be seen behind every living thing. Believers across all religions and across all spiritual communities are encouraged to look at nature and the creation with humility, respect and appreciation.

The modern challenge as per many intellectuals, and scholars such as Polanyi [1](1944) in his book called ‘the Great Transformation’, is in the transformation of societies from traditional societies into market societies. Where value is measured by the surplus of markets and nature. Man, and money became more of commodities based on market value[2]. This transformation led to objectifying humans as ’labor’ and nature and creation as ‘resources’. Therefore, we miss the signification “adalala” of the creation, which was numerously emphasized in the Holy Quran, Bible and Torah.

“The dominance of the positivist view in scientific culture and academia has led to the rejection of the traditional perspective on nature as a meaningful entity. This shift in perception has resulted in humans viewing nature as something to be controlled and exploited, rather than as something to be stewarded. As a consequence, the planet faces a multitude of environmental issues. To address this, humans must restructure their relationship with nature and return to a mindset of stewardship. This requires a reconfiguration of the view of science and nature.”

Dr. Recep Senturk, College of Islamic studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

It is undeniable that modern scientific developments and free economy has offered societies many advances in different areas such as health, communication, availability of nutritious food, access to services and a higher standard of living, technological advancement and many more. However, we cannot overlook the contribution of modern economy, globalization, industrialization, and consumerism to the triple planetary crisis that humanity is facing today: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution. This is where ethics and virtues become necessary partners to build prosperous communities along with sciences, research and technology.

“Liberty is a great gift given to us by God, however we are guided by religious principles and best social sciences. Morality is a normative science, and economics started as a moral philosophical science, however at some point it became detached from the moral sciences and adapted positivism and thus became separated from its ethical roots. When economics became a positive science and numbers became to dominate, economy failed to give ultimate utilitarian value, therefore we must rely on our religious beliefs and common faith-based values to support economic growth. An example of this is water desalination; how to do it more efficiently is a normative science, while should we do it? That is the ethical question!”

Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Acton Institute.

Recently, we have seen global movements focusing on balancing our social and ecological responsibilities while maintaining economic growth and encouraging scientific development. Though in order to be successful in achieving sustainable developments and in meeting our ambitions to combat the triple planetary crisis, we need to fulfill our vocation as stewards and commit to our social responsibilities over our self-interest. Such rational behavioral change needs to be rooted in communities based on a system of shared values. We share many core values such as prudence, temperance, benevolence, and justice which hold a great potential to promote sustainable behavioral change by encouraging thoughtful decision making, responsible consumption and caring and living in harmony with all communities of life. Not only as individuals, but as governments and decision makers as well.

Creating this value-based development model that considers peoples’ ecological belonging, culture and beliefs is capable of harmonizing human activities with the preservation and regeneration of the surrounding ecosystems. Thus, the value -based development model acts as a universal platform to foster values, cross- cultural learnings to achieve justice and the common good through linking morality to growth and developments. An example is Al Waqf system in Islam, it refers to the act of dedicating a property or an asset for religious, charitable or educational purposes. The system played a great role in the development of the Islamic societies socially and economically throughout history, it also served as a mean of preserving and transferring wealth across generations.

"We sent Our Messengers with the Clear Signs and sent down the Book and the Balance with them so that mankind might establish justice. And We sent down iron in which there lies great force and which has many uses for mankind, so that Allah might know those who help Him and His Messengers in the Unseen." Al Hadid: 25

The Holy Quran and other religious theologies provided us with many reflections, stories and teachings to guide us as individuals, scientists and thinkers to contemplate the words of Allah to achieve a state of morality to attain knowledge and act responsibly to fulfill our vocation and secure the delicate balance of God’s perfect creation. Morals and ethics cannot be legislated, though a virtuous society is a society that nurtures the “doing good” (Ihsan) that is innate in the heart of humans (Fitra) through spiritual progress and social responsibility.