In This Article Islam, Nature, and the Environment

  • Introduction
  • Broad Overviews
  • Islamic Sources on Environmental Issues
  • Ethics
  • Sharia and Islamic Law
  • Philosophical and Mystical Approaches to the Environment
  • Environmental History
  • Natural Disasters
  • Climate Change
  • Literature with Environmental Themes
  • Sustainable Development
  • Water Rights
  • Water Resource Management
  • Water Conflicts
  • Land Use, Overuse, Deforestation, and Destruction
  • Desertification
  • Hima (Conservation)
  • Food and Farming
  • Animals
  • Animal Welfare
  • Grassroots Greening Efforts
  • Women’s Activism and Contributions
  • Interfaith Organizations and Efforts
  • Digital Resources

Islamic Studies Islam, Nature, and the Environment
by
Natana DeLong-Bas
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0258

Introduction

The field of environmental studies from an Islamic perspective has been building gradually since the 1970s, although it has only emerged as a significant scholarly trend post-2000. Scholars already note two distinct waves of scholarship. The first wave lasted from the 1970s until 2000, focused on broad overviews of the state of the field and more specifically on environmental cues, themes, and concepts in the foundational Islamic sources—the Qurʾan and Sunna (example of Muhammad, largely found in the Hadith literature) and the ethical (akhlaq) principles derived from them. Sharia principles and objectives from these two sources have enjoyed some, although not extensive, elaboration in Islamic jurisprudential literature (fiqh). Additional perspectives include philosophical and mystical approaches to Islam, rooted in the environment as a source of knowledge, particularly because the natural world is considered to contain many signs of God (ayat). Environmental history is a growing field, with a rising number of studies dedicated to specific regions and empires. The second wave, beginning in 2000 and continuing into the 21st century, has given greater attention to specific issues and case studies, such as natural disasters, climate change, sustainable development, water resource management, land use, desertification, conservation, food and farming, animals, and animal welfare. Also during this time, a number of studies have been dedicated to specific grassroots greening efforts, women’s participation and insights, and interfaith organizations and efforts in which Muslims are participants. Although not all of these studies have deliberately focused on Islam as a faith tradition, they nevertheless have centered their analyses on Muslims—how Muslims are impacted by and are taking action toward the realities of climate change most affecting them, particularly in less developed countries and among vulnerable populations. A number of online resource databases are also engaged in amassing links to articles, speeches, essays, and videos; blogs; online declarations and petitions; and grassroots activism and educational materials.

Broad Overviews

There are a variety of broad overviews of Islam and the environment in encyclopedic works and anthologies. Two of the first to appear were Haq 2003 and Foltz 2006. Both gave attention to outlining teachings in the Qurʾan and Sunna, with some attention to Islamic law, to root environmentalism directly in the most important sources of Islam. Both also provide a vocabulary for discussing environmental issues in an Islamic idiom, particularly khilafah as vicegerency and stewardship, and tawhid as unity of God requiring attention to and care for God’s creation as an expression of faith. Both condemn waste and destruction of the earth. Haq provides attention to legal literature, particularly the discussion of hima as protected or conservation land. Foltz 2008 contributes an anthology of religious worldviews on the environment, connecting the growing environmental crisis to a perceived human spiritual crisis and noting the relationship between environmental degradation and the status of women. For Islam, Foltz presents a series of essays written by both Sunni and Shia, women and men, calling for a shift in thinking that looks to the past, not to repeat it but rather for reinterpretation and rejuvenation to address contemporary concerns through the lenses of individual accountability and responsibility, and community welfare, recognizing social injustices driven by the global economy and the human impact of government and corporate decision-making. Proposed solutions include focusing on natural resources and use value, rather than transactions in income, exchange, and trade. Bagir and Martiam 2017 is the most up-to-date broad overview.

  • Bagir, Zainal Abidin, and Najiyah Martiam. “Islam.” In Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Edited by Willis J. Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, 79–87. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    E-mail Citation »

    A broad collection on religion and ecology from the perspectives of global traditions and indigenous and natural spiritualities to gain insight on planetary challenges, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, destruction of ocean habitat, the need for conservation and restoration, water and food supplies, changing agricultural practices, population growth, human consumption and water, and lack of environmental and gender justice. An inclusive and interdisciplinary approach to environmental challenges bringing together multiple perspectives and methodologies.

  • Foltz, Richard C. “Islam.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Edited by Roger S. Gottlieb, 207–219. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Presents a broad overview of Islamic environmentalism as derived from the canonical sources of Islam, distinguishing it from Muslim environmentalism, as the actions of individuals claiming to follow Islam. Discusses the Qurʾanic concept of stewardship (khilafah) and notes Qurʾanic condemnation of those who destroy the earth. Calls for a rethinking of Islamic law on environmental issues that takes into consideration the driving factors of development and economic growth in most Muslim majority countries in the early 21st century.

  • Foltz, Richard C., ed. Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    A broad collection of essays addressing the environmental crisis and the spiritual crisis in which it is rooted from the perspectives of multiple world religions and theological trends. Includes discussion of the challenges facing Muslim societies in the 21st century due to environmental degradation—water supply and quality, desertification, public health, and expanding populations—and human-made environmental crises resulting from government development policies, pressure to join the global cash economy, and the oil fires of the First Gulf War, 1990–1991. See pp. 357–391.

  • Haq, S. Nomanul. “Islam.” In A Companion to Environmental Philosophy. Edited by Dale Jamieson, 111–129. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106597.2003.00010.xE-mail Citation »

    Provides a broad overview of the metaphysics of nature; its role as guidance to humanity; and environmental issues in the Qurʾan, Hadith, and Islamic law with particular focus on the Maliki school of Islamic law and its approach to hima (conservation land). In the Hadith, it gives special attention to issues related to water as a common resource for human and nonhuman life alike, water and land resource management, and treatment of animals.

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