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.

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    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.

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  • 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.

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    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.

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

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    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.

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  • 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.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-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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Islamic Sources on Environmental Issues

As part of the first wave of scholarship on Islam and the environment, focus was placed on the foundational sources of Islam—the Qurʾan and Sunna (Muhammad’s example). One of the earliest such publications was Khalid and O’Brien 1992, an edited collection that brought Islam into conversation with other world religions, including scripture, teachings, and historical developments. Khalid has long been recognized as a leading voice in religious environmentalism and one of Britain’s top environmentalists, with extensive experience in raising environmental consciousness and implementing environmental education programs throughout the Muslim world. Timm 1994, a critical piece, argued that the root of the problem was not necessarily the Islamic theology of creation, but had more to do with the negative impact of Western science and technology as accompanied by secularization and mechanical approaches to life that devalued life across the board. Thus, rather than looking to religion, Timm argued for critical analysis of the impact of colonialism and postcolonialism in the Muslim world. A slightly different approach was taken in Izzi Dien 1997, an analysis of the impact of industrialization not only on the environment in the Middle East but also in changing values and human interactions. This work was followed in Izzi Dien 2000, which engaged a comprehensive examination of Islamic teachings from the perspectives of history, theology, philosophy, ethics, and law with the goal of reinjecting these teachings into environmental conversations. Haleem 1998, an edited collection, came to be frequently cited as a foundational source, while Ozdemir 2002 provided a comprehensive outline of Qurʾan verses and Hadith related to cleanliness in the environment and special attention to trees, forests, and animals. Foltz 2000 challenged Muslims to take foundational teachings and implement them more broadly in environmental awareness programs, taking the governments of Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as examples for legislation. Foltz, et al. 2003 worked to expand the conversation by bringing Islam into more extensive dialogue with other world religions and their approaches to ecology, including through environmental ethics and ecotheology. Recent work on Islamic sources includes Setia 2007, which calls for foundational ethical principles such as mercy, moderation, and gratitude to be applied to deep ecology and a psycho-ecological approach that discourages instant gratification in favor of long-term goals. Ashtankar 2016 provides a summary of how foundational source materials can be applied to environmental protection of animals, forests, and resources alike while also giving attention to the human realities of poverty and corruption. Kamali, et al. 2016 engages a broader perspective on the relationship between Islam and science in order to formulate an ethical link between the two with powerful implications for understanding the human place in the world and the universe as living entities, particularly through the practices of tazkiyah (self-improvement) and qana’ah (contentment), returning human responsibility to the heart of environmental protection.

  • Ashtankar, O. M. “Islamic Perspectives on Environmental Protection.” International Journal of Applied Research 2.1 (2016): 438–441.

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    A brief summary of Qurʾan verses, Hadith, and current literature on Islam and environmental protection, including preservation of forests, water, animals, and species; trusteeship of resources; poverty alleviation; and opposition to corruption.

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  • Foltz, Richard C. “Is There an Islamic Environmentalism?” Environmental Ethics 22 (2000): 63–72.

    DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics200022149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Questioned why the impact of Islamic teachings on the environment has not been more widespread, given the rooting of environmental ethics in the scriptural sources of Islam. Called for expansion of environmental awareness, using legislative examples from Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as starting points.

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  • Foltz, Richard C., Frederick M. Denny, and Azizan Baharuddin, eds. Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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    Compilation of essays on Islam and ecology that was part of a series of conferences on world religions and ecology held at Harvard University, 1996–1998. Explores environmental ethics in the Qurʾan and mystical writings, as well as contemporary reinterpretations of the environment to reconstruct mindsets, laws, and ecotheology. Examines the Islamic garden as a metaphor for paradise, as well as concerns related to social justice and sustainability in Egypt, Iran, Bengal, Malaysia, and through the Aga Khan Development Network.

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  • Haleem, Harfiyah Abdel, ed. Islam and the Environment. London: Ta-Ha, 1998.

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    One of the first edited collections of essays by Muslim scholars and activists, compiled by a secretary of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences. As a director of the Muslim Women’s Collective, Tower Hamlets, in the London area, she is considered a leading environmental activist in the United Kingdom and has also written books on green teachings and sustainable living.

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  • Izzi Dien, Mawil. “Islam and the Environment: Theory and Practice.” Journal of Beliefs and Values 18 (1997): 47–57.

    DOI: 10.1080/1361767970180106Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first comprehensive analyses of the impact of industrialization on the natural environment of the Middle East, arguing that the replacement of spiritual values with materialism has led to environmental degradation. Calls for rooting conflict resolution over natural resources, particularly water distribution, in Islamic sources and concepts such as protection, justice, and kindness.

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  • Izzi Dien, Mawil. The Environmental Dimensions of Islam. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth, 2000.

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    The first comprehensive examination in English of Islamic perspectives on the environment, covering historical, theological, philosophical, legal, and ethical approaches. Examines Islamic teachings on creation, human responsibility, and responsibilities and actions of governments with special attention to Islamic law, public interest, and economic justice.

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  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim, Osman Bakar, Daud Abdul-Fattah Batchelor, and Rugayah Hashim, eds. Islamic Perspectives on Science and Technology: Selected Conference Papers. Papers presented at the International Conference on Developing Synergies between Islam & Science and Technology for Mankind’s Benefit, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 2014. Singapore: Springer, 2016.

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    Edited collection on the relationship between science and religion and how religion can inform and construct ethical approaches to science. Calls for understanding earth and universe as living entities and interpreting tawhid (monotheism) in a way that encompasses respect for all of God’s creation. Recommends reduction of overconsumption by highlighting principles such as tazkiyah (self-improvement) and qana’ah (contentment), integrating spirituality into value chains for farm products, and considering the impact of genetically modified foods on human well-being.

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  • Khalid, Fazlun M., and Joanne O’Brien, eds. Islam and Ecology. New York: Cassell, 1992.

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    The first major collection of essays on Islam and environmental issues in English. Part of a series on World Religions and Ecology that sought to outline each religion’s scriptural teachings; impact on the environment, both positive and negative; and contemporary discussions of the issues.

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  • Ozdemir, Ibrahim. An Islamic Approach to the Environment. New York: Environment and Ecology, 2002.

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    Highlights attention to cleanliness of both the social and natural environments; preservation of trees, forests, and green areas; protection of animals; and not wasting resources. Provides supportive texts from the Qurʾan and Hadith.

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  • Setia, Adi. “The Inner Dimension of Going Green: Articulating an Islamic Deep-Ecology.” Islam and Science 5.2 (2007): 117–150.

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    Argues that foundational ethical principles such as mercy, moderation, and gratitude should guide human approaches to the environment and that environmental degradation results as an attitude problem, not a resource problem. Calls for shift in psycho-ecological approach from short-term gratification driven by consumer culture to long-term prosperity at communal and governmental levels. Encourages distinction between needs and desires to find meaning and happiness, as well as reconnection to rhythms of nature and a shift from reactive to proactive ethics.

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  • Timm, Roger E. “The Ecological Fallout of Islamic Creation Theology.” In Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment. Edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, 83–95. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994.

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    Argues that the status of human beings as God’s vicegerents on earth does not inherently result in human domination of creation or legitimate human exploitation of the environment. Attributes degradation of Muslim attitudes toward the environment to socioeconomic and colonial factors, including poverty and the secularization and mechanistic views that accompanied the influx of Western science and technology into the Muslim world.

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Ethics

Ethics, or the moral principles guiding a person’s behavior and actions, are increasingly part of environmental conversations in religious and secular circles. Historically, Muslims have tended to focus on social justice aspects of environmental ethical issues, although attention is increasingly being given to the destructive impact of negative human behaviors to other human beings and to the earth. The first work to engage an Islamic approach to the ethics of human behavior toward nature was Özdemir 2008, originally written as a doctoral dissertation and published by the Ministry of Environment in Turkey in 1997. This work bridged Western philosophical works and challenges rooted in a Cartesian scientific outlook with the Qurʾan, metaphysics, and Islamic mystical literature to formulate a comprehensive ethical worldview that moves beyond utilitarianism and instrumentalism to reconstruct the relationship between human beings and nature. That framework was designed to change mind-sets rather than find specific solutions. Building on Özdemir’s work, al-Damkhi 2008 applied environmental ethics to the question of environmental disasters caused by human beings, placing responsibility on human beings to repair the damage. Deuraseh 2009 placed human creation of and responses to pollution as ethical obligations rooted in balanced living (mizan) and as an expression of educated and cultivated manners (adab). The most comprehensive analysis to date is Ramadan 2009, a call for sweeping reformation of Islamic ethics based on values rather than literalism or ritual correctness, capable of responding to contemporary needs and issues ranging from medical sciences, culture, and the arts, to the status of women, the structure of the economy, education, and the environment. Khalid 2010 calls for reconsideration of consumer-oriented culture in favor of a return to more traditional values centered on kindness, generosity, and sustainable living. Saniotis 2012 offers synopses of important Muslim thinkers connecting environmental issues to ethics, including Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Iran, United States), Fazlun Khalid (United Kingdom), Tariq Ramadan (Switzerland), Ibrahim Ozdemir (Turkey), Adi Setia (Malaysia), and Nurdeng Deuraseh (Malaysia). Ali 2017 takes an ethical approach to debates about fossil fuel–dependent economies in the Middle East, examining the potential for greening the Middle East by bridging economic needs and environmental norms.

  • Ali, Saleem H. “Reconciling Islamic Ethics, Fossil Fuel Dependence, and Climate Change in the Middle East.” Review of Middle East Studies 50.2 (2017): 172–178.

    DOI: 10.1017/rms.2016.135Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Consideration of the tangible steps taken by Muslim government leaders and civil society in the Middle East to push back against fossil fuel economies following the 2015 “Islamic Declaration on Climate Change.” Initiatives include the establishment of the International Renewable Energy Agency in the United Arab Emirates and efforts toward eco-peace in Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, with attention to Qurʾanically rooted, ethical approaches to human responsibility for the environment.

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  • al-Damkhi, Ali Mohamed. “Environmental Ethics in Islam: Principles, Violations, and Future Perspectives.” International Journal of Environmental Studies 65.1 (2008): 11–31.

    DOI: 10.1080/00207230701859724Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Outlines principles of environmental ethics in Islam and how they can be applied toward the reparation of environmental disasters in the Arabian Gulf, specifically the destruction of marshlands in Iraq and oil well fires in Kuwait.

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  • Deuraseh, Nurdeng. “Maintaining a Healthy Environment: An Islamic Ethical Approach.” European Journal of Social Sciences 8.4 (2009): 524–531.

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    Uses Islamic concepts of mizan (balance) and education/manners (adab) to construct an Islamic approach to dealing with pollution.

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  • Khalid, Fazlun. “Islam and the Environment—Ethics and Practice, an Assessment.” Religion Compass 4.11 (2010): 707–716.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00249.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Seeks to redress consumer-oriented culture and its negative impact on the environment and earth’s resources by reasserting human connections to the earth through the teachings of Islam.

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  • Özdemir, Ibrahim. The Ethical Dimension of Human Attitude Towards Nature: A Muslim Perspective. Istanbul: Insan, 2008.

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    Originally written as a doctoral dissertation in 1997, provides a state of the field in Western academic literature at of the time of writing and its limitations, particularly with respect to human understanding and treatment of nature. Calls for moving beyond purely scientific findings and data to construct and engage a comprehensive explanation of reality.

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  • Ramadan, Tariq. Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Revisits sources of Islamic law and concept of reform to develop contemporary Islamic vision of ethics applied to medical sciences, culture and arts, women, ecology, economy, and education. Environmental issues addressed include ritual slaughter, growth and sustainable development, the economy, consumption and consumerism, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and poverty. Calls upon Muslims to move beyond ritual correctness toward considering the inherent purpose of the law, building a just society, and working toward higher goals, including common welfare and interest, freedom, solidarity, and brotherhood.

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  • Saniotis, Arthus. “Muslims and Ecology: Fostering Islamic Environmental Ethics.” Contemporary Islam 6.2 (2012): 155–171.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11562-011-0173-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article seeking to bridge the divide between theory and practice in religious attitudes toward nature that have yet to translate into environmental activism in the Muslim world. Gives special attention to issues related to developing arguments and environmental efforts in important Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as the impact of major theorists of environmental ethics, including Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Iran, United States), Fazlun Khalid (United Kingdom), Tariq Ramadan (Switzerland), Ibrahim Ozdemir (Turkey), Adi Setia (Malaysia), and Nurdeng Deuraseh (Malaysia).

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Sharia and Islamic Law

There are two areas of potential inspiration for legal approaches to addressing the environment—Sharia and fiqh (jurisprudence). Sharia, as values and objectives derived from the foundational sources of Islam, offers eternal inspiration for constant reinterpretation based on changing circumstances. Fiqh, as human elaboration of how Sharia values are to be implemented in practice, constitutes a baseline for potential legislation. Hamed 1993 and Esposito and DeLong-Bas 2018 provide overviews of Sharia and its potential application to environmental issues. Schwarte 2003 looks to fiqh and legislation in post-invasion Iraq to address both human and environmental concerns. Jenkins 2005 seeks to shift environmental focus from theology to jurisprudence as a means of engaging practical reform, while Gade 2015 examines legal reasoning in the form of fatwas and missionary work in their calls for environmental activism in Indonesia.

  • Esposito, John L., and Natana J. DeLong-Bas. Shariah. What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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    Outlines ethical implications of Sharia in a variety of fields, including bioethics and the environment, with special attention to caring for life and the earth, including water conservation, cultivation and sustainability of the land, sanitation, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

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  • Gade, Anna. “Islamic Law and the Environment in Indonesia: Fatwa and Daʿwa.” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology 19.2 (2015): 161–183.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685357-01902006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of Muslim expectations of Islamic law with respect to the environmental crisis, including redressing of human moral failings and protection of the biosphere. Analyzes several fatwas, ranging from local to nationally known voices.

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  • Hamed, Safei el-Deen. “Seeing the Environment through Islamic Eyes: Application of Shariah to Natural Resources Planning and Management.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 6.2 (1993): 145–164.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01965481Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Theoretical piece examining Sharia values relevant to natural resource planning and management and derivation of Islamic jurisprudence applicable to the development process. Addresses issues related to ways of life and paths to achieve the ideal approach.

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  • Jenkins, Willis. “Islamic Law and Environmental Ethics: How Jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh) Mobilizes Practical Reform.” Worldviews 9.3 (2005): 338–364.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853505774841641Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Posits Islamic jurisprudence as a practical alternative to theological approaches rooted in cosmology to environmental challenges.

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  • Schwarte, Christoph. “Environmental Protection in Islamic Law: An Overview on Potential Influences for Legal Developments in Iraq.” Local Environment 8.5 (2003): 567–576.

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    Identified inadequate legislation for addressing the immediate threats to human and environmental health in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Contains proposals for thinking about contributions Islamic law could make to national legislation on environmental protection through legal principles and concepts.

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Philosophical and Mystical Approaches to the Environment

Dealing with the environmental crisis requires dealing with human failure to live in harmony with God’s creation as God’s vicegerents on earth, often attributed to modernization and its push toward consumer culture and industrialization that uses and abuses the earth’s resources. As Nasr 1997 observes, framing the environmental crisis as a spiritual crisis recognizes that, just as engineering and science alone are not responsible for environmental destruction, so they cannot resolve the problems either. An accompanying change of heart and outlook is also required in order to bring human beings back into peace with their Creator and all that has been created. Mesbahi 2012 looks to the great Sufi masters of the past for placement of humanity within the bigger picture of the cosmos and nature, while Kim and Raines 2012 examines the contemporary Gulen movement’s emphasis on eco-justice as a manifestation of humanity’s role as God’s vicegerents on earth.

  • Kim, Heon, and John Raines, eds. Making Peace in and with the World: The Gulen Movement and Eco-Justice. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012.

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    Analysis of the thought and work of Turkish intellectual Fethullah Gulen in addressing eco-justice as a spiritual crisis, and the need for education and a refashioning of the self from individualism to a return to thinking of human beings as God’s vicegerents on earth, particularly recognition of human interconnection with the physical world on spiritual issues at the heart of environmental challenges.

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  • Mesbahi, Seyyed Shahabeddin. Method and Mysticism: Cosmos, Nature and Environment in Islamic Mysticism. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2012.

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    Approaches environmental questions from a broader perspective of cosmology, nature, and the environment through Sufi masters, including Hallaj, al-Ghazali, Bayazid Bastami, Rumi, Ibn al-Arabi, and Mulla Sadra. Includes discussions of light, concept of constant re-creation and return, and symbols and allegories using nature and the environment in the works of Sufi masters.

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  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man. Chicago: ABC International Group, 1997.

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    Compilation of lectures on the relationship between man and nature found in various religious and wisdom traditions with special attention to Islam. Locates environmental degradation in the degradation of the human condition, accompanying modernization and scientific and technological advances and a mechanistic approach to the world. Sees human consumerism as a spiritual crisis leading to the dominion and plunder of nature, human beings, and the human condition. Calls for spiritual rebirth, restoring balance and peace between created and Creator.

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Environmental History

Environmental history is frequently intertwined with other historical approaches, including social history and world history, placing environmental history as one element among many in the reconstruction and understanding of the past. Bulliet 1975 was pathbreaking in this regard, tracing social history from the perspective of an animal and arguing that, rather than representing backwardness, the use of camels as the “ships of the desert” was a matter of efficiency and technical superiority for the terrain following the collapse of the Roman Empire and its accompanying road system. Albert, et al. 1998 brings together a group of scholars working on the history of the Middle East through the lens of environmental studies, highlighting environmental changes and their impact on social patterns and the economy. McNeill 2000 engages a world historical approach, focusing on the massive environmental changes of the 20th century. These early studies inspired major work in the field of environmental history, beginning in the mid-2000s, largely focusing on the Ottoman Empire, in part because of extensive archival, court, and other records facilitating such research. The field was also strongly influenced by Fernand Braudel’s thesis of a longue durée approach to the history of the relationship between human beings and nature, opening the door to visions of human agency being facilitated, encouraged, and inspired by environmental circumstances, rather than being held captive by them. Hutteroth 2006 examines changes in patterns of settlement, populations, and agriculture attributed to natural events, including plague and various climate changes, while Sufian 2007 looks at human-generated changes to the environment for public health purposes in Palestine and the resulting metaphors of shaping, healing, and construction and reconstruction of the landscape as reflections of both the people and a nation. Studies asserting human autonomy as facilitated by challenging landscape followed, including Khazeni 2009, a study of 19th-century pastoral tribes in Iran and their historical use of the Zagros Mountains to control contact and engagement with imperial forces and the disruption of that pattern by the construction of a road through the mountains. Burke 2009 began the integration of environmental history into world history, connecting climate change, weather patterns, and land and water use in the Middle East and North Africa to parallel developments throughout the world. Davis 2010 took historical analysis in a new direction by questioning the “environmental orientalism” projected by European colonial powers that has dominated studies of the Middle East and North Africa. Rather than seeing the region as devastated by overgrazing and deforestation by human beings, the author argues instead that the region should be viewed through scientific data supporting the idea that pastoralism contributed to the robustness of the existing challenging environment over time. Davis and Burke 2011 expands this line of inquiry with an edited collection addressing the French and British colonial projects designed to “restore” the agricultural productivity of Roman North Africa and various development projects then undertaken by postcolonial regimes toward the same purpose. Some of the most innovative and detailed analyses of environmental approaches to the study of the Middle East with particular focus on the Ottoman Empire have been undertaken in Mikhail 2011 and Mikhail 2013, decentering political and military studies from the center to the periphery in favor of looking at the impact of everyday people and their activities, particularly farmers and their use of irrigation networks, and analyzing the use of animal energy and land resources to interconnect environmental challenges with human life and development. Mikhail 2017 traces the connection of political sovereignty directly to the environment through the foundational myth of the Ottoman Empire as a tree representing the spread of the power and influence of the ruler over vast territories.

  • Albert, Jeff, Magnus Bernhardsson, and Roger Kenna, eds. Transformation of Middle Eastern Natural Environments: Legacies and Lessons. Bulletin Series 103. New Haven, CT: Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, 1998.

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    Edited collection addressing Middle Eastern history through the lens of environmental studies and changes. Includes essays on agriculture and pastoralism; water supplies and use; water as an energy source; nature and culture through the imagery of gardens; marine environments and fishing; monitoring of changes in climate, population, and distribution; and use and regeneration of natural resources as well as the social and economic changes these have produced.

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  • Bulliet, Richard W. The Camel and the Wheel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.

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    Investigates why the wheel is absent for nearly a millennium in Islamic sources, despite presence in North Africa, the Levant, and Iran as an import from Rome. Argues that, environmentally, camels were better designed to serve as “ships of the desert” after the collapse of the Roman Empire and lack of attention to Roman roads, making the shift from wheel to camel a matter of technical superiority and efficiency, not backwardness. Uses the camel for insight into transportation in early Arab cities.

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  • Burke, Edmund, III. “The Transformation of the Middle Eastern Environment, 1500 B.C.E.–2000 C.E.” In The Environment and World History. Edited by Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz, 81–117. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    Integrative approach to environment and environmental change from a world historical perspective examining parallel developments globally in land and water use. Acknowledges wide variety of terrains and ecosystems within various political regions. Notes complexity of wind systems and climates in Middle East, as well as a variety of landscapes ranging from river valleys to mountains, deserts, wastelands, and oases, and a spectrum of access to water. Places Middle Eastern environmental studies within world history to uncover larger processes of human-environmental interaction.

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  • Davis, Diana K. “Power, Knowledge, and Environmental History in the Middle East and North Africa.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 657–659.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743810000863Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Raises questions about “knowledge” of Middle East and North Africa by challenging the mainstream notion that the region has largely been laid to waste by overgrazing and deforestation over long periods of time, resulting in environmental ruin. Argues instead that current scientific evidence shows pastoralism contributes to environmental robustness over time, given that scarce rainfall is the true culprit of the aridity of many areas. Questions validity of many environmental histories as the product of colonial administrations, a reality she terms “environmental orientalism.”

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  • Davis, Diana K., and Edmund Burke III, eds. Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011.

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    Edited collection exploring desertification, deforestation, and culturally constructed visions of environment in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly British and French colonial projects to “restore” agricultural productivity and nationalist development programs. Includes Sahara desert, Nile River, Aswan Dam construction, Egyptian desert reclamation projects, Jordan River political geography, and narratives of colonial and postcolonial modernization projects and environmental change in Turkey, Israel, and Palestine. Uses fossil fuel and solar energy production as a lens for examining uses of and changes to environment.

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  • Hutteroth, Wolf-Dieter. “Ecology of the Ottoman Lands.” In The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3 of The Cambridge History of Turkey. Edited by Suraiya N. Faroqhi, 18–43. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Explores changes to the physical landscape of territories under Ottoman control during the period of ostensible contraction and stagnation, including patterns of settlement and agricultural production. Examines the impact of natural events, such as plague and climatic changes, which resulted in a slowdown and even decline in population growth in some areas and expanded immigration to others with more favorable agricultural conditions.

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  • Khazeni, Arash. Tribes and Empire on the Margins of Nineteenth-Century Iran. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.

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    Study of assimilation of the Zagros Mountains autonomous pastoral Bakhtiyari tribal confederacy into imperial Qajar territory. Previously understood to have been “limited” by the surrounding environment in terms of connection to the rest of the country, this work explores how the tribal confederation used land formations to control encounters, engagement, and accommodation. Environmental changes via construction of a road through the mountain and exploration for oil brought assimilation, but at the cost of the freedom associated with the wilderness.

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  • McNeill, John R. Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

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    Examines the global environmental damage caused by one hundred years of industrialization and development, including the decline in food production per capita in Africa since 1960, soil degradation affecting one-third of the world’s surface, unhealthy air in the world’s cities, and rising pollution of drinking water due to carcinogenic pesticide and fossil-fuel use. Although written from a world historical perspective, it provides coverage of issues in specific countries.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511977220Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rejects the argument that only authoritarian, centralized governments are capable of oversight and coordination of diffuse networks of actors and natural resource management, noting that daily function and maintenance of large-scale irrigation networks and food production were originally in local hands. Only when government became more extractive and disrupted those networks—forcing transition from local environmental managers to regulated, regimented laborers—did despotic centralized government appear. Decenters historiographies of center-periphery and decline paradigms in favor of local and rural focus.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. Under Osman’s Tree: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Environmental History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226427201.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ottoman environmental history examining natural resource management, climate, human and animal labor, energy, water control, disease, and politics, including through Islamic theological interpretation. Considers the Ottoman Empire as an ecosystem, rather than a political entity, seeing interconnection between political sovereignty and natural resources in the foundational dream myth of Osman having a tree sprout from his navel and cover the world with its shade as a metaphor for sustenance and life for the future territories he would rule.

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  • Mikhail, Alan, ed. Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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    Edited collection of articles analyzing environmental history from the perspectives of animal energy, climate crisis, impacts on fish and animal life and production, politics of national parks, nature-based energy sources, water resources, and land reclamation. Fills a geographic gap in environmental history as well as acknowledges the variety of landscapes in the region in order to highlight the varied challenges facing the region.

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  • Sufian, Sandra M. Healing the Land and the Nation: Malaria and the Zionist Project in Palestine, 1920–1947. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226779386.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses the lens of public medicine to examine questions related to Zionist nation building through land repurposing and improvement with the purpose of eradicating malaria. Explores the metaphor of malaria as a parasitic disease and its conquest as a means of rehabilitating the image of Jews in Palestine as healthy and strong, making an inherent connection between healing the land and healing the people. Interprets changes to the landscape as achievements in development, technology, science, medicine, culture, and ultimately political contestation.

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Natural Disasters

A more specific approach to environmental history focuses on natural disasters and their impacts on land, populations, and political systems. Dols 1977 pioneered this field for the Muslim world, bridging European experiences of Black Death with new research on the Middle East focused on demographics and economic impact. Taking a comparative approach to Christian and Muslim history and religious interpretations, Dols asserted contrasts in religious mind-sets attributable to historical outcomes. Panzac 1985 builds upon Dols’s work with a transnational investigation of the impact of traveling populations on the spread of plague in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Kuhnke 1990 focuses on outbreaks of disease in Egypt through the lenses of public health management and the colonial dynamics of conflicts between traditional medicine and European medicine. Speziale 1997 also brings traditional Arabic and European modern medicine into conversation in a study of plague and sanitation in cholera outbreaks in North Africa, relying heavily on quantitative data. These foundational studies, representing different sources and methodologies, opened the field of Ottoman studies broadly to new historiographical inquiries, especially social and economic history. Borsch 2005 engages a comparative study of the experiences of England and Egypt, contrasting the economic impact in both societies and arguing that landholding patterns, rather than religion, determined each country’s trajectory, placing blame for Egypt’s decimation on absentee Mamluk landholders who did not have a personal stake in helping the land or the workers recover. Stearns 2011 also engages a comparative approach through texts written by Christians and Muslims living in the Iberian Peninsula to examine the impact of both tradition and surrounding context on religious understandings of plague. Unlike Dols who had argued that Muslims were fatalistic and social in their response to plague while Christians were purportedly more individual and rational in response, Stearns’s careful analysis of a multiplicity of writings found that both groups rationally confronted the realities of disease transmission and placed their own empirical observations in conversation with received tradition. Yet, while Christians focused on disease as a reflection of sin, heresy, and ultimately God’s punishment evidenced not only by plague but also by the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, Muslims drew upon concepts such as tawhid (God’s unity) and Muhammad’s warnings against entering plague-infested areas to construct reasoned approaches to addressing community needs. Thus, in the late medieval period, when conceptions of disease origins and transmission began to circulate, Muslim thinkers were more easily able to incorporate them. Ultimately, Stearns pushes against the “decline” theory long prominent in Ottoman studies to show interconnection between religion and science among Muslim thinkers long before the 19th century. Mikhail 2011 also pushes back against “decline” theory, but by decentering narratives focused on the center-periphery binary in favor of recognizing dynamics at play in both areas and their mutual impact through examination of natural resource management. Varlik 2015 rejects “decline” theory by placing Ottoman and non-Ottoman historiography on plagues in conversation, highlighting the importance of tracing “plague networks” as populations became increasingly mobile. Ayalon 2014 engages a history of Muslim approaches to a multiplicity of natural disasters, including earthquakes, fires, and famines, finding that disaster responses played a role in changing political dynamics for the Ottoman Empire. In a contemporary case study of Indonesia, Djalante, et al. 2017 proposes methods to improve disaster risk and response related to land and forest fire management, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

  • Ayalon, Yaron. Natural Disasters in the Ottoman Empire: Plague, Famine, and Other Misfortunes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139680943Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines religious and political responses to natural disasters, including Black Death, famine, earthquakes, and fires. Finds fewer divisions between religious communities than typically assumed, and that government disaster response led to some improvements in public health and city planning. Combines historical evidence, social psychology, and sociology to argue that disaster response played a role in both the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire. Includes a history of Muslim responses to natural disasters, particularly plagues, from shortly after Muhammad’s death through the 18th century.

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  • Borsch, Stuart. The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

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    Comparative historical approach to the study of Black Death, focusing on different economic trajectories of England and Egypt in the aftermath. Argues that landholding patterns, rather than religion, are responsible for different rates of recovery despite comparable demographic losses. Builds on prior works focused on demographics and perceptions of plague, medicine, and public health, but asserts that an understanding of relationships between landowners and agricultural production prior to and following plague is central to understanding Egypt’s long-term decimation.

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  • Djalante, Riyanti, Matthias Garschagen, Frank Thomalla, and Rajib Shaw, eds. Disaster Risk Reduction in Indonesia: Progress, Challenges, and Issues. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017.

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    Examination of Indonesian government actions to reduce disaster risk related to land and forest management, lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami, planning for climate change, post-disaster road reconstruction, adaptation to flooding, disaster relief following volcanic eruptions, special attention to needs of disabled persons, inclusion of women in disaster relief planning and implementation, and attention to psychological needs and community resilience following disasters.

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  • Dols, Michael. The Black Death in the Middle East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

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    Pioneer work on plague in the Middle East, examining history of plagues prior to the Black Death and the chronology and distribution of Black Death with particular focus on Egypt and Syria. Attention is given to medical observations and religious interpretations of plague, as well as the demographic impact on rural and urban populations and militaries and the economic impact on labor, production, and consumption.

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  • Kuhnke, LaVerne. Lives at Risk: Public Health in Nineteenth-Century Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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    Scholarly examination of concepts of disease, medicine, and public health management through the lenses of outbreaks in cholera and smallpox and government initiatives such as establishment of medical schools and clinics, pharmaceutical programs, quarantines, and vaccination projects. Colonial dynamics of European versus traditional and even modern Egyptian approaches to medicine are highlighted.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511977220Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of Egypt’s transition from the early modern period to an era of modernization with attention to agriculture, irrigation systems, and natural resource management. Includes discussion of changing conceptions of plague and disease, as well as a critique of increased government demand for agricultural production leading to ill-studied irrigation projects that resulted in famine and outbreaks of disease and plagues. Calls for a holistic approach to history that considers the impact of government policies on daily life and use of environment.

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  • Panzac, Daniel. La peste dans l’empire Ottoman: 1700–1850. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1985.

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    Doctoral dissertation written in the French Annales tradition serving as a major source of social and economic history. Based on archival research in France, Italy, Britain, Malta, Austria, and the former Yugoslavia in Turkish, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, and Hebrew, focuses on plague and disease as common natural disasters, alongside earthquakes, floods, droughts, and famines. Examines movement of plague transnationally through travel by sea and land and the impact on populations and public health policies.

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  • Speziale, Salvatore. Oltre la peste: Sanita, poplazione e societa in Tunisia e nel Maghreb (XVIII–XX secolo). Cosenza, Italy: Luigi Pellegrini, 1997.

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    Examination of plague in Tunisia and North Africa from the 18th through 20th centuries, with attention to geography, climate, medicine, epidemiology, and demographics, as well as discussions of both traditional Arab and European medicine as used to address the specific challenges of cholera and sanitation. Includes maps, tables, and graphs of quantitative data.

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  • Stearns, Justin. Infectious Ideas: Contagion in Premodern Islamic and Christian Thought in the Western Mediterranean. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

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    Comprehensive, comparative historical study of conceptions of contagion in theological, philosophical, historical, medical, and legal texts in Arabic, Latin, and medieval Castilian from the Iberian Peninsula following the Black Death. Analyzes contagion as both a physical and a spiritual health concern for both communities, arguing that Muslims perceived interconnection between religion and medicine, accepted plague as part of God’s will rather than punishment for sin, and focused on public health responses.

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  • Varlik, Nukhet. Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139004046Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comparative study of the Ottoman experience of Black Death, based on archival sources, medical treatises, hagiographies, and travel accounts, both Ottoman and non-Ottoman. Analyzes the transformation of plague patterns accompanying the expansion of empire due to increased mobility of populations. Argues that plague networks and their population changes are essential to forming new understandings of political and social networks so that plague is best conceived as a category of understanding and a natural part of Ottoman life, rather than a specific phenomenon or an isolated event.

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Climate Change

As political debates about the impact of human beings on climate, extreme weather, and topography intensify, historical studies of global warming and cooling and water and land resource use and abuse have become critical to long-term regional understandings. Attention to changes in climate and weather patterns shifts from an anthropocentric focus on political, administrative, and military, that is, human-driven, histories to consideration of complex factors to which humans have had to respond and adapt to survive and flourish. Griswold 1993 was one of the first works to suggest that climate issues—the 17th-century Little Ice Age—had played a role in uprisings in the Ottoman Empire. Issar and Zohar 2004 expands on the idea of climate changes impacting human behaviors, both constructive and destructive, presenting a broad history of climate in the Middle East from prehistoric times to the early 21st century, based on archaeological, soil, and other natural evidence. While European and Chinese sources document the Middle Ages as a time of global warming, an examination of Persian and Arabic sources in Bulliet 2009 reveals the opposite in the Middle East and Central Asia, where a “big chill” in the 11th and 12th centuries caused migrations due to economic hardships from decreased cotton cultivation and decimation of large landholdings, thereby facilitating Turkic migrations and the Mongol invasions into Iran and Anatolia. This “big chill” was then followed by several centuries of temperate weather patterns that facilitated the rise of the great Muslim empires—Ottoman, Mughal, Safavid, Mamluk, and Uzbek. White 2011 returns to and expands upon Griswold’s assertion that the Little Ice Age resulted in a series of economic and political crises over scarce agricultural resources that diminished the legitimacy of governments unable to provide for their subjects. White argues that Ottoman failure to meet public needs in provisioning and land settlement resulted in starvation, disease, displacement, and rising mortality rates that gave rise to small-scale revolts, nomadic incursions, violence, and banditry, eventually building into the Celali peasant rebellions of the 17th century, thereby locating the roots of the historical paradigm of Ottoman decline, decentralization, and realignment in Little Ice Age climate events. White also hearkens back to Varlik’s work on plagues (see Varlik 2015, cited under Natural Disasters), challenging historiographical methodologies of decline rooted in center-periphery and urban-rural binaries, arguing instead for a “transformation” narrative that examines internal developments and dynamics, such as Ottoman state efforts to manage the impact of climate fluctuations on agricultural production, water resources, and human and animal populations that the author considers the beginning of the reform movement that culminated in the Tanzimat of the 19th century. Ellenblum 2012 also examines destructive climate events, but focuses on their scale and long-term negative impact rather than the resilience of populations. From a more contemporary perspective, Bell 2014 examines the impact of desertification of the Sahel Desert in Mali, drawing a link between human suffering and environmental suffering in the form of lack of water and its negative impact on food security. Amry 2014 notes the terminology of “eco-jihad” adopted by the Dewan Nasional Perubahan Iklim (National Climate Change Council) with the help of two of Indonesia’s largest and most popular religious civil society organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, in promoting climate change and environmental awareness in schools, in addition to creating tree-planting and bioenergy projects to counteract deforestation due to logging, economic growth, and rapid industrialization. Shaw, et al. 2013 focuses on women and vulnerable groups in Bangladesh and current efforts toward climate resilient development. Documentary film coverage of human impacts on climate change and the environment in Muslim-majority countries can be found in “Endangered Places” (2010) and “Dry Season” (2014).

  • Amry, Ulil. “From Theology to a Praxis of ‘Eco-jihad’: The Role of Religious Civil Society Organizations in Combating Climate Change in Indonesia.” In How the World’s Religions Are Responding to Climate Change: Social Scientific Investigations. Edited by Robin Globus Veldman, Andrew Szasz, and Randolph Haluza-deLay, 75–93. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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    Analyzes the work of Indonesian Dewan Nasional Perubahan Iklim (National Climate Change Council) to reduce effects of climate change through national policies, strategies, and actions including adaptation, mitigation, technology, and finance mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020 and strengthen Indonesia’s bargaining position with industrial countries. Focuses on efforts by Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama to promote climate change awareness and activism in Jakarta, West Java, and Yogyakarta.

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  • Bach, Joel, dir. “Dry Season.” Years of Living Dangerously television series. New York: Films Media Group, 2014.

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    Documentary tracing human impacts on climate change from deforestation in Indonesia to extreme drought in the United States and how climate change, particularly drought, contributed to the civil war in Syria, and the refugee crisis spilling into Turkey.

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  • Bell, Dianna. “Understanding a ‘Broken World’: Islam, Ritual, and Climate Change in Mali, West Africa.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8.3 (2014): 287–306.

    DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v8i3.287Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ethnographic approach to understanding the use of religious rituals by Muslims in Mali to stop desertification of the Sahel out of the belief that climate change is God’s will, so may represent divine punishment of human depravity. Examines engagement of personal ritual practices in everyday life as a means of navigating changing climatic realities. Asserts inherent link between human suffering and suffering and decay of environment, particularly with the loss of water supplies and the negative impact on agricultural production and food security.

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  • Bulliet, Richard. Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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    Examines why a boom in the production and export of cotton in Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries suddenly collapsed in the 11th century, bringing the country into a steep economic decline. Identifying a “big chill” that lasted for over a century that also brought Turkish nomadic tribes into Iran for the first time, he examines the transfer of economic production from cotton to the cross-breeding of one- and two-humped camels.

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  • Ellenblum, Ronnie. The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950–1072. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139151054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Account of destructive climate events, including severe cold, droughts, and poor Nile floods that devastated Near Eastern agriculture and enabled the invasion of pastoralists from Central Asia, connecting environmental collapse to instability and decay in political and economic institutions, cities, and high culture. Focus is on scale of disasters and their long-term impact. Draws upon primary eyewitness accounts in chronicles, but does not include demographic, economic, or climate proxy evidence.

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  • “Endangered Places.” Globe Trekker television series. London: Pilot Film & Television Productions, 2010.

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    Visits numerous locations endangered by loss of habitat, global warming, nuclear testing, dam construction, and the expansion of tourism, including those in Turkey, Syria, Kuwait, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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  • Griswold, William. “Climatic Change: A Possible Factor in the Social Unrest of Seventeenth Century Anatolia.” In Humanist and Scholar: Essays in Honor of Andreas Tietze. Edited by Heath W. Lowry and Donald Quataert, 37–57. Istanbul: Isis Press, 1993.

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    One of the first historians to suggest climate as an extra-social factor in social and political unrest in Ottoman society during the Little Ice Age.

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  • Issar, Arie S., and Mattanyah Zohar. Climate Change—Environment and Civilization in the Middle East. Berlin: Springer, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-662-06264-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Broad history of climate and climate change in the Middle East from the paleoclimate through the contemporary era. Periods of history are marked by major transitions in climate, such as shifts from hunting-gathering to tilled agriculture and from village life to urban centers, as well as various periods of migration and the onset of the era of industry, rather than political or military history.

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  • Shaw, Rajib, Fuad Mallick, and Aminul Islam, eds. Climate Change Adaptation Actions in Bangladesh. Tokyo: Springer, 2013.

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    Addresses impacts already felt from climate change, particularly in coastal areas and with respect to urban poverty; socioeconomic impacts; questions related to equity and social justice, particularly for women and vulnerable groups; and adaptive actions being taken in agriculture, coastal livelihoods, improvements to infrastructure, and pursuit of climate resilient development.

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  • White, Sam. The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Ottoman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the beginning of Ottoman “decline”—really an end to the rapid growth of the 16th century—can be traced to Little Ice Age climate events that resulted in nomad incursions, rural disorders, population decline, urbanization, increased mortality in cities, and, ultimately, rebellion as landholding and provisioning patterns had to be reorganized according to new demographics and taxpayer-government relations. Takes a regional approach to history, connecting the Ottoman Empire to eastern Mediterranean European countries.

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Literature with Environmental Themes

Themes of climate change, natural disasters, and human impact on the environment have long been staples of literary production in the Middle East and North Africa, regions that have been challenged throughout their history by water scarcity, desertification, and an often-contentious relationship with the land. In literature, relationships between people and their land are frequently used to depict colonial themes, such as oppression, liberation, and justice. Kanafani 1983 famously uses environmental images related to land and nature to highlight the displacement of Palestinians. Munif 1988 is a trilogy examining the impact of the discovery of oil on a fictional Saudi village, tracing shifts in the economy, class and tribal relations, and colonialism in the form of an American corporation. Achebe 1994 similarly records the impact of European colonialism on village life through issues related to built environment, changes in wealth patterns away from agricultural production, and the impact of missionary activities on class dynamics and perceptions of the environment. Al-Koni 2002 uses the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep to examine colonial dynamics, particularly where exploitation of natural resources is concerned. Most recently, Blasim 2016 gathers a series of science fiction short stories projecting environmental hazards and climate change due to human activity into the future for Iraq.

  • Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

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    First in a trilogy recording changes in Nigerian Ibo tribal life before, during, and after European colonialism. Changes in the village setup and the surrounding environment reflect the changes to life itself. Yams are particularly important symbols representing life, wealth, and survival, as do farms and animals. The forest plays a dark role, highlighting conflict between Christian colonial missionary efforts among Muslim subjects.

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  • Blasim, Hassan, ed. Iraq + 100. New York: Tom Doherty, 2016.

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    First collection of science fiction short stories to come out of Iraq, projecting visions of what Iraq will look like in one hundred years. Many of the stories focus on aspects of environmental destruction and degradation, including famine, human trafficking, cannibalism, resource exploitation, social engineering, genetic mutations due to chemical warfare, epidemics, and the “archiving” of criminals into diamonds.

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  • Kanafani, Ghassan. Men in the Sun: And Other Palestinian Stories. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1983.

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    Series of short stories reflecting displacement of Palestinians from their land as refugees and filled with imagery related to land, earth, and nature—including the sun, oranges, a horse, and a falcon—to invoke love, beauty, and loss.

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  • al-Koni, Ibrahim. The Bleeding of the Stone. Translated by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley. Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2002.

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    Mystical, fantasy, and reality story of a solitary Bedouin and his wild sheep (moufflon) as they try to live cut apart from humanity in the mountainous desert of southern Libya. Pursued by foreign hunters who seek the sheep for their own consumption, the Bedouin’s quest to save his sheep reflects the broader story of traditional peoples encountering foreigners seeking to consume and exploit natural resources for their own enrichment.

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  • Munif, Abd al-Rahman. Endings. Translated by Roger Allen. London: Quartet Books, 1988.

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    Saudi novel that places drought as the driving force of action, demonstrating the impact of an enduring drought on village life. Despite warnings of the need to learn sustainable hunting methods, the villagers refuse to listen—and pay the price as the village’s unsustainable lifestyle results in the loss of the village to a government dam construction project.

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Sustainable Development

Faced with the realities of climate change and limited resources, the question of sustainable development has come to the forefront of politics and economics in many Muslim-majority countries. One of the first works to bring together Muslim economists to propose an Islamic, noninterest-based framework for economic and financial management was Iqbal 2005. As the chief of research in Islamic banking and finance at the world’s largest Islamic financial institution, the Islamic Development Bank, Iqbal established Islamic parameters for restructuring economic exchange, production, and consumption through emphasis on stewardship and social justice. This theoretical work was followed by Orhan Astrom 2011, which argued that sustainable development could only be achieved if the paradigm itself is revised to focus on public outcomes, rather than individual choices. Ibrahim, et al. 2011 also asserts the importance of the outcome of human well-being as the basis for sustainable development, but adds that consideration of future needs must also be made when allocating natural resource use. The researchers also place pollution control as a top priority in any development plan. Hamim, et al. 2014 outlines Qurʾanic teachings designed to help human beings manage nature in a sustainable way, while al-Jayyousi 2016 highlights central Islamic concepts relevant to sustainable development, including good governance, justice, education, and consideration of public welfare/the common good as checks against corruption, pollution, and climate change. Specific case studies of sustainable development include Schoenfeld 2005, which brought together Palestinian and Israeli scholars to develop a meta-narrative of sustainable development based on environmentally friendly policies and regional cooperation, although political conflict continues to stymie these efforts. Adaman and Arsel 2005 identifies the main players in Turkish environmentalism through a series of case studies of projects ranging from energy and water use and sources to sustainable tourism and agriculture. Attention is also given to the Southeast Anatolia Development Project, which is additionally covered in Harris 2008. Faced with the twin challenges of deforestation in the form of destruction of one of the world’s three largest rainforest systems and its presence in the Ring of Fire, one of the most active volcanic and earthquake regions in the world, recommendations for action in Indonesia include Budiman 2011, a repurposing of the concept of waqf, or charitable endowments, to protect the rainforests and assure sustainable development. Documentary coverage of geothermal potential in Turkey and Indonesia is provided in “Fire from Within: Geothermal Heat” (2011).

  • Adaman, Fikret, and Murat Arsel, eds. Environmentalism in Turkey: Between Democracy and Development? Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.

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    Edited collection identifying the main players in Turkish environmentalism—state, civil society, nonstate actors, businesses, the European Union, and transnational advocacy networks. Analyzes a series of case studies, including energy politics, the Southeast Anatolia Development Project, water use, transformations in urban structures and the environment, biodiversity and biotechnology in agriculture, and sustainable tourism.

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  • Budiman, Mochammad Arif. “The Role of Waqf for Environmental Protection in Indonesia.” In Proceedings of the ADIC 2011: Aceh Development International Conference 2010, 26–28 March 2011, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Edited by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 880–889. Bangi, Malaysia: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2011.

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    Proposes use of the Islamic charitable foundation (waqf) and accompanying Islamic principles, such as recognizing natural settings as ayat (signs of God) designed to offer God praise, acknowledge humanity’s role as a piece of the fullness of creation, and centrality of justice and equity as organizing principles for society and mechanisms for assuring sustainable development and environmental protection.

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  • “Fire from Within: Geothermal Heat.” Global Energy series. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2011.

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    Examines efforts in Indonesia and Turkey, among other places, to use geothermal heat as a green energy source.

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  • Hamim, Hamim, Luluk Setyaningsih, and Asep Nurhalim. “Islam and Stewardship.” In Values in Sustainable Development. Edited by Jack Appleton, 145–152. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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    Outlines teachings in the Qurʾan that assign human beings responsibility for managing nature based on their ability to discern good from bad and receive lessons from God, including both commands and prohibitions.

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  • Harris, Leila. “Postcolonialism, Postdevelopment, and Ambivalent Spaces of Difference in Southeastern Turkey.” Geoforum 39 (2008): 1698–1708.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2008.03.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes contemporary development efforts in southeastern Turkey through the lenses of post-developmental, feminist geographic, and postcolonial scholarship, concluding that state efforts to unify and nationalize Turkish territory have resulted in hydrosocial identity construction among Kurds.

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  • Ibrahim, Patmawati, Siti A. Basir, and Asmak A. Rahman. “Sustainable Economic Development: Concept, Principles and Management from an Islamic Perspective.” European Journal of Social Sciences 24.3 (2011): 330–338.

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    Asserts human welfare as the basis for development in the Islamic economic system. Defines sustainable development as maintaining a long-run rate of economic growth while achieving intergenerational equity in natural resource use and restricting increases in pollution. The ultimate goal is to assure that present needs are met in a way that does not compromise future access to resources. Examines sustainability from the perspectives of the environment, the economy, and sociopolitical concerns.

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  • Iqbal, Munawar, ed. Islamic Perspectives on Sustainable Development. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    Proposes a noninterest-based economic and financial framework for development that engages stewardship as a mechanism for ecological balance, social justice, and economic restructuring at the levels of economic exchange, production, and consumption, including through public ownership of resources, pursuit of social rather than individual interests, avoidance of excessive consumption, waste and pollution, and promotion of simplicity of lifestyles.

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  • al-Jayyousi, Odeh Rashed. Islam and Sustainable Development. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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    An examination of central Islamic concepts and their application to sustainability, including good governance, justice, beauty, social capital, education, consideration of public interest/the common good, and living lightly on earth, as well as those factors that can interfere with good governance, such as corruption, pollution, and climate change. The author brings extensive experience from working in civil society and with international organizations and donors to address issues connected to sustainability and governance in the Middle East.

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  • Orhan Astrom, Z. Hafsa. “Paradigm Shift for Sustainable Development: The Contribution of Islamic Economics.” Journal of Economic and Social Studies 1.1 (2011): 73–82.

    DOI: 10.14706/JECOSS11116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes the challenge of achieving sustainable development when the paradigm itself is contested. Explains some of the underlying principles of Islamic economics, which assumes sufficient resources to meet needs, so that assuring justice and public welfare and avoiding waste are the ultimate objectives, rather than profits or absolute ownership. Takes an intentionally normative and altruistic approach, rather than claiming to be value-free science. Focus is on coherent social, political, economic, and environmental outcomes rather than individual decision-making.

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  • Schoenfeld, Stuart, ed. Palestinian and Israeli Environmental Narratives: Proceedings of Conference Johannesburg Earth Summit Held in Association with the Middle East Environmental Futures Project, August 24–September 4, 2002. Toronto: York University, 2005.

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    Conference proceedings designed to develop a meta-narrative of sustainable development to address recycling; air and water quality; waste management; and conservation and resource management, including of water, through regional cooperation on environmental issues. Notes the challenge of differences in social and political constructions of environmental narratives, making resolution of political conflict essential to the environmental well-being of the region.

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Water Rights

Throughout history, access to water for both humans and nonhumans and determination of individual versus community rights to water has been central to social and political organization. As the global population faces increasing risk of water shortages in the future, attention to water rights and management has become particularly critical in the Muslim world. Siraj and Tayab 2017 provides comparative religious perspectives on water as a divine gift to be managed as a trust by human beings in their capacity as God’s vicegerents. The authors also cite Muhammad’s practice of common sharing of grass, pasturelands, water, and fuel, in addition to establishing protected and conservation zones. Faruqi 2003 argues for use of the economic and religious principles of equity and public interest in water management.

  • Faruqi, Naser I. “Water, Human Rights, and Economic Instruments: The Islamic Perspective.” Water Nepal 9–10.1–2 (2003): 197–214.

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    Examines the challenge of water management in a region with scarce natural supplies and one of the highest average population growths in the world. Uses an Islamic lens to argue for the insertion of principles of equity and public interest into the market to assure fairness.

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  • Siraj, M. A., and M. A. K. Tayab. “Water in Islam.” In Water and Scriptures: Ancient Roots for Sustainable Development. Edited by K. V. Raju and S. Manasi, 15–58. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-50562-6_2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comparative analysis of water as divine gift in Qurʾan, Bible, and Hindu texts. Details law and policy implications in light of climate change and water shortages. Outlines sustainable usage practices, preservation, and management rooted in Islamic principles of tawhid (monotheism), mizan (balance), and khilafah (humans as God’s vicegerents on earth). Draws on Muhammad’s example for sharing grass/pasturelands, water, and fire/fuel, and setting aside protected and conservation land. Calls for justice and equity in water use and economization of water usage.

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Water Resource Management

Scarcity of water resources, management of the destructive and constructive capacities of water, and sharing of water resources across regions and countries have long been central to the history of the Islamic world. Some of the earliest studies of water management include Beaumont 1974 on irrigation systems in premodern Iran and Waterbury 1979, a study of the Nile and its cycles of drought and flooding as a shared resource between Egypt and the Sudan. Questions related to water management and its underlying principles resurged at the beginning of the 20th century. Discussions of Islamic principles of water management, inter-sectoral water markets, and shared waters can be found in Faruqi, et al. 2001. Collins 2002 is a complete history of the Nile over four thousand years of human interaction. This work and Waterbury’s were expanded upon in Barnes 2014, which looks at the everyday politics of water and farmers, government officials, and international donors as actors. Other historical studies of water management and conflict include Borsch 2005, which discusses irrigation problems in relationship to the Black Death; Mikhail 2010 on irrigation in Fayyum, Egypt, and its importance in connecting this rural area with Ottoman centers of power in Cairo and Istanbul; and Christensen 2016 on the impact of irrigation (qanat) systems on agricultural production and economic development in Iran. From a more contemporary perspective, Tal and Rabbo 2010 engages water management challenges in Israel and Palestine, bringing together experts on water resources and population needs from both sides to formulate jointly proposed solutions that would work for both sides if political dynamics allowed it. Control over water resources for political power and influence by Saudi Arabia is discussed in Jones 2010. Documentaries addressing problems with water resources and management in Turkey include The Last Days of Zeugma and Apamea: Archaeological Race against Time (2000) and Aghbalou: The Source of Water (2016) for Morocco.

  • Barnes, Jessica. Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

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    Analysis of the ongoing making and remaking of water resources from the Nile for people inside and outside of Egypt. Explores the everyday politics of water as it is blocked, released, channeled, and diverted to and by farmers, government, engineers, and international donors.

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  • Beaumont, Peter. “Water Resource Development in Iran.” The Geographical Journal 3.140 (1974): 418–431.

    DOI: 10.2307/1796535Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the qanat, or “irrigation,” system constructed throughout Iran historically and the impact of development in the form of nationalization of water resources and Seven-Year Plans initiating multipurpose water resource projects designed to deliver water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic use. Highlights both achievements and shortcomings of these programs.

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  • Borsch, Stuart. The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

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    Discusses irrigation canal problems in relationship to the Black Death, examining the impact of disease and decimation of the population on large-scale irrigation works, maintenance, and repairs and the resulting damage to agricultural production.

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  • Christensen, Peter. The Decline of Iranshahr: Irrigation and Environment in the Middle East, 500 BC–1500 AD. New ed. London: I. B. Tauris, 2016.

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    Challenges the predominant theory of decline in Iran and the Middle East as due to the rise of European capitalism by examining its environmental history. Concludes that changes in the extent and character of irrigation had a negative impact on demographics and politics that set the stage for impoverishment, disease, and technological backwardness.

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  • Collins, Robert O. The Nile. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    A historical account of the human societies that have grown along the four-thousand-mile-long river through deserts, grasslands, mountains, and rain forests, spanning nine African countries. Examines how human beings have benefitted from and been destroyed by its floods as well as human efforts to control its power, from the canals of the Pharaohs through the construction of the High Aswan Dam in 1971.

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  • Faruqi, Naser I., Asit K. Biswas, and Marad J. Bino, eds. Water Management in Islam. Tokyo: United Nations University, 2001.

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    Edited volume addressing principles of water rights, management, trade, markets, and conservation in Islam, followed by a series of case studies on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Iran as well as discussions of Islamic perspectives on inter-sectoral water markets and shared waters.

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  • Jones, Toby Craig. Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674059405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses Saudi government control over and management of these two critical natural resources and the science and technology used to harness them to examine power dynamics, particularly the forging of authoritarianism within the kingdom and in the global political arena. Shows how exploitation of nature and related experts were used to consolidate political authority in the desert.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. “An Irrigated Empire: The View from Ottoman Fayyum.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 569–590.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743810000826Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the history of irrigation in Fayyum, Egypt, during the first half of the 18th century. Based on Ottoman Turkish and Arabic archival materials. Uses the environment to connect Ottoman centers of power, such as Istanbul and Cairo, with rural regions such as Fayyum, noting an interplay of power between the center and the peasantry and that food production in Fayyum was critical to commodity movement throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea areas.

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  • Ragobert, Thierry, Michel Abescat, Diane Riethof, Lemmy Constantine, and Catherine Abadie-Reynal. The Last Days of Zeugma and Apamea: Archaeological Race against Time. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2000.

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    Documentary on the archaeological excavation of two ancient Greco-Roman urban centers before they were inundated in the construction of the Birecik Dam in Turkey.

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  • Sowa, Anna, and Remi Sowa, dirs. Aghbalou: The Source of Water. DVD. London: Chouette Films, 2016.

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    Documentary on the unintended consequences of new technologies for accessing water supplies in the Todgha Valley of Morocco, one of the driest habitats on earth. Shows the impact of groundwater overextraction, population growth, and climate change as motorized water pumps intended to facilitate water access end up disrupting the balance of aquifers and raising the cost of water for poor farmers. Concludes with suggested strategies for adapting to growing water scarcity, particularly among the rural poor.

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  • Tal, Alon, and Alfred Abed Rabbo, eds. Water Wisdom: Preparing the Groundwork for Cooperative and Sustainable Water Management in the Middle East. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.

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    Edited collection of works by both Israeli and Palestinian experts, offering perspectives on water resources and needs, past water agreements and their implementation, water culture, legislation, groundwater management, stream restoration, drinking water standards, sewage treatment, sustainable agricultural practices, desalination, use of the Jordan River basin, citizen involvement, the water crisis in Gaza, the need for conflict resolution, and cooperative water management strategies. Provides balance to the opinions and perspectives of both sides, concluding with joint proposed solutions.

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  • Waterbury, John. Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1979.

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    One of the earliest case studies in resource management in Egypt and the Sudan that demonstrates the challenge of multiple states sharing a common resource upon which both depend for agriculture and energy. Points to nation-states as a new regional reality implemented from the outside that resulted in conflicts over independence and sovereignty in the quest for development.

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Water Conflicts

Toward the end of the 20th century, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned that the next wars in the Middle East would be fought over water, not oil. Numerous studies about water conflicts between states were undertaken, examining disputes over shared water resources and the degree to which sovereign states had the right to use those resources within their own borders without consideration of “downstream” effects on other nations or to withhold those resources altogether from other states. Conflicts over water use and control have occurred not only along the Nile but also in the Jordan River valley and the Euphrates-Tigris basin. Competition for the Jordan River valley’s limited water supplies has been a central feature of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as documented in Lowi 1995 and Selby 2003, both of whom also give attention to the impact of water access and scarcity on daily human life. Sosland 2007 examines the intertwined history of state building and water development not only in Israel and the Palestinian territories between 1920 and 2006 but also the impacts in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Zeitoun 2008 argues that the quest for “hydro-hegemony” has elongated, rather than contracted, the political conflict. The hydropolitical dynamics of the Euphrates-Tigris basin are examined in Bagis 1997 and Carkoglu and Eder 2001, with attention to the impacts of dam construction and irrigation projects undertaken by Turkey on the quality and quantity of water supplies available to Iraq and Syria. Carkoglu and Eder additionally highlight the entanglement of water disputes and ethnic conflict with Kurdish populations living on the border regions. Harris 2002 analyzes the conflict geographies between multiple nation-states as sparked by Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project. Most recently, Ward 2014 examines the relationship between water scarcity and political instability in Yemen. Documentary coverage of water conflict is presented in Waters of Discord (2003), which focuses on the Jordan River basin.

  • Bagis, Ali Ihsan. “Turkey’s Hydropolitics of the Euphrates-Tigris Basin.” International Journal of Water Resources Development 13.4 (1997): 567–582.

    DOI: 10.1080/07900629749647Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the Southeastern Anatolia Project and its three-stage plan with attention to concerns in Syria and Iraq about the shared water resource and potential impact. While Syria and Iraq consider the situation to be a political issue, Turkey insists it is economic.

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  • Carkoglu, Ali, and Mine Eder. “Domestic Concerns and the Water Conflict over the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin.” Middle Eastern Studies 37.1 (2001): 41–71.

    DOI: 10.1080/714004364Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines conflict between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq over a commonly shared resource, particularly with dam building and other water development and irrigation projects in the 1950s and expanded in the 1980s by Turkey that have limited the quality and quantity of water supplies entering Syria and Iraq. Water supply issues have since become entangled with ethnic conflict with the Kurds in the border regions of Turkey and Syria, highlighting the interconnection of environmental and political concerns.

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  • Diehn, Timur, Dieter Roser, Jens-Uwe Rahe, Henno Osberghaus, and Christian Ostermann. Waters of Discord. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2003.

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    Documentary focusing on expected conflict zones over water resources in the future, including the Jordan River in the Middle East and the Southeastern Anatolia Project in Turkey.

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  • Harris, Leila M. “Water and Conflict Geographies of the Southeastern Anatolia Project.” Society and Natural Resources: An International Journal 15.8 (2002): 743–759.

    DOI: 10.1080/08941920290069326Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the complex interrelations between water use and social conflicts in situations where a resource is common to multiple nation-states. Gives attention to both local and intrastate scales and potential sites for conflict in debates about sustainable resource use.

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  • Lowi, Miriam R. Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Examines water disputes in the Jordan River basin and its relationship to and impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Calls for political resolutions to resource disputes while highlighting the complexities of documenting water uses and negotiations. Demonstrates the interplay between political conflict and resource use, concluding that the extent of human suffering caused by political conflict extends far beyond military and political concerns to issues related to daily life.

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  • Selby, Jan. Water, Power and Politics in the Middle East: The Other Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. London: I. B. Tauris, 2003.

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    Engages testimonies of local water engineers, administrators, citizens, and other eyewitnesses to examine the impact of the water crisis before and after the Oslo Accords on everyday people. Calls for attention not only to issues related to state formation and economic development but also to how people have to adapt to water shortages in daily life.

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  • Sosland, Jefferye K. Cooperating Rivals: The Riparian Politics of the Jordan River Basin. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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    Traces the intertwined history of state building and water development in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority between 1920 and 2006. Calls for the promotion of water cooperation as a means of creating rules, building confidence, and reducing tensions among competing parties in an effort to set the stage for addressing broader political concerns.

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  • Ward, Christopher. The Water Crisis in Yemen: Managing Extreme Water Scarcity in the Middle East. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.

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    Analyzes the water crisis in Yemen from perspectives including agricultural use, rural and urban supplies, and sanitation at both the community and public sector levels. Looks at both social and economic impacts as well as institutional, environmental, and technical challenges.

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  • Zeitoun, Mark. Power and Water in the Middle East: The Hidden Politics of the Palestinian-Israeli Water Conflict. London: I. B. Tauris, 2008.

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    Examines the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict through the lens of “hydro-hegemony,” examining the tactics of water control and domination that maintain conflict, rather than support peace. Brings to light the hidden dynamics of water conflict, including use and control of water as expressions of hard power, bargaining power, and ideational power.

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Land Use, Overuse, Deforestation, and Destruction

Land use and appropriation, whether for settlement, conservation, or agriculture, and the potential for overuse have been concerns in the Islamic world from the beginning. Muhammad’s own life story contains examples of use of natural settings for military strategies, community building, and the promotion of public welfare as well as warnings against destruction of plant and animal life and habitat. Evolution of various landscapes throughout the Islamic world has been examined and assessed since colonial times. Classical scholarship tended to focus on geography and long time periods, typically millennia, in order to trace long-term evolution and development, largely through the use of physical data, such as weather events, natural disasters, and agricultural settlements. Less attention was given to the relationship between human beings and the environment and how they shaped each other, even though human habitation always changes an environment. A historical example of deliberate land selection and the changes that accompanied human habitation can be found in the excerpt in al-Tabari 2015, which describes the selection of the land that eventually came to be the great Abbasid capital of Baghdad. More recent works have addressed the question of the human impact on terrain and climate change over the very long term and with special attention to major changes from the 19th century to the early 21st century, particularly questions related to deforestation. Adams 1965 covers six thousand years of interaction between natural and human forces in the Diyala plains of Iraq, noting changes in natural variables, settlements, and agricultural systems. Thirgood 1981 argues for long-term human impact, particularly in the form of deforestation, around the Mediterranean since the classical period. Meiggs 1982 also engages the narrative of deforestation, using the lens of ancient Greece and Rome to examine the purported demand for timber that had been blamed for deforestation of conquered territories for imperial purposes. However, Meiggs concludes that such accounts have been greatly exaggerated, a conclusion shared in Davis 2005 and Davis 2007, which argue that narratives of deforestation were driven by the political and economic agendas of colonial regimes, rather than being based on scientific knowledge or investigation. Wagstaff 1985 focuses on the interplay between human lifestyles and the environment, rather than past assumptions of a unidirectional impact of people on the environment. McNeill 2002 argues for a more symbiotic relationship between human beings and the environment through the 18th century, but highlights the heavy human impact of the 19th and 20th centuries in creating barren and depleted countrysides. McNeill argues that economic change drove these changes in the forms of deforestation, the collapse of terrace farming, shrinking animal populations, and topsoil erosion. Alatout 2006 carries the power dynamic of environmental narratives forward into the 21st century, highlighting the connection between narratives about territory and populations as well as power dynamics that typically ignore environmental dimensions. Cordova 2007 calls for a more interdisciplinary approach to analysis of landscape use and abuse that acknowledges physical realities as well as populations, using Jordan as a case study. Patunru and Haryoko 2015 brings attention to the rapidly shrinking rainforest in Indonesia, calling for strengthening of ecotourism services as the most effective means of engaging sustainable forest management by providing real alternatives for local income opportunities to offset illegal logging and poaching and by giving local communities a strong stake in forest management. Documentary support is provided in Burning Bush: Saving Peat Swamp Forests in Indonesia (2009), which examines the unintended disaster created by an attempt to replace peat swamp forest with rice cultivation, and The Biofuel Myth: Harsh Realities in the Developing World (2009) and “End of the Woods” (2014), which explore the devastating impact of palm oil plantations and deforestation.

  • Adams, Robert McCormick. Land behind Baghdad: A History of Settlement on the Diyala Plains. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

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    Based on archaeological work undertaken in Iraq from 1957 to 1958. Identifies converging natural and human forces over six thousand years from 4000 BCE through the 19th century CE. Examines the natural variables in the region, as well as changes in settlements and agricultural systems.

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  • Alatout, Samer. “Towards a Bio-Territorial Conception of Power: Territory, Population, and Environmental Narratives in Palestine and Israel.” Political Geography 25.6 (2006): 601–621.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2006.03.008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigation of contemporary Palestinian and Israeli environmental narratives as narratives of power, rooted in property rights and the question of sovereignty. Notes tendency to focus on either territory or population to the detriment of environmental concerns.

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  • Bach, Joel, and David Gelber, dirs. “End of the Woods.” Years of Living Dangerously television series. New York: Films Media Group, 2014.

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    Traces human impacts on climate change. In-depth coverage of palm oil plantations and deforestation in Indonesia.

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  • The Biofuel Myth: Harsh Realities in the Developing World. DVD. New York: Journeyman Pictures, 2009.

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    Examination of the global demand for palm oil as a fuel source and its devastating impact on the developing world. Case study of Indonesia and the destruction of rainforests in favor of palm oil plantations.

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  • Burning Bush: Saving Peat Swamp Forests in Indonesia. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2009.

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    Traces the Indonesia Mega Rice Project that was intended to replace millions of acres of peat swamp forest with rice cultivation, but caused one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet when fires began to sweep the area, rendering Indonesia the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

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  • Cordova, Carlos. Millennial Landscape Change in Jordan: Geoarchaeology and Cultural Ecology. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.

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    Interdisciplinary examination of changes in the Jordanian landscape over twenty millennia based on physical, chemical, and biological sources that find that Jordan’s past environment was much moister and vegetated than is the case in the 21st century. Examines the impact of changing climate, vegetation, and hunting opportunities on population and agriculture from prehistory through the early-21st-century Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

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  • Davis, Diana K. “Potential Forests: Degradation Narratives, Science, and Environmental Policy in Protectorate Morocco, 1912–1956.” Environmental History 10.2 (2005): 211–238.

    DOI: 10.1093/envhis/10.2.211Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes a rising tendency among scholars to question the received wisdom of colonial environmental narratives due to the political and economic agendas that tended to drive them, as well as their impact in dispossessing native peoples from their lands and traditional livelihoods. Challenges the conventional narrative that Arab nomads engaged in deforestation and overgrazing, noting that contemporary paleoecological evidence does not show significant deforestation over the past two thousand years.

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  • Davis, Diana K. Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

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    A comparative environmental history of North Africa that examines the influence of French scientists and colonial administrators in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia and their impact in resurrecting and promoting romanticized visions of the Roman past greening of the desert and leading to profound changes in the landscape.

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  • McNeill, John R. The Mountains of the Mediterranean World: An Environmental History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Regional, environmental history of the mountain areas of Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Argues that changes brought about in the 19th and 20th centuries created the barren and depopulated countrysides of the 21st century. The life of the mountains and its villages reflects human history, particularly as driven by economic changes, so that changes in human patterns are also reflected in environmental changes, including deforestation, the collapse of terrace farming, topsoil erosion, and diminishing animal populations.

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  • Meiggs, Russell. Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

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    Deals largely with ancient Rome and Greece, examining their need for and use of timber for military, transportation, and architectural purposes, concluding that the role played by these empires in deforestation of the ancient world is exaggerated. Mentions Turkey, Iberia, and North Africa.

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  • Patunru, Arianto A., and Anthea Haryoko. Forest Ownership and Management in Indonesia: Reducing Deforestation by Strengthening Communal Property Rights. South Jakarta, Indonesia: Center for Indonesian Policy Studies, 2015.

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    Argues that the best hope for sustainable forest management is through ecotourism services that support conservation efforts by providing local income opportunities to reduce illegal logging and poaching. Also calls for localized land rights and management of forest resources for local benefit, rather than government management of forests for national revenues.

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  • al-Tabari, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir. “The Reason Abu Ja’far Built Baghdad.” In The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Islam. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 339–342. New York: W. W. Norton, 2015.

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    Excerpt from History of Messengers and Kings. Discussion of the terrain choice—for defensive, economic, and environmental reasons—that became Baghdad, citing the presence of waterways and a location near major trading routes, as well as fertility of the land and temperate climate.

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  • Thirgood, Jack V. Man and the Mediterranean Forest: A History of Resource Depletion. London and New York: Academic Press, 1981.

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    Examines the long-term impact of human activity on the mountainous lands around the Mediterranean basin. Argues that, in light of an absence of evidence of substantial climate change, human activities are responsible for forest exploitation since the classical period, accompanied by the rise of industry, wars, invasions, population growth and expanded grazing, and fire. Includes case studies of the Levant and Cyprus.

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  • Wagstaff, John M. The Evolution of Middle Eastern Landscapes: An Outline to A.D. 1840. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1985.

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    Traces the modern geography of the Middle East through the evolution of human-managed landscapes and their associated traditional economies, beginning with the domestication of cereals and going up through the transformations of the 19th century brought about by colonialism. Highlights interplay between human lifestyles and the environment.

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Desertification

One major challenge facing many parts of the Muslim world in the 21st century is rising desertification. Some works, such as Brookfield 2010, look for evidence of desertification as a natural process, tracing development over long periods of time, as well as human capacity to adapt to short supplies of water. Others, such as Davis 2016, argue that fear of desertification has long been a human preoccupation due to the association of sin and punishment with the desert, as opposed to the blessing and harmony associated with gardens and forests. Davis calls for a revisiting of the symbolism of the desert to understand it as a healthy and natural ecosystem. Case studies of deliberate draining of water sources include France 2007, which highlights the political decision to destroy the marshes of Iraq, both historically and under Saddam Hussein, and Merufinia, et al. 2014, which examines the effects of drought and increased human demands for irrigation and consumption in reducing what was once the sixth largest salt lake in the world to about 10 percent of its original size in less than two decades. Realities of desertification and its economic impact in Morocco can be seen in the documentary film Earth on Edge: Morocco (2014). Efforts to “reclaim” areas that have become deserts in Jordan are portrayed in the documentary Regreening the Desert: One Man’s Global Mission (2013).

  • Brookfield, Michael. “The Desertification of the Egyptian Sahara during the Holocene (the Last 10,000 Years) and Its Influence on the Rise of Egyptian Civilization.” In Landscapes and Societies: Selected Cases. Edited by I. Peter Martini and Ward Chesworth, 91–108. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9413-1_6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines desertification through the question of whether complex societies were able to develop due to relatively large populations living in small areas with good water supplies or whether such organization took place before the constriction of water supplies. Builds on questions of historical assumptions about desertification being attributed to overuse of land and water resources by positing the possibility that severe climatic change interrupted the development of the Nile Valley.

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  • Davis, Diana K. The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2016.

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    Explores doctrine and dogma about deserts in the classical, early Christian, and medieval worlds, juxtaposing this symbolism with colonial and 20th-century fears of expanding desertification. She argues instead that the desert is a healthy and natural ecosystem. Charges that images of deserts are typically juxtaposed with images of forests, leading to colonial claims that desertification was the result of “traditional” uses of the land.

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  • Earth on Edge: Morocco. DVD. San Francisco: Kanopy, 2014.

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    Traces desertification and erosion in Morocco, noting the impact of climate change on an economy largely based on tourism and agriculture.

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  • France, Robert Lawrence, ed. Wetlands of Mass Destruction: Ancient Presage for Contemporary Ecocide in Southern Iraq. Sheffield, VT: Green Frigate, 2007.

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    Traces the history of wetland destruction in Iraq from the time of the ancient Sumerians through the ecocide combined with genocide under Saddam Hussein that used the construction of dams and diversion of water from the marshes to eradicate the people living there.

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  • Merufinia, Edris, Azad Aram, and Fatemeh Esmaeili. “Saving the Lake Urmia: From Slogan to Reality (Challenges and Solutions).” Bulletin of Environment, Pharmacology, and Life Sciences 3.3 (2014): 277–288.

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    Describes the impact of a combination of drought and human activities in shrinking what used to be the world’s sixth largest salt lake to 10 percent of its original size since 1995–1996. Examines the environmental, political, and socioeconomic impacts of the drought and the accompanying increased and uncontrolled construction of dams and irrigation.

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  • Regreening the Desert: One Man’s Global Mission. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2013.

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    Documentary of work being done in Jordan to stop desertification and promote a greener future.

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Hima (Conservation)

Hima as conservation or protected lands dates to the pre-Islamic era and was elaborated in Islamic law to establish locations where building was prohibited and could not be used for trade or commercial gain. Llewellyn 1982 was one of the first works to trace the history of hima in Islamic law, while Gari 2006 examines how the legal concept of hima might be reinterpreted for contemporary preservation and environmental reconstruction. Ibrahim, et al. 2013 reinterprets hima as a living sanctuary in which human beings can use the ecosystems and their products, provided that the natural resources are preserved, while Determann 2015 analyzes successes and failures in conservation and reintroduction of species in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, noting the interconnection between politics and environmental efforts.

  • Determann, Jorg Matthias. Researching Biology and Evolution in the Gulf States: Networks of Science in the Middle East. London: I. B. Tauris, 2015.

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    Contains significant discussions of efforts toward conservation land (hima) and protection and reintroduction of various animal and bird species in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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  • Gari, Lutfallah. “A History of the Hima Conservation System.” Environment and History 12.2 (2006): 213–228.

    DOI: 10.3197/096734006776680236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Outlines the history and parameters of hima as protected or forbidden places that could not be built upon, traded, or used for commercial gain. Demonstrates how this pre-Islamic concept was repurposed and re-envisaged under Islam and its potential for environmental reconstruction and preservation in the 21st century.

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  • Ibrahim, Irini, Khor Poy Hua, Norazlina Abdul Aziz, and Norha Abu Hanifah. “Hima as ‘Living Sanctuaries’: An Approach to Wetlands Conservation from the Perspective of Shari’a Law.” Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 (2013): 476–483.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.11.050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the Qurʾan and Sunna (Muhammad’s example) for definitions of hima and applies them to wetlands. Allows human beings to use ecosystems and their products while preserving natural resources, including pasture land, wells, range lands, water resources, and protection of flora and fauna. Calls for consideration of the Kulamba Wildlife Reserve in Borneo, Malaysia, as a hima because of its central importance to breeding populations of cattle and primates and because of its geological and geographical significance.

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  • Llewellyn, Othman. “Desert Reclamation and Conservation in Islamic Law.” The Muslim Scientist 11.9 (1982): 9–29.

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    Traces the concept of conservation in Islamic law with the purpose of using legal arguments to reclaim areas affected by desertification, noting that, according to Islamic law, every settlement is supposed to have conservation land in the vicinity. Author works in Saudi Arabia in the Hail region, working to revive the hima system in the Jabal Aja biosphere reserve there.

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Food and Farming

Given the centrality of agricultural production to human existence, scholars have long given attention to land use and natural resource management for agricultural purposes. Prior to the 20th century, most of the political power in the Middle East and North Africa was invested in and derived from agriculture and bringing agricultural products to market, making the oil era an anomaly, not only economically but also with respect to land usage. Classical studies on agriculture in the Muslim world tended to focus on peasants as junior players in power structures, with imperial frameworks of governance taking center stage because of the presumed need for a strong, centralized state capable of investing in needed infrastructure and water transport in order for agriculture to be profitable. For example, Watson 1983 posits that Muslim conquests led to a four-hundred-year-long “Green Revolution” in newly conquered territories, largely through the introduction of new crops. However, Watson then argues that this “Green Revolution” succumbed to a combination of plague, overcultivation, and a series of foreign invasions, resulting in a decline in agriculture, largely due to the destruction of irrigation systems and trade routes. In much of traditional scholarship, peasants were frequently portrayed as workers, taxpayers, and troublemakers as well as agents of agricultural production, as in Kazemi and Waterbury 1991. Recent scholarship has challenged some past assumptions about agriculture and social, economic, and political change. Decker 2009 challenges Watson’s thesis of the “Green Revolution,” arguing that much of the greening produced in the first four centuries of Islamic rule was simply a revival of already-extant structures and landscapes. Mikhail 2011 argues that, rather than being peripheral to Ottoman agrarian history, peasants actually played the leading role in bringing agricultural goods to market and understanding and making improvements to the environment and its natural resources. New social historical approaches to food production and consumption have also been investigated. Grehan 2007 analyzes food consumption as a form of social history in which diet served as an indicator of relative wealth and power, segmenting Bedouins, the urban poor, and the upper class. This work was followed by Trepanier 2014, a social history of the power dynamics of food production, exchange, and consumption. Lal, et al. 2011 examines agriculture through the lens of food security in an era of climate change. Van Wieren 2018 engages religious debates and concerns about food and eating habits.

  • Decker, Michael. “Plants and Progress: Rethinking the Islamic Agricultural Revolution.” Journal of World History 20 (2009): 187–206.

    DOI: 10.1353/jwh.0.0058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critique of Watson that challenges the Green Revolution thesis, arguing that sufficient attention has not been given to the pre-Islamic landscape and that some of the food crops had already been introduced experimentally. Concludes that Islamic farming structures were simply built on top of preexisting Roman and Persian landscapes, suggesting that the Islamic introduction of agronomic techniques and materials was neither as consistent nor as widespread as argued by Watson.

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  • Grehan, James. Everyday Life and Consumer Culture in 18th-Century Damascus. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.

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    Exploration of consumer habits for items ranging from fashion and furniture to food and firearms as indicators of wealth, poverty, taste, class, and power. Draws upon court records, chronicles, travel accounts, and poetry to identify daily food and beverage consumption and luxury items. Notes importance of cereals and bread in local diets and uses data from orphanages combined with pricing on bread; grains; and locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oils to reconstruct food habits of poorer residents.

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  • Kazemi, Farhad, and John Waterbury, eds. Peasants and Politics in the Modern Middle East. Miami: Florida International University Press, 1991.

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    Edited collection of essays examining a variety of peasant revolts and changing relationships between peasants and the state, attributable to changes in land and rural structures throughout the Middle East.

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  • Lal, Rattan, Mannava V. K. Sivakumar, Syed Muhammed A. Faiz, Mustafizur Rahmad, and Khandakar R. Islam, eds. Climate Change and Food Security in South Asia. Papers presented at a symposium held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 2008. New York: Springer, 2011.

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    Edited collection drawn from a 2008 symposium in Bangladesh to bring development partners and the private sector together to address climate change and its impact on human well-being, water resources, the environment, food security, land, waste and forest management, and agriculture in Bangladesh, in particular.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511977220Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies important role played by peasants in sustainable use of natural resources and building, maintaining, and repairing irrigation systems for agricultural production. Argues that rising government focus on extraction of higher yields upset previously sustainable farming practices and natural resource management. Posits that centralized government oversight of agriculture does not necessarily result in more efficiency or less destructive practices.

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  • Trepanier, Nicolas. Foodways and Daily Life in Medieval Anatolia: A New Social History. Austin, TX: Texas University Press, 2014.

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    Examines Arabic, Persian, and Turkish legal documents, literature, hagiographies, archaeological evidence, Sufi poetry, and endowment deeds to reconstruct the myriad human experiences of food production, exchanges, and consumption, including for religious purposes ranging from fasting to festivals. Written from the perspective of social history, places food at the center of rituals, relationships, hospitality, and celebrations in order better to understand daily life in 14th-century Anatolia and to humanize politics and power relations.

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  • van Wieren, Gretel. Food, Farming and Religion: Emerging Ethical Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2018.

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    Addresses religious debates and concerns about food and eating from the perspective of environmental ethics. Comparative approach to how Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities in the United States and beyond are engaging the environmental and ethical issues presented by the global food system, including land degradation and restoration, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), seed consolidation, treatment of animals, water access and use, pollution, and climate change and their intersection with issues of justice and human well-being.

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  • Watson, Andrew. Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700–1100. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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    Posits a “Green Revolution” in expanding agriculture through irrigation, changes to land tenures, and gardens in territories conquered by Muslims during their first four centuries. Reviews the diffusion and uses of crops ranging from watermelon, spinach, and mangoes to Asiatic rice, hard wheat, and sugar cane. Attributes the decline in agriculture after 1100 to the Black Death; overcultivation; heavy and arbitrary taxation; and various foreign invasions that destroyed irrigation systems, farms, and trade routes.

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Animals

Throughout Islamic history, animals have played a central role in human societies as sources of energy, food, transportation, property, status, and even religious and spiritual symbols. Practically, animal labor powered early agriculture and brought goods from fields to markets. Animals were therefore among the most valuable possessions peasants could own and featured prominently in economic and property transactions. One of the earliest studies of animals in the Ottoman Empire was Faroqhi 1982, which studied transportation provided by camels as the Ottoman Empire undertook road construction. Bulliet 2005 identifies four stages of the history of human-animal relationships, highlighting the impact of scientific and technological developments in changing religious and philosophical approaches to animals, a theme previously explored by Schimmel 2003 in examining animal imagery as spiritual truth in Sufi poetry. Benkheira, et al. 2005 provides a comprehensive view of the multiple roles, categories, and relationships of animals in the environment and with human beings, including as spiritual signs of blessing and in special relationship to saints. Tlili 2012 offers an exegetical, eco-centric analysis of animals in the Qurʾan and includes comparative analysis with the ethical and philosophical consideration of animals in other faith traditions. Faroqhi 2010 expands upon the author’s earlier work, investigating representations of animals in various writing styles as well as animals serving as sources of labor, enjoyment, signs of elite status, and as beings in need of medical care and disaster relief. Mikhail 2010 initially engaged a utilitarian approach to domesticated animals as a form of property in rural Ottoman Egypt in order to determine their social and economic importance. The author expanded his work in Mikhail 2013 to explore the human-animal relationship, ranging from consumption to usage of labor and as clothing, followed by a fuller analysis in Mikhail 2014 of ecological historiography exploring the impact of nonhuman animals on human history by studying what they did, rather than what they represented or symbolized, noting the comparable degradation of human beings to sources of forced labor at the same time that relations with animals were degraded from symbiotic to sources of consumption and unintelligent labor.

  • Benkheira, Mohamed Hocine, Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, and Jacqueline Sublet. L’animal en islam. Paris: Indes Savants, 2005.

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    Comprehensive overview of animals in the Islamic tradition, including by category, such as aquatic and terrestrial, as well as legendary, exceptional, or capable of having a relationship with a human being, such as a pet. Also gives attention to animals as food and sources of impurity and the special relationships that often exist between animals, saints, and prophets. Animals are described as sacred and signs of God, also making appearances among political leaders.

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  • Bulliet, Richard C. Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

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    Study of changing philosophical, religious, and aesthetic viewpoints about animals. Identifies four stages of human-animal history—separation (humans distinct from animals), predomesticity (human admiration for and worship of animals), domesticity (animals as raw materials, rise of animal-product industries, large-scale human contact with domestic species), and postdomesticity (dependence on animal products but little to no human contact with producing animals). Stages are linked to new moral, psychological, and spiritual attitudes toward animal science, pets, and presentation of animals in pop culture.

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  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. “Camels, Wagons, and the Ottoman State in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 14.4 (1982): 523–539.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743800052193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An initial foray into the history of transportation in the Ottoman Empire, which was largely dependent upon animal energy.

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  • Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. Animals and People in the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul: Eren, 2010.

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    Edited collection examining representations of animals, including in poetry and pilgrimage accounts; animals as sources of labor, such as sheep breeding and economic uses of camels; animals as a source of enjoyment for elites, whether as pets, hunting companions, or diplomatic gifts; and medical treatment of animals and care for them during disasters.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. “Animals as Property in Early Modern Ottoman Egypt.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 53.4 (2010): 621–652.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852010X529132Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of domesticated animals as forms of property in rural Ottoman Egypt to evaluate the economic and social importance of animals. Uses Sharia court records from a number of cities for cases involving animals and legal ownership.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. “Unleashing the Beast: Animals, Energy, and the Economy of Labor in Ottoman Egypt.” American Historical Review 118.2 (2013): 317–348.

    DOI: 10.1093/ahr/118.2.317Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that, up until the early 19th century, human communities engaged in multiple relationships with animals, using them for labor, eating them, avoiding them, and wearing them, and thus making analysis of the human-animal relationship critical to understanding history.

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  • Mikhail, Alan. The Animal in Ottoman Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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    Examines the impact of animals on human history and changing relationships between humans and animals, particularly livestock, dogs, and charismatic megafauna, as Egypt transformed from early modern agrarian society based on small land ownership to centralizing state with massive land holdings in the hands of a few individuals. Concludes that degradation in status and treatment of animals was accompanied by degradation in the status and treatment of human beings.

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  • Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam and the Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom. London: al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2003.

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    Examination of the imagery of animals as representing spiritual truth in Sufi poetry.

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  • Tlili, Sarra. Animals in the Qur’an. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139152204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exegetical, eco-centric analysis of the status and nature of animals in the Qurʾan, highlighting their spirituality, morality, intelligence, and accountability, and examining their legal rights and protections. Challenges anthropocentric readings of the Qurʾan in favor of a more holistic analysis of the natural order. Engages the status and treatment of animals in other religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Jainism, in addition to contemporary ethical and philosophical considerations.

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Animal Welfare

A major, contemporary environmental concern with respect to animals is animal welfare, particularly at a time of rising factory farming and mass production of and cruelty to animals. Wescoat 1995 was one of the first works to address animal welfare in Islam, examining animals’ legal right to water access. Foltz 2006 outlines attitudes toward animals in Islamic scripture, legal and philosophical literature, and the arts, as well as contemporary views of animal rights and consumption of animal products. Masri 2007 focuses on the themes of kindness and compassion toward animals in scripture and how these are applied in meat production. Rahman 2017 summarizes Qurʾan verses and Hadith about animal welfare, focusing on the well-being of livestock during production, handling, transport, and slaughter. Islam and Islam 2015 places animal rights discourse within the discourses of environmental concerns and human rights. “Food for Faith” (2008) provides a documentary case study of a Muslim organization seeking “Eco-Halal” meat in Chicago.

  • Foltz, Richard C. Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures. Oxford: OneWorld, 2006.

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    Traces historical attitudes toward animals in the Qurʾan and Hadith, Islamic law, philosophy, science, literature, and art before shifting to contemporary views on animal rights and specific attitudes toward certain groups of animals, such as dogs, and issues related to animal rights and rising Islamic vegetarianism due to concerns about injustice and cruelty toward animals.

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  • Islam, Md Nazrul, and Md Saidul Islam. “Human-Animal Relationship: Understanding Animal Rights in the Islamic Ecological Paradigm.” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 14.41 (2015): 96–126.

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    Takes on issues related to factory farms, animal laboratories, and sports and amusement that use and abuse animals. Places animal rights discourse within environmental concerns and human rights discourse, focusing on animal rights and welfare as a matter of relationship with human beings. Guidelines for humane treatment of animals are provided, in addition to recommendations for changes to education to include greater discussion of the inherent relationship between human beings, nonhuman life, and the earth.

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  • Masri, al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmad. Animal Welfare in Islam. Markfield, UK: Islamic Foundation, 2007.

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    Outlines Islamic principles of kindness and compassion toward animals and examines their interplay with animal sacrifice and mass production of meat. Includes comparative analysis with other religious and ethical approaches.

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  • Ostrow, Marty, and Terry K. Rockefeller, dirs. “Food for Faith.” In Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious Environmental Movement. DVD. Cambridge, MA: Fine Cut Productions, 2008.

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    Segment in the documentary film Renewal. Tracks the work of Taqwa, part of the interfaith organization Faith in Place in Chicago that supplies organic, sustainably raised meat to Muslims and poor communities as an example of going “Eco-Halal” as an expression of piety.

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  • Rahman, Sira Abdul. “Religion and Animal Welfare—An Islamic Perspective.” Animals 7.2 (2017).

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    Summary of Qurʾan verses and Hadith about animal welfare, particularly related to consumption of animal products and rules concerning slaughter of animals. Notes disconnect between religious requirements and contemporary realities. Concludes with practical suggestions to assure well-being of livestock during production, handling, transport, and slaughter.

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  • Wescoat, James L., Jr. “The ‘Right of Thirst’ for Animals in Islamic Law: A Comparative Approach.” Environment and Planning: D—Society and Space 13.2 (1995): 637–654.

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    Outlines the doctrinal basis for “right of thirst” for both humans and animals, followed by case studies of water law, comparing the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the American West.

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Grassroots Greening Efforts

Social scientific work on grassroots greening efforts has been undertaken since the mid-2000s. Most works focus on specific efforts or countries, although some efforts have been made to bring together scholars working on different locations. Foltz 2005 was one of the first collections of case studies of Muslim environmentalists in different locations, covering Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Hopkins, et al. 2001 engages one of the earliest field studies of environmental attitudes among everyday people in Egypt, as opposed to government statements or policies. Rather than the bigger picture planetary concerns popular in the West at the time, such as ozone layer depletion, the authors found that ordinary people were more concerned about the daily life impact of pollution through garbage, sewage, dirty streets, and noise. Pusch 2005 took on the case of Turkey, providing a history of the development of environmentalism there, both secular and Islamic, and its application to the restoration of the Golden Horn waterway in Istanbul. American grassroots Muslim environmental activism is encouraged in Abdul-Matin 2010, identifying waste and overconsumption, energy use and sources, water conservation and preservation, and food and eating habits as areas for action. Gilliat-Ray and Bryant 2011 reports on an eight-month project in Islamic traditional garden-building by British Muslims to promote the greening of city spaces and a sense of agency, belonging, and ownership connecting British Muslims more deeply to the broader community. Schwenke 2012 is a bibliographic compilation of the “state of the field” of Islam and the environment, identifying stages of development and future work.

  • Abdul-Matin, Ibrahim. Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010.

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    Rooted in the conception of earth as a mosque, proposes recommendations for daily life related to waste and overconsumption, energy usage and sources, water conservation and preservation, and food and eating habits including urban gardens, farmer’s markets, and rethinking halal as a holistic, organic approach to food that considers the full production cycle. Includes case studies of creative approaches by Muslims that bridge environmental problems and human needs.

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  • Foltz, Richard, ed. Environmentalism in the Muslim World. New York: Nova Science, 2005.

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    One of the first collections of case studies of Muslim environmentalists and their work to balance the need for development with social justice and preserving the environment. Includes case studies from Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

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  • Gilliat-Ray, Sophie, and Mark Bryant. “Are British Muslims ‘Green’? An Overview of Environmental Activism among Muslims in Britain.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 5.3 (2011): 284–306.

    DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v5i3.284Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Results of an eight-month project undertaken between 2009 and 2010 to see how building gardens reflecting Islamic traditions could promote environmental awareness among Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. Argument is that the grassroots effort promoted a new sense of agency, belonging, and ownership of local spaces among Muslims, as seen in a variety of grassroots projects designed to clean up cityscapes, particularly litter. Presents South Woodford Islamic center as carbon-neutral place of worship.

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  • Hopkins, Nicholas S., Sohair R. Mehanna, and Salah el-Haggar. People and Pollution: Cultural Constructions and Social Action in Egypt. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774245725.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents field research on Egyptian attitudes toward environmental concerns from the perspective of people, rather than policies or government measures. Finds that the main concerns of Egyptians are environmental concerns of daily life—garbage, sewage, dirty streets, and noise pollution, rather than the broader Western concerns of ozone depletion and protection of coral reefs and rain forests. Examines the ways in which individuals work for change in their own local environments, rather than waiting for governments or nongovernmental organizations to fix their problems.

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  • Pusch, Barbara. “The Greening of Islamic Politics: A Godsend for the Environment?” In Environmentalism in Turkey: Between Democracy and Development? Edited by Fikret Adaman and Murat Arsel, 131–148. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.

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    Posits Islamic eco-politics in Turkey as a relatively new phenomenon, marking a change from past consideration of Islam as an obstacle to modernization and the environment as an inexhaustible source of economic development. Traces the development of Turkish environmentalism from the 1980s, largely among intellectuals. Includes discussion of major municipal projects designed to restore the ecosystem of the Golden Horn, a waterway in Istanbul.

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  • Schwenke, Anne-Marieke. Globalized Eco-Islam: A Survey of Global Islamic Environmentalism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Leiden Institute for Religious Studies, 2012.

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    “State of the field” report on Islam and the environment, ranging from theory to practical approaches and practices. Outlines development of Islamic environmental principles and ethics from 1970s through 2000; practices in nature conservation and Green Indonesia movement; international policies on Islamic sustainable development; potential partnerships with other religious groups; eco-Islamism and social reform; Green Deen movement for green lifestyles and economies; and Islamic sustainable finance, economics, commerce, and fair trade.

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Women’s Activism and Contributions

Theorists often connect treatment of the earth to treatment of women, noting a tendency to degrade and devalue both. Many grassroots activists have therefore focused on the importance of including women and training women as leaders for environmental change. Women are thus both acted upon and serve as drivers in the environmental movement in the Muslim world, as reflected in a variety of case studies by country. Naguib 2009 offers an ethnographic study of the impact of water on the daily lives of Palestinian women, examining their life stories before and after piped water. DeHanas 2009 studies the role of women’s broadcasts in sacralizing the environment among Muslim radio listeners in London’s East End, as well as in empowering women to claim a voice in leadership. Rozario and Samuel 2010 looks at typical assumptions of the negative impact of religion on women in Bangladesh, arguing for attention to women’s agency, particularly with respect to agricultural and domestic contributions. Some attention is given to microfinance, which sought to enable women’s entrepreneurship within areas where they were already active. Jamaludin and Yusof 2013 and Yusof and Jamaludin 2013 provide analyses by two women working in the green hospitality industry in Southeast Asia, determining best practices and areas where additional work is needed. Solar Mamas: Are Women Better at Getting Out of Poverty Than Men? (2012) provides documentary coverage of a solar engineer training program for uneducated, middle-aged women to place them in leadership roles in bringing sustainable energy to their villages.

  • deHanas, Daniel Nilsson. “Broadcasting Green: Grassroots Environmentalism on Muslim Women’s Radio.” Sociological Review 57.2 (2009): 141–155.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2010.01890.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the role of women’s broadcasts on sacralizing environmentalism on Muslim Community Radio in London’s East End as a grassroots effort to bring religious meaning to environmental ethics. Not only did these broadcasts demonstrate compatibility between Islam and modernity, but they also provided a new pathway for Muslim women’s empowerment.

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  • Haide, Mette, prod. Solar Mamas: Are Women Better at Getting Out of Poverty Than Men? DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2012.

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    Documentary tracing the second wife of a Jordanian Bedouin as she attends India’s Barefoot College, which trains uneducated, middle-aged women from poor communities to become solar engineers as part of a broad program to bring sustainable energy to villages.

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  • Jamaludin, Mariam, and Zeenat Begum Yusof. “Best Practice of Green Island Resorts.” Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 (2013): 20–29.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.11.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comparative analysis of a series of green resorts in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives in order to determine and promote best practices in application of green products and materials, waste reduction, energy and water management, community service, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable site planning and management.

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  • Naguib, Nefissa. Women, Water and Memory: Recasting Lives in Palestine. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    Ethnographic examination of Palestinian women’s life stories before and after piped water, from the end of the Ottoman Empire through the Palestinian uprisings. Highlights the central role of water and accessing it as well as its intersections with daily life.

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  • Rozario, Santi, and Geoffrey Samuel. “Gender, Religious Change and Sustainability in Bangladesh.” Women’s Studies International Forum 33.4 (2010): 354–364.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2010.02.009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the role of religion and religious values in encoding and sustaining attitudes and practices that make village life viable, with a focus on women’s contributions to agricultural production and domestic work. Highlights women’s religious practices that are intended to benefit the family, such as regular fasting in favor of husbands and children; wedding preparations emphasizing the contributions the wife brings to the new family, particularly materially; and women’s rituals related to saints and shrines. Gives some attention to the unintended consequences of microfinance.

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  • Yusof, Zeenat Begam, and Mariam Jamaludin. “Green Approaches of Malaysian Green Hotels and Resorts.” Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences 85 (2013): 421–431.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides an overview of Malaysia’s growing green hospitality industry to encourage ongoing expansion of greening, identifying areas where improvements can be made. While energy, waste, and water management enjoy strong participation, work remains to be done in the fields of indoor air quality and sustainable site management.

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Interfaith Organizations and Efforts

Alongside grassroots community greening efforts are interfaith initiatives designed to reach across religious divides to bring communities of faith together to address climate change and environmental destruction. Faith communities are uniquely poised to engage large numbers of people in social functions geared toward community building on the basis of shared values, objectives, and worldviews rooted in purpose, behavior, social order, and guidance for interactions between the human and nonhuman worlds. Inasmuch as religions are often accused of fomenting divisions, hatred, and focus on the afterlife to the detriment of the realities of this world, religions are just as capable of reaching across boundaries—local, regional, national, international, and transnational—to construct grand ethical narratives with the potential for global impact, particularly those calling upon human beings to be caretakers and vicegerents of God’s creation, embodied in the broader goal of social justice. In 1986, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partnered with the Austrian Development Corporation (ADC) to bring together the leaders of eleven of the world’s major religions to engage seven-year plans of action to address climate change, to be funded by the UNDP. One participant was the Grand Mufti of Egypt who pledged a seven-year action plan dedicated to the construction of green mosques and the greening of pilgrimage cities. Other local initiatives to bring faith communities together included Green Faith, which defines itself as Interfaith Partners for the Environment and maintains a website with statements from members of various faith traditions about the environment, as well as a series of webinars. In 2011, the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought of Jordan brought together Muslims and Christians to develop joint statements on consumption and material development in light of environmental challenges common to both. (See Mattson and Hoffman 2011.) Nita 2014 documents joint green activism between Muslims and Christians in Britain. Documentary films engaging interfaith perspectives, organizations, and actions on environmental issues include Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious Environmental Movement (2008) and The Environment (2017).

  • Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

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    Muslim Declaration on Nature presented by Dr. Abduallah Omar Naseef, secretary general of the Muslim World League, as part of the Assisi Declarations on Nature in 1986 held by WWF International to which five leaders of five major world religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism—were invited to discuss how their faiths could help save the natural world.

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  • The Environment: Let’s Talk About Religion. DVD. New York: Films Media Group, 2016.

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    Video Education Australasia. Short film discussing teachings, beliefs, and principles about Earth and the natural environment and the challenges of climate change and animal rights in Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism.

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  • Interfaith Partners for the Environment.

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    A grassroots organization working to educate and train people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. Partners with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews. Website includes statements from members of each faith tradition on the environment and a series of webinars by leading voices as well as access to webinar slides, such as those on Muslim EcoTeachings, and Muslim web-based GreenWorship resources for Ramadan, wuduʾ (ablutions), hajj, and halal foods and eating habits.

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  • Mattson, Ingrid, and Murad Wilfried Hoffman, eds. Islam, Christianity and the Environment. Papers Read at a Conference Held at the Baptism Site in Jordan, September 2010. Amman, Jordan: Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, 2011.

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    Publication of conference proceedings that includes discussions of Islamic views on consumption and material development in light of environmental pollution and the protection of animals in Islam and conceptions of creation, environmental ethics, and ecological challenges in Christianity.

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  • Nita, Maria. “Christian and Muslim Climate Activists Fasting and Praying for the Planet: Emotional Translation of ‘Dark Green’ Activism and Green-Faith Identities.” In How the World’s Religions Are Responding to Climate Change: Social Scientific Investigations. Edited by Robin Globus Veldman, Andrew Szasz, and Randolph Haluza-deLay, 229–243. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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    Investigation of Christians and Muslims working with the Climate Movement and the Transition Towns Movement in Britain between 2007 and 2010 as an expression of faith, rather than civic or secular values. Focus is on community building as a means of laying the foundations for a zero-carbon society. Muslim activists organized and took part in practices such as “fasting for the planet,” using techniques and rituals already familiar within the tradition to engage a transformative vision of the planet.

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  • Ostrow, Marty, and Terry K. Rockefeller, dirs. Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious Environmental Movement. DVD. Cambridge, MA: Fine Cut Productions, 2008.

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    Series of documentary clips tracing grassroots American religious efforts to address climate change, mountain top removal, food security, environmental justice, recycling, and land preservation. Includes Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish organizations as well as interfaith organizations such as GreenFaith and Interfaith Power and Light.

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Digital Resources

A number of online resource databases have been compiled in recent years to provide easy access to materials on environmental challenges from religious, and specifically Islamic, perspectives.

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