A review of ‘Environmental Wisdom for Planet Earth: The Islamic Heritage’

There is no ounce of doubt that the plundering and pillaging of natural resources has impacted the environment adversely. Where and when the want of human beings outweighs a sense of obligation towards flora and fauna, is where and when the world suffers. 


Human greed is nothing new, but its modern manifestation, infused with the absolutist doctrines of scientism, continues to have a total devastating effect. 


Jointly published by the Centre for Civilisational Dialogue (CDC) Universiti Malaya and the Islamic Book Trust (IBT), the revised second edition of ‘Environmental Wisdom for Planet Earth: The Islamic Heritage’ is an effort by Professor Datuk Dr Osman Bakar to highlight our shared responsibility in protecting the environment; that we are very much part of the natural world and not separate from it.  


The holder of (the) Al-Ghazali Chair of Epistemology and Civilizational Studies and Renewal at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia (ISTAC-IIUM) also contends that the Western world and its reductionistic vision of the natural order has brought about much harm to this planet we call home.


This is not to assign blame without recourse, but to hold those with assumed authority and power accountable.


At the core of our predicament is the desacralisation of nature, with its inherent sanctity stripped away and laid bare.  Professor Osman Bakar argues that such a stance runs counter to the ecological wisdom taught and preserved as an integral component within the Islamic faith.  


Muslims believe human beings are custodians of Earth, and that we are all His vicegerents duty-bound in preserving its balance (see Al-Baqarah, verse 30, https://legacy.quran.com/2/30). 


Environmental consciousness in Islam developed in tandem with the spiritual realisation of Divine Unity that is so pertinent to Islamic life and thought. 


This cognisance ought to be a catalyst in maintaining order in the natural world, as opposed to being agents of disorder and discord.


We seem to forget that the resources available to us are of a finite amountWe continue to repeat the mistakes which the industrialised West made earlier, in viewing (and unfortunately believing) the natural world as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. 


We cannot deny the fact that the race for industrialisation is very much a Western import synchronically in line with the colonialisation process (as well as post-colonial praxis) that most of the ‘third world’ experienced. 


There is widespread desire to conquer nature, but in the process itself, the value of the conqueror is diminished and his/her very existence threatened. 


The aforementioned desire (domination over nature) is precisely the root of the problem, which then mutates into issues of overpopulation, the lack of ‘breathing space’, congestion of city life, and the ubiquitous destruction of natural beauty and splendour.


Closer to home, we have witnessed the devastating effects of flash floods and other disasters. This comes not by accident (though everything that happens has been decreed by Him), but by mismanagement due to ineptitude, and a lack of foresight when it comes to town planning. 


It is argued here that although such events are deemed ‘natural disasters’, there are many instances whereby its magnitude and impact are dependent on human intervention.  


It is ludicrous that those in power have to be reminded about the gravity of our current situation.  Instead of continuing to approve logging concessions as a source of state revenue, state governments should secure financing to help preserve its forests.  


This move is one of the practical lessons, among others, that can be applied from the theoretical framework discussed in the text.  Other bold responses to the environmental and ethical challenges now confronting humanity are very much necessary.  


This book would appeal to the general public as it is a relevant topic in this day and age, and is written in an approachable and concise manner, with academic jargon kept to a minimum. 


For those interested in studies on the environment from the lens of religious tradition, ‘Environmental Wisdom for Planet Earth: The Islamic Heritage’ can be used as preliminary reading before embarking on extended research. 


We need to firmly plant in our minds that there is no refund in the absurd transaction of our planet for assumed profit, pride, and prestige. 


Our actions now (or the lack thereof) will have a tremendous bearing on the lives of our children and their own children.  We owe it to them, and this debt is only paid by being accountable for ourselves now.   


Arief Subhan (Twitter: @ArfSbhn)
Former research assistant for the Political Futures Experts Group (PFEG) at ISTAC

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