A Paper by Mustafa Kasim Erol, Director, Dialogue Society Oxford, delivered at the 10th Rhodes Forum, October 5, 2012
Click here to read the Paper in Italian
There are increasing concerns across the world for the necessity of looking after of our environment which surrounds us. The obvious reason behind the increase of that awareness has been the contribution of various organisations that have been keeping many issues relevant to the environment such as global warming, droughts, pollution etc. for our attention. People’s concerns come from various motives and causes where many of them are very obvious and there is no need to mention here. I believe that one of them is very important but not implicated in the way it should be. That is religious motives and reasons. I would like to narrow the issue to the motives of Islam for the environmental awareness in brief, then I will look into Gulen movement which operates world – wide. This will include opinions of its founder and movement’s activities which show Islamic awareness on the ecology, environment and other relevant issues surrounding that.
This century has witnessed that human beings drained the natural resources of the world and in contrast produced waste and pollution on a scale we did not see before. Ability to destroy the earth also increased heavily and industrialised countries stockpiled nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These are threatening the future of earth and its inhabitants i.e. people. The ecologic balance on earth and surrounding factors is quite important from the Islamic perspective. It is a duty and responsibility of every individual to contribute as much as they can in safeguarding what is around us. In Islam each individual is seen&accepted as a representative of God on earth (Khalifat) and has strict responsibilities to act on behalf of Him while he/she lives on earth. Obviously one of the most important responsibilities should be on looking after the environment, mother earth, from where we come from and to where we will return. This was the beginning of creation and it is in physical terms. Spiritually, the Islamic belief is that we all come from God and we will be returned back to him. Subsequently, human beings especially Muslims should accept the responsibility of damaging the Environment if anything goes wrong. This perception of responsibility explained by Simon Robinson indicates both the Islamic perspective as well as Gulen’s;
“Gulen’s view of responsibility is firmly set in accountability and thus in turn is based in his creation theology. God created the world and appointed humanity to be the vicegerent. (Quran2:30) Humankind is thus responsible for the management of all creation. The relationship with God the Creator also means that humanity is responsible on behalf of God. Humankind in this sense stands in for God, as deputy, but also stands before him. Hence, humanity is both responsible with God and responsible to God for the world in its fullness.”
The Natural life is quite important from the Islamic perspective. A vast variety of animals, plants, organisms etc in/on land see and air, all have their own functions and create a huge interdependent eco-system in which human beings continue to exist. Their existence also is seen as a sign of God who created them in a very complicated system. Muslims believe that they are a gift of God which has been bestowed upon mankind. But we should treat them well regardless whether they are animals or plants. Quran furthermore sees them as separate communities like human beings; “No living creature is there moving on the earth, no bird flying on its two wings, but they are the communities like you.” Having the authority leads to responsibility of working in harmony with all these communities and the natural environment as we have taken them in our safeguarding. This is also enforced by the usage of what is available in a sensible way as an Islamic value. Quran states again “Eat and drink but do not be wasteful, indeed, God does not love those who waste.” I think this verse gives a clear guidance to Muslims in preserving the environment by not being wasteful in their consumption. We all know the power and greed which creates strong desire of ‘want’, not necessarily ‘need’, supported by media and marketing which have been prime reasons and motives for the current environmental problems we are facing. Muslims have lost their important religious values which order them to preserve the environment.
Nature has been damaged by us throughout history, especially after the industrial revolution. This needs to be given attention or we will face further problems in near future. Gulen stresses on the significance of first creation which was in Paradise and descending from there to the Earth. Jannat means garden and it is the Arabic word of Paradise in literal terms. Human beings do crave for their original place and try to imitate paradise on Earth. In the same way Muslims have been looking to find their lost paradise on earth and have the responsibility of creating one, by reflecting on the point that shows us that P Muhammad tried to establish one.
Human beings as khalifats have the responsibility of building up a civilised world where environment has been given an utmost attention. The strong link between human beings and the rest of the creation around us should be kept in order to keep the balance between them. Muslims not only need to build up a clean and clear environment but also try to feel and see the incidents happening around us and their link to the Creator. They have to look to create a greener environment in or outside cities which will lead to the beautification of our world.
Now we have a variety of concerns stemming from our mistakes in the past decades and they keep on occupying our agenda and will do so in coming years such as climate change, global warming, sea level rise, energy and renewable energy issues, environmental health, air quality, land degradation, soil erosion, habitat destruction, nuclear power & safety, clean water crisis, water pollution, air pollution, reservoirs, deforestation and so on. These are only a few areas that we regularly hear in media. It is very clear that the balance in our eco-system has been deteriorating and alarming us on the dangers in the horizon. Gulen points out that whole creation is working hand in hand with the rest of the universe.
According to him the eco-system is very important. The natural events happening around us, sometimes perceived as cruel, can bring much bigger benefit across the world. Universe or earth is like a building and every single brick in that huge building supports one another. If human beings are not careful, they may be in danger of collapsing of whole building. The nature and trying to understand the activities of nature is another point which Gulen sees it as an important matter in our interaction with the environment. It is reading the natural world with its rules will lead any individual to the success here and hereafter. From the believer perspective, Quran continuously invites them to look in the system and the beauties of the universe. It is widely accepted that earth and in a wider scale universe are both seen as another Holy book which corresponds what is in the Quran. Muslims need to read both of them in a very careful way. This leads Muslims to compare the Word of God, Quran, and the physical word of God, universe, subsequently they see both messages as holy and an important part of their faith.
Gulen continues to stress on the Quranic references which encourages people to investigate, to learn, to make scholarly researches, to build up new hypothesis from new findings, to read the book of the universe and try to understand the secrets of the creation. Here are few of them;
1. Say: “Consider what there is (and what happens) in the heavens and on the earth.”
2. “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of night and day, and in the ships which sail in the sea with that which profits men, and in the water which Allah sends down from the sky and quickens therewith the earth after its death and scatters therein all kinds of beasts, and in the change of the winds, and the clouds pressed into service between the heaven and the earth — are indeed Signs for the people who understand.”
3. “And have they not looked into the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and all things that Allah has created?”
4. “And in the earth are Signs for those who have certainty of faith, And also in your own selves. Will you not then see?”
5. Say, ‘Travel in the earth, and see how He originated the creation. Then will Allah provide the latter creation.’
6. “And the heaven, we have constructed it mightily and it is surely We Who have vast power and keep expanding it.” Above verses from Quran bring the attention of human beings to the vast environment around us including heavens and universe. Gulen furthers his explanation by saying that all created things around us are not only mirror the image of paradise but mirrors the manifestation and the works of the Creator. Human beings are the only conscious creatures among all of them therefore they should take the responsibility of looking after the environment.
Gulen also stresses on the point that we need to see the touch of mercy which stems from God hovering across the earth and re-livening them constantly. “If you do not see and accept the overarching mercy above all creatures in our world, every explanation on this issue will be fruitless and non-productive” Gulen again reiterates the significance of mercy and compassion in understanding the Islamic value towards environment; “Mercy is the dove of creation. Without it, creation will be in chaos. Everything exists through mercy and compassion and will continue to do so. Our ancestors did understand this issue and established mercy houses everywhere; the trusts and association of animal welfare. A human being was concerned by the broken leg stork and established a trust for them. This helps us to see that Muslims had some concern for the welfare of animals that are part of our environment.
Some Activities organised by the movement inspired organisation, CEVKOR
Now I would like to move onto activities of the association that is inspired by the Gulen movement; The Foundation for Environmental Protection and Research (ÇEVKOR)
ÇEVKOR was founded by young academics in 1991 who, instead of complaining about the environmental problems, they thought that it was a duty to do something to protect the environment. They believed that those who protect the nature and the environment are the safeguards of our future. There is a real and urgent need to increase the number of good examples, who treat animals and plants with kindness. The Foundation has been trying to work hard to increase this. There are few activities which I will list in bullet points below:
• The Foundation has held summer schools for high school and university students in Izmir, Kastamonu and Trabzon, with the conviction that the solution for environmental problems starts with education.
• It has organized and executed a serious environmental education programs for teaching the principals of ecology and integrating them into students’ lives. (Science college students). World Wildlife Fund has supported it.
• It has held various contests and campaigns. Among these are: The contest for the Environmental Research Project, Contest for the Environmental Slogan, Campaign for a Nest for Every Balcony, Campaign to stop tree Massacre. Campaign for Cleaning the Environment (Izmir -Konya)
• Individuals and institutions which were sensitive to environmental issues were awarded. Municipalities, industrial institutions, academicians and press were awarded with Environmental Achievement Awards in Izmir.
• Another activity was the Literary Works Contest for the Environment, organized in cooperation with MEB in 1998. The awards were given in story, poem and fairy tales categories with a ceremony. (finalists were published in Ekoloji).
• In order to achieve a broad awareness through media, The Foundation has prepared 2 TV programs for titled “Environment and Man” and “Ecology” each 13 episodes.
• Ekoloji has been published regularly since 1991. It is the first and only scientific environmental journal in Turkey. With an editor board consisting of national and international academics, Ekoloji is indexed by more than 45 international indexes and by SCI Expanded (www.ekoloji.com.tr).
• In order to reach masses of people and establish awareness in society, the Foundation started to publish Ekoloji Magazine in 2004. Ekoloji Magazine strives to raise awareness in environmental issues in the country and in the world; natural, cultural and historical riches; clean energy technologies and healthy living. Magazine is trying to protect the natural and cultural heritages and pass them on to new generations. (www.ekolojimagazin.com)
• The Foundation has started to publish EurAsian Journal of Bio Sciences in June 2007. EurAsian Journal of Bio Sciences is an international refereed electronic journal. It accepts only original "research paper" and short "research note" in English.
• Ekoloji teknik is an environmental and clean energy sector magazine. It has been published since 2008. It contains an in-depth analysis of major news stories and provides professionals with the latest information in the environment and energy sector. Ekoloji Teknik was accepted as a full member from outside the EU countries into EEP, European Environmental Press (www.eep.org). Ekoloji Teknik is a member of the commission that awards the European Environmental Awards. (www.ekolojiteknik.com)
• ÇEVKOR has published Environmental Education Series in order to achieve an environmentally centered approach. The following books have been published in the series to date: Environmental Education: Concept and Methodical Approaches, Environmental Education: Method and Special Subjects, Introduction to Environmental Education, Main Concepts in Environmental Education, Preschool Environmental Education, Towards an Environmental Society (German), Various Ecosystems and Environmental Education, Biogas Technology and Bio-energy Production.
• The Foundation has been doing forestation works regularly since to date more than 70.000 trees were planted. It produces natural olive oil and olive oil soaps from its own plantations.
Are We Doing Enough to Save The Environment?
I would like to ask the title question before I move onto the conclusion; Are we doing enough to save the environment? The answer must be ‘No’ although there are progresses made and awareness is increasing. Both Muslims and members of the Gulen movement have been doing far little than they could have done when you think of the size of the population of Muslims in the world and the operational level of the movement. Looking after the environment should be a matter of believing and acting from the Islamic perspective and it should not depend upon the welfare of the community. In general in the world, I believe that the awareness of the environmental problems depending on the financial strength of the countries or communities. The awareness of the issue should start from an individual’s faith than should expand into an individual action. Then it can evolve into communal collective action, then governmental action finally it should evolve into international action by both governments and NGO’s.
Muslims believe that God created the universe and all life on Earth. They see the environment as God’s creation and to be treated with respect. The perception of the creation for Muslims is that of ‘environment’ to non-Muslims. Islam teaches that God made the Earth a good place that everything that is needed for good life for humans and other living creatures. Creation and environment does belong to only God not to human beings. People have the role of ‘khalifah’ in which they are ‘stewards’ and ‘guardians’ of environment which they have the control of it temporarily behalf of God. It is believed that human beings will be called to answer questions on the day of judgement on how they looked after the environment that has been entrusted to them.
From Gulen perspective; belief will lead to eternity. With belief, humans become an ocean while they are drops, they become whole while they are parts, they become a part of universe and then s/he becomes the heart of universe. Not only part of human beings but becomes part of universe, subsequently looks at all creation including environment as same thing who shared the same existence and birth like brothers and sisters. Then Muslims have strong conscious of looking after their own part/whole. This is also exemplified in one of the poets in Anatolia, Yunus Emre, he said ‘we love the created because of the creator’. Being a believer in God enforces Muslims to look after the environment.
To sum up, looking after the environment, preserving the nature should be internalised by all Muslims. Increased number of environmentally sensitive people among Muslims can and will only lead us to the solution of the environmental problems. Even only following narration should be good enough to encourage Muslims for action; “If anyone of you has a palm shoot in his hand while the doomsday is eminent, and if s/he is able to plant it, s/he should do so (and will be rewarded for this action).”