A question is arising in the heart of humanity: what is the relationship, the connection, between the human self and this earth that is our home. The question is arising because we are seeing the results of a very unconscious relationship we have with the earth. We are arriving at the conclusion that our present relationship is not sustainable. For some this may be a purely technical question to be answered scientifically. But there is also a significant spiritual dimension to the question.
What has led us to the desperate circumstances we now find ourselves in? Why is it that our very presence seems to be destructive to the natural environment, producing negative consequences that not only affect our own health and mental well-being but will have even more serious consequences for generations not yet born? What is it in our very selves that seems to be destroying our own existence?
If I turn to the primary sources of my own tradition, chiefly the Qur’an, will I find any guidance relevant to this unprecedented situation?
The Qur’an also speaks of a Trust that was offered to Heaven and Earth and was finally taken on by the Human Being. The Human Being has an honored place in creation and yet is capable of misusing the Trust that has been given.
Truly, We offered the Trust
to the heavens, and to the earth, and to the mountains;
but they refused to undertake it, as they were afraid of it—
but the human being undertook it
though he was indeed unjust and foolish,[Sürah al-Aåzäb 33:72]
The Qur’an presents us with the following narrative about the creation of a human being.
Qur’an (2:30 – 33): “‘Verily, I am going to place mankind generations after generations on earth.’ They (the angels) said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood, while we (the angels) glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You.’ God said: ‘I know that which you do not know.’”
“And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.” They said: “Glory to Thee (said the angels), of knowledge We have none, save what Thou Hast taught us: In truth it is Thou Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom.” He said: “O Adam! Tell them their names.” When he had told them, God said (to the angels): “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?”
“And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Except for Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith.” (2:34)
The knowledge of the Divine Names that was instilled in humanity suggests the capacities for knowing and for creating. The Trust we have been given is the responsibility for our free will and independent consciousness.
The Qur’an offer as many examples of previous peoples and civilizations that have betrayed this responsibility and failed to maintain a moral and ecological balance. Consequently, former societies have brought destruction upon themselves. From a certain perspective, the Qur’an is a radical environmental manifesto, offering a cosmic and panoramic perspective that we should take warning from.
It is also a revelation that invites us to notice, appreciate, and be grateful for the natural world. It is nature, as much as the human being itself, that displays for us the signs of God. “We will show them our signs on the farthest horizons and in themselves until they know this is the truth.” Nature, from the Qur’anic perspective, is the awakener of faith — faith understood as the perception of the spiritual nature of reality. The remembrance of God, which is considered the foremost practice of all spirituality, is facilitated and supported by the outer manifestations of nature as much as by the inner life, the heart of the human being. Unfortunately, many Muslims today living predominantly in urban settings are distanced, even alienated, from the natural world, as are so many people in these times.
Now, to the crisis at hand. We have been expelled from the garden through our own actions. And as we have developed greater and greater means for exploiting the world, we have brought on our current situation. It is a crime that bears our own fingerprints. In fact, it is a synergy of crises, in which several converging crises reinforce one another, moving in the direction of mass extinction.
We live within an economy that cannot imagine a viable economy without growth. Growth and consumption are considered an economic necessity. In light of these circumstances, will individually recycling and reducing our carbon footprints make a difference? Are we doomed to self-destruction through our own heedlessness, selfishness, and denial?
The current monetary system is not the inevitable outcome of the human presence on this earth, but an ideology gradually formulated since the 18th century, reaching its current state of neo-liberal capitalism. It proposes that the market, left to its own devices, will solve all our problems for us, that allowing scope people’s self-interest will be the most efficient way of arriving at the greatest good. The abject failure of this egoistic, materialistic belief system is before our eyes now. It is this system which accepts without question the fact that billions of people do not have sufficient food or drinkable water.
This belief in the current monetary system, as dogmatic as any religion, has failed to account for the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, for the power of capital without conscience, capital which exists only to increase itself regardless of the consequences. Just like the human ego, it wants immediate or short term satisfaction, cannot see the whole, and is in denial of its own death.
The unquestioning idolatry of money has failed to recognize how money, when worshipped for its own sake and unquestioned as the primary source of value, is not merely a convenient method of exchange in human transactions, but an impersonal force unto itself. It metastasizes like cancer through every aspect of human life, corrupting even our personal relationships and family life. In the end, it is not we who spend money, but money that spends us.
We have condoned an insane situation in which that which destroys life also makes a profit. War, disease, crime, incarceration, and useless financial instruments yield the greatest profits. We have agreed to a devil’s bargain with the Empire, with the Dunya (the “world”), with Mammon (Money).
The question before us is: can enough of us wake up in time? Are we capable fundamentally reorienting our monetary system, our politics, our very selves? Can humanity use its God-given power of free-will to create a just distribution of resources and a sustainable economy?