The Quran & The Earth

In the same way that it would be naive to believe all Christians in Berlin are conscious of their impact on the earth simply because German environmentalism and Evangelical/Catholic ideology are closely aligned, one must also assume that there are many Muslims in Germany’s capital who are concerned by mankind’s degradation of the environment. The essence of Islamic teaching is that the entire universe is God’s creation and humans have a responsibility to protect and preserve Allah’s work. Muhammad says, “The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his stewards over it,” and Surah 30:30 of the Quran commands followers to “direct [their] face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people don’t know.”

The issue, then, is not a difference in ideology between Christians and Muslims in Berlin. Indeed, the teachings of the Bible and the Quran concerning the environment are all but indistinguishable. The problem lies in two areas: dissemination and adoption. Laurel Kerns writes, in The Role of Religion in Activism, “Religious leaders and organizers… can make a difference by mobilizing followers and framing the issue in moral terms; however, they can also stymie action on climate change through the vigorous rejection of the science or opposition to the implied economics” and goes on to state, “… it is how the scientific and economic issues are framed, even more so than the ethical issues or theological/religious differences between groups, that is key to how the message is perceived…” In other words, religious leaders have the power to inspire their followers to act for the good of the environment by relating commandments written in holy passages to contemporary issues.

Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, did just that in the Assisi Declarations: Messages on Humanity and Nature from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judiasm, where he wrote, “So unity, trusteeship and accountability, that is tawheed, khalifa and akhroh, the three central concepts of Islam, are also the pillars of the environmental ethics of Islam. They constitute the basic values taught by the Qur’an… Islam’s environmental ethics then are not limited to metaphysical notions; it provides a practical guide as well.” He goes on to state, “The notions of unity, trusteeship and accountability should not be reduced to matters of personal piety; they must guide all aspects of their life and work… Yet our actions often undermine the very values we cherish. Often while working as scientists or technologists, economists or politicians, we act contrary to the environmental dictates of Islam. We must imbibe these values into our very being. We must judge our actions by them. If we use the same values, the same understanding in our work as scientists or technologists, economists or politicians as we do to know ourselves as Muslims- those who submit themselves to the Will of God- then, I believe, we will create a true Islamic alternative, a caring and practical way of being, doing and knowing, to the environmentally destructive thought and action which dominates the world today.”

Though Islamic doctrine can be utilized to foster environmentalism in Muslim communities, this is not the case in Berlin. Muslims in Berlin, despite their decades-long residency, face challenges many believe to be more salient, such as their lack of integration and subsequent joblessness, poverty, and discrimination. The Muslim religious and spiritual leaders I spoke with this summer conceded that the earth is in crisis, but argued that the social issues their community faces must be addressed before individuals could care for the environment. I do not agree with an either-or approach in which addressing social and natural issues cannot occur concurrently, and hope that Mosques in Berlin will adopt a similar approach to the Evangelical churches that integrate messages of environmental conservation into their services and practices.