by Karuna Teresa Foudriat


      Since the 1980s  Muslim environmentalists have thoughtfully re-examined the Islamic tradition, uncovering the foundation for a sustainable view of the Creator, the cosmos and the human role in nature. In essay collections like Islam and Ecology,[1] in blogs, and at conferences, Muslim theologians, legal scholars, activists, urban planners and even folklorists, gardeners and poets have challenged many of the environmentally destructive practices of modern western society. They have drawn deeply, either knowingly or unknowingly, from the Qur’an, Islam’s original revelation and most revered text.

     “Deep ecology, “ a term first coined by Arne Naess in 1973, attempts to go beyond  what Joanna Macy calls “the band-aid approach of  applying technological fixes” to environmental problems “for short term human goals.”[2] Instead it articulates a comprehensive religious and philosophical worldview” [3] that includes what Naess calls two “ultimate norms” or foundational insights. In common with many of the world’s spiritual paths, he and other deep ecologists posit a concept of self that goes beyond the limits of “an isolated ego striving primarily for hedonistic gratification or for a narrow sense of salvation in this life or the next.”[4] Besides this norm of what he calls self-realization he and other deep ecologists affirm the concept of biocentric equality, asserting that “all organisms and entities in the ecosphere, as parts of an interrelated whole, are equal in intrinsic worth.  The two principles are closely connected because with a holistic view of Self and the biosphere, “if we harm the rest of Nature then we are harming ourselves.”[5] In a rephrasing of these foundational ideas, deep ecologist Thomas Berry stated, “The  universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects.”[6] Scientists like James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis with their Gaia hypothesis and theologians like Thomas Berry, Joanna Macy and Riane Eisler have continued the conversation. Deep ecologists, like Muslims, do not always agree among themselves or come at the philosophy that underlies their understanding of God, human beings and the natural world from exactly the same perspective. In this paper I explore some of the similarities and differences between various iterations of deep ecology and the Qur’anic perspective.

The Creator

     In the Qur’anic worldview, God alone is the Creator whose Mercy, Power and unfathomable, all-pervasive Knowledge support and sustain the whole universe.  In Surah 6:59, the Qur’an says in “...not a leaf that falls but S/He knows it; and neither is there a grain in earth’s deep darkness, nor anything living or dead but is recorded in [His] clear decree; in 34:4, “Not an atom’s weight in the heavens or earth escapes Her knowledge.”[7] It  states that Allah made the universe deliberately, that “[S/He] has not created heaven and earth and all that is within them without meaning and purpose” (38:27). Creation is not “idle play” (21:16, 23:115) but an orderly process that originates from Allah:

No single thing exists that does not have its source with Us and naught do We bestow from on high unless it be in accordance with a measure well-defined. (15:21)


 A wealth of verses (23:72, 34:39, 62:1, etc.)  remind us that Allah is “Khayur-razaqin,” the best of providers who sustains not only human beings but also everything from the stars and planets in their movements to “the skies raised high” to the ”earth spread out for all living beings.” (55:5-10.) The existence of the evil or challenges or hardship in the world is often framed as a test of the faith of the believers. In Sura 2:214, for instance, the Qur’an states,

[But] do you think that you could enter paradise without having suffered like those [believers] who passed away before you? Misfortune and hardship befell them, and so shaken were they that the apostle, and the believers with him, would exclaim, "When will God's succour come?" Oh, verily, God's succour is [always] near!


     Deep ecologists differ among themselves about the existence of God, as well as His/Her  beneficence. Often they express ambivalence. In her essay “Faith, Power and Ecology,” for instance, Joanna Macy writes,

Some of us have retained faith in a just creator God or in a lawful, beneficent order to the universe. But some of us find it hard, even obscene, to believe in an abiding providence in a world of such absurdity as ours where, in the face of unimaginable suffering, most of our wealth and wits are devoted to preparing for a final holocaust.[8]


Writing from her background of non-theistic Buddhist practice, she celebrates the unfolding of life itself in its infinite variations[9] rather than  praise the Creator. Similarly, James Lovelock, writes of his equal discomfort with faith and atheism in an essay exploring the interface between science and religion. He prefers to retain a sense of wonder and questioning. [10]  He writes,

 “I am happy with the thought that the Universe has properties that make the emergence of life and Gaia inevitable. But I react to the assertion that it was created with purpose. It might have been; but how the Universe and life began are ineffable questions.”[11]


On the other hand, Thomas Berry, writing from a Christian orientation, focuses on the “primordial flaring forth” of “that numinous source whence all things came.”  He speaks of the scientific creation story of the unfolding of the universe from the Big Bang on through the creation of galaxies, stars, planets and finally life in its manifold forms and expressions including humanity as “a new revelatory experience.” The language he uses is often is veiled enough to allow the reader to determine whether or not a Creator is meant. Often deep ecologists purposefully try to keep their language religiously neutral. When George Sessions and Arnold Naess summarized the principles of deep ecology in 1984, they “articulated ….[them] in a literal somewhat neutral way hoping they would be understood and accepted by persons coming from different philosophical and religious positions.”[12] Thus while the ecological teachings of the Qur’an are theocentric, deep ecologists are more inclined to leave the question of a Creator, the purpose of creation and the question of its beneficence open-ended.

The Creation

While the Qur’an and the deep ecologists might differ on these issues, they all speak of the cosmos with reverence and wonder. In the former we are asked many times to reflect on the wonders of the cosmos Allah has created:

[He is] the One who causes the dawn to break; and He has made the night to be [a source of] stillness, and the sun and the moon to run their appointed courses;[all] this is laid down by the will of the Almighty, the All-Knowing. And He it is who has set up for you the stars so that you might be guided by them in the midst of the deep darkness of land and sea: clearly, indeed, have We spelled out these messages unto people of [innate] knowledge! (6:96-98)

The deep ecologists also celebrate the cosmos, although in a way more consonant with modern scientific thought. Here is Thomas Berry marveling at the Big Bang:

This primordial flaring forth must have been gorgeous beyond description. We can only marvel as we reflect that we ourselves and the world we observe about us are the explicated forms of what was implicated in that first flaring forth of the created world.[13]

In a similar vein John Seed speak of the universe’s “great fiery birthing,” [14] and subsequent unfolding into organic life in meditations or prose poems meant to inspire awe and encourage love of the earth.  He invokes the “spirit of evolution, the miraculous force that inspires rocks and dust to weave themselves into biology…you that can turn scales into feathers, seawater to blood caterpillars to butterflies…[15] With Joanna Macy he speaks about the “forms we remember in our mother’s womb…vestigial tails and gills…fins for hands.”[16] Similarly, the Qur’an also celebrates biological life in a striking parallel to the current scientific understanding of embryonic development:

O Men! If you are in doubt as to the [truth of] resurrection, [remember that,] verily, We have created [every one of] you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, then out of a germ-cell, then out of an embryonic lump complete (in itself] and yet incomplete, so that We might make [your origin] clear unto you. And whatever We will [to be born] We cause to rest in the [mothers'] wombs for a term set [by Us], and then We bring you forth as infants and [allow you to live] so that [some of] you might attain to maturity… 22:5

     In the Qur’an, the universe is “on-going, created anew and sustained by Allah at every moment.”[17] “It is God who has created you, and then has provided you with sustenance and then will cause you to die and then will bring you to life again,” says the Qur’anic narrator in 30:40. Surah 55: 28-29 goes on to proclaim,

All that lives on the earth or in the heavens will pass away, but forever will abide thy Sustainer’s countenance, full of majesty and glory…On Him depends all creatures in the heavens and on earth; every day He manifests himself in yet another [wondrous] way.


 Thus Allah has set a continual dissolving and rebirthing from life into death and back again into motion. This is very similar to the deep ecologists’ celebration of the totality of planetary evolution, the “unbroken chain”  of being from which each cell of our bodies unfolds,[18] as well as the continual rebirth and recycling of life:

Countless times in that journey we died to old forms, let go of old ways, allowing new ones to emerge. But nothing is ever lost. Though forms pass, all returns.[19]


The Creation as a “Sign” of Allah

     According to the Qur’an, one of the fundamental functions of the natural world is revelatory, providing messages or signs (ayati)  of Allah’s beauty, power, wisdom and glory. Again and again we are asked to reflect on the marvels of Creation. In 6:95-99, for instance, the Qur’an draws our attention to a catalogue of these natural wonders in beautiful images:

Verily God is the One who cleaves the grain and the fruit-kernel asunder…who causes the dawn to break and …made the night to be a source of stillness, and the sun and moon to run their appointed courses…and set up the stars for you so that you might be guided by them in the midst of the deep darkness of land and sea…and brought you [all] into being from one living entity…and has caused waters to come down from the sky…and brought forth verdure. Out of this do We bring forth close-growing grain; and out of the spathe of the palm tree, dates in thick clusters; and gardens of vines, and the olive tree, and the pomegranate: [all] so alike and yet so different.


Speaking through the Qur’anic narrator, Allah tells us after each sign,  “…Clearly, indeed have We spelled out these messages…” for thoughtful people who can ”grasp the truth.” The Arabic root ١يي (ayat) is used 382 times throughout the Qur’an. It  refers both to the created world, to what is “on the horizons,” and to the inner world of human beings (41:53). Some variation of the root is used many times to describe creation (e.g. 2:164, 3:190) and the great cosmological bodies (e.g. 6:96, 10:7 10:96, etc.). It points to the rhythm of night and day and to the cycle of the moon (e.g. 16:12, 17:12, etc.) Weather in the form of rain (6:99, 41:39,, etc.), lightening and thunder (24:43, 30:24) and wind (42:33 , 45:5) are often mentioned as signs of Allah, as are the gifts of gardens, food crops and livestock (6:95, 13:3, 36:34, etc.) There are also references to human development, human diversity, and phases in the human lifecycle. In comparing signs “on the horizon” to signs within human beings (41:53) and associating the wonders of nature with the wonders of human development in passages like 6:95-99, the Qur’an thus suggests that we are both a microcosm of the universe and an intimate part of nature. This idea is closely allied to the extended sense of self, Naess’s self-realization, proposed by the deep ecologists:

This process of the full unfolding of the self can be summarized symbolically by the phrase, “No one is saved until we are all saved,” where the phrase “one” includes not only me, an individual human, but all humans, whales, grizzly bears, whole rain forest ecosystems, mountains and rivers, the tiniest microbes in the soil, and so on.[20]

      This interconnection, one of the foundational deep ecology intuitions, is also found in the Islamic concept of Wahdat al-Wujud, the unity of existence or the Oneness of all Being. This view of the essential unity of the universe within the totality of Allah is supported by Qur’an 2:115:

To God belong the East and the West: whithersoever ye turn, there is the Presence of God, For God is All-Pervading, All-knowing. (Yusuf Ali)


This interpretation of the Qur’an is controversial, as some Muslims see it “as verging dangerously close to pantheism.“[21] This reading of the doctrine of tawhid nevertheless aligns the Qur’an more closely with the deep ecologists who see a unified cosmos:

Throughout its vast extent in space and its long sequence of transformations in time, the universe constitutes a single, multiform, sequential celebratory event. Every being in the universe is infinitely present to and influencing every other being in the universe. Every being contributes to the magnificence of the whole.[22]


Joanna Macy puts it more simply when she says, “the Earth is a living process in which we participate.”[23]

     Another use of the various forms of ayat are references to the signs and messages given to earlier communities: the miracles of Issa and Maryam (3:49-50, 21:91, etc.); the plagues and miraculous escape of Musa and the Bani Yisrael, from Egypt (3:11, 7:103 28:35-36, etc.); and signs contained in the stories of Nuh (7:64, 10:71, etc.), Ibrahim,(2:59 and 29:16-27), Yusuf (12:7 and 12:35and Dawwud, (2:251),as well in the accounts of lesser known prophets like Salih (7:73, 26:158, etc.) and Hud (26:128, 26:139 and 41:15). Significantly a form of ayat is also mentioned in a reference to the “messages” of the earlier scriptures of the Torah and Gospels (at-Tawrata wal-Injil, 3:2-4). Finally the Qur’an uses term to refer to itself as spiritual text as well as to the ongoing revelation that took place as the text was revealed to Muhammad over a period of 23 years.  Because the term has such a vast and comprehensive set of meanings, many commentators believe the “Qur’an” is not limited to the text (mushaf) but includes the whole universe in a kind of ur-Qur’an referred to in 3:7 as ummul-Kitabi, literally, “the mother of the Book.” Thus through using the same word to refer to Scriptural revelation and the cosmos, the Qur’an implicitly considers the created world both as revelation and as theo(a)logical text. Just like the Qur’an, which is revered in Muslim homes and treated with deep respect, the universe is a sacred text and by implication should be treated with reverence and care.

Creation as Cosmic Liturgy

     There are no exact parallels for the universe as sacred text among the deep ecologists, at least in the works that I read. Thomas Berry comes the closest when he writes of the Universe as “Cosmic Liturgy”:

Thus the basic Christian understanding of the universe is one in which the human community and the natural world are seen as one single community with an overarching purpose:…participation in the great liturgy of the universe.[24]


This idea of the purpose of life as “the exultation and joy of existence, praise of the divine”[25] is in turn matched by the Qur’anic trope of the natural world in constant praise of Allah:

Art thou not aware that it is God whose limitless glory all that are in the heavens and the earth extol… even the birds as they spread out their wings?

... Each of them knows indeed how to pray unto Him and glorify Him.

Qur’an (24:41)


 Every being “in the seven heavens…and all that they contain praise Him; and there is not a single thing” (17:44) including shadows (13:13) that does not bow in worship (16:49). Later Islamic thinkers, especially poets and mystics, have connected this cosmic paean  with salat, the obligatory prayer first established by the Qur’an (17:78, 11:14) and further amplified by the prophetic traditions. For Jalal al-Din Rumi, for instance,  the natural world is constantly worshipping Allah, from the waves prostrating;[26] to the rose echoing the qiyam, the violet, the ruku and the leaf the sujud positions in salat. Indeed, the whole garden, one of the poet’s favorite images, “have only one function: to praise without tongue the water which quickens them.”[27] The trees echo the lines of the Fatiha in every season.[28] In a close parallel with Berry’s idea of the universe as cosmic liturgy, some Islamic thinkers have viewed salat as a “synthesis of the methods of prayer of all the beings in the universe:”

A Muslim purifies himself like water, praises God aloud like thunder, remains erect like the hills, bends like the animals and prostrates like plants.[29]


The way salat follows the rhythms of day and night, moreover, could be considered one of the rituals Thomas Berry identifies as a celebration of our “ontological unity,” instances in which the integral relationship between the human and the universe was recognized and celebrated.[30] While deep ecologists like Seed, Macy and Fleming evoke our unity with the totality and the various aspects of the universe in their meditations, Islamic prayer can actual embody this understanding. Done in this way it is reminiscent of Macy’s exercise The Council of All Beings, in which participants make masks and then connect with and speak for various parts of the biosphere.

The Human Role in Nature: The Prophets and Saints

In its depiction of the prophets, the Qur’an depicts human beings who are  profoundly sympathetic to the sounds rising up from creation. Allah teaches Adam (alayhi as-salām), the first of the prophets, the names of all things,” (2:31) which in some interpretations gives him intimate knowledge of the meaning behind the form of all created beings. Sulayman (alayhi as-salām), who can understand the language of the birds and command the stormy wind and invisible beings, turns aside and praises God when he hears an ant worried about being crushed by his cavalry (27:16-19), presumably thanking Him for his special gift of understanding the speech of the kingdoms of nature. Perhaps the foundation of his gifts lay in the loving way he treated his animals. As he watches his “nobly bred, swift-footed steeds” he turns to Allah and thinks, “Verily I have come to love the love of all that is good because I bear my Sustainer in mind.” The passage goes on to say that he “would [lovingly] stroke their legs and their necks.” (38:30-33). In other examples, the mountains join Dawwud (alayhi as-salām) in “extolling Our limitless glory and likewise the birds” (21:79) and Maryam (alayha as-salām) is comforted with a stream and fresh ripe dates while she is in the throes of labor (19:23-25). Over and over the Qur’an tells us, “Wal-lahu ala bi kulli shayin-Qadir” (2:284, etc.): God has the power to will anything.  S/He changes the laws of nature to assist Ibrahim by commanding a fire, “Be thou cool and [a source of] inner peace” when the idolaters throw him into the flames (21:68-70). Through Divine power, Musa’s (alayhi as-salām) staff changes into a serpent, Issa (alayhi as-salām) heals the sick, and in one interpretation of 54:1 Muhammad (ṣall Allāhu ʿalay-hi wa-sallam) splits the moon. According to the most thorough account in Qur’an 26:141-159, Salih, the prophet to the people of Thamud, warned them to be conscious of God and to care for “God’s she-camel”, allowing her to have a share when they watered their own herds. When his people slaughtered her cruelly, God destroyed the community in an earthquake. On one level the story is therefore an strong an injunction against cruelty to animals. Thus in portraying the prophets, the Qur’an depicts human beings who are so deeply attuned to nature that they can “act as intermediary between the human community and the larger ecological field,”[31] reminiscent of  the shamans in indigenous cultures. 

     Many deep ecologists point to the indigenous traditions and their shamanistic practitioners as  “exemplary voyagers in the intermediate realm between the human and more-than-human worlds, the primary strategist and negotiator in any dealings with the Others.”[32] They encourage us to follow their example of attunement and deep listening. Thomas Berry has held up St. Francis of Assisi and his communication with the natural world in a similar way. This constitutes another similarity between Qur’anic teachings and those of the deep ecologists: both give us examples of human beings who have awakened “a larger ecological Self , living fully as part of nature expressing…[their] full potential…”[33]

The Human Role in Nature: God’s Vicegerent and The Covenant of Alast     

    In addition to giving us examples of deep and sensitive relationships to nature to imitate in its portrayal of the prophets, the Qur’an gives direct teachings about the relationship between human beings and the natural world. In verse after verse[34] it emphatically states that Allah is the true owner and inheritor (al-Warith) of the earth. For instance, after a passage detailing the wonders of creation, from the zodiac signs to the earth spread out with its mountains “firm and immovable” to the “fecundating winds and rain, Allah states, “…ye are not the guardians of its stores. And verily it is We who give life and Who give death: it is We Who remain Inheritors.” (15:19-23)[35] Surah 16 An-Nahl (The Bee) is particularly eloquent about the many blessings Allah’s creation provides for us, with reminders about our plant and animal food sources that include meat, milk and honey, as well as the materials we use for milking clothing and shelter, all for one purpose:

In this way does S/He bestow the full measure of …blessing on you so that you might surrender yourselves. (16:81)


The Qur’an thus encourages its readers to view the food, transportation, clothing and shelter they derive from animals as gifts from Allah (16:80-81,etc.) rather than property to be exploited and they also have a social life and purpose of their own, apart from any use to humans:

All creatures that crawl on the earth and those that fly with their wings are communities like yourselves. Qur’an 6:38


And like humans, animals can receive Divine revelation:


And [consider how] Thy Sustainer has inspired the bee: “Prepare for thyself dwellings in the mountains and in trees, and in what [men] may [build for thee by the way of hives]; and then eat all manner of fruit and follow humbly all paths ordained for Thee by Thy sustainer. [And lo!] there issues from within these [bees] a fluid of many hues wherein there is health for man. 16:69


The Qur’an uses the same word “wahy” to describes Allah’s communication with the bee and His/Her revelation to the prophets. It also speaks movingly of the loving relationships between man and animals. In the same surah, when describing the man’s uses for cattle, the Qur’anic narrator describes the way ”…you find beauty in them when you drive them home in the evenings and when you take them out to pasture in the mornings.” The Qur’an gives us both examples and direct teaching about the gratitude and care with which we should approach the non-human.

Like the rest of creation, we are servants in submission to Allah. This echoes the second foundational “intuition” of deep ecology, that of biocentric equality, which recognizes that all parts of creation are interconnected and have inherent worth.

     In one passage the Qur’an says that “humans have been “favoured…far above most of …creation” (17:70). This verse has been used to claim that Islam, like the other Abrahamic faiths, is inherently anthropocentric, an attitude often associated with the degradation of the environment. A closer perusal of the root سخر sakhkhara and its uses gives a different picture, because it is generally used in reference to Allah’s power and accompanied by an admonishment to be grateful. The general purpose of all these uses of the word is to remind human beings of Allah’s tremendous power and generosity. With all the gifts of nature we receive we are thus enjoined to remember that "Exalted is He who has subjected this to us, and we could not have [otherwise] subdued it.” (43:13). Thus the fact that natural world is of service, “made subservient” to us is not a blanket permission to exploit the planet; nor is it anthropocentrism.

     According to the Qur’an, humanity does have a special role to play on earth. Allah establishes Adam, the first human being, as a خلف khalifa, much to the dismay of the angels who are worried that humans will “spread corruption thereon and shed blood (2:30).” (Perhaps this was not an idle concern given the course of human history!) Khalifa” is variously translated as vicegerent, viceroy, successor or guardian, all with implications of stewardship. Many prophets and their communities are called “successors” to the evil communities that came before them. For example there are references to Noah and his family as successors to those who drowned because they refused to heed his warning; to Hud’s people of as the successors to Noah, who were in turn succeeded by Salih’s people, the tribe of Thamud. After telling the tale of David’s wrongdoing and subsequent forgiveness, the Qur’an describes him as vicegerent, viceroy or ruler, depending on the translation (38:26) and warns him to act justly and not follow his desires. The Arabic community at the time of Revelation is called successor to the evil civilizations that preceded it (10:14). Thus to designate an individual or group as khalifa does not indicate permanence or inherent right; many individuals or groups so designated have been replaced by Allah because of their immoral behavior.

     Certainly the role of human beings as stewards called to care for all of nature has many urgent echoes in the work of the deep ecologists- an urgency that springs from the magnitude of the ecological crisis upon us. Thomas Berry states that we have now entered a phase on Earth  in which

 “a decisive transformation has taken place, for whereas the humans had nothing to say in the emergent period of the universe prior to the present, in the future the human will be involved in almost everything that happens. [36]


In a similar vein, John Seed calls on us to “speak in human councils on behalf of animals and plants and landscapes of the world”[37] and Joanna Macy asks us to participate in what she calls “The Great Turning” to restore the earth.

According to the Qur’an, our special role in creation goes back to what is known as the pre-eternal “Covenant of Alast,” in which the as yet unborn souls of Adam’s children  (i.e. all of us) participated:

When the Lord drew forth from the children of Adam- from their loins-their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves [saying] “Am I not your Lord [Who cherishes and sustains you]?” They said, Yes, We do testify!”[38]


The “bala shahidna” of humanity is a sacred trust that we humans amongst all of creation will have taqwa, consciousness of God—that we will choose to live in this awareness of our Creator. Some Muslim mystics would go further, saying that it refers to the soul’s obligation to seek union with the Oneness of all Being in order to realize Allah’s self-disclosure within herself. Although the Qur’an does not explicitly state that the purpose of creation and in particular was Allah’s Self-disclosure, a hadith qudsi  “I was a Hidden Treasure and longed to be known” and many centuries of Islamic mystical tradition support this  concept. This resonates with the cosmic role Thomas Berry assigns humans even as they are part of the integral whole: 

In reality the human activates the most profound dimension of the universe itself, its capacity to reflect on and celebrate itself in conscious self-awareness.  [39]


The Practical Implications of Deep Ecology and Qur’anic Injunctions


According to Devall and Sessions, there are practical implications stemming from the foundational intuitions of deep ecology. The first is that we should attempt to minimize our footprint on the earth, keeping in mind the welfare of all species to encourage biodiversity and keeping ecosystems as natural as possible. There are specific Qur’anic injunctions to make a case for living lightly on the earth. The Qur’an forbids waste in several passages, stating that “Allah does not love the wasteful” (7:31) and that “squanderers are of the ilk of the satans.” (17:27).

There are also strong words against pollution:

Verily S/He loves not those who transgress the bounds of what is right: hence do not spread corruption on earth after it has been so well ordered. (7:56)


It warns that those who pollute the land and sea will “taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path.]” (30:41) In a passage relevant to those who ignore or discount the threat of climate change today, it gives a picture of the enormous consequences that occur when human beings forget “all they had been told to take to heart”:

We threw open the gates of all things until, even as they were rejoicing in what they had been granted-We suddenly took them to task: and lo! they were broken in spirit. (6:44)


The Qur’an condemns cruel practices like cutting the ears off of cattle, which was performed by the pre-Islamic Arabs to dedicate their cattle to their idols. It blames such abominations on the blandishments of Satan who brags that he will command people to “corrupt God’s creation.” (4:118) Some Qur’anic interpreters have seen this verse and others warning human beings not to transgress the boundaries of knowledge (e.g. 17:36 ) as a condemnation of activities like genetic engineering, GMO agricultural practices and other technological innovations that are upsetting the balance of nature. It also strongly condemns usury (riba), the practice on which our entire global fossil fuel producing economic system is based ( e.g. 2:75-79).

     A few deep ecologists explicitly call for social and environmental justice in their writings. In her writing on “The Great Turning Joanna Macy asks us to participate in three ways: in “actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings”,  in an analysis of structural causes” of environmental devastation and the creation of structural alternatives [to the problem] and [in] shift[ing] in our consciousness.[40] This echoes

one of the key Qur’anic concepts relating to the environment:  that of the root وزن. The verb I form of this root, which includes the concept of balance (mizan)  means “weigh’ and is associated in the Qur’an with the concept of justice. Twice we are admonished “and weigh (wazinu) with an even balance”, as a metaphor for upright action. (17:35, 26:182) The noun “mizan” is variously translated as scales, weight, or “the Balance” in its 16 occurrences. Translators seem to agree on which meaning they give it in any single verse. The word is often used to denote scales, either those merchants use, or those that figuratively weigh a person’s deeds on the Last Day (see 23:102 or 101:6-8). In 55:7- 9 it is created along with the heavens and we are warned not to  “transgress” or exceed it, and subsequently, to weigh and measure accurately. Later in the same Surah (55:25), it is again associated with “the Book” (variously translated as Qur’an or Scriptures) and sent or called into being to enable humans to conduct their affairs justly. Another noun form is used to denote importance or credence as in “nor shall We, on the Day of Judgment, give them any weight” (18:105). Finally, the use of a passive participle form of the root (mazunin) in Qur’an 15:19 enhances this ecological sense of  balance. Allah describes the process of spreading the earth out, setting the mountains down and causing all kinds of things to grow “therein in due balance” (Yusuf Ali translation). Taken in concert with the Qur’anic passages that condemn waste (7:31, for instance) and the spread of corruption, the concept of the Balance can thus be extended beyond the bounds of human justice to refer to all Creation. This combination of the idea of the interconnectedness and balance in nature with human uprightness is surely one of the Qur’an’s great contributions to the ecological dialogue.


     When we read them together we can experience a powerful synergy between the Qur’an and the teachings of deep ecology.  Although the two streams of thought differ in the way they relate to a universal Creator, they both offer concepts and practices that help us to embody and deepen our sense of connection with the cosmos and expand our limited individualized sense of self. They provide us with examples of our ancestors from prior revelations who lived in harmony with the natural world and offer guidance on ways to lighten our footprint on the planet. For those who are not “deaf and blind” (Qur’an 6:39, 6:46 27:51 30:53 41:44) to their message, they offer a way to shift our consciousness, alter our behavior and inspire us to work towards the benefit of all beings in the Oneness of all Being.







1Richard Foltz, ed. Islam and Ecology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 2003.

[2] Joanna Macy, “The Ecological Self” in Worldviews, Religion and the Environment ed. Richard C. Foltz (California: Wadsworth, 2008) 445

[3] Bill Devall and George Sessions, “Principles of Deep Ecology” in Worldviews, Religion and the Environment ed. Richard C. Foltz (California: Wadsworth, 2008) 434


[4] Principles, 435

[5] Principles, 436


[6] Thomas Berry, “Into the Future” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 492

(San Francisco: Harper: San Francisco, 1992)

[7] Muhammad  Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, (Bristol, England: The Book Foundation, 2003), 206-207. Unless otherwise noted, I will be quoting this translation of the Qur’an but altering references to Allah to reflect my more gender-inclusive understanding.



[8] Joanna Macy, “Faith, Power, and Ecology” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 497.

[9] See for instance John Seed and Joanna  “Gaia Meditations” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 552-553 or The Council of All Beings exercise at:

[10] James Lovelock, “God and Gaia” in Worldviews, Religion and the Environment ed. Richard C. Foltz (California: Wadsworth, 2008) 531-540.


[11] God and Gaia, 533

[12]  Bill Devall and George Sessions, “Principles of Deep Ecology” in Worldviews, Religion and the Environment ed. Richard C. Foltz (California: Wadsworth, 2008) 436

[13] Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) 54

[14] John Seed and Pat Fleming, “Evolutionary Remembering” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 554

[15] John Seed, “Invocation” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 550


[16] John Seed and Joanna Macy, “Gaia Meditations” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 553


[17] L. Clarke, ”The Universe Alive: Nature in the Masnavi of Jalla-al-Din Rumi1Richard Foltz, ed. Islam and Ecology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003) 41

[18] Gaia Meditations, 552

[19] Gaia Meditations, 552



[20] Bill Devall and George Sessions, “Principles of Deep Ecology” in Worldviews, Religion and the Environment ed. Richard C. Foltz (California: Wadsworth, 2008) 435

[21] Richard C. Foltz, “Islamic Environmentalism: A Matter of Interpretation” in Islam and the Environment, ed. Richard C. Foltz et. al. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) 251


[22] Into the Future, 496


[24] Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) 66


[25] Christian Future, 66

[26] Annemarie Schimmel, The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi (Albany: State University of New York Press: 1993) 77

[27] Triumphal Sun, 89

[28] Annemarie Schimmel, Rumi’s World: the Life and Work of the Great Sufi Poet (Boston: Shambala Publications, 1992), 63

[29]Ibrahim Ozdemir, “Environmental Ethics from a Qur’anic Perspective” in Islam and the Ecology, ed. Richard C. Foltz et. al. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)17-18

[29] Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) 100-101.





[31] David Abrams, “The Ecology of Magic,” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb, (New York: Routledge, 2004) 478.

[32] Ecology of Magic, 478

[33] Ecology of Magic, 478

[34] See Qur’an 3:180, 15:23, 21:89, 28:58, 57:10

[35] Here I use the Yusuf Ali translation because he gave a more succinct and traditional rendering of  “Nahnu-warithun.” See Qur’an: Text, Translation, Commentary, 640

[36] Into the Future, 494-495

[37] Invocation, 550

[38] Although I appreciate Asad’s translating this passage into the present tense to indicate the on-going nature of the ‘Alast covenant, I am using Ali’s more accurate translation.

[39] Into the Future, 492