Islamic Environmental Ethics and the Challenge of Anthropocentrism

Lynn White’s seminal article on the historical roots of the ecological crisis, which inspired radical environmentalism, has cast suspicion upon religion as the source of modern anthropocentrism. To pave the way for a viable Islamic environmental ethics, charges of anthropocentrism need to be faced and rebutted. Therefore, the bulk of this paper will seek to establish the non- anthropocentric credentials of Islamic thought. Islam rejects all forms of anthropocentrism by insisting upon a transcendent God who is utterly unlike His creation. Humans share the attribute of being God’s creations with all other beings, which makes them internally related to every other being, indeed to every single entity in this universe. This solves the problem that radical environmentalism has failed to solve, namely, how to define our relation with nature and other beings without dissolving our specificity. Furthermore, Islamic ethics structures human relations strictly around the idea of limiting desires. The resulting ethico-legal synthesis, made workable by a pragmatic legal framework, can sustain a justifiable use of nature and its resources without exploiting them. The exploitation of nature is inherently linked to the exploitation of one’s self and of fellow human beings. Such exploitation, according to Qur’anic wisdom, is the direct result of ignoring the divine law and the ethics of dealing with self and “other.” Only by reverting to the divine law and ethics can exploitation be overcome. The paper ends by briefly considering possible objections and challenges vis-à-vis developing a philosophically viable yet religiously oriented environmental ethics.
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