The Incorporation of Religion into Sustainability

October 29, 2018

by: Christopher Ahrens

ahrens blog post

A hydrogeological map of the aquifer structure around the city of Mecca.
Picture credit to Muhammad Amin M. Sharaf

Recent efforts to incorporate religious imperatives into the realm of sustainability discourse has often been seen as a recent phenomenon manifesting out of fears of climate change and increasing popular awareness, but this narrative fails to understand the long-running interplay that various belief systems have had with the environment. In the case of Islam, this interplay is both significant and yet obscured by an expansive timeline and the methodological difficulties which come from the need to investigate a topic with few texts and even fewer archaeological indicators. To delve into this issue, as was my goal upon working with the Committee on Sustainability, I decided to formulate a unique means by which to enter into debate on the topic which applied aspects of Structural Anthropology, Textualism, and environmental modelling to form cogent historical claims.
What resulted from this mode of investigation are some interesting conclusions. Broadly, when one comes to the understanding that most supposed areas from which Islam could have originated, it becomes evident that the formation of conservationist sentiments regarding natural resources came not from immediate directives founded in primary sources, but rather from legal extrapolations made sometimes centuries later. In a continued attempt at testing the outer limits of the methodology that informed my claim as to the origin of Islamic environmental thought, I then continued the study by providing a perspective on the continued advancement of the concept through its interaction with texts. It is here that I advance the claim that the three major dimensions by which a modern understanding of environmental-religious praxis (Biocentrism, Anthropocentrism, and Theocentrism) is had is clearly reflected in Islam through the works of Al-Jahiz, Ibn Khaldun, and Ibn Hanbal.
Overall, I aim to pursue the popularization of a new mode of thought that transcends the boundaries of Islam or environmental history. In recent times, I feel that the extremes of Orientalist literary scholarship and historical skepticism have provided little framework for a continued study into pertinent religious topics. I find my project with the Committee on Sustainability to be my first step in contributing to the reduction of this divide, and the provision of another way forward.

Sharaf, Muhammad M. “Hydrogeology and Hydrochemistry of the Aquifer System of Wadi An Numan, Makkah Al Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.” AQUA Mundi, 2011.

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