The Quranic philosophy of nature urges man to not live in the world as the conqueror of things but to live with plants, animals and all other forms of life with love, respect and magnanimity
Wherever we come across a reflective passage in the Holy Quran, Allah is either asking us to think and ponder on the world of phenomenon or simply asking us to look within ourselves, so that we may try to understand the meanings, secrets and the secret of all the secrets lying hidden in all these things. Most of the Makkan chapters of the Quran are reflective in nature and so there are references to nature and exhortations regarding using all the faculties that man is blessed with: thinking, seeing, listening and reflecting on all the data that man day in and day out receives through his different senses.
There are many chapters of the Quran which have titles after the names of animals or insects or different other objects from the world of nature: “The Cow”, “The Ant”, “The Elephant”, “The Sun”, “The Cattle”, “The Lightning”, “The Honey Bee”, “The Cave”, “The Light”, “The Star”, “The Iron”, “The Night”, etc. Then there hundreds of ayats which reflect on nature and the evidence that natures provides, or the hints and suggestions that it as a whole gives about the Creator, the patterns of balance, symmetry and harmony that are in the world’s structure, latently or manifestly.
As the Quran calls its own words and sentences ayats (signs), it uses the same word, ayat, for the different objects of nature also; therefore, it could be established that the way Allah asks us to read and think about the ayats of the Quran, He is asking to read and think about the signs that lie in natural objects in this world. The objects of nature are not only witnesses of Allah’s presence, they are also signs of His power, omniscience, nature of creation, and His control over every living and non-living thing in the universe; and above all, His continuous and constant showers of mercy.
While nature is controlled and possessed by man for the satisfaction of his material greed, nature, according to the Quran, is to be used not as an object of worship and for mere possession and materialist greed; rather, it is supposed to be appreciated as something that may cause the elevation of human soul through the understanding that Allah has not created these patterns of life in nature and its diversity without a purpose. When the Quran asks man to look at the sky and think about its mysteries, there is a challenge for the intellect of man, who otherwise is lost in the satisfaction of his own egoistic fantasies. Nature acts as a witness of Allah’s presence. Nature also offers thousands of such lessons for man which, once recognised, make him a humble servant of the Lord, who has created all these mighty and small things.
While it is an undisputed fact about the Quran that all of its discourses revolve round the theme of the construction of the “Perfect Man” (al-Insan ul Kamil), the Quran, however, has given such a representation to things other than man that it compels man to think that to Allah, all forms of life are sacred and this sanctity is to be appreciated, respected, and loved by man. This can be done by following and appreciating the principles of balance, equilibrium and symmetry which Allah emphasises on throughout the Quran, with reference to social, economic, political, material and spiritual life of man.
Ibn Arabi, one of the greatest Sufi philosophers and exegetes of the Quran, is of the opinion that nothing other than Allah exists as far as the truth and reality of life is concerned. What the Sheikh clearly points out is that all the different forms of life and non-life in the universe are transitory and subject to death; therefore, any claim of “Being” and “Existence” in this context is false and meaningless. The guiding principle in this regard is the Quranic ayat “kullu mann alaiha faann wa yabqa wajhu rabbika zuljalali wal ikram” which means “Everything that is found in the world is subject to decay and your Majesty Lord alone is everlasting”. However, the Quranic text, through its principles of balance and equilibrium, asserts that man would join the journey for seeking some amount of perfection through the elevation of his consciousness and soul, which is not possible if he does not seek to restrain the wild and unruly tendencies that his desires provoke.
Although man is at the highest ladder in the chain of being, hence the title ashraf ul makhluqat, what, however, the Quranic philosophy of nature urges man is to not live in the world as the conqueror of life but to live with plants, animals and all other forms of life with love, respect and magnanimity. Had it not been so, the Quran would not have been asking man again and again to maintain balance and equilibrium on the earth and not to cause anarchy, lawlessness and disequilibrium on the same.
As pointed out earlier, the words and sentences of the Quran are ayats (signs) unto themselves. The Quranic text unambiguously addresses the different objects of nature as ayats (signs), something which leads us to think that nature as whole is also the Quran, in which there are ayats for those who have the capability of seeing, listening, thinking and understanding, as Allama Iqbal would have it in a couplet: “Khuda agar tujhay dilay fitrat shnnas day; Sukut e gul o lala say kalam paida kar”; which, in other words, means that as one thinks and ponders on the ayats of the Quran for arriving at different conclusions about truth and reality, one similarly is bound to think and ponder on life as a whole so that one may understand the signs that different forms of life reflect manifestly or latently.
While there are more than five-hundred ayats which call for thinking and pondering on the signs that nature has, one such ayat, however, sums up the whole Quranic discussion on the subject. Almighty Allah says in the Quran: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day; and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man; and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had, been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon; and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth; [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason.”
The reading of this ayat has the pairs of earth and sky and day and night, which are enough to include and summon all that exists as the creation of Allah in the universe; then, it also talks about oceans, land and air, which again is a way to actually pointedly address all those objects of nature which exist on the earth, in the sea waters or in the air, thereby representing all the forms of life and non-life in the universe. What is important is Allah saying that there are signs, messages and hints for those people who make the use of reason. The moment we understand the essential kernel meaning of the Quranic ayat of this tribe, we actually start understanding the sacredness of life that Allah has assigned to all the different forms of creation, hence the status of sign. As this goes without saying that no single created thing in the universe deserves to be worshipped as the Creator alone deserves such a status, what, however, man is duty bound to do, according to the Quran, is to treat nature as a whole with love, care, magnanimity and respect, without being arrogant as is the attitude of conquerors among human beings.
It is true that Allah has created different forms of life for the mutual benefit among all of His creations, which shows us how mutually interdependent humans, animals and plants are on this planet. It also means that if any one species in the chain of being acts as a conqueror and demolishes the scope of existence for other creations, it would actually amount to axing one’s own feet, as there would be total absence of balance and equilibrium on the earth, hence lifelessness for all. The presence of diversity and variety of different forms of life in itself is suggestive of a pattern of mutual benefit and circular relationship among all the forms of life; hence, mutual respect, avoidance of lust for power and greed, and harmonious relationship. While benefitting each other with due respect to proportion and without being greedy and addictive to sense of possession, man, as ashraf ul makhluqat, is supposed to be the custodian of love, care, magnanimity and justice for all the forms of life. As everything is full of benefit in material terms for man, what, however, the Quran asks man is to open his eyes, mind and think about the benefits that nature has for him in terms of spiritual benefits and elevation of soul.
Concluding, in our world today when technology has pervaded all the spheres of life and nature is being conquered by man, as if it does not matter at all, the Quranic ayats about nature and nature’s sacredness may act as a balm to our fractured, disoriented and fragmented souls. The reading of such ayats acts as a reminder that man is not alone under the sun; he is, rather, dependent on others and all of us are dependent on God for everything. The moment this happens, every single breath in man will express gratitude to the Creator for every single thing; humility in the use of everything will be our culture and returning to Allah with a clean and satisfied soul will be the only wish that we can cherish in our hearts. The Quranic approach to nature is to demolish the idols of powers in one’s eyes and heart, so that nature acts a mirror for the heart and eyes of man, thereby allowing the living stream in the heart to flow in tune with the divine showers from the sky. And in response comes this cry from the heart of man: “subhanaka ma arafnaka ka haqi marifataki; subhanaka ma abadnaka ka haqi ibadatika; subhanaka ma zakarnaka ka haqi zikrika; subhanaka ma shakarnaka ka haqi shukrika.”