Muslim Environmentalisms claims that the environment is an ethical idea. It is about environmental ethics; it is not a book of normative environmental ethics. It dialectically theorizes the environment while it analyzes related Muslim commitments. The specific and empirical branches of Islamic knowledge, as well as real people and situations, that are discussed in the book indicate how Quranic justice represents consequential relations. These vary with respect to registers and horizons of accountable environmental scale that are both horizontal (hablun min al-nas) and vertical (hablun min Allah). The implications of this go beyond Islam and Muslims. For example, Elizabeth Hennessy in her essay sees the connections of these registers to her own award-winning and field-based study of the tortoises of the Galápagos Islands, within the cutting-edge field of multispecies justice.
Teachings about relationality currently lead today’s conversations in Anglophone environmental ethics, including some about networks that draw their metaphors from biological systems like lichens and bacteria. Unlike the fuzzy ethics of “staying with” or “muddling through” “the trouble,” Quranic environmental relations resemble Indigenous and traditional ecological knowledges insofar as they are morally consequential. As Muslim theologians worked out long ago, these terms must be clear, even within the rigorous parameters of ambiguity, in order to ensure the possibility of real justice. Every human action would therefore carry in the present an assessment or evaluation as a measure (hisab) taken against a final horizon of consequence, as the Quran itself states. This understanding clarifies why we say that Islamic law is Islamic ethics, irrespective of social enforcement.
Across fields of Muslim knowledge practice, some deeply grounded in Aristotelian and Quranic tradition, a logic of consequence prevails, such as with the inferences of science and the deductions of jurisprudence that figure prominently in public reasonings for contemporary Islamic environmental law. Such consequences scale justice as environmental ethics across domains, as they extend relations in terms of both cause and effect. As a moral language for this, Muslim environmentalists cite the Quran’s repeated exhortations about degradation and corruption (fasad) and oppression (dhulm), which are commonly contextually linked to the word for the “Earth” (al-ard) within the text. Enhancing this are horizons of consequence and relation that are scaled beyond this human world, such as with unseen and inanimate creatures (makhluq) as well as future generations.
These scales of justice model a way to move conversations forward across environmental ethics. Scale here is meant both with respect to measurement and to the symbolism of Quranic “balance” (mizan), as well as the sense of orders of magnitude in ontological, epistemological, and ecological respects. Justice here is commensurate with the ethical assessments of political ecology, popularly represented in Islamic contexts by following the Quran’s own statements to “stand up for justice,” and its repeated calls to aid the weak and marginalized. However, this also differs from environmental justice (EJ) and environmental ethics as we discuss them as Anglophone ethics, as it slips through gaps of inconsequentiality.
Two fundamental ways that environmental studies in the white-settler tradition measures its ethics are fragmented. These domains are affect and law, respectively. They are sometimes conflated in environmental studies by the post-Christian nature-concept. However, as Hennessy writes, “the relationship between nature and morality . . .in which nature scripts a particular moral order [is] dangerous territory given . . . racist histories.” In addition, more than one canonical work in the field, like Christopher Stone writing on environmental law, seeks a moral language by lapsing into a literature review on love. These modes come up short on the scale needed to apprehend environmental consequence at the present and future scales of ecological ontology.
Nevertheless, there is a continual turn to affect as the solution to environmental problems, from Carson to Leopold (as wonder, concern, care, consciousness, awareness, and that Victorian sentiment now commonly grafted onto environmental futures, hope). The material that James Bourk Hoesterey and Elizabeth Hennessy take note of from the book is also about emotion. Hennessy picked up on a hadith that is commonly cited in work on Islam and environment, about the tree that wept for the Prophet Muhammad. Hoesterey also mentions the point on rahmah (mercy) that I heard emphasized in teaching in Indonesia, also based on a hadith, but which I had not previously encountered in English-language literature.
Muslim Environmentalisms shows an environmentalist discourse of affect to be subsumed under notions of Divine Judgment. That the teaching about the mercy of God is as much legal and ethical as it is heart-softening is the key point of the videorecorded interview that is presented at some length in the book. The sentiment itself is judged, in collective and personal terms, and these, too, are consequential relations against the scales of ultimate Justice. It is exactly the everyday soteriological connection to Judgment Day that was also said to energize environmental activism and redouble ethical commitment, not the reverse.
That the Quranic eschatological scenario of ultimate judgment, or justice, models a horizon of ultimate consequences for the present is a way to apprehend how law and ethics are the same. In Anglophone systems, in contrast, environmental jurisprudence has largely been truncated from a philosophy of justice, except through Enlightenment universals that would lack consequential scale beyond the apparently pragmatic. The labor of making the connection needed to correlate environmental law with notions of ecological and sustainable ethics is a contemporary nexus that, like sentiment, represents an internal crux of Anglophone environmental ethics.
The relationship of law and ethics is a narrative fundamental to environmental studies. The standard presentation of Anglophone environmental ethics (e.g., Nash in Rights of Nature, or this popular textbook) repeatedly recounts that what mattered to white European men as rights was extended to include, environmentally: white women, nonwhite persons, nonhuman sentience (usually animals), and nonsentience. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic (as love of community extended to land) occupies an important place in this extensionist trajectory. The fundamental ethical registers that feature in these accounts are: (1) values (potentially monetized); (2) rights (as in, to property); (3) and, personhood (as in, becoming recognized for human-like standing). These all rely in turn upon managing neoliberal state and legal mechanisms.
Environmental justice (EJ) struggles to manipulate these registers, even while critique is clear for every one of these categories with respect to nature as well as the environment. For example, political ecology now struggles to apprehend the existential load of the planetary for the twenty-first century, while Marxism has run into critical theoretical “shoaling.” Criticism of misplaced colonial universalism in environmental humanities/inhumanities with respect to Man and “the human,” along with imaginaries like world religions that implicate Islam, is also now decisive. New work in critical Black studies that engages environmental sciences, like that of Yusoff’s A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None and Jackson’s Becoming Human, offers conclusive critique of environmental sciences like geology and public health in these modes, just as accounts of the colonial histories of global Islam have also done in areas like medicine. Increasing identification of EJ with international law, including through the United Nations, also now tempers its US-centrisms. Challenges to EJ, such as Kyle Whyte’s writing on Indigenous collective continuance, present the need for ontological extensions of the horizons of relations, and consequences onto a new ethical scale.
James Hoesterey asks about corruption, about the failure of normative principles. The reckoning implied by Hoesterey’s questions opens up the thorny issue of whether ethics could become a new academic language of disciplinary assessment. However, even when I offer criticism along the lines of standard development critique in the book, I steer clear of value judgments that might cast an unintended sense of authenticity upon any one kind of environmentalism over another.
I think, however, that Hoesterey is really asking about hypocrisy, invoking corruption (Qur. fasad) as one language of compromise or contradiction. He mentions recent books in anthropology like his own highly esteemed work on a charismatic preacher (and coincidentally, the leader of an eco-pesantren mentioned in the book). Anthropology’s discovery of religious (not philosophical) and comparative (not Christian) ethics as a new territory to claim came not completely unrelated to the announcement in the 1990s of the “anthropology of Islam,” itself a branch of secularism studies. Does the case Hoesterey mentions represent a version, then, of Durkheim’s old “sincerity problem” in moral sentiment? This question in turn leads into the murky moral grounding of theory of religion in affect, without accounting for scales of consequential relations.
It also represents the Indonesia of today. Hoesterey knows that themes of contrition and corruption remain overwhelmingly popular in the decades now after the fall of former President Suharto, called reformasi. Public and political performances of personal practices of repentance have been widespread in Indonesia since the 1990s. Under the social conditions Hoesterey describes, no one is really surprised by the corrupt public figure, only possibly by their disgrace. When the skies fill with transboundary smoke, everyone knows where the fires have been set to burn.
To answer Hoesterey’s question means looking at how social and Quranic scales of environmental ethics balance corruption. Hoesterey here has hit on the critique of the approach to “Islam and environment” that would extract only helpful, uplifting teachings, affording at best just a decontextualized and hope-filled imaginary of the “greening of religion.” In the Quran’s landscape, Hell (The Fire) is present just as much as is Heaven (The Garden) as an inevitable environment of future consequence. Such descriptions account for about a fifth of the Book’s content overall. The Quran’s Speech may even be harsher on the dissimulating “hypocrites” (munafiqun) than the “unbelievers” (mushrikun, kafirun) in this consequential context of life defined as being a “test.”
Today, corruption is also at the root of the rationale for having contemporary Islamic environmental law at all, as considered in this videotaped interview representing the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Council of Religious Scholars). As discussed in the book and also here, here is the answer that would be given to the question, why should there be any appeal made to religion at all, when there is already plenty of good environmental law in the books? Unlike a fatwa (a nonbinding legal opinion), secular state statutes do carry actual civil and criminal enforcement. And, to address the very corruption of these nonreligious systems is the answer I heard. When secular and non-Muslim environmental agencies circulate the same messages, they imply that conventional EJ does not have sufficient moral force to persuade. In doing so, these secular NGOs are scaling up beyond the Anthropocene to attain consequential worlds beyond, or at least, they project this scale onto non-Christian others as their aspiration.
The current ethical conversation in environmental humanities hangs on apprehending consequences, including crisis on a scale of species extinction (our own and others’), climate disaster, and intergenerational responsibility. Although environmental humanities would not accept the nonverifiable religious claims of a Quranic system (not even the academic study of religion would do that), and it should not on its own terms, nevertheless, it attempts to match scale in its order of ethical apprehensions of environmental futures.
What is a reasonable, decolonial way to deal with the end of the world as a scale of environmental justice? Environmental ethics in the white-settler tradition of the United States and elsewhere is only now catching up to what has already long been known among members of Indigenous communities and persons of color in North America. In A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Yusoff writes that “the world has to end” to move forward, for example. Indigenous environmental philosophy of this hemisphere, as with Danowski and de Castro or Kyle Whyte when considering traditional ecological knowledges, suggests that in respect to Indigenous lifeways, the world ended a long time ago in more than just the sense of true stories of cosmological prophecy. At the same time, the environmental crisis imagined as apocalypse also functions as a real, mythic and metaphoric language for a white world’s transformation on its own scale. Muslims attest that there are even more consequential and relational worlds to come with respect to immanent scales of justice. These, too, represent the most imminent of urgent, environmental frames.