Environmentalism in Islam

NOVEMBER 12, 2012
by Maggie Johnson ’14, Contributing Writer

What does Islam have to do with environmentalism? In a talk given Thursday in Patrick Lecture Hall, Eleanor Finnegan gave a presentation connecting these seemingly separate concepts.

Finnegan, a professor of religion at Coastal Carolina University, received a Masters in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University and a PhD in Religion from the University of Florida. She is the author of several works concerning religion and ecology including What Traditions are Represented in Religion and Ecology: A Perspective from an American Scholar of Islam and Case Study: Images of Land among Islamic Farmers in the U.S.

In her presentation, co-sponsored by the Shi Sustainability Series and the World Religions Symposium, Finnegan drew upon her study of several Muslim American farming communities to illustrate the connection between Islam and environmental issues.

“Muslims have complicated relationships between their religious beliefs and concerns for the environment,” she says. “These Muslims have found different interpretations of Islam while working the land.”

In her lecture, Finnegan concentrated on the concept within Islam known as Tawhid, the oneness of God as seen in the unity of all living things. According to Finnegan, Tawhid is what many Muslims draw upon in connecting their faith and their focus on environmental issues and, for Finnegan, is also a way to get more Muslims, a quarter of the world’s  religious population, on board with addressing the many environmental challenges faced by our world today.

Finnegan also addressed the conflicting ideas between Western and Islamic notions of environmental conservation and protection.

“The Western idea of environmental conservation is to leave nature alone completely,” she says, addressing the prominent role of national parks and nature preserves in Western efforts to protect their wildernesses…For Muslims, you must use the resources you are given if you are to appreciate and work to preserve them.”

Finnegan concluded by saying that, in spite of these different approaches to addressing environmental issues on the part of Muslims and non-Muslims, it is concern for the environment that truly unites people across social and religious spheres.

“Agricultural practices and social concerns have become a place where people can come together,” she says.