US Muslim Scholar Supports Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical

US Muslim Scholar Supports Pope Francis' Climate Change Encyclical

Invoking the image of Earth as an orchestra harmoniously offering a symphony of praise to our Creator, an eminent Muslim Scholar adds his voice to the melody of our day, singing in tune with the eminent Catholic Pope Francis.

Offering his voice in support of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Joseph E. B. Lumbard, assistant professor of classical Islam at Brandeis University, notes, “to take root in humanity any sustainable ecological worldview must incorporate and address the teachings that much of humanity seeks to follow. As Pope Francis observes, the solutions cannot come from science and technology alone.”

Not merely a proponent of cross-cultural understanding, Dr. Lumbard is an inspiring product of this desirable quality of interfaith tolerance fostered in the United States as a direct result of most Americans’ cherished value for freedom of religious expression. As a youth, Lumbard served as an altar boy in the Episcopal church where he grew up in Washington, D.C.

Losing interest in Christianity during his teens, it wasn’t until Lumbard’s sophomore year at George Washington University that he once again connected with his Creator. Introduced to Islam, Lumbard reported, “I realized that everything that I had been searching for within Christianity was also available within Islam…and that I would be following the message of Jesus just as fully within the Islamic tradition.”

Guided by a Love of Islam

Completing his B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies at George Washington University, Joseph Lumbard continued steadily in his appreciation of Islam, becoming Muslim a year and a half after his first introduction. Guided by his love of Islam, Dr. Lumbard went on to complete his M.Phil and Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at Yale University.

Following his heart upon completing his Western training, Dr. Lumbard ventured East, studying Quran, Hadith, Sufism, and Islamic philosophy in Morocco, Yemen, Iran, and Egypt. Prior to returning to the U.S., he held the position of Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the American University in Cairo.

Participating in interfaith dialogues, lecturing in academic arenas around the world, Dr. Joseph Lumbard has appeared on several radio and television programs, and is the founder and first director of the Islamic Research Institute. He is the author of several works on comparative mysticism, Sufism, and Islamic philosophy, and is General Editor for The Study Quran (HarperOne, Fall 2015).

“Decade Zero For Addressing Climate Change”

Viewing Laudato Si (“Praised Be”), Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, as “an important opportunity to expand the conversation regarding the relationship between religion and the environment,” Dr. Lumbard recently added a strong Muslim voice of support. Writing an article in the Huffington Post, Dr. Joseph E. B. Lumbard pointed out, “Many scientists maintain that we have reached ‘decade zero’ for addressing climate change.”

Dr. Joseph Lumbard continued, “We thus have no choice but to mine the riches of all the world’s traditions to create new paradigms and new solutions to environmental degradation. As the encyclical states, ‘We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all.'”

The Importance of Christian–Muslim Relations

As reported in the latest population study by the Pew Research Center, Muslim birthrates are now rising more quickly than that of Christians. The study notes that over 60% of the world’s population will be Muslim or Christian by 2050. 31.4% will be followers of Christianity, and 29.7% will be followers of Islam, according to the estimated figures reported in the Pew study. Noting these figures, Dr. Lumbard points out that the Muslim and Christian populations thus have “no choice but to come together to work for the common cause of humanity in confronting this unprecedented challenge.”

With our complementary respect for our Abrahamic traditions, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have a strong scriptural foundation for our view as responsible stewards of the Earth. But, as Dr. Lumbard gently points out, “the place of human beings is not to subdue the earth. It is to hear the patterns already established within nature and live in harmony with them, had we but eyes to see and ears to hear.”

Reminding us that “this responsibility is both an honor and a trial,” Lumbard noted the following revelation from the Holy Quran:

God it is Who appointed you stewards upon the earth and raised some of you by degrees above others, that He may try you in that which He has given you. [Quran 6:165]

“From this perspective,” explains Dr. Lumbard, “being stewards of nature is about our responsibility toward God, not our dominion over creation. Neither the Bible nor the Quran has any place for what Pope Francis calls ‘a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.'”

The Muslim’s “Harmonious View of Nature”

Providing a unique resource for encouraging “a new ecological paradigm,” Dr. Lumbard recommends the Muslim’s “harmonious view of nature” as revealed by God in the Holy Quran:

whatsoever is in the heavens and on the earth glorifies God [Quran 59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1].

the stars and the trees prostrate [Quran 55:6].

the thunder hymns His praise [Quran 13:13].

unto God prostrates whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the beasts [Quran 22:18].

there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is Clement, Forgiving [Quran 17:44].

Holy Criticism and Solutions in the Quran

Like removing a section from the Earth’s orchestra, Dr. Lumbard decries the loss of species and the destruction of pristine environments due to human atrocities. Our failings as stewards do not go unnoticed in the Eyes of God, and in fact our failings are fully noted in the Quran, as Dr. Lumbard offered these proofs:

when he turns away [from God’s signs], he endeavors to work corruption upon the earth, and to destroy tillage and offspring [Quran 2:205].

they have hearts with which they understand not; they have eyes with which they see not; and they have ears with which they hear not [Quran 7:179].

Offering not only criticism, however, our Creator also mercifully offers solutions to His stewards, repeated often throughout very many chapters and verses of the Holy Quran. The Muslim view of nature is to be all-encompassing, as wide as the whole universe, as long as the whole course of Time, as deep as the profound significance of our first child’s birth. Everything in life carries equal significance, each “thing” is carrying a message, singing a glorious tune, proclaiming a holy revelation, if we would just open our ears, our eyes, our hearts, and open our minds to what God is offering:

signs for a people who hear [Quran 10:67; 16:65; 30:23].

signs for a people who reflect [Quran 13:3; 30:21].

signs for a people who understand [Quran 2:164; 13:4; 16:12, 67; 30:24; 45:5].

Quran: Walk Not Exultantly Upon The Earth

As every Muslim understands from our yearly reading of the entire Quran in the Holy month of Ramadan, humans will be held accountable for our success and failures as stewards. Dr. Lumbard reminds us through his enlightened message and in his compelling way, that we must all strive to improve our roles as stewards. As reported in Muslim hadith, he reminds us that the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, once said:

“The world is a green and pleasant thing. God has made you stewards of it, and looks at how you behave.” [Prophet Muhammad]

Looking around us at the current state of environmental degradation and extent of negative impact due to global warming, Dr. Lumbard notes, “one cannot but conclude that contemporary humanity has failed this test. The world and our children can no longer afford the cost of our failures.” In closing, Dr. Joseph E. B. Lumbard adds that it is thus “time that people of all faiths unite and in the words of Martin Luther King, ‘rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.'”

Our Creator God offers this clear guidance for our future, applicable not only to the Muslim, but to every one of us, in a simple revelation penned ages ago in the Holy Quran:

walk not exultantly upon the earth
[Quran 17:63]

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.