Islamic View of Nature
The Islamic view of nature during the Golden Age was for mankind ‘to study nature in order to discover God and to use nature for the benefit of mankind’. Nature could be used to provide food for mankind and its bounty was to be equally distributed among all peoples. All activities that caused harm to mankind and in turn destroyed nature were forbidden. Destruction of the natural balance was discouraged, for example, unnecessary killing of animals or removal of vegetation might in turn lead to starvation due to lack of food. This view was an extension of the idea that ‘man’ had been placed on earth as God’s representative.
The Islamic view of nature during the Golden Age had its roots in the Quran, the very word of God and the basis of Islam. Muslim scholars at that time were inspired to study nature in the context of the Quran. The following passages from the Quran illustrate the relationship between nature and man and how this relationship inspired Muslim scholars to study natural phenomenon, in order to understand God. The following verses also show the way the Quran presents the whole universe:
We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, merely in (idle) sport. We created them not except for just ends: But most of them do not understand, (Surah Al-Baqara 44: 38-39, (Pickthall, 1977)).
Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; (here) indeed are signs for a people that are wise, (Surah Ad-Dukham 2: 164, (Pickthall, 1977)).
Thus it was concluded that God created the world and placed man in it as trustee, to benefit from it, to use it wisely and to understand his purpose in the universe. Iqbal has emphasised this point eloquently as follows:
It is the lot of man to share in the deeper aspirations of the universe around him and to shape his own destiny as well as that of the universe, now by putting the whole of his energy to mould its forces to his own ends and purposes. And in this process of progressive change of God becomes a co-worker with him, provided man takes the initiative:
‘Verily God will not change the condition of men, till they change what is in themselves (13:11).’ (Iqbal, 1986, p.10)
Thus mankind was inspired to study, understand and mould the natural forces for its own purposes. The point to note is the general empirical attitude of the Quran which engendered in its followers a feeling of reverence and thus made them founders of an enlightened society (Iqbal, 1986).