Sacred cosmology of Persian Muslim miniatures (Attar's Conference of the Birds)

Sacred cosmology of Persian Muslim miniatures (Attar’s Conference of the Birds) from Wikipedia

It’s not all that uncommon these days to hear of a “sacred ecology”,
one that moves us from a language of “dominion” over Earth to stewardship.

Yet even language like “Mother Earth” fails to give us a full sense
of the indigenous resources that are already present within our religious traditions.

The ancient Zoroastrian tradition had a rich legacy of conceiving of the Earth
not as a “thing” to be walked upon and exploited,
but very much as a living being, an angel,
a being connected to our own being.

The Islamic tradition speaks of the natural phenomenon as an “aya”,
indeed a revelation of God, a theophany.

From that perspective, a cloud, a stream, a tree, a butterfly
is as much a Divine revelation as a verse of scripture is.

The scholar and spiritual teacher Pir Zia Inayat Khan has written a beautiful essay in which he traces the relevance of this doctrine for various religious traditions ranging from Islam to Hindu teachings.

Earth as manifestation of God

Earth as manifestation of God from Pir Zia's website

You can read the full article here.

He states of a sacred cosmology which:

envisions a universe that is intensely alive and inherently sacred. All existence is the effusion, in pulsing waves, of the holy of holies, the Light of Lights. Transpiring in every clod, puddle, flaming wick, and fluttering breeze is an angelic presence, a sentient and radiant delegate of the cosmic order.

Inayat-Khan ends his profound meditation with these hauntingly beautiful words:

Further, the texts make clear the error of imaging human life as hovering autonomously above the natural world. Mystical contemplation of the human form conduces to the realization that the body is profoundly embedded within the wholeness of nature, a totality that each human physically and spiritually personifies. The Indo-Persian prophetic traditions agree: the Earth is alive, we live in and through her, and as we are in her keeping, so is she in ours.

So here we are, left with a realization that our own being is intrinsically bound up with the Earth’s.

And here is the harrowing question that this leaves us with:  if the Earth is truly alive, and if we live in and through her, can the Earth die?

Could our own greed and avarice ultimate lead to the murder of her?

And if our being and the Earth’s being are ultimately intimately tied up together, would the death of the Earth result in anything but our own demise?

Looked upon in this light, the environmental crisis and the spiritual crisis of humanity become seen as one ultimate and urgent crisis.

To save our only home is to also save our own lives, our own spirits.




Categories: Beliefs, Culture, Ethics, Institutions, Politics

Omid Safi

Omid Safi

Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He leads educational tours to Turkey every summer, through Illuminated Tours:

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.