Advancing theological and scientific literacy for today’s ʿulamāʾ
4.5.5 Muslim Poetics of Nature
Entitled “Islam and the Density of Man,” the poem outlined the Islamic metaphysical view of nature and of humanity as it concerns the human condition today. Through the poem and commentary, several key points were addressed, namely the nature of cosmogenesis, the sacredness of nature, the earth as a place of prayer and prostration, the human role as God’s vicegerent on earth, and humanity’s breaking its covenant with the Divine and its consequent mistreatment of nature. (Harvard Divinity School, 2015).
In this 2015 lecture at the Harvard Divinity School, Mohammed Rustom, Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University, presents and discusses a poem illuminating the relationship between human and creation in Islamic metaphysics. The guiding questions address the first 45 minutes, which correspond to Dr. Rustom’s presentation, but you are welcome to watch the question and answer portion of the lecture if you so choose. We suggest you read Harvard Divinity School’s short summary of the lecture, linked below, as well.
Islam and the Density of Man
by Mohammed Rustom
(Shared with permission: Link to PDF)
Pen inscribed upon Tablet, and nature was realized.
Behold the symbol, pointing to the Symbolized.
Nature is manifestation, the Absolute its Principle—
fleeting phenomena arising from a realm invincible.
Its garment is woven of geometry and music sublime.
Yin and yang unite, meaning and form combine.
The world is a mosque, its rugs laid out for prostration.
Every creature hymns His praise in constant adoration.
Through the seasons witness life’s cycle in every breath.
First is birth, then youth, then maturity, then death.
Now nature has become obscure, like its custodian,
blind to the signs on the horizons, and deep within.
The book of nature is he given in trust.
But he casts it aside, covering it in dust.
Devouring nature with fervour and intensity,
he becomes sluggish, trapped by his own density.
Alas! If man lives his days, content to consume,
how will he the divine qualities assume?
As for God’s vicegerent, with soul subtle and pure,
he emerges from this quagmire, heralding the cure.
Looking upon nature with crystal clarity,
he dissolves both sides of a false polarity.
Since subject and object, I and thou are but illusion,
he rends the veil of forms, escaping all confusion.
Yet in the mirror of forms he sees beauty divine,
for it reflects that Face beyond all space and time.
That Face is his Face, through intimate with-ness.
Is God not of all things the supreme Witness?
According to the presenter, what two faces of God are reflected in nature?
How does Professor Rustom argue that nature is sacred? What scriptural and poetic evidence does he use?
How does “someone whose soul who is firmly rooted in the act of remembering God” interact with nature, according to the presenter?
How does the presenter characterize the custodianship (or viceregency) given to man over nature? What sources does he use? Does he argue that Muslims have abused the “subservience” of nature?
How can people begin to rectify their relationship with nature? Where are the “signs” people need to read?
What does it mean that the subject-object dichotomy is an illusion? In other words, what is the “with-ness” or “union” Rustom describes between the human, nature, and God? How will these “knowers” “who see through God” behave towards nature?
Prior to taking this course, had you ever considered environmental crises as specifically Muslim, rather than just human, problems?
The Madrasa Discourses project proposes that a conciliation of traditional Islamic thought with contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews can result in orthodox affirmations of human dignity essential for peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world.