As part of Laudato Si’ week, celebrating the eighth anniversary of the launch of Pope Francis’ encyclical, the Laudato Si’ Research Institute (LSRI) hosted a book launch and discussion in Westminster Cathedral Hall on 23rd May 2023.
Written by Farhana Mayer, Praise Be to God, Lord of the Worlds: An Introduction to Qur’anic Ecology and Resonances with Laudato Si’ examines the resonances of Pope Francis’ encyclical with the Qur’an.
According to the LSRI website, the book ‘demonstrates significant common ground on perceptions of the natural world as a precious part of God’s creation, the interrelatedness of all creation, the understanding of humankind as the being in whom earth and spirit are conjoined, the need for divine guidance, and others.’
It also ‘dwells especially on the most beautiful names of God – the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Lord-Nurturer, the Kind, the Nourisher, the Guide – and on ethical and ecological principles for human action that can be derived from these.’
Following the presentation of the book, Bishop John Sherrington offered a response, looking at a number of resonances between the Christian and Muslim responses to the care of creation. ‘At the centre of our enterprise is praise of God in which the whole creation joins,’ he said.
He showed appreciation for the author’s ‘rich insight into the themes of praise, creation and the names of God, stewardship and mercy, the critique of technology and greed, moderation and virtues, and intergenerational solidarity, which all demand further reflection.’
Fr Damian Howard, Jesuit Provincial, who has lectured on Christian-Muslim relations and participated in Christian-Muslim dialogues at the Holy See, described Ms Mayer’s approach as a ‘close listening’ to the encyclical, demonstrating ‘incredible sensitivity’. He called the book ‘a gesture of hospitality and bridge-building between Catholicism and Islam’.
Other participants in the panel included Rabiah Mali, a community organiser with Green Deen, Hajj Fazlun Khalid of the Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science, and Colette Joyce, Justice and Peace Coordinator for the diocese. This broad base, reflected in the make-up of the audience, demonstrates a commitment to interreligious dialogue, which as Bishop Sherrington explained, is vital ‘at a time when we are summoned to care ever more urgently for creation and the human family’.
The book can be downloaded here.
The full text of Bishop Sherrington’s response:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the presentation. I thank Farhana Mayer for her scholarly and insightful work. As I listened to her presentation, I was pleased to hear the resonances with my own response. The launch of this work, as we celebrate the eighth anniversary of Laudato Si’, is timely and responds to the Pope’s call for ‘a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet,’ and ‘a conversation which includes everyone’ (LS 14).
The opening verses of the Qur’an, St Francis’ Canticle and the encyclical sing praise of God the Almighty. This song resounds in the title of the book, Praise to God, Lord of the Worlds (Q. 1:2). At the centre of our common enterprise is praise of God in which the whole of creation joins.
Farhana writes, ‘Islam has a rich literary and spiritual resonance focussed on Islamic divine designations known as “the most beautiful names of God”.’ This leads to reflection on ‘the natural world as a revelation of God’, ‘that nature too is a book of divine signs…As leading commentators note, creation is an expression of the divine names and qualities’, for example, ‘All-Gracious’, ‘the Merciful’, ‘the Equitable’. God manifests his care through his grace and brings forth fruits for the benefit of humanity. I welcome more reflection on the ‘most beautiful names of God’ and their relation to God’s handiwork and his blessings, which I found very inspiring.
Central to this work is the theme of theological anthropology, ‘There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology.’ (LS 118). Farhana develops this theme from the Qur’anic perspective that God has endowed the human being with something of his own spirit, ‘potentially even something of his own character or nature (fitrat Allah Q. 15:29 and 38:72)’. This dignity is reflected in LS 65, ‘The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, ‘who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons’ (LS 65).
‘The concept of tawhid (unity) conveys the Islamic perspective of creation as a unified combination of innumerable multiple elements, all created and held together by God in a divinely ordered balance’. This has a parallel with the integral ecology and interconnectedness at the heart of the encyclical. ‘The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.’ (LS 233). Here we find, I believe, the first reference in a papal encyclical (footnote 159) to a Muslim poet and mystic, the ninth century Sufi spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas who stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.
In the reflection on LS, in reference to ‘the gaze of Jesus’ there are links made between the Face of God and I quote, ‘Muslims who think of how all creation is an existential sign of God’s presence through His qualities and action.’ I would be interested to hear further how Muslims understand Jesus in this way.
A common theme is the critique of technology. Pope Francis refers to the technocratic mentality which manipulates nature, dominates economics and politics, and drives ‘unlimited growth’. Such an attitude destroys the fragile relationships between human persons and creation and leads to a loss of moderation and the ‘human use of nature accelerated into pure plunder’ (Cf LS 82, & Chapter 3). The Qur’an recognises such an abusive use of power in ‘associating partners with God (shirk – the sin of idolatry or polytheism)’. In Q 30:41, ‘Corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea of what the hand of people have acquired [i.e. what people have done]; [this has been allowed by God] so that He makes them taste what they have done, that they might return [to doing what is good].’
Overcoming this attitude of dominance of nature leads to the themes of conversion and stewardship which maintain a proper balance between nature and human action. In Islam, the benchmark for human behaviour comes from the divine characteristics. The concept of khalifah (successor, viceregent, deputy, lieutenant’) has strong connotations with the good stewardship (Q 6:165), which is central to Laudato Si’. Part of this stewardship relates to property and its use. Here we see parallels between the Catholic understanding of the universal destination of human goods and the limits to private property and the Qur’anic principle of wealth distribution that wealth should not be circulated only among the rich (LS 93) but is for God (i.e. for use of the good of all) and for the prophet, and for relatives and orphans, and the poor and the homeless.’ Q. 59:7 The good steward is merciful like God reaching out to the poor. This echoes the call of LS 49 to ‘hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’
The Qur’an presents a rich understanding of mizan (balance or equilibrium) which demands one to ‘act with moderation at all times’. The antithesis of moderation, israf (excessiveness) and takathur (the desire to accumulate more and more) are strongly criticised in Q: 102. This resonates with the virtues of justice and temperance which are the key hinges for ecological conversion in LS, ‘Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment…’ (LS 222)
Qur’anic ethics considers intergenerational solidarity and responsibility (Q 17:23-24) and the care of the elderly. This resonates with LS 159 which widens the solidarity across the generations. ‘Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.…The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next’.
In summary, Farhana has provided rich insight into the themes of praise, creation and the names of God, stewardship and mercy, the critique of technology and greed, moderation and virtues, and intergenerational solidarity which all demand further reflection. This book is a vital resource for interreligious dialogue at a time when we are summoned to care ever more urgently for creation and the human family. Thank you.