Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Prince Charles lectures on Islam and Environment

Prince Charles lectures on
Islam and Environment

Dr. Mozammel Haque

“It (Islam) very explicitly describes Nature as possessing an “intelligibility” and that there is no separation between Man and Nature, precisely because there is no separation between the natural world and God,” said Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, while he was lecturing on the subject – Islam and the environment to an estimated audience of 1,000 scholars at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OXCIS), on Wednesday, the 9th of June, 2010, at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. The audience included the Lord Mayor of Oxford, John Goddard, Muslim community leaders, scholars of Islamic Studies, and students, academicians and ambassadors.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Shaykh Abdullah Bin Baiah, Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef and Prince Mohammad, bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom also attended the lecture.
The Prince was invited as Patron of Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to help celebrate the centre’s 25th anniversary. The Prince has been patron of the Centre since 1993. Speaking about his visit, His Royal Highness paid tribute to the role of faith communities in the UK and praised the work done by OXCIS, in particular the Young Muslim leadership programme. Prince Charles said: This is a vital contribution to the process of boosting the self-esteem of young Muslims – about whom I care deeply.”

Opening his speech, The Prince of Wales reaffirmed the need to help UK’s minority communities and faith groups integrate into British Society and to build good relationships between all faith communities.. The Prince has spent more than 25 years working on encouraging UK minority communities to integrate into British society and to build good relationships between all faith communities. His Royal Highness said: “Over the last twenty-five years, I have tried to find as many ways as possible to help integrate them into British society and to build good relationships between our faith communities. I happen to believe this is best achieved by emphasizing unity through diversity. Only in this way can we ensure fairness and build mutual respect in our country. And if we get it right here then perhaps we might be able to offer an example in the wider world.”

The theme for his lecture was to mark the Centre’s 25th anniversary, merged religion with his other favourite subject – the environment. The focus of his speech – Islam and the Environment - brought together two important strands of his work over three decades.

Addressing the audience, The Prince in his high-profile speech, spoke about the importance for us all to realise the damage which Mankind is doing to the environment and take steps to halt it, before it is too late. One of the many issues of commonality between the World’s great faiths is a strong focus on protection of the environment – God’s creation.

The Prince encouraged the people of faith around the World to reconnect with their sacred teachings on this issue. His Royal Highness said that there was a current division between Man and Nature which was not only caused by industrialisation, technological development and the pursuit of economic growth, but also by attitudes to the relationship with Nature. He said that a way of thinking had evolved over the last few centuries that he believed went against the grain of all the teachings of the world’s sacred traditions, including Islam. He said that all great faiths are rooted in an understanding of the fact that Man is a part of Nature, not apart from Nature, and must always live within Nature’s means and limits.

The Prince said, “When we hear talk of an environmental crisis or even of a financial crisis, I would suggest that this is actually describing the outward consequences of a deeper, inner crisis of the soul.”

“It is a crisis in our relationship with, and perception of nature, and is born of Western culture being dominated for at least 200 years by a mechanistic and reductionist approach to our scientific understanding of the world around us,” The Prince said.

“I would like you to consider very seriously today whether a big part of the solution to all of our worldwide “crises” does not lie simply in more and better technology, but in the recovery of the soul to the mainstream of our thinking. Our science and technology cannot do this. Only sacred traditions have the capacity to help this happen,” The Prince added.

The Prince said, “In general, we live within a culture that does not believe very much in the soul anymore – or if it does, won’t admit to it publicly for fear of being thought old fashioned, out of step with “modern imperatives” or “anti-scientific.” The empirical view of the world, which measures it and tests it, has become the only view to believe.”

The Prince told the audience the West could learn from the Islamic approach to nature. He said, “The Islamic world is the custodian of one of the greatest treasures of accumulated wisdom and spiritual knowledge available to humanity.”

The Prince of Wales argued that man’s destruction of the world was particularly contrary to Islam. He spoke about the great importance and respect the Islamic faith attaches to the preservation of the environment. He said: “From what I know of the Qur'an, again and again it describes the natural world as the handiwork of a unitary benevolent power.”

“It very explicitly describes Nature as possessing an “intelligibility” and that there is no separation between Man and Nature, precisely because there is no separation between the natural world and God,” he said.

“It offers a completely integrated view of the Universe where religion and science, mind and matter are all part of one living, conscious whole,” The Prince said and added, “We are, therefore, finite beings contained by an infinitude, and each of us is a microcosm of the whole.
This suggests to me that Nature is a knowing partner, never a mindless slave to humanity, and we are Her tenants; God's guests for all too short a time.”

The Prince said, “If I may quote the Qur’an, “Have you considered: if your water were to disappear into the Earth, who then could bring you gushing water?” This is the Divine hospitality that offers us our provisions and our dwelling places, our clothing, tools and transport. The Earth is robust and prolific, but also delicate, subtle, complex and diverse and so our mark must always be gentle – or the water will disappear, as it is doing in places like the Punjab in India.”

The Prince said, “The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason – and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us.”

“Islam has always taught this and to ignore that lesson is to default on our contract with Creation,” he said.

The Prince also mentioned, “As Islam clearly understands, it is actually impossible to divorce human beings from Nature’s patterns and processes. The Qur’an is considered to be the “last Revelation” but it clearly acknowledges which book is the first. That book is the great book of creation, of Nature herself, which has been taken too much for granted in our modern world and needs to be restored to its original position.”

The Prince said that modern ideology that had dominated Western thinking for so long, may view tradition and traditional wisdom of the kind seen in the teachings of the great faiths of the world, as ‘backward looking’. However, His Royal Highness said that he felt that traditional wisdom can blend with modern needs, making tradition not backward looking, but visionary.

The Prince of Wales said, “The Modernist ideology that has dominated the Western outlook for a century implies that “tradition” is backward looking. What I have tried to explain today is that this is far from true. Tradition is the accumulation of the knowledge and wisdom that we should be offering to the next generation. It is, therefore, visionary – it looks forward.”

Prince Charles also said: “Turning to the traditional teachings, like those found in Islam that define our relationship with the natural world, does not mean locking us into some sort of cultural and technological immobility. As the English writer G.K. Chesterton put it, “real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them as a root.” I would also remind you of the words of Oxford’s very own C.S. Lewis, who pointed out that “sometimes you do have to turn the clock back if it is telling the wrong time” – that there is nothing “progressive” about being stubborn and refusing to acknowledge that we have taken the wrong road.”

“If we realize that we are travelling in the wrong direction, the only sensible thing to do is to admit it and retrace our steps back to where we first went wrong. As Lewis put it, “going back can sometimes be the quickest way forward.” It is the most progressive thing we could do,” he said.

The Prince also said: “All of the mounting evidence is telling us that we are, indeed, on the wrong road, so you might think it would be wise to draw on the timeless guidance that comes from our intuitive sense of the origin of all things to which we are rooted. Nature's rhythms, her cycles and her processes, are our guides to this uncreated, originating voice. They are our greatest teachers because they are expressions of Divine Unity.”

Ending his speech, The Prince said: “There is a profound truth in that seemingly simple, old saying of the nomads – that “the best of all Mosques is Nature herself”.”

The Vice-Chancellor of the Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton, gave the vote of thanks. He said, “It has been an immense pleasure to welcome you back to the University of Oxford to lecture on this subject.”

“This is a university of many nationalities, particularly in its teaching and research staff, and postgraduate students, and also one of great international reach.”

Earlier, the Prince was given a tour of the Centre’s new premises in Marston Road, which are currently under development, by its founder director, Dr. Farhan Nizami. The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is a recognised independent centre of Oxford University. Established in 1985, it encourages a better understanding of the culture and civilization of Islam and of contemporary Muslim societies. Although independent, the centre is linked to Oxford University.

Seventeen years ago, the Prince gave a speech entitled Islam and the West to the Centre. Since then, world figures including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Sonia Gandhi have given lectures.


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