Dominionism with Imam Islam Mossaad

Dominionism with Imam Islam Mossaad

Imam Islam Mossaad, imam of the largest Muslim congregation in the southwestern US, and a Hafidh of Quran (he has committed the entire Quran to memory), shares his views on the Islamic view of "Dominionism" over Nature.

"Imam Mossaad audio transcription"
Interview by Rev. Dr. Dan De Leon, guest editor
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Rev. Dan 0:01
So I'm here with my friend, Imam Islam Mossad, in Austin, Texas, having a conversation for, and we're going to be talking about Dominionism. But we're going to ease into this just a little bit. And I would love to hear from you, my friend. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, where you're serving, and how long you've been here, just help us get to know you a little bit.

Imam Mossaad 0:28
Thank you. Thank you, Dan. I begin in the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, praises for Him and the peace and blessings be upon all of his prophets and messengers, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus and to their seal, Muhammad. 'Very happy that you made the drive and are here for this interview. A little bit about myself.

Imam Mossaad 0:53
I grew up here in Austin, I was born in Arlington, Virginia. And then my parents came to Austin, Texas when I was two years old. So I'm as close to native as maybe you can get, I mean, to to being an Austinite. You know, people sometimes they say, that question which people can interpret in different ways, but I will answer it, you know, like, where are you really from. But this is definitely home for me. As we were discussing before coming on air, you know, home for me is is where you feel most at ease most of yourself. And you have a spiritual connection to the nature and the people also around you. And so this is home, but my parents did come from Egypt, from Cairo, Egypt back in the 70s, which is maybe a topic for another day -- where the Enlightened Leadership of former presidents to say, let's have open immigration policy and bring people with talents and abilities instead of shutting the door on them. So that was part of you know, the JFK and LBJ immigration, which brought my father here to study at the University of Texas.

Imam Mossaad 2:18
I serve as Imam now at the North Austin Muslim Community Center (NAMCC). So an imam is a person who leads the five daily prayers, does the Friday sermon, which is the main congregational day, but also does counseling and marriage . So there are there is a level of counseling and interaction. But the other dimension to being an imam in the West is a presenting Islam, talking about Islam to people who sometimes either know very little or know 180 degree opposite to what is the actual truth about Islam. And so it's an area of the work which I embrace. You know, right after 911, there was huge demand for people to come and speak about Islam, from people who were experts, and maybe not so much experts. And the Quran was the fastest selling book in all the bookstores. And so even though I decided to go into Imam work in 2003, there was definitely that seed that was planted in me that we needed an American Imam, to kind of step up and be an ambassador, in many ways for the faith and the tradition.

Rev. Dan 3:44
I bought my Quran right after 911 as well. Yeah, that was my first introduction to it. In that respect, then, with being an imam in the West, you say you embrace that piece of the work? How much more though of your work comparatively with other imams not in the West? Does that consume your time? Introducing Islam to people?

Imam Mossaad 4:07
Yeah. It's a highlight. And I want to bring it back. We did have a few years ago here at NAMCC, the North Austin Muslim Community Center. We had an Islam one-on-one course, where [we were] actually meeting regularly for at least 12 weeks, and we had an audience participation. I remember one year, we had almost 100 students that were not Muslim, who wanted to learn about Islam. And so when you talk to other Muslims, they're kind of like, well, we know this and we know that already. And whereas a person who doesn't know anything about Islam, they're like, "Oh, you really believe in Jesus? Oh, we never knew that! Oh, so Allah is like the one God that Abraham was talking about?" So when you see the sparkle in the person's eye when they discover something -- that they saw Islam and Muslims as the boogey man, and then all of a sudden they're seeing, "Well, wait a minute, this is, you know, a Middle Eastern tradition, but it's also a universalized tradition for all people from all over the world."

Rev. Dan 5:10
Connections and epiphanies. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Well, then keeping, keeping that going with educating me more about Islam. I was curious to get into our topic, what's a traditionally Islamic view of the environment? And how do Muslims understand their relationship with the environment? And I'm talking specifically in terms of the theme of "Dominionism." How do Muslims understand their relationship with the environment, in terms of having dominion over the earth?

Imam Mossaad 5:49
Yeah, so we, I would say we start from a very different place in terms of that word dominion, because usually when you use such a strong word, we reserve that only to God, to Allah, that this is his dominion. And so we have to be very careful about taking on... There are certain qualities...

Imam Mossaad 6:09
In Islam, there are 99 names for God, which are also attributes many of them, and the person is tried, tries to inculcate certain qualities of God in themselves without thinking that they are God, of course. So for example, one of the names of Allah is "Ar-Rahman," which means "the Most Merciful." So if I want to be close to God, then I need to show mercy. And the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him himself said that those who show mercy to others will be shown mercy, by God, you know, to them. And so, there are certain names of Majesty and greatness, like many are familiar maybe the older generation al-Jabbar, so Kareem Abdul Jabbar, so al-Jabbar means "the overwhelming the overpowering." So that's the name of God, which we should not try to bring into our character, we should bring humility, not this kind of greatness, into our psyche.

Imam Mossaad 7:13
So I think that the word ["dominion"] itself has a negative connotation in Islam to be attributed to a human being.

Imam Mossaad 7:24
And then the other part where we start is, the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him, his inspiration came through and by being in nature. He was a shepherd in and he would take care of the, the animals in the desert, he would have time for reflection at night, he went out into the cave outside of the city of Mecca, where he could still see the house of God built by Abraham, from but from mountain top, and a cave, away from all the hustle and bustle. And so, I identify a lot with that, that I find a lot of peace, just, you know, even if I'm just sitting in my car where there's a lot of trees, I see the birds, hear the birds. And so it is indeed a great, you know, travesty to imagine a world that doesn't, you know, have that accessible to us or to our children.

Imam Mossaad 8:22
So it would take away from the connection to God Himself.

Imam Mossaad 8:25
Clearly, in Islam, we don't see nature as God, but we do see nature as a sacred sign from God. And we see the beauty of God the same way that if you have an artist and his painting, so when a person says, and they see the painting, "Oh, I can see the artist." I mean, it's not literally, but it's saying in spirit, you know, that I'm seeing the touch there. So it's a direct link back to God. I mean, nature is, and this is why, you know, in some traditions, obviously not in the Islamic tradition, they deify nature, I can understand where that's coming from, as a Muslim.

Imam Mossaad 9:11
And so it's it's this idea of being "having dominion" or "to subdue" some of the vocabulary that's used sometimes and "to dominate." Those are anathema, actually, in Islamic context!! But there is definitely an idea of what some modern day authors are talking about stewardship. The word that's actually used in Arabic is Khalifa. A Khalifa is an agent who is to represent an act in accordance with the will of the one who entrusted that agency to him. So it's not a carte blanche, you know, do whatever you want. It's like you're answerable to God for what you do with the animals in the park. plants and streams. And so there's a lot of this feeling of accountability before God for the nature that we are entrusted with, as opposed to, you know, very extreme form of understanding. You know, the idea of Dominionism is just, I mean, it sounds a little bit graphic, but almost just, you know, raping the earth and pillaging you know, this is way far, I think, from from any person of true spiritual understanding to think that way about the Earth.

Rev. Dan 10:34
And having dominion, then, it can't be separated from Accountability. And it could because what comes to mind for me when you're talking about how, in Islam that Dominionism is almost seen with a negative connotation, Christianity will hear Dominion as, "God gave us dominion." Often, stereotypically, I'm not saying all the time, but very often it's, "God gave us dominion." And it sounds like the the negative connotation that comes with it is I'm hearing you saying it dismisses that it says, actually, you can't have dominion without Accountability. It's not a, "you can have this not do what you will."

Imam Mossaad 11:20
Yeah. I mean, in Islam, there's an inbuilt mechanism and a lot of what we do to be humble and -- appropriate for this discussion, down to earth. The Prophet Muhammad peace upon him, he would, you know, sit on the ground, he would eat with his hands, he had this very simple life. And, you know, he used to lean against a tree when he would give a sermon. And then they built a proper pulpit for him. And then he started preaching from that pulpit. And it was one of the miracles of the Prophet Muhammad, that he and the people present could hear the tree weeping, missing, the prophet of God leaning against it. And so the Prophet Muhammad got down from the new pulpit, went to the tree. And actually, if you read the narration closely, you can interpret it as he like, hugged the tree to comfort it. Now, people will say, "Oh, Mohammed is a tree hugger." So it's the idea of, you know, being close to the Earth, being humble being down to the earth.

Imam Mossaad 12:32
There are stories where, for example, he would see a camel, that was being mistreated. And there would be even an empathy in the eyes between them, that as they look he would feel what the camel is feeling. And so this idea when you say dominion, as opposed to humility, being humble, the Prophet Muhammad himself said, "I was offered by Allah," which is the name and Arabic for the one God, "either to be a king-prophet, or to be a slave-prophet." He said, "I chose to be a slave prophet."

Imam Mossaad 13:08
So, arrogance, in Islam, even in dealing with nature, is a barrier to entering paradise itself. And the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him said that, even if you have an atom's weight of arrogance in your heart, you cannot enter paradise.

Rev. Dan 13:31
Okay? It sounds like with humility, and with being humble, that that can't happen outside of *Relationship*, one has to have relationship in order to embrace those virtues. And if a tree is crying, weeping, then it's for that relationship. And one has to have a relationship with a *Creature*. And so that's what I want to get into a little bit more is this idea of "the environment": trees, every creature within the whole of us, from a Christian perspective, "creation," being being things that we are in relationship with.

Rev. Dan 14:12
So you shared this, this incredible lecture with me that Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr gave, and this was on January 26, of 2009. And so it's a powerful lecture, but at the same time it it makes me shudder a bit because it was over a decade ago. And he's talking about the urgency of this topic that we're getting into. And he's one of the foremost scholars of Islamic, religious and comparative studies in the world, Dr. Nasser, and he gave this lecture in Doha, outlining daily environmental struggles within an elaborate frame of spiritual Islam. And he starts by pointing out that in 1966, he gave a lecture in Chicago where he predicted the environmental crisis that we've been in and are in. And he said, "There's nothing as important in the world as the environmental crisis. In fact," he said, "during this one hour that I will have the pleasure of spending with you, many species will have disappeared from the face of the earth."

Rev. Dan 15:19
So there's some context about this lecture. Something I want to ask you about is where Dr. Nasr says that most Muslims do not realize there is a disconnect between their daily prayers and the way they treat the environment. That cognitive dissonance, right, and his assertion that as he says, the environmental crisis in the Islamic world is based on a blindness to Islamic teachings about nature.

Rev. Dan 15:50
So, what is that disconnect? That he's talking about between Muslims' prayer life and how they treat the environment? And what do you think he means about the environmental crisis being based on Muslims' blindness to their teachings about nature? What what are those teachings to which they're blind?

Imam Mossaad 16:12
So what I think he's speaking to, I mean, he's obviously very brilliant, I think he's speaking to the idea that people may think that Islam is simply a set of rituals, and that if you perform these rituals then you're to borrow a Christian term, "You are saved." You know -- "just do the rituals, do the prayers, and you're fine."

Rev. Dan 16:35
Or like the Christian piety of "just go to church on Sunday, everything's good for the rest of the week. Repeat."

Imam Mossaad 16:41
Yes. :) And so the notion where he's saying, if you're just trying to catch up to the West, and replicating its exploitation of natural resources, whether you want to look at that in a positive or a negative way, depending on who you are, you know, and you just imitate them and say, "Well, we're praying, we're fasting. But we're gonna copy everything in terms of technology and, quote, unquote, Progress" -- that this is not being true to the Islamic tradition, which was based on a more holistic, give and take between human beings and nature.

Imam Mossaad 17:28
For example, the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him, he said, When you slaughter an animal, make sure to treat it well. Make sure the knife is very sharp, as painless as possible. Take that life knowing that you're doing so in the name of God. And this is why, you know, it's another another discussion about, you know, kosher and halal meat. And the idea was, because you're giving a sacredness to that animal that, that you're taking its life. And then he said, Make sure not to waste anything from that animal as well, because that will be a type of ingratitude to God who has, you know, made it so that that animal could be used so, or that animal would be slaughtered, and in the meat, you eat from it, and you give others to eat from it. And you actually see that this animal is helping you in worshiping God that you're taking from its energy, or, you know, its molecules, so to speak, and making them part of your energy now.

Imam Mossaad 18:35
And so I think, you know, that kind of teaching within Islam. You might say, Okay, is it halal meat or not? And my did my do my five prayers are not, as opposed to saying, Let's go deeper, and say, Why? Why is there a concept of making meat sacred for it to be eaten or not? Why?

Imam Mossaad 18:58
When I pray, for example, that I put my face on the earth. Why do we say and I think the Christians also say something similar. When we bury a person, we say, we have created you from it, we return you to it, and we bring you out of it once more. And we call the earth our mother, as well. And is this the right way? I mean, in Islam, the mother is put on a pedestal. The Prophet Muhammad was actually asked, Who should I be closest to in companionship? And then the Prophet answered him, your mother, he said, then who? He said, Your mother said, then who? He said your mother, he said three times. He said, then who he said your father. So what does this tell us? If we're thinking of the Earth as mother, and so much respect is to be given to mother. So when we enter into her womb, again, upon death, we are accountable and answerable.

Imam Mossaad 19:58
And there's a chapter in the Quran about that, that it will speak and testify either for us or against us, depending on what we have done with her.

Imam Mossaad 20:09
So it's that going deeper into the tradition of Islam. And that if you arrive at a different point, then where Western industrialization and technology advancement, which is bringing a lot of good, but also bringing a lot of devastation in many ways, that if you arrive at a different point, that's okay. I mean, we don't have to all conform to, you know, one particular philosophy or theory of how the world is to work.

Imam Mossaad 20:45
And unfortunately, there is this sense that people assume that what's coming from the west, is automatically right or dominant, and this is the way to go. And then, of course, you have some extreme reactions to that and other parts of the world as well. So it's really intricate kind of dilemma, that what can we take from one another, as human beings, as a global citizen, from West or from East, to help our mother and to be respectful of our mother?

Imam Mossaad 21:26
You know, I think one of the things he said is, you don't see a kid in a village just randomly tear a branch off of a tree and for no reason. But in the city, you would see a kid do that. And this is the idea of not feeling connected to the place where you are and feeling grounded and connected to the earth.

Imam Mossaad 21:47
When we are praying and making a prostration, those two elements should come together and not be disconnected.

Rev. Dan 21:55
And what you're saying about Mother Earth to again with the that description, it's not only about the relationship, but I was going to get back to what you said about being born in being born into returning to the womb of Mother Earth. And that's another thing that Dr. Nasr gets to that I was hoping you could elaborate on for me, because he points out that the word environment and one of his translations into Arabic and Persian is, is it Mohit?

Imam Mossaad 22:26

Rev. Dan 22:27
And from the word Hatha, which means to encompass.

Imam Mossaad 22:33

Rev. Dan 22:34
And so that's one of the names of God. Ultimately, God is the environment for a true Muslim, he says, that God is the environment into which we are born, in which we live, in which we function, and in which we die. And that struck me is very powerful, this thought of being born into God, and we die and God.

Rev. Dan 22:59
So, living in the environment that we share, is, I understand what you were saying before about the environment isn't divine, it is sacred, but living in the environment that we share is is living in, I guess, manifestations of God or signs of God, and how do the names for God in the Quran inform your relationship with the environment? If one of those names is "to encompass," and you were talking about the name "Mother Earth," how do the names in the Quran for, for God inform your relationship with the environment?

Imam Mossaad 23:39
Hmm, that's an excellent question. There is a verse of the Quran and we talked about this name one of the most important names already which is "Ar-Rahman," which is the all embracing with mercy. And we talked about womb. So interestingly, in Arabic, the word for womb is a "rahim." And Rahim is connected in the three letter roots to Ar-Rahman. So the "Ar-Ra, ha, meen," for those who are into languages, they will they'll know if they you know a little bit of Hebrew as well they can see the connections between words just through three letter roots. So, the idea, the Prophet Muhammad himself, there's a verse of the Quran said we have sent you nothing but as a Ar-Rahman, as a mercy, compassion, softness. There's a lot of things in the word Rahman, for the Al-Aalameen. So "Al-Aalameen" is an Arabic word which means "for Everything in existence." So not just for human beings, not just for the spirit world, but for animals for plants. Some new age thinkers even extend it to if there is a multiverse that is for all for all, and "Al-Aalameen," is plural of world so it's saying "worlds." So some of the other names, which have to do with benevolence, kindness, there's another powerful word which is, which is Rabb, which people translate as Lord. But Rabb has to do with someone who cultivates and nurtures, like a person who's taking care of a seed that goes into a sapling, and then that God is doing that with us, he's nurturing us like a tree.

Imam Mossaad 25:43
And they're actually a lot of tree analogies, but nurturing us taking care of us, giving us the water, the sunshine, you know, the protection, everything that we need to flourish, that we also should have that cultivating aspect, with, with the world, with ourselves, with our children, with the people around us, as well.

Rev. Dan 26:07
So I can see all these names for God, in how I'm just looking out the window of your office here at these trees. And some of those names for God are exhibited in how these trees are moving with the wind, and all these different names for God can be seen in different examples of, of the environment. And what comes to mind for me from a Christian perspective, is Jesus talking about as surely as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me, from the Gospel of Matthew. And there's, there's a, there's this notion of all of creation, having come through Jesus as well, through one of the creation stories. And just quick side note, there's not just one creation story in the Bible, there's, there's a handful of creation stories in the Bible, one of which is from the Gospel of John, where it begins with in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Everything came into being through him, that being the logos, Christ Jesus. And so looking around at the environment, looking around at creation, we see Christ Himself, and therefore how we treat the environment is getting back to that idea of "as surely as you did it to what you see, you do it to me." And I hear a similarity there in the different names for God being revealed in how the environment carries itself and how the environment expresses itself, how it lives, if we would only see it that way. But we have to see it that way.

Imam Mossaad 27:58
Yeah, yeah, I think one of the names of God is the most beautiful. And so when we see beauty, it should draw us closer to the wonder for the beauty of God Himself. And so the beauty in nature and the patterns and the colors, and as you mentioned, just the the wind blowing through some leaves, and a leaf falling and so on. I mean, it's really, it can take a person to another mystical, mystical plane, if you will.

Imam Mossaad 28:39
One of the things I wanted to feed off of, on your on your comment. How we treat nature, and especially, you know, I think people can relate to is animals, how we treat animals really says a lot about our inner spirituality and our inner self.

Imam Mossaad 29:00
There is a tradition some of your audience may know. It sounds a little severe. But I mean, it's because it's something so important. The Prophet Muhammad peace upon him said there was a woman, she went to hellfire because of a cat. And they said about her, she would pray, fast, do the rituals of the religion. But she had a cat that she caged, she wouldn't feed the cat. She wouldn't allow the cat to go find food for itself. So that cruelty in her heart, it was the true face, not the prayer and the fasting and so on. And so there's a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that God doesn't look at the externalities. He looks at your heart and your deeds. And so because of that she went to the Hellfire because of her cruelty to the cat was the true one. And then the flip side because we have to be optimistic is that there is a, a woman again, in classical societies, you know, they say, Oh, she was a prostitute. So they would see her, okay, she's committing so many sins, she's going against, you know, chastity and so on. They said that she went to Paradise because of a dog. And they said, what's her story? So the Prophet Muhammad to teach them that lesson, he said that she was walking through the desert, and she became very thirsty and came to a well, and she was about to, you know, get some water from that well for herself to drink. But she found a dog panting, unable to get water from the well. So she took her slipper went down into the well, filled it with water, filled her slipper with water, and then held her slipper in her mouth, climbed up the well with the slip in her mouth, and gave the dog to drink even before she drank. So it said, Allah so much appreciated what she had done, because that's her true self coming out, that he forgave all of our sins and enter into paradise.

Imam Mossaad 31:14
And so our relationality you know, that you mentioned this relationality to nature really says a lot about ourselves about either our beauty, or ugliness because we have both potentialities, as human beings, we have a potentiality to corruption, we also have a potentiality, to righteousness as well. And both of them exist. And within the spiritual dimension of Islam, there's a struggle in the heart that is taking place between both of those possibilities, and sometimes they're in the same person, he could be a monster, or be a saint. But we want the saint to come out and, and, and how they treat nature and how they are with nature does say a lot about that person, you know, and I had a person come to my house once, and he was doing some work. And he said, "You know, I can really read a person, you know, when I see how they, you know, deal with a dog..."

Rev. Dan 32:19
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There's a, there's a playful prayer of God, please help me be the person my dog thinks that I am.

Imam Mossaad 32:27
Ha! That's nice.

Rev. Dan 32:28
But another thing that you're talking about with how we treat nature, and the environment says so much about ourselves, it makes me think of the command of loving one another as we love ourselves. And, you know, I, very often, as a pastor will come back to that in pastoral counseling to say, if the extent to which you love yourself is the extent to which you will extend that love to others. So please, don't lose sight of yourself, do practice self love, and don't think that it is selfishness or something pejorative. It's a good thing. And so I'm just thinking about, if we have an apathetic view of ourselves, then that same apathy will be shown to the cat, for example.

Imam Mossaad 33:20

Rev. Dan 33:21
Oh, and I also learned just I didn't want to lose this, that the Prophet Mohammed loved cats?

Imam Mossaad 33:27
Yes, yes.

Rev. Dan 33:30
Maybe that's another reason why that story comes out so prominently! :)

Imam Mossaad 33:33
And, you know, I think there's a saying, or part of a verse of the Quran. It says, "They forgot about God. And so, God made them forget about themselves." And if the vehicle are one of the main vehicles to remembering God is going out into the wilderness and experiencing nature. You know, some authors said this, and I think he was Seyyed Hossein Nasr himself, where you don't find atheistic civilizations are atheistic tendencies and places where it's agrarian and in nature and wilderness that atheism developed in the cities where it's like, yeah, he talks about that. Yeah, it's just like a concrete and buildings. I mean, no offense to the architects, you know, there's some beautiful downtowns.

Imam Mossaad 34:34
But you know, I think, the idea here of if if we injure nature, we injure ourselves.

Imam Mossaad 34:47
I mean, we are nature nature is us.

Imam Mossaad 34:50
Yes, there is a mystical dimension that we believe in as human beings or as Muslims that human beings have, which is the rule which is the spirit But again, we have the same DNA, not just a fellow human beings, but the same molecules that are making up even the plants themselves and even bacteria themselves.

Imam Mossaad 35:15
So a very powerful feeling to have, if a person gets to that point in their mind and in their spirit is to feel communion, not just with your fellow human being. But even with the blades of grass, with the, you know, the molecules in the air, and this oneness with everything.

Imam Mossaad 35:42
Again, we see God as close. But it's really complicated when you start talking about mystical areas of the religion of Islam, because words can lead to confusion sometimes. But I think what I would advise myself and those listening is, you know, go out into nature, maybe it's been a while and go to a stream, go to a lake, you know, and just watch the ripples, you know, and, and just enjoy that whole feeling that you're getting of closeness to God. You know, as opposed to people think, Oh, your a person studying science, then automatically, it takes you away from God. And that you maybe you will develop an atheistic philosophy. But for me, you know, when I would sit in UT, and watch, you know, video about developmental biology and see the developing fetus and see how it goes from one cell to two cells, and then go and go and keep on going. I mean, it blew me away!

Imam Mossaad 36:56
And, you know, this sounds kind of weird, but tears would come into my eyes, sometimes in organic chemistry class, you know. So I think that's what nature does is it connects us to God, and we don't want to lose that.

Rev. Dan 37:08
It's how you see. So let's let's, let's talk a little bit about Anthropocentrism. This idea of taking it that that everything doesn't revolve around humankind, that we're a part of that. And that we would be, as you just said, move to tears at the overwhelming beauty of relationship.

Rev. Dan 37:27
So, Nasr talks about how in Islam, there's a creative process carried out by this absolute being, who is pure intelligence, pure love, pure care, all the names that we associate with God. And this means that every creature has a relationship with God, independent of us, he says, us being humankind. So every creature has its own rights every creature has its, it has its do, he says, Every creature has, what he says is every creature has its face turned toward God, independent of us.

Rev. Dan 38:04
So what does this spiritual mandate about every creature having its own rights independent of humankind teach Muslims about how they're supposed to relate to the environment, and how they're supposed to treat it? We we've kind of been talking about this a good deal to this point. But the Quran says that God placed nature where it is for us to use it. But for us to use it wisely in such a way as not to destroy it. And I think that Nasr talks about that, but it seems to go deeper than that, when we talk about this idea of every creature within nature existing independent of us.

Imam Mossaad 38:52
Yes, yes. So yeah, I mean, it's, it's not all about us. It's all about God in the end. I mean, yes, there is the sensuality of experience that we experienced through ourselves. But I think the idea here that's really profound is that without us, God would still be but without him, we would not be and so, when we talk about nature, I mean, there was before human beings were created, creatures, including, we believe, you know, celestial beings, angels and beings created a fire which are Jinn. Which Jinn incidentally, have a capacity for moral choice like human beings, this what makes the two related to one another. The humans created from clay and water, the jinn created from fire. So to know that these are already worlds around us, that are existing even before our existence, and we are kind of like the new kid on the block. So why do we come with such arrogance into this world? And with these words like dominate and subdue, and so on, I think the other thing with regards to nature and that idea is the fact that they are answerable as human beings as jinn to God --

Imam Mossaad 40:37
But you have all of this other creation, which is just living according to God's plan, without resistance.

Imam Mossaad 40:46
The sun never says, "I'm not going to rise today or I'm not gonna set today," but it's actually the human being. That yes, it is something bizarre about the human being, he can be, you know, worse than an animal, or better than an angel, and that's what the Quran talks about, as I mean, the distinguishing factor about a human being is he has to have what's called the "Amana," which is the trust.

Imam Mossaad 41:19
And the heavens and the earth, and everything in the mountains say, "We have nothing to do, we don't want to have anything to do with this trust from God upon us." But the human being carried that trust. And, unfortunately, many human beings don't even realize that they have this trust upon them, and this expectation from God upon them. And they can do great evil and great harm, because of the lack of feeling of accountability to the one who has entrusted us, that is God himself.

Rev. Dan 42:00
I wanted to ask you about Islamic law, Sharia law, and the priorities that are placed on it when when looking at the environment. So what we prioritize in our teachings, is yet another reflection of what's inside like we've been talking about. So according to Sharia law, as I understand it, it is forbidden to kill trees even during war.

Imam Mossaad 42:30

Rev. Dan 42:32
And Dr. Nasser actually talked about that were killing trees during wars along the same lines as being forbidden as in don't harm women and children. And also, according to Sharia law, you must keep water pure.

Rev. Dan 42:48
It's against Islamic law to pollute running water, which my mind, of course, went immediately to Flint, Michigan, right? It's against Islamic law to own water as a source for a whole society.

Rev. Dan 43:03
So there's obvious points in here about commodifying land and water being against, as I hear that against Islamic law. And this, I wanted to ask you about this, because what came to mind for me in thinking about Sharia law, and just those few examples that I shared, is the idea of cherry picking.

Rev. Dan 43:26
Christians often call it when it comes to our holy texts, and looking at the Bible, and cherry picking the pieces of it that work for us, and ignoring the ones that don't, or worse yet, weaponizing, manipulating the texts that work for us against others or to help us in ways that Lord ourselves over others... I'm saying too much. But I wanted to give you an example of what I'm getting at.

Rev. Dan 43:55
When it comes to Leviticus, the holiness codes, and, for example, it's widely known about Leviticus 18:22, where Christians will will say well, that some Christians will say, "Well, that is proof that homosexuality is wrong, because it talks about a man should not live with a man." And I would argue that that's not what it's talking about. But that's beside the point.

Rev. Dan 44:28
Leviticus 19:33 talks about you shall treat the foreigner on your land, the alien in your land, as one of your own and take care of them. And why is one given attention to the detriment of the other and then there's also, of course, other scriptures in the same book about don't eat shellfish, don't mix fabrics, etc. So some are prioritized, some are not, and I'm curious if the same kind of ethic, or lack thereof, is applied to Sharia law do Muslims actually abide by those laws with equity? Just curious about that.

Imam Mossaad 45:19
Yeah, that's a really deep question. And a longer conversation, no doubt, there is an idea of coming to Revelation, neutrally, and not trying to read our opinions into the text.

Imam Mossaad 45:41
The example that's given is, have the Quran in front of you, leading you, not behind you that you're leading it.

Imam Mossaad 45:56
So we definitely have to be careful, I mean, the scholars -- they did break down the priorities of the Sharia or the divine code or Divine Law -- say, "what is the end point of it all," as opposed to individual rules and regulations. Said number one is to protect religion itself. So that there is value in religion, even though people see a lot of negative aspects about organized religion and so on. But there is a deep value in religion to protect life.

Imam Mossaad 46:35
And not just human life, but all life to protect even you know, it's there, it's in the principles to protect also property. You know, as well, that there is a level of sacredness, if something belongs to one person, that another person doesn't forcefully take it from them, but we should not be attached to that which we have, we should be giving it freely and willingly. But then also safeguarding honor, as well as the the next generation.

Imam Mossaad 47:12
So stepping back and trying to see how do these laws fit in with the purpose and the reasoning behind it? Muslims are at various levels of practice and understanding. I think the average Muslim, including myself, would say, "I'm not really following everything, the way that it needs to be followed, and to the level needs to be followed. But I do value it, that if it is to be implemented, that this would be the right way to live." You know, I'm not there yet. But that's how I think many Muslims, including myself, would see that, "Okay, I'm not there yet, but I need to work to get to that to that level."

Imam Mossaad 47:58
And we are not pure, but we should be purifying. So we're purifying ourselves as much as we can, to reach as much purity as we can. But at the same time, there's a saying of the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him, that he said that if human beings committed no sins, and were were sinless and so pure, he said he would replace them and create ones who would commit sins so that he can forgive them. Because one of the names for for that name to be relevant, and one of these names is "The Most Forgiving," so what relevance is forgiveness then?

Imam Mossaad 48:44
You know, so I think yes, Muslims are different levels, people can read the text and interpret it to suit their particular agenda. But an honest and true believer comes naturally to the text and says, "Let me look at allllll of the revelation on this particular topic. Look at all the context, even pray on it, and seek the guidance from God." And then act on that even if it goes against something that they were inclined to before that whole exercise.

Rev. Dan 49:20
And it sounds to me like what I would say is it's about how you read so when it comes to the examples that I just shared about you shall not.... (I'm using Judeo Christian language just then WITH YOU SHALL NOT...) but, you don't harm a tree, you don't pollute the water, you don't own water. And as you were saying, you don't put yourself before the Quran, you let it lead you and so rather than trying to memorize the law and have it be Something that you do correctly or better than somebody else, you ask first, the question is what I'm hearing in some of what you're saying, you ask first the question "Well, what will happen to the tree if I don't do right by it? What will happen to the water if I, if I were to allow for it to be polluted? Or if I did own it?" So it's not about how I should behave ethically, for my own betterment. It's about how I can live in right relationship with the pieces of the environment, and as I would call it from a Christian perspective, the whole of creation, that are about reconciliation and belonging and, right relationship.

Imam Mossaad 50:53
Yeah, I think Islam meets means "submission," and also means "attaining peace through submission." So we are included in that, as human beings. So we submit along with the trees, the birds, the animals, the whole universe, the galaxies, they are in submission, they are Muslim. Meaning they're, you might say, "What do you mean, they're Muslim?", meaning that they're in submission, we also join them in submission to God. And so I think it's important not to lose sight of that. And, you know, understand, yes, we are unique, because we can choose to obey or disobey the divine pattern, or to align with a divine pattern or not.

Imam Mossaad 51:43
But the risk that we're taking is if we don't align with a divine pattern, we're going against all of creation. And we're risking, that all of creation can be cursing us, instead of thanking God for us.

Imam Mossaad 51:56
We say this human being, you know, look, you know, it's straying so far away from the divine purpose and plan. But that's why God is also forgiving, he gives us a chance to repair, to learn, learn better, and I think we are getting there as human beings, when it comes to the environment, especially the next generation. You know, I think that that's something promising there, it will take a lot of effort, a lot of work.

Imam Mossaad 52:31
And also, as you mentioned, just changing the mindset of how we see the world, how we see ourselves in the world. And, especially with a religion like Islam, where you have the second largest religion in the world, you know, without trying to make a debate about it, but it's a religion that's taken very seriously by its, you know, practitioners -- how much they're practicing or not, you know, maybe varying, but they take it very seriously. That if they get a message that is genuinely from within the tradition of Islam, that they need to be environmentally conscious, that they need to have preservation of natural resources, they will see oh, this is being a good Muslim is also conserving and preserving nature and so on.

Rev. Dan 53:28
Okay. So shifting to where we go from here, then, then the hope for the future is a change in perspective, a Metanoia, a change of how we see, and that we teach our children that same kind of change, that same kind of perspective, that same different way of seeing things. So, Dr. Nasr says that "for the Muslim, no revival can come without the revival of the Islamic view of the environment." And so what is the ideal view of the environment for Muslims? What is Muslims view of Dominionism, of having dominion over the earth, and does that view need to change?

Imam Mossaad 54:22
I think it's more of responsibility and fellowship.

Imam Mossaad 54:28
I know fellowship is a Christian term, but fellowship with nature.

Imam Mossaad 54:32
I mean, it's, it's give and take, you know, and this is the true way of being at peace, and living at peace as you are. I know when we talk about brotherhood and that kind of thing, we're thinking about human beings, but feeling a closeness to the environment that we're in feeling identification with the environment, that we are in Whether it is a tree, or whether it is a mountain, I mean, the Prophet Muhammad peace upon him, there's a mountain outside of his city in Medina. He said, "This is a mountain that we love, and that loves us." :)

Imam Mossaad 55:19
And so that's, I think, a very Islamic feeling about nature is there's a, there's a give and take. And there's real depths of emotion. He's not just, he said, "We love this mountain, and this mountain loves us." And so I think that that would be a very different world, if we had that mindset, when it comes to resources and the environment and the growing list of endangered species. And, you know, these are our brothers. In a different level. I know language is sometimes confusing, but you know, these are, these are also we are responsible for them.

Rev. Dan 55:59
But language is everything looking at plankton as my neighbor, as a Christian would say,

Imam Mossaad 56:07

Rev. Dan 56:07
instead of just something that I can't see. And so it doesn't matter.

Imam Mossaad 56:13
Yeah, yeah.

Rev. Dan 56:14
Yeah. Okay. Well, I wanted to wrap up by getting personal for just a second. And ask you, you know, as a Muslim as and imam, has the way that you see the environment and how you relate to the environment changed over time? And I know, that's kind of an abstract question. So are there any particular behaviors that you and your family do that reflect that view that has perhaps changed?

Imam Mossaad 56:47
Yeah, I think, early on, I mean, some of my strongest spiritual experiences had to do with just looking at the stars, I'm sure many of the listeners have similar kind of feeling, just, you know, all night, just looking at the stars. And then, you know, you get this really deep feeling that is beyond expression with words of closeness and nearness to God, but also, oneness with creation, that you're, been observing. I think one thing that has changed the idea of science being the end all and be all...

Imam Mossaad 57:33
I have a chemical engineering degree from the University of Texas here. So, learning the laws of nature to take advantage of nature, as opposed to using using it responsibly and also giving it its due right as well. I think that for me, personally, I still love science and it's mind blowing some of what we've discovered, but not seeing that as the end ideal or the end absolute kind of axiomatic good -- that, okay, as long as we are progressing in the scientific arena this means we're on the right path, you know. Not necessarily. I mean, it's, I'm not against scientific progress by any means. But I think just embracing it blindly, wherever it takes us. Unfortunately, we've seen how science, you know, wiped out whole city, you know, in the blink of an eye, so we have to be very careful. So I think that's something that has changed, within me philosophically, is that having a love for science doesn't mean a blind following, or submission to science, because after all, I have to submit to God to Allah, not to something other than that. And so, you know, in terms of just practical day to day activities, and so on, I always teach my children, my two daughters, you know, don't disturb the animals don't disturb the plants, you know, leave them be, you know, they're not doing anything to you don't don't do anything to them. And I think that's a key thing to just keep on letting people feel that they have rights, just like you have rights. And they are "um hum," they are nations, the way that human beings are nations. And so, you know, giving that due respect. That is there.

Rev. Dan 59:46
Thank you. Imam Islam Massaad talk talking with us about "dominionism" and our relationship to the environment. Thank you so much for your time.

Imam Mossaad 59:57
Thank you. Thank you, Dan. All right. Enjoyed it.



Thanks for listening.
This podcast and transcription are part of's Spring 2022 series, "Dominionism: Exploring religious relationships with other life." Visit: Content produced and edited by Chris Searles / BioIntegrity.

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