Sociological Analysis

One must be confused by the degree of disharmony between the foundation of environmental concern in Islam and the reality of the level of pollution and environmental degradation in Muslim countries. The obvious question is to inquire why the practice in these countries is clearly contradictory to the Islamic norm. Today, there is no difference between a city in an Islamic community and any other concerning the level of environmental pollution and or approach to conservation of biological diversity. Istanbul is reputed as one of the most polluted cities in the world, with its drinking water, air and sea  [1] . This part of our study is devoted to explaining this disagreement between theory and practice. 

Several plausible explanations can be made regarding this disagreement which is seen not only in Turkey but also in every contemporary Muslim Community. The first and the dominant reason for this status quo stated by Ahmed is “the gradual secularization and prevalence of authoritarian regimes that alienate the masses in Muslim countries from their religious and cultural roots  [2] . These effects of modern philosophies and thoughts will be contemplated in the following chapter.

Another reason for this status quo is cultural religiosity which is causing us to ignore not only the environmental ethics of Islam but also the main ethical principles and basic tenets of the faith. Muslims need to make self-criticisms regarding this point. There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a reli­gious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the per­son exceptional and eccentric. I mean not an ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether one is Buddhist, Chris­tian or Muslim. His religion has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, deter­mined to fixed forms by imitation and retained by habit. It would provide us to study this second-hand reli­gious life  [3] . This worldwide phenomenon is being experienced deeply in modern Turkey. The Quran is more a venerated book than a read. While most Muslims do obeisance to the Prophet Muhammad, a number of them try to understand his sayings and teachings. Considering this fact, some scholars claim that Muslim converts are more sensitive than born Muslims regarding this point  [4] .

One of the hypotheses which have tried to examine in my master's study was that Turkish Muslims do not see environmental problems as an important issue. The responses we got in this research were very spectacular for our study. Environmental problems have been seen as a less important problem for Turkey among the problems of political instability, terror, education and unemployment. These results reminded me of " The Lesson of the Boiled Frog " which is stated by Peter M. Senge. A frog placed in boiling water will jump out, but placed in cool water that slowly heats to boiling, it will boil to death. This is because the frog’s internal mechanism is equipped for the immediate. [6] Unfortunately, the Turkish people’s position is not much different than this frog. We can say that we lost our mechanism to see the slowly changing dynamics that truly impact the maintenance of our life. We must see “the big picture". I want to raise another question regarding this point. This is what reasons could be effective in covering the importance of environmental problems. What is the social basis of this present condition?

In order to explain this question, we must understand Turkey’s situation nowadays. According to my findings, the educational problems were the most important problem in the mind of our participants. National and international indicators also show that there is a big inadequacy in education in Turkey as compared to other countries  [7] . The problems in technology and science education will obstruct creative and critical thinking and positive attitudes towards nature. This significant problem affects the young students’ structure of thinking perspective and perceptions of nature in a wrong way. In short, there is a lack of employees working in institutions: schools are not sufficiently qualified for a new system of education.

Unemployment has been seen as the second important problem according to the participants. Particularly our sampling group consisted of MA and PhD students and they were heavily impacted by such a problem. It seems that this condition influenced their choice in our questionnaire.  Terror was seen as a third problem by the respondents which has increased its activities nowadays. Political instability was seen as a fourth problem. Turkey is struggling against its own gladio [8] and the court will start at the end of October (2008). The eyes and attention have been turned on this case. All these continuing events affect the attitudes of Turkish people and lead them to behave like a frog waiting for his approaching and unavoidable end. Because of these events, TBMM [9] delayed the acceptance of the Kyoto [10] protocol which bears crucial importance of reducing greenhouse gases in an effort to prevent anthropogenic climate change.

Maslow’s theory may explain the attitudes of this frog. Maslow has set up a hierarchy of five levels of basic needs. In the levels of the five basic needs, the person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied, nor the third until the second has been satisfied, and so forth. Maslow's basic needs are as follows: Physiological Needs which consist of needs for food, oxygen, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest necessities because if a person was deprived of all needs, the physiological needs would come first in the person's search for satisfaction. When all physiological necessities are satisfied and are no longer ruling thoughts and behaviours, the necessities for security can become active. When the necessities for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of necessities for love, affection and belongingness can appear. When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the necessities for esteem can become dominant. These involve necessities for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a necessity for a stable high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these necessities are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these necessities are discouraged, the person feels weak, inferior, helpless and worthless. When all of the foregoing necessities are satisfied, only then are the necessities for self-actualization activated. If a person is unsafe, hungry, not loved or accepted, or lacks self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. According to his theory, concern for environmental quality is some­thing of luxury which can be indulged only after more basic material necessities are met which we mention above briefly. Beyond these necessities, higher levels of necessities exist. These include needs for understanding, esthetic appreciation and purely spiritual and religious needs. [11] If we consider problems that Turkish Muslim face nowadays, it can be said that they cannot satisfy even their physiological needs such as oxygen, food, and water. The air is polluted; food prices are increasing day by day and most cities have a shortage of drinking water. Most of the capitals such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara cannot provide adequate water. Municipalities are regularly stopping the distribution of water and people should pay for drinking water because of water contamination. Safety needs are mentioned as secondary needs by Maslow. Turkey has also safety problems since it was established. Terror has continued to kill lots of citizens over the years. Health problems are still continuing and lots of people have to wait in line for treatment for several years. Because of the problem of unemployment most Turkish citizens cannot gain self-esteem. Struggling with such problems Turkish people cannot pay attention to their spiritual or religious needs and accordingly rituals and practices of their beliefs.

Morrison et al. present a related argument, using the concept of relative deprivation. They argue that members of the lower class typically have experienced only poor physical conditions, and thus are less aware that they live, work, and play in polluted, overcrowded conditions. Conversely, the middle and upper classes are more likely to have experienced pleasant work, residential, and recreational envi­ronments, and therefore are more concerned about the deteriora­tion of the physical environment. Thus, Morrison et al. propose that it is "relative" deprivation, not "absolute" deprivation, which leads to the lack of environmental concern. [12] Our findings related to socio-economic conditions and also gives some support to these arguments. Table 21 shows the socio-economic conditions of the respondents. While we did not find any significant relationship between awareness levels, we found a positive correlation between observance levels.

The other hypothesis was that religious leaders such as imams, religious teachers, muftis and several other employees of Diyanet are not fulfilling their responsibility of educating of communities.  As a son of an Imam, I see that this institution is not paying much attention to environmental problems. Employees of this institution do have not enough knowledge to inform society and the khutbas (Islamic sermons) of Diyanet are not adequately considering this crucial problem. A related statement tried to measure whether Diyanet is performing its responsibility regarding the environmental concerns. The statement was “Imams, muftis and teachers who are in service of the institution of Diyanet (Mosques and Quran Courses) make an adequate effort in order to raise environmental awareness of people”. While 19 % of the respondents agreed with this statement 65 % of them did not. and 16 % of the respondents stated that they are not decided. It is seen through the indicator that most of the participants think that Diyanet is not showing adequate attention to informing Turkish Muslim society regarding the environmental concern.

Diyanet is responsible for determining the contents of the khutbas. These khutbas are published every week and read by Imams to the Muslims who are coming together for the Friday prayer. Participation in this prayer is really high for the Turkish Participants (look at Table 15). Our entire male participant stated that they observe this prayer regularly. So it is an important tool to reach most Muslims every week and make them aware of the current improvements and conduct their behaviours by using religious motives. We thought that it would, therefore, be profitable to conduct research on recent khutbas of Diyanet to see their awareness regarding environmental problems. We accessed the database of khutbas which have been announced in the last 6 years  [13] . On the one hand, among 312 khutbas only 5 of them were directly related to the environmental concern. On the other hand, among 150 khutbas published in 2003, 2004, and 2005 the terms such as “Turk, nation, national, and homeland” which are to be perceived as nationalist terms were used as many as 263 times. This institution, therefore, should make self-question in several aspects. The present study is leaving the criticism of Diyanet for another study.

In short, after these explanations I think that the reader gives me a right to reformulate the question that we asked at the beginning of this part. The proper question, as a consequence, is not to ask why Islam failed, because the theory of Islam has not been taught and practised.

Our secondary investigations were influences of variables of gender and age on environmental concerns. Relatively few researchers have given attention to gender in studies of environmental concern. McEvoy argues that because males are more likely to be politically active, more involved with community issues, and have higher levels of education than females, they will be more concerned over environmental prob­lems. Conversely, Passino and Lounsbury discuss that males are more likely than females to be concerned about jobs and economic growth, and therefore are less concerned than females with protecting environmental quality  [14] As a result, there is no consensus on the direction of the relationship between gender and environmental concern. For this study, while there are no significant differences found in awareness levels regarding environmental problems, we found females more concerned than males regarding performing practices (look at table 17). It seems that the second hypotheses claimed by Passino and Lounsbury are partially explaining this attitude.

Regarding age hypotheses we had claimed that younger people tend to be more concerned about environmental quality than older people. Our rationale for the age hypothesis was based on what Malkis and Grasmick (1977) call age-group differences, or differences associated with the ageing process which assumedly can be outgrown. In par­ticular, it has been argued that young people are less integrated into the dominant social order. Since solutions to environmental problems often are viewed as threatening the existing social order, possibly requiring substantial changes in customary values, habitual behaviours, and existing institutions, it is logical to expect the youth to support environ­mental reform and accept pro-environmental ideologies more readily than their elders. However, the data from the present study failed to support the hypothesis of a negative relationship between age and environmental concern. This may mean that such a relationship does not exist, but it could also be that such a relationship was not found because of the restricted range of scores on the present sample. We did not find any statistical significance among awareness levels according to different age groups while we did find a positive correlation between age and observance level (look at table 18). The same correlation was found between the educational levels (look at table 19). So it may accordingly be explained by the increasing educational level of our participants. We did not ask about the marital status of our participants. There could be a positive correlation between the two. Mostly, marriage makes individuals more principle; they regulate their life with their new status. [15] So it could encourage attitudes regarding environmental concerns.

Now we are going to continue to analyze this phenomenon by focusing on modern philosophies.

Philosophical Analysis

Theologies and philosophies have interacted with each other throughout history and both of them have formed societies. So we need to mention the dynamics which affect society directly or indirectly. The first and the dominant reason for this disagreement seen between Islam and Muslims stated by Ahmed is “the gradual secularization and prevalence of authoritarian regimes that alienate the masses in Muslim countries from their religious and cultural roots. [16] So, industrial cultures have overtaken traditional cultures by leading to the prevalence of materialistic values over the intrinsic and they are mainly responsible for the rift. [17] It must be accepted that Islamic culture and society have not been independent of a historical transition similar to that which took place to produce a twentieth-century West with different moral standards than those prevalent in the fourteenth century. In Islam, by using Professor Gibb's statement "the course of moral and religious integration and the progress of the Community toward deepening self-awareness and universality call for an entirely different standard of measurement than those by which the intellectual breadth or economical property of the Islamic civilization in its `Golden Age' is judged"  [18] . According to Bulaç, present environmental problems are neither, due to over­population nor Quranic or Biblical misunderstanding, but due to Western secular economic principles that have been driving the world economy for a long period of time  [19] . It is very hard for the present generation of Muslim environmental officials to adopt approaches other than the western ones they have learned in a typically secular education system. Unfortunately, most governmental and academic institutions in Muslim communities today are either religious or secular. These two components are rarely joined and, therefore, even such a basic tenet of shari’a as “enjoining good and forbidding evil” is not any more a part of the policy or the operation of modern institutions in Muslim communities  [20] . Ammar claims that Muslims have not been enthusiastic about environmental conservation largely because they see the harm that is done to God's creation as being the result of action by people other than them; they feel they are not in control of industrialization, over-consumption, and inequity that pervade the global system and as such, they cannot be in control of any remedy. [21]

Kula claims that, in a community where God is relegated to the second division, there cannot be any real value to leading man’s atti­tudes and controlling his desires. He is continuing by saying that Western secularism, together with science and monopolistic capi­talism, have created environmental problems which will intensify as long as the West remains in the driving seat. [22] According to Bulaç, in Islam, mankind which is the ‘microcosm’, is the reflection of nature which is the ‘macrocosm’, and the deterioration of the latter is due to the corruption of Mankind by secular Western politics and way of life. [23]

This view has considerably been shared even by Western writers such as Henson (1994) and Martel (1994), who consider that environmental problems have more to do with consumption in advanced countries than consump­tion in developing ones: The former are described as being ecologically over-populated. For instance, as we stated before, the 1.75 million annual increase in the population of the USA is causing more harm to the ecological system than the 85 million increase in the developing world  [24] .

In investigating for main reasons that have led to the present, worldwide, environmental problems many contemporary scholars also put the blame on the philosophical foundation of modern thinking. For instance, Sterling maintains that: The cartesian duality that separated mind and body set human beings apart from and over nature. [25] John Locke’s theory of primary and secondary qualities also should be remembered in this context. Locke claims that only primary qualities exist in nature; there is no place for secondary qualities. Rather, the latter are products of the human mind which are imposed on nature, which in itself is devoid of soul and intelligence and has no intrinsic or inherent values at all. Briefly, nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, and colourless. A tree, for instance, has no intrinsic value of its own being as such. In accordance with the modern materialistic conception of nature, a tree gains its value by way of human intervention, such as when it becomes a table, a chair or whatever. The only value that nature can have is instrumental (extrinsic) value  [26] . Mavil states that this schism between the spiritual and the "scientific" was imported into the Muslim land and mind when the material, industrial culture was presented, impressively separating the political system from the traditions of the community  [27] . This had a devastating effect on the native culture and the environment. Such perceptions of nature have provided justification for the exploitative use of natural resources. In other words, we can say that the present Islamic environmental concern is often more related to the West than to the environ­ment itself. Even though this explanation is plausible, it is beyond doubt that Muslims cause in no small measure unbearable pressure on the worldwide environment. Yet, as it has shown through the study, Muslims have failed to respond effectively.

In the last two decades, several Muslim intellectuals have distinguished themselves by examining the growing strain between modern science and technology and the Islamic cultural base. Among them are Nasr, Manzoor, Osman B. Bakar, Gulen, W. A. Husaini, A.O. Naseef, Ziauddin Sardar, Munawar A. Anees, Z.R. El-Nejjar and Muhammad Kirmani. They indicate in their writings that a necessary precondition for the rebirth of Islamic civilization is the development of science and technology in line with Islamic social norms. As Sardar writes, "Western science cannot meet the physical, cultural and spiritual needs and requirements of Muslim societies" [28] .

Thus, on the one hand, it may be true that Islam as a religion and as a body of knowledge has supported Muslims with a comprehensive system of environmental ethics and successful institutions to conduct devel­opment equitably and wisely. On the other hand philosophies and thoughts that are widespread in Turkey (and also all other Muslim countries) stimulate different kinds of principles compared to Islam. Under such a condition then, disagreement between Islam and Muslims is becoming unavoidable.


[1]       National Environmental Action Plan in Turkey, p. 14.

[2]        Ahmad, Ali, (2001), A Cosmopolitan Orientation of International Environmental Law: An Islamic Law Genre. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, p. 244

[3]        This term was first used by William James in his spectacular book on varieties of religious experiences.

[4]       Köse, Ali, (1994) Post- Conversion Experiences of Native British Converts to Islam, the journal of Islam and Christian Muslim Relations, Vol. 5, No 2, p. 199.

[5]       Post- Conversion Experiences of Native British Converts to Islam, p.200.

[6]       Peter M. Senge (1990) The fifth discipline : the art and practice of the learning organization, New York, Doubleday Currency, Volume VIII,  p. 424.

[7]       Özden, M. (2007) Problems with Science and Technology Education in Turkey, Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, 3(2), p.159

[8]       Gladio (Italian: sword) is a code name denoting the clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Italy after World War II, intended to counter an eventual Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. Although Gladio specifically refers to the Italian branch of the NATO stay-behind organisations, "Operation Gladio" is used as an informal name for all stay-behind organisations, sometimes called "Super NATO". For further information see;

[9]    (abbr for. Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi) T.N.A. (the Turkish National Assembly).

[10]      The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol of the international Framework Convention on Climate Change with the objective of reducing greenhouse gases in an effort to prevent anthropogenic change. It was adopted for use on 11 December 1997 by the 3rd Conference of the Parties, which was a meeting in Kyoto, and it entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of May 2008, 182 parties have ratified the protocol. Of these, 36 developed C.G. countries (plus the EU as a party in its own right) are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels specified for each of them in the treaty with three more countries intending to participate. One hundred and thirty-seven (137) developing countries have ratified the protocol, including Brazil, China and India, but have no obligation beyond monitoring and reporting emissions. The United States is the only developed country that has not ratified the treaty and is one of the significant greenhouse gas emitters. Among various experts, scientists, and critics, there is debate about the usefulness of the protocol, and there have been cost-benefit studies performed on its usefulness. For further information;

[11]      For further information see; Maslow, A. H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp. 370.  

[12]      The Social Bases of Environmental Concern: A Review of Hypotheses, Explanations and Empirical Evidence, The Public Opinion Quarterly, pp. 183-184

[13]       For reaching the database of the khutbas use the below link

[14]       Kent D. Van Liere and Riley E. Dunlap, The Social Bases of Environmental Concern: A Review of Hypotheses, Explanations and Empirical Evidence, The Public Opinion Quarterly, p. 191.

[15]      Nevzat T., Evlilik Pisikolojisi, (The Psychology of Marriage) in Turkish, Timaş Press, Istanbul, 2008, p. 145.

[16]       Ahmad, Ali, (2001), A Cosmopolitan Orientation of International Environmental Law: An Islamic Law Genre. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, p. 244

[17]       Mavil, I. D. (1997) Islam and the Environment, theory, and practice, Journal of Beliefs & Values No 1, p. 4.

[18]       Nasr, S.H. (1978) Islamic Cosmological Doctrine, (London, Thames and Hudson) p. xv.

[19]   Bulac, A. (1995) Religion and Modernism. Istanbul, Turkey: Iz Publishers (in Turkish), p. 56.

[20]      Ecology and religion, pp. 413 414

[21]      Ammar, Nawal H. (2001), Islam and Deep Ecology: In Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Ground, eds. David Landis Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb, Suny Press, p. 88.

[22]      Kula, E. (2001) Islam and Environmental Conservation, Environmental Conservation 28 (1): p. 6.

[23]       Religion and Modernism, p. 58.

[24]      Islam and Environmental Conservation, p. 6.

[25]      Sterling, S.R. (1990) Towards an ecological world view, in: J.R.Engel & J.G. Engel, (eds) Ethics of Environment and Development, p. 78. t

[26]       Islam and the Environment, theory, and practice, p. 5.

[27]      Ibid, p. 8.

[28]       Islam and Environmental ethics: Tradition Responds to Contemporary Challenges, p. 454.