Sacred Science and the Environmental Crisis

 Sacred Science and the Environmental Crisis

Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr

By Muaz Nasir

(January 4, 2014) – Last weekend marked the 12th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto, Canada. The conference brings together academics and scholars from across the world and engages participants in lectures ranging in topics from civic engagement to environmentalism from an Islamic perspective.

This year Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, prominent author, researcher and lecturer at George Washington University, spoke on the issue of Sacred Science and the Environmental Crisis. For several decades Dr. Nasr has called for the revival of the sacred sciences and has written extensively on the paradigm shift needed on how we interact with nature. Some highlights from his lecture have been summarized below.

The contrast between sacred and modern science is great, but not mutually exclusive.

  • Sacred science refers to a field of study that is rooted in the ancient sciences and refers to a world that is rooted in the divine.
  • Sacred science includes a hierarchal universe at the metaphysical level, such as Angels as referenced in the Quran. Modern science however is the negation of other forms of reality and reduces it to the singular sense. This leads to a universe that is truncated and eventually to a disassociation with nature.
  • Modern science does not deal with the nature of things as they are but interacts with it from a particular world view. In the west, the foundation and goal of science is power compared to the Islamic perspective which is wisdom.
  • This idea of power and control over nature is derived from an experimental design that is based on the controlled experiment rather than through observation alone. This creates a particular way of understanding nature through control.

Western science has inherent limitations that can only be overcome by incorporating the sacred sciences.

  • Modern science is not based on how nature is, but how it is controlled. The foundation of modern science begins with the denial of the non-quantitative aspect of reality which reduces nature to aspects such as force, distance, weight or measure.
  • All other factors such as colour, form or beauty are deemed as subjective and how we immediately react with the world is disqualified under the guise of modern science.
  • Modern science operates completely without the necessity of God and creation is decreed as irrelevant even as a hypothesis. We praise this science without even thinking what it means for Islam and without regard for the ethical/social ramifications.

The globalization of the idea of western science as the only way is destructive

  • Before modern times many societies cultivated science and held it to include the integration of pure/applied sciences with the social and spiritual constructs that incorporated faith.
  • Science was always related to the divine (sacred sciences). Human reason never operated independent to the presence of God.
  • Nature was always considered to be created and sustained by God  (to be an ayat or sign of God) and the Quran includes many messages appealing to the phenomenon of nature.
  • The secularization of the sciences has removed the ethical and social component and has yielded a narrow vision of how the field is applied.

The environmental crisis is real and is inextricably tied to the spiritual crisis the world is facing

  • Many acknowledge that there is an environmental crisis but do not make the connection that this is often tied to an inner spiritual crisis and our perception of the natural world.
  • The Islamic sciences need to be revived from an intellectual level where traditional knowledge is taught authentically and in a manner that integrates societies together.
  • The environmental crisis is an external sign of an inner crisis within ourselves. The externalization of the spiritual crisis within modern humanity cannot be solved without the removal of this inner crisis and coming to peace with God.

You can find more information about Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, including a complete listing of his lectures, courses and books on his website.


Muaz Nasir is a Muslim Canadian environmentalist and Publisher of the online environmental website, He holds a Masters degree in Environmental Studies specializing in Business and Environmental Relations from York University and the Schulich School of Business; he aims to raise the profile of environmental issues within the Canadian Muslim community.