What do Muslims and Christians believe differently about nature?

By , February 11, 2013

(Fourth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

My last post compared and contrasted Muslim and Christian beliefs about man. This post will show how different beliefs about man result in different beliefs about man’s relationship to nature.

In the Christian Scriptures it is written that on the sixth day of creation God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). In Christian thought, this Scripture teaches that God wants man be his steward of creation.

Furthermore, in the Christian gospels it is written that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the storm (Acts 2:22). Now, for Christians, Jesus is the behavior (way), character (truth), and will (life) of God incarnated into human flesh (John 14:6). Jesus demonstrates the will of God for mankind (John 20:21). Therefore, Christians believe that fighting against sickness, death, and natural disasters is fighting against evil and is according to the will of God. As a result, Western civilization has a rich heritage of struggling to improve and prolong human life with medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief.

Most of the world, and particularly most of the Muslim world, does not share this passion for excellence and constant improvement in medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief. A natural disaster anywhere in the Muslim world almost always kills far more people than an equivalent disaster somewhere in the Western world.

pool in Padang, IndonesiaWhen I was living among Muslims in Indonesia, I saved a man from drowning by performing mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration on him. The lifeguards at the pool had been performing the long discredited back-pressure-arm-lift method of resuscitation. I got him breathing again but not back to full consciousness, so he had to be taken to the hospital where the doctors and nurses thought that I had sucked the water out of his lungs in order to revive him. An article in the paper the next day said that fortunately for the young man a foreigner happened to be there to give him assisted breathing while removing the water that he had swallowed.

While serving among embedded military advisors in Iraq, I observed that it was very difficult for American advisors to persuade Iraqi soldiers and military leaders to wear protective equipment, like eye protection, body armor, and helmets during combat operations. The Iraqi response was always, “Insyallah,” which means “if God wills.” They seemed to be saying that whether they lived or died was God’s will so that they did not need to bother with wearing protective equipment.

military advisors in IraqThe word “Islam” comes from the Arabic root word “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. At its essence, Islam is submission to the will of God and obedience to His law.

From the Muslim perspective, every phenomenon in the world, other than man, is administered totally by God-made laws. All of nature obeys God and submits to his will. It is said to be in the “State of Islam.”

That is different than the Christian view. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation is in bondage to decay and waits patiently for restoration through the ones who are becoming children of God (Romans 8:20-22).

If nature is in a state of submission to the will of God, then that means that sickness, death, and natural disasters are according to his will. According to Muslim thinking, only human beings have the capacity to rebel against the will of God. Mankind is invited to submit to the will of god and to obey god’s law through the religion of Islam. Muslims believe that submission to the good will of god, together with obedience to his beneficial law is the best safeguard for man’s peace and harmony.

The logical extrapolation of this thinking is that resisting forces of nature that manifest themselves in sickness, death, and natural disaster is equivalent to resisting the will of God. Wearing protective equipment or being skilled in the latest techniques for resuscitating drowning victims reveals a lack of spirituality and a lack of submission to God’s will.

In the Christian view, nature itself has been disturbed by evil, and one of God’s purposes for humanity is not only to struggle against evil in oneself, but also to struggle against evil in nature. In the Muslim view, however, God completely controls all of nature.

Islam does call upon humanity to struggle. The word for struggle is “jihad.” Muslims are called to jihad against everything that sets itself up against the will and law of god. Jihad can be an internal personal struggle against sin, and it can be an external communal defense of Islam. But Muslims are not called to jihad against death, sickness, and natural disasters the way that Christians are. Nature, for the Muslim, is still under the control and will of God.

This blog has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about the nature of creation and man’s relationship to it. The next in this series will explore differences in beliefs about man’s relationship to God.

Link through the chart to other posts on the social impact of Muslim and Christian theology:

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One Response to “What do Muslims and Christians believe differently about nature?”

  1. Dean Rizzo says:

    Well done. I have learned from this article and the whole series. I find it very interesting. Thanks for edifying and helping others to understand more about these different faiths.

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