Traditional Islamic Environmentalism The Vision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr By Tarik M. Quadir (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2013.)

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Ovamir Anjum

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Abstract

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933) is one of the most important living mysticphilosophers
today. His consistent and clairvoyant critique of the materialism,
secularism, and anthropocentricism of modernity for the last fifty years
has been a wake-up call to many across the religious divide. Thus it is only
fitting that the teachings on environment of a thinker who saw well before
most of us the signs of our ominous times, one who wrote against the futility
of technological fixes and the need to reject modern metaphysics, should
be the subject of a dedicated monograph. The present book by Tarik M.
Quadir is based on his PhD dissertation, which aims to present Nasr’s contentions
on the subject over his long and productive career in one coherent
narrative. Being “the first person ever to write extensively about the philosophical
and religious dimension of the crisis” (emphasis in the original),
Nasr’s critiques and specific suggestions are scattered in various writings
and interviews. The book at hand seeks to be the go-to volume for “the response
[to the ecological crisis] that he envisions for any human civilization”
(pp. 4-6).
Nasr, educated in the United States since the age of thirteen, attended MIT
and Harvard. Having taught in Iran, the United Kingdom, the United States,
and elsewhere, he finally settled at the George Washington University. A
renowned scholar and author of nearly fifty books and many more articles,
his teachings are a blend of Shi‘ism, Sufism, and, most of all, the perennialist,
anti-modernist philosophy of René Guénon (1886-1951) and Frithjof Schuon
(1907-98). Nasr’s response to the environmental cataclysm is derived from
his perennialist philosophy and is based on the spiritual reality of nature and
its relevance to human purpose as defined by religion, and not merely on the
basis of consideration for physical survival, which permeates nearly the entirety
of environmentalist activism today.
Quadir reviews a swath of literature by various authors, including activists,
scholars, and scientists, who warn of the end of our world as we know
it and the limits of growth. From scientific projections to confessions of failure
by leading environmentalists, several alarming and alarmist books are added
to the list every month. Nasr argues that many mainstream environmentalists
recognize that not only is business as usual (i.e., capitalist growth) unsustainable,
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