Over the last century, Islam and Christianity have become global religions. Today, there are Muslims and Christians in every continent of the world. The recent processes of globalization have sped up the interaction between the two faiths. Consequently, interactions from both sides have ranged from being completely dismissive, to polemic and confrontational. More than ever before, there is an urgent need for dialogue in the sharing of a common word. Islam and Christianity have much to dialogue about. This post aims to look at the creation narrative in both religions in order to promote a dialogue between them concerning nature and ecological preservation. I begin by exploring the creation narrative in the Qur’an, followed by the theme of creation and preservation in the hadith, sunnah and tafsir, ending with a dialogue with Christianity based on commonalities and possible missiological implications.

CREATION IN THE QUR’AN

Creation discourses in the Qur’an serve to assert the unmatched sovereignty of Allah and the imperative for all creation to worship Him. These accounts project Allah as being different and above the entire created realm. Unlike the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, the Qur’an does not have a particular creation narrative, such as in Genesis 1-3. Rather, different aspects of creation are presented throughout the Qur’anic writings, which when combined, give the reader insight about the origin of all things, the sovereignty of Allah, and the ontological nature of creation.

Etymologically, the Qur’an uses three different terms when referring to creation, huduth, ibda and khalk. The first two concepts have limited use throughout the Qur’anic code. Huduth speaks of the beginning of the world expressed as huduth al-‘alam. “The term has two meanings: one denotes the existence of a thing, after its non-existence, in a temporal extension… the other denotes contingency as an ontological or essential extension that does not necessarily involve time” (Lewis, et al. 1971, 548). The second term is ibda, which is rooted in Badi’, one of Allah’s names in the Qur’an, literally meaning The Absolute Creator. Ibda therefore refers to absolute creation without antecedents. It means, “Bringing into existence without the anteriority of matter or of time” (Lewis, et al. 1971, 664).

Khalk, the third and most widely used term in the Qur’an, deserves careful consideration. The noun khalk and the verb khalaka, along with their grammatical variations, are employed in a variety of different contexts and conditions. Ultimately, khalk refers to the completeness and continuity of all creation. The term, in all its discrepancies, can speak of creation either as an unprecedented action such as in Qur’an 6:1, or as a continuous act, as in Qur’an 39:6. In this creative enterprise, Allah is al-Khalik, the One who determines to bring to existence what is not and continues to work according to plan and measurement. In summary, khalk is used both for the “act of creation in general, the heavens and the earth encompassing all creatures, and for the particular creations of each category of beings” (Bosworth, et al. 1978, 981).

Creation in the Qur’an begins and continues with Allah. Allah is a peerless and unequalled Creator who determines to create all things. In the Qur’an, five names are given to Allah, the Creator. The first is al-Bari’, which means “The Maker” (Hughes, 36). It alludes to the One who creates without imperfections and can be found in surah 59:24. The second is al-Badi’, which means “He who originates” (Hughes, 30), and can be found in surah 2:111. Third is the aforementioned al-Khaliq. The fourth is Al-Musawwir, which means “The Fashioner” (Hughes, 423) and occurs once in surah 59:24. The last is Mubdi’, which means “The Producer or Beginner” (Hughes, 367). The nomenclature itself does not appear in the Qur’an, but the idea is developed from surah 85:13 where Allah is “He who originates [creation] and repeats.”

Unlike the Judeo-Christian traditions, creation discourses in the Qur’an include both the material and the spiritual world. The Qur’an speaks of creation in a period of six days. There is no Sabbath or day of rest, for Allah does not get weary like men (Qur’an 50:38). All that exists was created in this period, including the heavens, earth, spirits (djinns) and humankind as referenced in Qur’an 41:9-11, 12. The verses in this surah contain the bulk of the creation recital. The recitation consists of three references to the number of days. First, it declares that Allah created the earth in two days, followed by four days in which The Creator established mountains, created animals and their sustenance, finally ending with the creation of the seven heavens in two days, which included the heavenly bodies and humanity. One would be inclined to assume that creation expanded over the course of eight days. However, this assumption would contradict surahs 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4 and 57:4. This apparent contradiction is a problem I address in the next section of this paper.

The initial creation in the Qur’an happens ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. Allah has the power to arbitrarily create without any type of influence, such as in Qur’an 19:9. Allah’s peerless creation is done by action of decree, or kur, a concept similar to fiat in Latin Christianity, found in surahs 2:117, 3:47 and 19:35. Allah’s decree ex nihilo is what establishes the truthfulness, or importance of His creation as read in Qur’an 6:73 and 7:54. As the creative Word establishes truth, it also defines its telos. Creation was not done uselessly, or as a mere game (Qur’an 23:115, 44:38). It had a purpose and an end goal to ultimately beget worship to Allah (Qur’an 51:56). Therefore, creation was to act as a measure of Allah’s truth and perfection.

In keeping with my thesis, it is meaningful not only to note the importance of earthly creation as witness to Allah’s truth and perfection, but it is especially essential to survey the account of the sixth day of creation. The Qur’an places great significance on the beings that came into existence on the sixth day. Contrary to the Judeo-Christian account of creation, it is on the sixth day that we find a total of seven heavens, Iblis (the devil), jinn (spirits) and humanity being created. Seen and unseen beings are included in the six-day creation. In the Qur’an we find that these being were not created ex nihilo. Rather, we find that Iblis and the jinn are created out of smokeless fire (Qur’an 7:12, 15:27, 38:76 and 55:15).

On the same measure, humanity in Adam is created from dust and clay (Qur’an 20:55, 30:20 and 38:71). These surahs detail the matter from, and for, which the spirits and humanity came into being. Allah delegates a special place to humankind among the angels, Ibis, the jinn and all of creation. Humans are the last to be created and Allah bestows “upon them the faculties of learning, speaking, understanding, and discerning the right from the wrong and good from evil” (Kateregga and Shenk, 38). Unlike the Genesis account, in the Qur’an Adam is not created on earth. Instead, he is created in the heavenly Garden to act as viceroy on earth. But after protest from the angels, Allah tests the wisdom of His creation by having them repeat the names of everything that was created. While the angels failed to name all of creation, Adam succeeded at this task. As a punishment, the angels, Iblis and the jinn are told to bow before Adam, which Iblis refused to do because of pride. Satan is able to convince Adam and his wife to eat of the forbidden tree, after which both are sent to earth to live and be tested for a period of time (Qur’an 2:30-36, 11:7, 16:2).

Humanity’s assignment to earth was not a punishment. The Qur’an states that Allah, the Merciful, accepted Adam’s repentance and provided him with guidance to faithfully endure the test on earth (Qur’an 2:37-38). Because of mercy, sin had no effect on creation and Allah’s determined plan for Adam continued in spite of his forgetfulness. Under Allah’s instruction on earth, Adam became the first Prophet of Allah and a khalifa (viceroy) over creation. Humanity was to enjoy and use creation for their own welfare (Qur’an 45:12-13). The proper use of nature was to remind humanity of Allah’s truth (Qur’an 51:49) as signs of His benevolent provision (Qur’an 2:164) and His sovereignty over all things (Qur’an 36:83). Humanity’s role as khalifa prompted responsibility towards creation (Qur’an 2:205, 7:85). It warned against excessive wastefulness (Qur’an 7:31) and ascertained that the earth was for all of Allah’s creation (Qur’an 55:10).

CREATION IN THE HADITH, TAFSIR AND SUNNAH

The hadith, tafsir and sunnah deal with the story of creation in a variety of different ways. Most notably, they act as amplifications of the qur’anic accounts, focusing on explaining the sequence of the creation enterprise and refuting other creation narratives present in Late Antiquity. For example, a conflict among Muslims emerged over which day creation had started. While some believed that it was on Sunday, others held that it began on Saturday. To solve the quarrel, hadiths with reliable isnad sustained that creation began on Saturday. A Sahîh hadith collected by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj stated that, “Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday… and created Adam (peace be upon him) after ‘Asr on Friday; the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, i. e. between afternoon and night” (al-Hajjaj n.d.).

Although there were differences of interpretation such as the divergences regarding the sequence of days in which creation happened, all seemed to “converge on one important point: God created moral and physical evil” (Bosworth, et al., 984). The hadith determines that there was nothing but Allah before creation, and that everything that exists happened by Allah’s command. On this point, Al-Bukhari registers that, “He [Muhammad] said, “First of all, there was nothing but Allah, and (then He created His Throne). His throne was over the water, and He wrote everything in the Book (in the Heaven) and created the Heavens and the Earth” (Al-Bukhari n.d.). The hadith highlighted the fact that most Muslims interpreted creation as a display of Allah’s sovereignty over both good and evil creations.

Qur’anic tafsir regarding creation are also based on hadiths that draw on Allah’s uniqueness as Creator. This uniqueness ultimately summons all of existence to worship Him. Some of the tafsir also sought to expand on the view of creation by interpreting potential Qur’anic contradictions. As mentioned in the first section of this paper, the Qur’an in surah 41:9-12 and 50:38 seems to state that creation happened in either six or eight days. Commentators solve this by saying that the latter part of verse 12 is included in the section of four days. For example, the commentator al-Razi explains that “when we say that it is twenty days’ walk from Kufa to medina and thirty to Mecca, it does not mean that the distance from Kufa to Mecca is 20+30=50, but that Kufa to Medina takes 20 days and Kufa to Mecca 30” (Bosworth, et al., 985).

The hadith also contain clarifications regarding the Prophet Muhammad’s perspective on Adam as Allah’s khalifa. These traditions speak of how Adam was created, what he looked like and how he used his prophetic gifts. A common hadith found in al-Burkhari, as well as in Muslim, speak of Adam as an impressive figure. It reads, “The Prophet said, “Allah created Adam in His picture, sixty cubits (about 30 meters) in height… So whoever will enter Paradise, will be of the shape and picture of Adam Since then the creation of Adam’s (offspring) (i.e. stature of human beings is being diminished continuously) to the present time”” (Al-Bukhari n.d., Book 79, Hadith 1). Al-Burkhari (Book 65, Hadith 4738) and Muslim (Book 33, Hadith 6411) also register an account where Adam is able to refute Moses in an argument, getting the better of him. This interpretive tradition not only attests to Adam’s wittiness, but also informs about the deterministic nature of Allah’s creation, where Adam argues with Moses that he was predetermined to disobey and repent in the Garden.

As khalifa and the Last Prophet, the hadith also speak of how Prophet Muhammad interpreted Allah’s creation in the context of His worship. The Prophet is believed to have said that “The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform Tayammum, therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due” (Al-Burkhari, Book 7, Hadith 2). Muhammad’s high view of creation informs the Sunnah. The Prophet models and advises his companions to hunt only when it is necessary for food, harvesting animals with a quick and painless slaughter (Al-Bukhari, Book 72, Hadith 26). It also informs Muslims to plant trees and crops not only for themselves, but also for the birds, animals and for other people to eat from it (Al-Bukhari, Book 41, Hadith 1).

COMMONALITIES, DIALOGUE AND MISSIOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

Even though there are significant differences, there are also striking similarities between the Christian and Muslim view of creation. Because it is not within the confines of this post to fully explore a Christian/Evangelical theology of creation, I will instead feature assumed Christian perspectives in a dialectic exercise with Islam. I will devote the next paragraphs to highlight similarities, explore possible bridges of dialogue and end with tentative conclusions as a solution to the modern day environmental crises in the world today.

The first similarity between Islam and Christianity is that God creates. This simplistic statement has profound consequences. Both worldviews make distinct differences between creation and the Creator. God is sovereign and distinct from creation, but creates all things as a testament of His benevolence and power. Nonetheless, God creates and continues to sustain creation through continuous acts of recreation, e.g. childbirth and seasonal cycles. Because God is completely distinct, He attributes profound significance to creation. In Islam, this happens through the deterministic truth by which Allah goes about creation. Creation is not a “game” and God has no adversaries, similarly to the Genesis narrative in the context of Babylonian belief. God creates out of free will and establishes the universe as He determines where uttered creation “brings about being in factual truth” (Bosworth, et al., 982). Additionally, Islam and Christianity identify a sense of order and wisdom in the way creation comes into being. An invisible balance that sustains and promotes life exists in the world because of God. Nature works to the benefit of itself to flourish and thrive because of God’s design. This order and beauty induces the observer to worship God.

Finally, pertaining to this paper is the fact that the two religions ascribe special meaning to the creation of humanity. Human beings are created with the necessary faculties to learn, relate, speak and discern right from wrong and good from evil in the world. In both traditions, God is the one who delegates authority over creation to humanity. Nonetheless, humanity’s unique authority prompts a responsibility of stewardship towards nature. Islam and Christianity assure that humanity, either as khalifa or as God’s stewards, are extended a sacred trust to watch over creation. In the Qur’an this comes as Allah’s guidance, and in the Bible it is revealed as God’s mission for humanity. In spite of semantics, both project a common telos that informs the ethos of how humans are to relate to nature. This common telos based on a similar ethics of ecology can act as a bridge of dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

In conclusion, the stories of Islam and Christianity begin in the Garden. God fashions humanity from the ground (Qur’an 20:55, Gen 2:7) and gives an identity and a vocation that is tied to the rest of creation. Today, Muslims and Christians account for 3.78 billion people, approximately half of the globe’s population. Their combined capacity for environmental impact or preservation is unfathomable. Muslims and Christians can work together to promote what is dearest in both religions, the worship of God through the proper care and use of nature. Through a shared ethos of value and protection of creation, Islam and Christianity can mobilize half of the globe’s population to reverse the ongoing processes of ecological devastation.

 

Sources

Al-Bukhari. n.d. Sahih al-Bukhari » Book of Beginning of Creation » Hadith. Accessed December 6, 2014. http://sunnah.com/bukhari/59/2.
Al-Burkhari. n.d. Sahih al-Bukhari » Book of Rubbing hands and feet with dust (Tayammum) » Hadith. Accessed December 7, 2014. http://sunnah.com/bukhari/7/2.
al-Hajjaj, Muslim ibn. n.d. Sahih Muslim » Book of Characteristics of the Day of Judgment, Paradise, and Hell » Hadith. Accessed December 5, 2014. http://sunnah.com/muslim/52/10.
Bosworth, C. E., E. van Donzel, B. Lewis, and Ch. Pellat. 1978. The Encyclopedia of Islam Volume IV. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Hughes, Thomas Patrick. 1999. Dictionary of Islam. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Pblishers.
Kateregga, Badru D., and David W. Shenk. 1997. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Scottdale: Herald Press.
Lewis, B., V. L. Ménage, Ch. Pellat, and J. Schacht . 1971. The Encyclopedia of Isalm Volume III. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
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