Khalifah, the Environment and Recycling Copies of the Holy Qur’an: A Symbiotic Sematic Consideration

About the Research

One of the distinctive features of the Arabic language is its rich polysemy. These polysemic phenomena together with the rich inimitable consonance produced through sublime syntatico-sementico inter and intra fertilisation of words and its meaning creates an environment for diverse hermeneutical possibilities. According to Muslim doctrine the Qur’an is the final eternal message from God to human kind. If this is true it must entail that the Qur’an is capable of being interpreted in order to understand contemporary problems. It is a well-known principle of Qur’anic exegesis (usul al-tafsir) that words in the Qur’an can be understood in its literal meaning or its metaphorical meaning. To this end, the word khalifah in its various verbal and nominal construct appears in the Qur’an numerous times. Traditionally this word has been translated to convey a socio-political hegemonic post, vested with Adam initially and then his progeny. This paper seeks to revisit the concept of khalifah and investigate the possibility of construing its meaning to be an ‘ecologically conscious being’ as its primary meaning, and a political hegemonic post to be the secondary meaning. The current practise and process of discarding unusable copies of the Qur’an is incineration. In this paper I argue that if the case can be made for the interpretation of the concept of  khalifah to mean an ‘ecologically conscious being’ then it should be that Muslims should not incinerate the thousands of old unusable copies of the Qur’an. Instead they are morally obliged to establish recycling factories to process these copies of the Qur’an although this might be against the traditional doctrines of the four major schools of jurisprudence. By construing the word khalifah to mean an ‘ecologically conscious being’ renders the obligation of looking after the environment as a primary ethico-legal value in Islam. In this paper I examine whether or not this interpretation is possible and valid.

Further to the exegetical and legal investigation I will attempt to highlight the potential operational challenges with the implementation of this environmental ethics code. For example, who will bear the cost of recycling old unusable copies of the Qur’an.? Where will it be done? How will it be done?

Project Lead: Dr Shahrul Hussain

Project type: Peer reviewed journal