The well-known Qur’anic verse, “Eat and drink, but do not waste. Verily, He does not love the wasteful!”(7:31) is ubiquitously cited in discourses concerning Islamic eco-ethics. Often referenced as an imperative for frugality, it seems all the more relevant and timely given rising concerns over sustainability, consumption, and other facets of the ongoing environmental crisis. Citations of such verses, however, are often times made without a serious examination of their theological underpinnings and end up participating in attempts to showcase how the normative commands of the Qur’an can align with contemporary, secular ethical injunctions.
This paper examines how, within the ontological framework of the Qur’an, the concept of israf or waste can be understood in not only material terms but also epistemic ones. This paper argues that within this Qur’anic framework, epistemic waste occurs when the meaning-content of an existent entity is unacknowledged or insufficiently apprehended by its recipient. Utilizing Ibn ʿArabi’s (d. 1240) hermeneutics in conversation with Said Nursi’s (d.1960) practical theology of approaching the cosmos as scripture or ayat in which divine names are constantly being manifested, this paper examines how israf as conceptualized throughout the Qur’an ought to be given its proper theological orientation when cited in the contexts of Islamic environmentalisms. An environmental ethics grounded in Qur’anic scripture is one that goes much beyond the physical environment. It looks to safeguarding and recognizing the epistemic meaning that each aspect of the world holds and represents, and alongside it of course, the physical entities themselves.
As such, this paper looks to how Qur’an 7:31 can be read as a statement concerning the epistemological nature of the world in which all entities are carriers of divine names not to be wasted, materially and epistemically. Understanding israf within the broader theological epistemology of the Qur’an can be a critical step in constructing an Islamic eco-ethic that is not divorced from the broader telos of its scripture.