Planetary Sustainability and Justice
A Response to Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘On Care for Our Common Home’
Osman Bakar, PhD
Distinguished Professor and Director
Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS)
Universiti Brunei Darussalam
Pope Francis’ encyclical On Care for Our Common Home is an important document addressing the current state of ecological health of our planet Earth to which it refers as ‘Our Common Home’ and the attendant issue of the human responsibility to take care of it. Written in six chapters the encyclical may be viewed as the most comprehensive doctrinal position to date of the Catholic Church on what it calls ‘The Gospel of Creation’ and more specifically on what is now known as eco-theology. The encyclical provides a treatment of the human roots of the ecological crisis and presents an “integral ecology” that is to serve as the theological and philosophical background or as the conceptual basis for a global human action to deal with the contemporary crisis in question.
Muslim scholars and intellectuals have good reasons to take a special interest in this encyclical and offer a sound response to its perspectives and approaches to the contemporary ecological crisis. Going through its chapters we could see its many similarities with the Qur’an’s teachings on the subject of natural and eco-theology and the role and responsibility of human beings to take care of the planet Earth and administer it with justice. The similarities are so striking that one could say that the encyclical sounds like a commentary on the Qur’an. It is understandable if someone is tempted to make the claim that if would be more fitting if the encyclical were to be viewed as a commentary on the Quran than as a commentary on the Bibles. However, there are notable differences between the Islamic and the Catholic perspectives on terrestrial eco-theology and human custodianship of the planet Earth. Pope Francis’s encyclical thus provides another good new opportunity for Muslims and Christians to conduct a meaningful dialogue on issues of the common good, particularly on the future of “our common home” and our common responsibility to protect it with the greatest care. In my presentation I will highlight some of the similarities and differences between the two religious perspectives. My own understanding of the Qur’anic cosmology is that the Earth is not just “our common home.” It is also our only home in the cosmos!