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Sufi Muslims: Islam’s Eco Guardians


Originally Featured on the  Green Prophet

Sufism is the undiscovered sect within Islam known only through its most famous disciple, the 13thRumi whose work reflected strong themes pairing nature and spirituality. century philosopher poet

Sufis, “heirs of a mystical ancient tradition”, helped propagate the faith to the height of its expansion in Islam’s coined “Golden Age”.  The then flourishing multiculturalism played a key role resulting in the large number of Muslims today, roughly 1.5 billion followers world wide. A great but under represented percentage this figure are still Sufi Muslims.

Initially rising out of a reaction to materialism and over indulgence resulting from excess wealth and power, Sufis are mystics at heart, lovers of the natural world inclined toward heterodoxy in a culture in which ego and possession is the norm.The key aim of any Sufi is to separate themselves from the material and seek enlightenment by way of serving God, achieved through an internal process that shifts perspectives away from to ego and toward the divine. The process is usually performed through one of two ways.The less frequented approach is the view of “Signifier to signs”, in which Sufis work to look at the world through a macro to micro lens – in other words, understanding the bigger picture and then applying it to the individual instance. However, the majority of Sufis use the “signs to the Signifier” approach.The Signifier being a divine source, the analogy is similar to the process of understanding an artist through studying his creations.  In this way, many Sufis embrace the natural world, and as such it’s no surprise that Sufis are great defenders of the environment.

Relevance of Sufism within the Arab World
Sufism emphasizes “eco-spirituality” – the fundamental belief in the sacredness of nature. Since Gnostic teachings, the Kabalah, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, all hold this as a key truth, it’s easy to see how Sufism has the capacity to bridge perceived divides between Islam and other faith groups.

According to Sufi expert and director at the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rabat, Ahmad Kostas, “Progress and change are basic tenets of Sufi philosophy.”  With this in mind, and with the premise of mutual appreciation for environmental initiatives, the common interest in eco-spirituality is a potential conduit for possible future partnerships between Mid East nations and their neighbors.

A Green Middle East

With the reasoning that a physical environment is reflective of a moral and cultural environment, proactive Sufi efforts to protect the environment can be seen in Morocco, where local Sufi youth gather regularly to “debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.”

It’s no wonder that this esoteric branch of Islam is now not only gaining increased worldwide attention as a possible solution to prevailing conflicts, but is also helping pave the way for a greener Mid East. A green Mid East is slow in the making – mostly because as Karin Kloosterman points out, “environmental education is seriously lacking.” And while Sufis make up about 1/3 of all Muslims, unfortunately their reach and global presence is still limited.

It’s Saudi Arabia that’s still the front runner role when it comes to Islam and Mid East issues. If there’s to be a trickle down effect of green Muslims in the region, then Saudi Arabia is a good place to start.


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