Ten Sufi thoughts on climate change

by Firos Holterman ten Hove


“Q. Can coming volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and disasters in nature be felt by sensitive people in advance? A. Yes, there is an action and reaction, the action of nature upon people, and the action of people upon nature. This storm and wind has a certain effect upon us, in our word and speech and action. But this is also caused in some way as a reaction of the conditions of people. And therefore all wars and storms and floods and volcanic eruptions, very often they are caused by human beings, by the action or attitude or condition of humanity in general.” Hazrat Inayat Khan

1. There is one God, the eternal, the only being; none else exists save God.


Climate change is man-made. Hazrat Inayat Khan told us this a hundred years ago; science proves it now. Through our economic development we have changed the earth system for up to 130, 000 years, a time span impossible to imagine. Life conditions that our planet will offer will be at least very different, and probably a lot less favourable to human life.


The historic period called Holocene, starting 10, 000 years ago with Zarathustra teaching mankind agriculture as a God-pleasing way of living, comes to an end. Time gets another meaning. Suddenly the mystery of eternity is being actualised.


Geologists call the new period Anthropocene. New is the fact that we humans don´t just change regional environments but have developed the power to disturb the functioning of the earth as a complex and dynamic whole.


It is not some old God punishing us with floods and droughts and earthquakes. It is us! Not just the inhabitants of the western world, but all mankind.


„The whole earth“, „all mankind“. These terms, having been ideas for many centuries, become a physical reality now. In ten or twenty years our world will be Indo-Sino-American-Eurocentric. The average per capita production of CO2 of the Chinese is now the same as that of the Europeans. The old division between north and south is disappearing.


And for the new age called Anthropocene, Hazrat Inayat Khan invites mankind to conceive of a new concept of God as a being that works through all forms of the universe, a being within and without, seen and unseen.


We live in a time where the old ideal of mankind has come to an end. We have discovered that our planet is not able to sustain the global economic development, that we envisioned. We consume nature on a level that would need 4 Planet Earths.


Mankind stands there naked, lost, without an ideal. The vision of utopia based on the free flow of capital was shattered on the rocks of physical truth and without ideals we are in danger of falling back into old ideologies of nations, religions, family ties.


During the last two or three hundred years, nature was considered to be a commodity, basically so-called resources to be used for the happiness of man. Mankind felt free to take whatever it could use from its “environment”. Spirituality had to do with inner worlds, with churches and Sundays. On top of this, more and more humans dropped spirituality altogether, seeing it of no use in attaining the envisioned utopia.


And then Hazrat Inayat Khan declared that the time has come for a renewal of our ideal: mankind discovering that all of its activities are embedded in the One.


The first response of our Inayati Order to climate change is to incorporate and present the possibility of a new ideal, which can nourish our bodies, hearts and souls: mankind integrated in a greater whole.

2. There is one Master, the guiding spirit of all souls, who constantly leads followers toward the light. 


Why did we go that far destroying our world? Because we follow the rules and necessities of global economics, the ruling world-wide vision. The master of global business is the one that achieves the minimum of effort with the maximum of material result. Thus harnessing himself, man developed in the last fifty years a power that literally moves mountains. By the will of man, the whole world is being transformed all the way down to the geological level.


This mastery was able to be developed by the means of the powerful weapons of willpower and rationality. Modern man is able to distance himself from the environment. He has developed the capacity of not feeling or being emotionally involved. Everything has to be observed and measured from outside Planet Earth, so to say, from „Sirius“. The outside world is considered to be the real. The subjective world the unreal.


We had to renounce sensibility and responsiveness to the processes of nature. We had to lose any contact to soil, earth, or origin. We had to drop the idea of „we“ in any sense.


As reactionaries were considered all those who tried to conserve their belonging to a special place, community, environment, way of life, profession, religion. In order to become one world we had to drop any difference, any diversity.


The big advantage was the freedom we gained in this way. We dropped the bonds that tied us to our surrounding. This is the mastery gained in the Holocene.


And now we discover, that with all the power we have developed, we have not just ruined our planet, but also changed its rhythms and structure. We are on the way to losing the world that sustained us.


The fear and the madness as the result of this discovery take on different faces:

  • Elites in power try to neglect the facts and pretend everything to be fine. Just another challenge that will be mastered by global capitalism.
  • Partly by willingly destroying the evidence of the catastrophic state we put ourselves into.
  • Some of the richest have started investing in spaceships that would allow some humans to live a human live after leaving planet earth.
  • As some regions become inhabitable because of climatic or economic or humanitarian reasons, the victims start moving and try to reach as refugees the richer parts of the world.
  • The inhabitants of the more well-to-do regions try to prevent an invasion and fall back into old nationalistic ideologies, as if any part of the world could be exempted from the change of the earth's rhythms.
  • Some come to the conclusion that mankind has lost its right to live on this planet and that we will die out.

The Sufi Message as brought by Hazrat Inayat Khan offers another solution. We have to wake up from the illusion of an ideal that turned out to be too limited. We have to proceed in the enlargement of our vision.


This means to be proud of our mastery and of the autonomy we gained. And at the same time to start listening to the processes that dominate life on our planet. We have to acknowledge that we cannot be imagined as free beings in the sense of completely independent from any bonds. The Anthropocene shows without any doubt how deeply we are related to the natural processes. Our activities have immediate impact on our planetary surroundings, which in turn have an immediate impact on us.


With the word „immediate“ is meant a physical bodily impact. With the word „listening“ is meant, that we take seriously our senses of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, touching.


Only if we start listening, will we be told how to survive in a world of changing climates. If we enlarge our awareness, we will hear the voice of guidance coming from all things, without and within.


The message of Hazrat Inayat Khan states that in the combination of mastery and responsiveness lies the next step.


The 2nd response of the Inayati Order to climate change is to help people to start listening to their inner voice and to find an equilibrium between mastery and guidance.

3. There is one holy book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader.


The surprising thing about climate change is that it cannot be understood without understanding man. The wide range of predictions about global warming in the 21st century has just one background: we don´t know how man will behave.


This is revolutionary! Our modern culture is based on a sharp division between man and nature. Through this thought we dominate nature. The result is that we know less about the planet than ever before.


Of course some mighty groups don´t give up the vision of subduing the earth. Geoengineering is the keyword for them. One can only hope that these people will wake up from illusion soon, before making things worse.


Unwillingly, we have brought ourselves to a point of surrender. The only way to deal with the new unpredictable situation is to admit that we don´t know. So the result of desecrating nature is that she gains a new sacredness in the sense of an unknown mystery that maybe should not be touched, because we don´t know the results. We thought that we are the masters of the universe and find out that the only sensible option towards the powers of nature is humility.


Our planet as a continuously moving unity propelled by interconnected cycles and influences from the earth centre through the atmospheres up to the moon, the sun, the other planets and stars is one whole.


This whole is more than the parts. We are used to reducing life to the parts involved and through these analytic methods we lost the sense of holiness.


And now this holiness or whole returns through the backdoor. We are confronted with an earth system that includes all, including ourselves. Mankind developed a tremendous power to change nature, but we have very few insights in the interaction of the different bodies and forces.


No other living being can influence the processes of nature as much as man, but we will never be able to dominate these complex systems because we are part of them.


A completely new perspective of nature is being born. Hazrat Inayat Khan was ridiculed for saying that the earth is the center of the universe. Now we can slowly understand his statement. In the Anthropocene we have to drop the merely rational and „scientific“ way of looking at Planet Earth from outer space. The Earth was considered to be one planet out of many in the endless universe. This point of view brought us on the verge of losing our Earth. We are discovering that the Earth is our center, if not the center of all.


Complementary to the existing forms, science must be widened to incorporate investigations into the nature of transformation. Birth, death, growth, life, corruption are to be the metamorphic phenomena to study closely.


The etymology of the word „nature“ comprises aspects of

  • origin,
  • generation,
  • begetting,
  • proceedings.

These aspects cannot be investigated from outer space. In them the life of the scientist intermingles with the life of the studied objects as living beings with a soul.


Thus reading the book of nature becomes a source of enlightenment because by doing so the walls between man and world are being dissolved.


Attachment becomes a legitimate place complementary to detachment.


The 3rd response of the Inayati Order is to understand that both we ourselves and our surrounding world belong to the same one nature.