Stepping Up To Spiritual Activism

Stepping Up To Spiritual Activism June 24, 2020

By Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art

In the three very long months since my last article when I wondered what our future would hold on the other side of the pandemic, hopeful that we might emerge on a different path from where we were before, I could not have imagined that that ‘different path’ would so quickly lead us to a global uprising against systemic dehumanisation – and all while we are still in the midst of the pandemic.

I have wondered at the speed and ferocity of this uprising, how quickly it has spread across the globe and inspired so many more people than ever before to rise up against racism and injustice. Why now, when so many protests in the past failed to create lasting change? How is it connected to the pandemic?

Covid caused a global STOP. As we have been forced to pause and retreat into our homes, to re-evaluate our lives and modes of living, perhaps the veils of illusion and separation that society/media maintains have slipped and allowed our need for authentic reality and connection to emerge. Has the massive jolt to our complacency made us more awake, seeing reality and the injustices therein more clearly? Beyond becoming communities of care, are we becoming communities of consciousness?

Be just: this is the closest to being God-conscious.

[Quran 5:8][1]

While not all those who protest are the same, or do so for the same reasons, there is certainly an increase in those who see themselves as conscious activists – spiritual activists. The Network of Spiritual Progressives defines this as:

A spiritual activist is one who is a courageous warrior of love! Being a spiritual activist means working to create a loving, just, sacred, and sustainable world through means that are also loving, just, sacred, and sustainable. A spiritual activist practices empathy in word and deed as a way to build beloved communities and transform consciousness.[2]

A few years ago some of us were invited to speak about this topic at the New Horizons in British Islam conference held in London at the Amnesty International centre. At that time we decided to call our presentation ‘Sufi Activism’ as opposed to ‘Spiritual Activism’ as we wanted to speak from our experience and also emphasise what we had learned from our Sufi teachers and Sufi community about the connection between spirituality and activism.

At the presentation we used two images to demonstrate how our spirituality is intrinsically linked to activism, and we explored what a friend recently termed ‘the false dichotomy between spirituality and activism’:

Too many people, including in my own social circles, think of these two images as inhabiting completely separate worlds: the spiritual ascetic meditating, removed from the world; and the secular activist, out in the world protesting the issues of the day. But these images are both of Sufis, working on the inner and outer jihad.

Sufism recognises that harmony must be achieved between inner work on the self (the greater jihad) and the struggle for justice and balance in the outer world (the lesser jihad). Engagement in the greater jihad allows us to effectively engage in the lesser jihad, creating an activism that can meet the political, social, and ecological challenges of our time.

Shaikh Kabir Helminski spoke at the Chant4Change rally at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. in 2016:

Sacred activism is the bridge between the invisible and visible worlds, between the world of possibilities and the everyday world we live in. If we are going to bridge these two, we need to connect through our own deepest being, through our inner presence, our spiritual heart.[3]

There is no separation between the inner and the outer in that one informs the other – to know that I am acting from compassion and truth requires me to have a strong sense of self and to be working upon becoming an awakened, conscious being, using the tools of awakening – zhikr, salah, muraqaba, muhasaba. I have been reflecting recently on the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:

To know yourself is to know your Sustainer.

In my mind I interchange Sustainer, for path/way/purpose. I have been asking for guidance in my outer work, to be shown the best way to fulfil my soul’s purpose in this world. And as I sit with myself in spiritual practice, I feel an answer opening within me, guiding me toward that which gladdens my heart and ideas spring into being with seemingly little effort. Injustice of any kind surely should not gladden any heart – but in a world where there are many man-made injustices to face, we can be heartened to find our place of service and to be given the right tools to create a wholesome livelihood that benefits our homes and our communities.

[…] align yourself with that truth, with that presence, with that higher consciousness. It is in that presence that we will find the clarity, guidance, and courage we need. Ask for the guidance and inspiration that can be found deep in the human heart, and when we have found that, each of us must also become effective, committed activists working for justice and truth, putting our lives on the line…

You are the soul that can move the body of the world. You are the soul that can remind the body that it cannot live without a heart. Is it possible to be spiritual today without being an activist? Faith tells me the extraordinary challenges we face right now are a blessing, an opportunity to awaken qualities of the soul that would otherwise remain latent or dormant.[4]

Shaikh Kabir’s words, although from over four years ago, speak immediately to our current times, as we move through this ‘new normal’ of mass spaciousness and retreat, and we awaken those ‘qualities of the soul’ that were dormant, perhaps even just three months ago.

And this work requires a deep commitment to the greater jihad and being vigilant against the ego’s tricks – even good intentions can be manipulated, from within and without. When does righteous anger become self-righteous? When does my desire for change blind me to what is really needed in the moment? And can I do the work without attachment to the outcome, truly believing that while I have my plans, God has a greater plan?

We must hold the vision of the possible human being above the tantrums and arguments in the world today. The conscious, spiritually mature human being is the ripened fruit of the tree of life. There is no greater work than the work of becoming fully human, fully conscious and compassionate human beings. And part of becoming fully human is the sacred work of justice and truth.[5]

My path to spiritual activism has focussed on exploring the role of the Sacred Feminine and the power this can have in rebalancing the world. With other like-hearted friends, we created RAY, a non-profit organisation with the aim of sharing feminine spiritual wisdom to help realise God in all ways, and to align with justice, truth, and beauty. These may sound like bold words, but we are encouraged to dream big. We have held intimate retreats to explore what this work means to us, deepening connections and understandings, and the way is now opening to take this out further into the world. We are extremely blessed to be supported by elder spiritual activists who have been working in this space for many decades, and who kindly share their wisdom and difficult experiences.

In my heartfelt desire to know myself and my purpose, I hold fast to this prayer attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, and I pray we are all granted this blessing – the world needs us to wake up, we need us to wake up:

O God, help me to see the Truth as the Truth and give me the blessing of following it.
Help me to see falsehood as falsehood and give me the blessing of avoiding it.



[1] Quran 5:8, The Light of Dawn: Daily Readings from the Holy Qur’an, rendered by Camille Helminski

[2] The Network of Spiritual Progressives is the interfaith advocacy arm of Tikkun magazine, and seeks to influence American politics towards more humane, progressive values.


[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid



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