Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India in 1882, into a family of musicians. “Music and mysticism,” he says, “were my heritage from both my paternal and maternal grandparents.” Maula Bakhsh, the founder of Gayanshala, which is now the music faculty of the University of Baroda, was his grandfather, and it was in his house that Inayat Khan was brought up. The prominent position of Moula Baksh Khan brought its members in close contact with Muslims, but also with leading Brahmin and Parsi families, so that Inayat Khan grew up in an interreligious atmosphere. Even as a child he had a great love for music and poetry.
“My taste for music, poetry and philosophy,” he says, “increased daily, and I loved my grandfather’s company more than a game with boys of my age.” Before he was 20 years old, he became a full professor at the Gayanshala. He played the vina and had a beautiful singing voice, and soon his fame spread everywhere in the country. He sang at the courts of Nawabs and Princes, and the then Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahebub Ali Khan (whom Inayat Khan describes as a mystic ruler), called him his Tansen.
However, it is not as a musician that he is remembered most today, but as a mystic and murshid. Even as a child his interest in spirituality was as profound as his love for music, and he would often absent himself from meals to seek out dervishes, fakirs, sadhus and mystics. He later studied comparative religion with an open mind. “I read the lives of the founders, the prophets, the seers, with as much reverence as their most devout adherents. This brought me the bliss of realization of the One truth which all religions contain as different vessels may yet hold the same wine. The different messengers most wondrously, by their very diversity of civilization, nationality and age, revealed the One source of inspiration. A human being, not generally understanding this and owing to blind dogmatic faith, has always clung to the originator of his or her own faith and ignored the new prophet. Not recognizing the manifold aspects of truth, thus all the racial and religious prejudices!
“Among creeds and castes, and all wars and differences between nations, have arisen from narrowness and slowness of perception. Still, were a Buddhist to come to me saying, ‘Our Lord Buddha was the only teacher,’ I would answer, ‘Verily;’ and if a Hindu cried to me that Krishna is the ideal master I would say, ‘You speak rightly.’ And if a Christian should declare that Christ is the highest of all, I would reply, ‘Undoubtedly,’ for it is the nature of human beings to consider as best that which they can idealize best. But if anyone came to me saying, ‘I cannot believe in all this talk, for I can only recognize the same truth in each one of these,’ I would say, ‘You, my friend, are the one who really knows, for you have understood and unveiled the real secret of God’s Nature.’ As Rumi says, ‘The Sufi takes the meat, leaving the bones for others to fight over.’”
Interest in Sufism took him to Ajmer, to the shrine of Khwaja Moin-ed-din Chisti. The calm and peace pervading the shrine made him feel, even among the throng of pilgrims, that he was the only one present. He became friends with a group of dervishes, loving the sweetness of their nature and the innate perfume of their manner of using music as food for the soul. Once in a dream he saw a large number of saints and sages, all clad in Sufi raiment, rejoicing in the Sama, the musical gathering of the dervishes. He began having visions of a luminous, spiritual face, radiant with light. A friend told him that this symbolized initiation into the Chisti Sufi Order. He visited several murshids, but they always told him “I am not the one you seek.”
His dream came true. In 1904, while visiting at a friend’s house in Hyderabad, he met Mohammed Abu Hashim Madani, a great Sufi murshid, immediately recognizing him as the saint in his dream; the Murshid likewise recognized Inayat, and initiated him into the Chisti Order, the Sufi school which finds its greatest inspiration in music.
Inayat Khan remained with his murshid for four years; he called this the most beautiful time of his life. He was surprised that six months passed before his Murshid said a word on the subject of Sufism; when he did, and Inayat took out his notebook, the master at once changed the subject. Later Inayat Khan wrote, “I understood that it meant that the teaching of the heart should be assimilated in the heart;” and that “There is nothing in the world more precious than the presence of the Holy One; his atmosphere is a living teaching.” The Sufi Message which Inayat Khan came to offer the world, exemplifies his murshid’s spiritual transmission.
Before passing away, Abu Hashim Madani placed his hands upon Inayat’s head in blessing and said, “Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonize the East and West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end art thou gifted by God.”
After the death of his beloved teacher, the opportunity came for Inayat Khan to carry out his instructions, and on September 13, 1910 he sailed for America, accompanied by his brother Maheboob Khan and his cousin Ali Khan. His youngest brother, Musheraff Khan, followed a year later.
At first, Inayat Khan was bewildered by the fast pace of the West, but, being a Sufi, he soon adjusted. He wanted to teach through music, but this was early in the century and the West had not yet developed the interest in Indian music it has today. However, in due time the way opened. At first he performed and lectured on music at Columbia University, winning the warm commendation of several professors and students. Soon he visited other major American universities, speaking before intelligent, appreciative audiences on philosophy and music.
Later he went to England and other countries in Europe; everywhere he found people profoundly moved by his spiritual teachings, many of whom asked for initiation. He made it quite clear that he was not propagating a new religion, but was bringing the eternal Message of the essential divinity of humanity, a Message of spiritual liberty, free of separatism or dogma.
Eventually, he married Ora Ray Baker, an American woman from New Mexico, and they had two daughters and two sons. The family settled in Suresnes, near Paris. There he held an annual summer school where mureeds from around the world gathered to hear his lectures and to receive blessings and guidance. During the rest of the year he traveled and lectured widely. These lectures were later published in twelve volumes entitled The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan which are now studied worldwide. The subject range is vast, including the inner life, music, the mysticism of sound, education, character-building, the art of personality, health, psychology, the path of initiation and discipleship, and so on. The teachings of the Sufi Message are characterized by freshness of outlook, simplicity of language, depth of wisdom, and prophetic vision.
“The Sufi,” says Inayat Khan, “sees the truth in every religion.” If invited to offer prayers in a Christian church, the Sufi is ready to do so. The Sufi will go the synagogue and pray as the Jews do; will offer Salat with Muslims; and in the Hindu temple worships the same God. Yet the Sufi’s true temple, the true mosque, is the human heart, in which the divine Beloved lives. Sufism is a religion if one wants to learn religion from it; it is a philosophy if one wants to learn wisdom from it; it is mysticism if one wants to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul; and yet it is beyond all these things. It is the light of life which is the sustenance of every soul. It is the Message of Love, Harmony, and Beauty.
In 1926, his mission in the Western world fulfilled, Hazrat Inayat Khan returned to India. Early in 1927, he visited once again the Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Moin-ed-din Chisti at Ajmer. A fatal pneumonia caused the end of his earthly life and he passed away on February 5, 1927. His body was laid to rest near the Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Nizam-ud-din Auliya in New Delhi.
Mureeds throughout the world celebrate the July 5 birthday (Viladat Day), the February 5 Urs, or passing (Visalat Day), of Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, as well as September 13 (Hejirat Day) which marks the date he left his native India to bring Sufism to the West.
READINGS FROM THE WORKS OF PIR-O-MURSHID INAYAT KHAN:
Prayers of Hazrat Inayat Khan
Ten Sufi Thoughts of Hazrat Inayat Khan
Seven volumes of The Complete Works of Hazrat Inayat Khan (about this edition), faithfully presenting his words as spoken, are available here by download;
Also the more familiar Sufi Message volumes (presented here by Wahiduddin, and with an excellent search function).
For free downloads of Hazrat Inayat Khan's works in non-English languages, visit www.ReachFarAndWide.org.