Hazrat Inayat Khan grew up in a princely Muslim home that was a crossroads for many interesting people—poets, mystics, musicians and philosophers. His own family was very musical, and he developed skill in playing the Indian vina, a folk instrument. As a young person he toured the area playing folk music, especially songs with a spiritual quality. His music brought invitations to play at the courts of the Rajas, the princely rulers of Indian states under British colonial authority.
In that early cosmopolitan home Inayat also developed an appreciation for various religions and had a strong sense of the “oneness” of all faiths and creeds. In Hyderabad he met a Sufi teacher, Mohammed Abu Hasana, who helped root Inayat in the Chishti Sufi Order of Islam. Through his teacher’s guidance Inayat came to a deep religious experience with God. Then when Mohammed Abu Hasana was on his death-bed he gave his disciple a charge: “Go to the Western world, my son, and unite East and West through the magic of your music.” In 1910, Inayat left India for the United States.
As Inayat lectured in the U.S. and Europe he focused on the themes of divine unity, love, harmony and beauty. He was reluctant to give his teaching a name out of fear that naming it would create barriers between people who had a prejudice against Islam. For a long time, he said that great spiritual leaders never give a name to their religious views. Eventually, Inayat told people his views were part of Sufism. He emphasized the fundamental oneness of all religions. He was particularly concerned that Western religious traditions had little in the way of prayer and meditation techniques, something he called “the science of the soul.” Consequently he was taught those spiritual disciplines as available to people from various traditions.
In a town near Paris Inayat developed the Universal Worship Service that is also called the “Sufi Order in the West.” The worship order includes an invocation, readings from one of the holy books of the world’s major religions, lighting of a candle for each tradition, including a candle for those unknown or forgotten traditions which have inspired humanity, a discourse, and a final blessing. The goal of his Universal Worship Service was to show that people from different cultures and religions share many common elements. He wanted people to be able to hear each other’s scriptures and pray each other’s prayers.
As Inayat taught people the “inner disciplines” of prayer and meditation to take them deeper in their religious experiences, he also taught them the importance of relating their inner spiritual journey with the larger religious community of their faith. He urged people of all faiths to engage as active members of their faith groups and their local congregations.
Growing tired from his heavy travel and lecturing schedule, Inayat was struck down by influenza in 1927. His disciples continued his practice of both being rooted in Sufi teachings and spirituality and relating in positive ways to people of other religious traditions. The incorporation of spirituality and the arts has also continued to be important for those inspired by his example and teaching.
Meet more peacemakers
This profile on Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa comes from the pages of Interfaith Heroes 2. Interfaith Heroes 2 is one of the three books that inspired this website. Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.