Hazard Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan was born in India in 1882, in a house which was a school of music. Many people passed through his house: poets, and particularly fakirs, sanyasins and sadhus. Nearby was a tomb where sadhus used to meet, and whenever the young Inayat Khan was not studying music, he was there. In his autobiography, Hazrat Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan tells that when he was twelve, he decided to run away from home, hoping to live with the sadhus. When he found what pain he was causing his family, he returned home.
As a young man, Inayat Khan’s grandfather took him to Nepal. Disillusioned by the treachery of the musicians at court, Inayat Khan traveled into the mountains on his horse. He felt a presence and then saw a great rishi sitting; he later said the whole country was filled by the presence of that being. He approached and they meditated in silence. The rishi was “muni,” he didn’t speak. The next day, Inayat fetched his vina and played for the rishi. He never forgot the experience of communication with that great rishi in the mountains.
Inayat became a teacher of music. He visited different maharajahs, in an attempt to reinstate the spiritual value of music. One of the greatest patrons of music was the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam was surrounded by people who prevented young musicians from coming forward into the established positions. Inayat was not allowed to sing at Court. After receiving the blessing of a lady dervish on the road, Inayat was presented to the Nizam. The Nizam was so moved by his singing that he stood up, took off his ring and gave it to Inayat Khan. The Nizam nominated Inayat as “Tansen of India,” the greatest title in music at that time (Tansen was the greatest singer in Indian history).
Inayat Khan felt he had fulfilled his work in music and that something else was waiting for him. Every night, he had visions of a guru, a murshid. His friends said, “Well, it’s a sign you must take initiation with a murshid,” so he knocked at the doors of different murshids, asking, “Can you be my murshid?” One day he knocked at the door of a murshid whose name was Khair-un-Mubin. That murshid said, “Not me, but look at the man who is coming in the door.” It was Abu Hashim Madani, whose face he had seen in his visions. Inayat Khan fell at Murshid Madani’s feet and said, “May I become your mureed?” The murshid said, “I have been waiting for you so long.” That murshid belonged to the Chisti Order and was living in Hyderabad. He had very few mureeds. He wasn’t Indian, but an Arab from the Hedjaz, a guest of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Before Abu Hashim Madani died, he called Inayat Khan to his bedside and told him he should go to the West and take the Message of Sufism with him (up to that time, Sufism was known in the West only through books written by university professors). Inayat Khan’s description of his first crossing to the United States, as a young man of twenty-seven was a test. Leaving everything and with no idea of what the West would be like, he trusted the instructions of his murshid. At one of the first lectures he gave, he met the woman who would become his wife, Ora Rae Baker, a cousin of Mary Baker Eddy. Her family opposed their marriage but she met him in London where they were wed.
Traveling together to Russia in 1911 – 1912, the couple barely escaped the Russian revolution, fleeing to England with their infant daughter, Noor-un-nisa. A son, Vilayat, was born in 1916, who later became the head of the Sufi Order founded by Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan in 1910. The family later settled in Paris and then in Geneva. Another son and daughter were born. Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan taught Sufism and guided a growing organization, which he described as “being like a ship which is built for a purpose, to carry the people and things from one port to another.”
In the later years of his life, Inayat Khan spoke of Sufism as a mother who would give birth to a child, which he called the Message, that is beyond any names or labels. He described this Message as “the awakening of humanity to the divinity of mankind.” Pir-O-Murshid believed that this Message would facilitate humanity’s awareness of the diversity within and bring a new life to all facets of human endeavor.
Dargah, Nizamuddin Basti, New Delhi, India
In 1926, Hazrat Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan returned to India, where he died on February 5, 1927. He left a legacy of inspiration, both in books transcribed from his lectures and in the spiritual transmission passed on to his successors and members of the Inayati Order, and related Orders, today.
This photo was intended for use in the practice of Tassawuri Murshid. Please check with your guide for more information about this practice.
The Sufi Order of Rochester Center for Sufi Studies, 494 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607, the Carriage House behind the AAUW mansion (Carriage House is 492).