When Inayat Khan came to the West — from his perspective we might call it “the mysterious West” — in 1910, he brought with him the traditions of the Sufi schools of India and Central Asia. He came with the intention of bringing harmony, and even as the methods he was to teach were all but unknown to a Eurocentric, post-Victorian society, so was the ground in which his seeds were to be sown a world unknown to him.
He became a new kind of missionary, attempting neither to proselytize nor to convert, asking no one to change his or her religious beliefs, he transmitted the wisdom of Sufism while pointing out its compatibility with all of the worlds religions. His first book was titled A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty, in which he defines Sufism as “a religious philosophy of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,” and introduced the idea of spiritual guidance, an idea little known in the western world. Of course the spiritual training had to be adapted for people whose life experience was vastly different from those in India where it was developed. Furthermore, he was able to train his Western students to give this guidance to others.
Implicit within the teaching brought by Inayat Khan was the vision of what he called “The Sufi Movement,” an inner awakening of consciousness and conscience that brought the individual to a realization of the need for the awakening of the whole of humanity “to know the divine character to be found in the innermost nature of (hu)man(kind).” As this vision became more clearly defined, the language in which it was expressed became more universal. In fact the descriptive term “Sufi” was used less frequently, with the “Sufi Message” becoming more frequently refered to as simply “the Message.”
It was a work of subtlety and elegance to profess a religious philosophy that emphasized no particular religion more than any other, but Inayat Khan’s genius was equal to the task. Though hampered by the need to build an organization to foster the proliferation of his teaching, he managed to explicate a philosophical container which could accommodate the diversity of peoples and faiths found in both the East and the West. This exegesis is beautifully encapsulated in his Ten Sufi Thoughts.
Through his classes, lectures, summer schools, books and private interviews, Inayat Khan worked tirelessly in the building of his mission. The structure he left in place is recapitulated in the Five Activities of the Inayati Order. The harmony between the traditions of the East and the dynamism of the West embodied in the teaching of Inayat Khan is a message that continues — through prayer, meditation, contemplation, and concentration — to enable the wisdom of the past to awaken to the spirituality of the future.