Hazrat Inayat Khan, the founder of the International Sufi Movement, was born in Baroda (Vadodara) in India on 5 July 1882. On September 13, 1910, he sailed from Bombay (Mumbai) for New York, and became the first Sufi Master from the East to travel and teach widely in the West. He died in India at the age of 44 on February 5, 1927. He has been described recently as “the pioneer among, and perhaps the most persevering and creative of, twentieth-century Sufi teachers in Europe, the USA, and Canada.”[i]

Inayat Khan was the son and grandson of musicians and mystics. His maternal grandfather, Maula Bakhsh, was a well-known master of the music of both North and South India, who settled in Baroda and established ‘Gayanshala,’ the first musical academy of its kind in India. Baroda was still a princely state at this time, though the Maharaja had direct dealings with the British foreign rulers. One of Maula Bakhsh’s students, Rahemat Khan, married his daughter, Khatidja Biy, and Inayat was their first child.  It was an extended family and household of many influences, cultures and traditions.  Inayat Khan was raised a devout Muslim, though he went to a Hindu school, thus growing up in a Muslim and Hindu socio-cultural context in which music and mysticism were valued, and hierarchical distinctions between human beings taken for granted.

As a young man Inayat Khan showed great musical talent and he sang and played the vina in royal courts all over South Asia. He was also interested in the spiritual life, and visited teachers from many traditions. Much of his time was devoted to meditation, and he received visions, including one “of a most haunting and spiritual face, radiant with light.”[ii]  When just over twenty years of age, Inayat Khan met his spiritual guide, Murshid Khwaja Mohammed Abu Hashim Madani, a shaikh of the Nizami branch of the Chishti order, who lived in Hyderabad. Inayat Khan recognised Murshid Madani as the face he had seen in meditation, and “when they looked at each other, the meeting of glances was like the connection of an electric current.”[iii] Murshid Madani initiated Inayat into Sufism and he spent the next three years in training. Inayat Khan describes this as:

… the most beautiful time of my life. In him [my murshid] I saw every rare quality, while his unassuming nature and his fine modesty could hardly be equalled even among the highest mystics of the world. He combined within himself the intense spell of ecstasy and constant flow of inspiration with the very soul of spiritual independence. Although I had found most wonderful attributes among the mystics I had met, some in greater and some in lesser degrees, I had never until then beheld the balance of all that was good and desirable in one man.[iv]

As Murshid Madani was dying in 1907, he gave Inayat Khan the title of Pir-o-Murshid and blessed him, saying “Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonise the East and the West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end thou art gifted by Allah, the most Merciful and Compassionate.”[v] After his Murshid’s death Inayat Khan spent a number of years on a pilgrimage throughout South Asia, visiting holy men and shrines and working as a musician, before embarking on his mission to “Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad.” His brother, Maheboob Khan, and cousin-brother,  Ali Khan, travelled with him to New York, where they were joined a year later by their youngest brother, Musharaff Khan.

In 1911 or 1912 Inayat Khan met his future wife, Ora-Ray Baker, in America. Her brother opposed the match, but she followed Inayat Khan to England and they married in March, 1913. Their daughter, Noor, was born in Russia in 1914, and two sons, Vilayat (1916) and Hidayat (1917), and daughter Khair (1919), were born in England, where the family lived during World War 1. From being a musician, a mureed and a pilgrim in India, Inayat was now a family man and spiritual teacher in the West. He commented:

I learnt later why a darwish soul like me, indifferent to the life of the world, constantly attracted to solitude, was set in the midst of the worldly life. It was my training. I learnt as a man of the world the responsibilities and the needs of the worldly life; which one, standing apart from this life, however spiritually advanced cannot understand. To feel in sympathy with my mureeds placed in different situations of life, and to be able to place myself in their situation, and look at their life, it was necessary for me. Besides to have to do with different natures and souls in the different grades of evolution, it was necessary to have had the experience of home life, especially with children, with their different stages of development.[vi]

In 1920 the family moved to Europe. They settled in their new home, “Fazil Manzil” (meaning ‘Blessed Abode’), in Suresnes, a suburb of Paris. In October 1926 Inayat Khan returned to India for a visit and lecture tour. In early 1927 he revisited the tomb of Mu’inuddin Chishti at Ajmer, and in Delhi met Khwaja Hasan Nizami, a prominent figure in India and the Chishti Order and a custodian of the dargah of the 14th century Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. After a brief illness Inayat Khan passed away at Tilak Lodge in New Delhi. Nizami provided land for his dargah, or tomb, close by that of Nizamuddin Auliya.


Work in the West


Inayat Khan travelled and taught in the United States, England, Russia and Europe, for sixteen years. He began his work by trying to get “accustomed to the people, to the atmosphere, and to the country … studying … the Western mind, the mentality of the Occidental people, their attitude towards life, religion and God.” Inayat Khan made much effort to get to know his very different new environment. He saw himself as “Transported by destiny from the world of lyric and poetry to the world of industry and commerce … the land of my future.”

From 1910 until 1912, Inayat Khan gave concerts of Indian music and talks on Sufism in major American cities, though at first it was a struggle to find work and opportunities.

In 1912 Inayat Khan and his brothers left the United States for England. There he gave concerts and lectures and made contact with artists, musicians and many of the minor aristocracy. The brothers spent some time in London and Paris before accepting an invitation to visit Russia in 1913. With the outbreak of World War 1, Inayat Khan and his family returned from Russia to London. He formed groups of mureeds and gave lectures throughout England and Wales, often at the invitation of the Theosophical Society. The Sufi Publishing Society was started, and the quarterly magazine, ‘The Sufi,’ began. Inayat Khan’s first book, A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty, was published in 1914.

Inayat Khan’s work went ahead after the war, especially in Europe, where he reached many of the cultural and social elite “such as Debussy, Scriabine, Maria Montessori, d'Annunzio, Paderewski, Count Tolstoi Jr., Salvador de Madariaga.” Much of his later following was recruited from the European gentry and aristocracy of the period. By 1923 Inayat Khan had established Sufi Societies in many of the major cities of Europe.

The annual Sufi Summer School, which is still held today, first took place in 1920 in Wissous, near Paris, where it lasted for several weeks. Following this, the Summer School was held for three months each year in the grounds of the family home at Suresnes, except for 1922 when it was held at Katwijk, in Holland. On this site, in the sand dunes at Katwijk on the North Sea, Inayat Khan had undergone a profound spiritual experience, and blessed the place, calling it Murad Hassil (fulfilled wish). Each year more people came, and by 1923 more land was bought, a lecture hall built, and a house purchased to provide accommodation and food for the mureeds from Europe and the United States.

The Summer Schools were opportunities for training in the Sufi path, providing an extended time when mureeds could be in the presence of their Murshid, on a daily basis. During the Summer Schools, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan held classes for mureeds, gave public lectures, and was available to see mureeds and others in private. Shaikh Al-Mashaik Mahmood Khan, a nephew of Inayat Khan, recalls how Inayat Khan and his brothers performed morning practices for at least two hours, and then, in the afternoon, walking meditation. An important part of the training at the Summer Schools was group ‘silences,’ in which mureeds could attune to, and reflect, the deeper consciousness of their spiritual master. The Summer Schools also included Universal Worship services, musical concerts and a festive gathering for Viladat Day on 5 July, the birthday of Inayat Khan.

After Inayat Khan’s death, the summer school continued for many years to be held at Suresnes, first conducted by Shaikh-al-Mashaikh Maheboob Khan, Hazrat Inayat Khan’s brother, who read his addresses, held silences and gave lectures. The location was important, as Inayat Khan’s presence had blessed the place and could be felt as an inspiration and healing for mureeds and visitors. When this site became unavailable, acquiring the land blessed by Inayat Khan at Katwijk then became a priority, and the main Sufi Temple was eventually built on this site.

Except for the three months of the Summer School, Inayat Khan spent the years from 1920 to 1926 travelling in Germany, Holland, England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland, establishing and building up Sufi Societies. In 1923 and 1925 Inayat Khan travelled again to America, visiting the various Sufi Societies to initiate and train mureeds, as well as giving public lectures. By the spring of 1925, these years of continual travel and exertion, teaching and organisation had affected Inayat Khan’s health, though the Summer School was held as usual. In 1926 Inayat Khan’s final Summer School concluded on September 13, the anniversary of his departure from India for the West, and still celebrated by mureeds as Hijirah Day.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was an Indian Sufi master who founded an order and trained a circle of disciples, and a multidimensional figure – musician, sage and visionary - one of those beings who emerge periodically to shape and reshape a sacred landscape.


 (i) Jervis, J. 1998. 'The Sufi Order in the West and Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan: Space-Age Spirituality in Contemporary Euro-America' in Clarke, P.B. (ed.) New Trends and Developments in the World of Islam. London: Luzac Oriental, 213.

 (ii) Khan, I. 1967. The Vision of God and Man. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 146.
Van Beek, W. 1983. Hazrat Inayat Khan: Master of life, modern Sufi mystic. New York: Vantage Press, 56.

 (iii) Khan, I. 1967. The Vision of God and Man. London: Barrie and Jenkins., 149.

 (iv) Block, R.M. 1915. The Confessions of Inayat Khan. London: The Sufi Publishing Society.

 (v) Inayat Khan, in Van Voorst van Beest, M. and Guillaume-Schamhart, E. 1979. 'Biography of Pir-o-Murshid

 (vi)  Inayat Khan'. London: East-West Publications, 182-183.
Ibid., 121-129.