Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India, on 5th July, 1882, to Khatija Bibi and Mashaik Rahmat Khan. He grew up in a deeply refined religious and musical extended family whose influences were clearly discernible in the young Inayat. His mother was noted for her genuine piety, her interest in literature, especially poetry, and philosophy, and her gentle and harmonious demeanour. She was interested in both the religion of Islam, the religion of her family, and that of Hinduism. Inayat deeply appreciated and loved his mother, and during his youth produced a poetic tribute to her loving self-sacrifice.

His father, Mashaik Rahmat Khan, was trained in classical music by Saint Alias, a renowned Punjabi composer and a Sufi mystic. He earned his living as a professional musician and was a very talented singer of drupad. He provided for Inayat a balancing and practical influence, as well as a foundation in philosophy and morality. Rahmat Khan embodied and imparted the qualities of honesty, sincerity, nobility, self-discipline, kindness and courtesy. He showed his son the beauty of loving and serving others.

Hazrat Inayat Khan's interests and character were unusual from an early age. Although from a Muslim family, he was sent to a good Hindu school. There, he was considered by his teachers as a bad student, whose brilliance only surfaced during poetry lessons, something that very much concerned his father. However, as the mystic Sa'di has said, `Every soul is born for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose is the candle of that soul.' And so Inayat was writing poetry by the age of seven, and had a deep desire to fully understand the truth and meaning behind everything.

Among the character traits displayed in the Master (Hazrat Inayat Khan) even at a tender age, was the deeply rooted human need to reverence and to hold an ideal. The Master would later explain how crucial this is in the development of the human personality – how it is this need for an ideal that is being expressed in our reverencing God and how important it is that God doesn't remain for us an empty, unfathomable intellectual concept. Initially for him, this ideal took the form of his maternal grandfather, Maula Bakhsh.

Maula Bakhsh was a very talented and respected musician. He founded an Academy of Music, the Gayanshala, where Rahmat Khan also taught, invented a system of musical annotation and was highly honoured for his singing and musical accomplishment in a number of Indian princely courts. He had, in addition, a lively and engaging personality, and entertained the great musicians, poets, artists, scientists and thinkers of his day.

Hazrat Inayat Khan idealised his grandfather and spent many hours in his drawing room, listening to the discussions taking place. He was particularly interested in understanding human nature and was a natural thinker. He would ask endless questions and was determined to get at the truth, even if it meant revealing he had disobeyed his grandfather in the search. This active pursuit for the truth of a matter is another essential element on the Sufi Path, he urged his followers not to only passively accept what they were told, but to actively find the truth for themselves.

Maula Bakhsh and his grandson were very close and it was a severe blow to Inayat when his beloved grandfather, guide and friend died in 1896, when Inayat was only fourteen.

Soon after, no doubt in part in order to console his son, Rahmat Khan took him on an extended visit to Nepal. It was a visit that had a significant impact on him. We see here the flowering of another of the defining qualities of the Message. His father left him very much to his own devices during this time, which was often spent in the solitude of Nature. Reflecting on this journey, he said,

"The openness of Nature made a free way for me to everything; so much freedom in my soul that it could reach up to the sun, the mountains, the hills and the trees, where there is no-one to talk to, no-one to trouble you, as one sits quietly listening to the sounds as they fall on the ear; the sounds of the winds, the waterfalls – so that one becomes one with Nature."(Hazrat Inayat Khan, `The Story of My Mystical Life', East-West Publications, Netherlands, 1982, p.11)

This consciousness of being one with Nature, of hearing God's call, of seeing His guiding hand through all creation, is evident throughout the Message, and there seems not a single facet of nature that didn't inspire him. Amongst his `Nature Meditations' we find:

I shall penetrate the black heart of the clouds to reach Thee, my Lord. 
Give me the patience of the green trees that stand still, awaiting Thy command. 
In white lilies I bring Thee an offering of my open heart.

During these adolescent years the object of the Hazrat Inayat Khan’s reverence became that of his mother in whom, he said, `One can realise the love of God, God the merciful, unselfish and pure.' However, while this sense of reverence and gratitude for his mother was still growing, in 1902 she passed away.

He realised, in dealing with the loss of yet another deeply cherished family member, that if one wants comfort and sympathy one must find it in oneself. So he lived the lesson of independence. Around this time he was called in a manner that again brings to mind Gautama Buddha.

One evening, during a visit to the tomb of the great Sufi Saint in Ajmer, Hazrat Inayat Khan heard a fakir singing:

"Be wide awake! Look at life passing away! One after the other the persons you have been interested in pass on. You too are passing on; pause to reflect that everything that comes to you, you have to be parted from in the end. Awake to see the difference between the real and the unreal. Understand that you are here just for a while; understand your destiny. Awake before it is too late!" (Hazrat Inayat Khan, `The Story of My Mystical Life', op.cit. p. 13)

Within this song was the seed too, of the lesson of indifference – which along with independence are said to be the wings of the Sufi Heart.

For him, this was indeed an awakening experience. He spent the night in rapture listening to a group of dervishes and soon after asked his father for an explanation of God. He answered with this Persian verse:

"The bubble can say to the sea, `Thou art no different from me and I am no different from thee. Thou art the perfect, while I am the imperfect being, yet thou art not separate from me, nor I from thee.'" (Ibid., p. 14)

This intimation of the relationship between God and humanity was enough. Hazrat Inayat Khan continued to live and experience the Message he was later to share with humanity.

As he came of age, he was determined to make his way independently of his family and went to Madras where he made his living as a musician. While he was much lauded for his great talent and musical refinement, he gradually found that his exquisite music was not for everyone. He had heard much about the refined taste of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and it became his ardent desire to perform for him. However, as is the case with most royal personages, one first needed an invitation. His friends held out no hope, and eventually this led him to confiding his longing to God. In time the obstacles which had earlier impeded progress, simply fell away and God fulfilled his heart's desire. The Nizam was deeply moved by Inayat Khan’s music and greatly rewarded and honoured him. However, while this might have been the beginning of a lucrative employment, it became instead a trigger for further spiritual realisations. He now knew that without true faith little can be achieved; and knew further that our prayers are indeed answered, that God in the form of Sustainer is a constant reality.

At this time Hazrat Inayat Khan intensified his spiritual search still further – keeping night vigils, being drawn into ecstasy through his music, communing with the Beloved before dawn, and he had a number of meditative visions of meeting a remarkable being, whose face was gleaming with beauty. Much of his time was spent seeking out someone who would guide him, but each time those he approached with all hope and reverence, themselves treated him with respect and said that the honour of guiding him was not to be theirs. Then one day as he was talking about this with a friend, a man with the very same face as the one in his visions, walked in. He later described this deepest of beautiful moments:

"He had such a great calm and was so quiet of demeanour with great magnetism and psychic power around him. He came in and sat down and I was introduced to him. I was sure it was the same face I had seen! He asked his friend: `Who is this young man?' and was told, `He is a musician; a young man very anxious to walk along the spiritual path.' At once the sage said, `I will be very glad to initiate him,' and he did so there and then. His teaching, his glance of kindness, his mere contact gave me a reward incomparable with all the rewards and decorations that I had ever had from rajas and maharajas. It was like lead turning into gold. My heart was turned from its darkness and ignorance into light." (Ibid., pp. 17-18)

Hazrat Inayat Khan grew in time to embody those same qualities he so admired in his own teacher, Mohammed Abu Hashim Madani. The time spent with his teacher was one of incredible intensity and it was through Hazrat Inayat Khan’s complete devotion to his teacher that he lived the emptying of the cup of self. During these few years with Abu Hashim Madani, Hazrat Inayat Khan studied the Qur'an, the Hadith (or sayings of the Prophet) and the literature of the great Sufi mystics. He studied the five grades of Sufism – the physical, intellectual, mental, moral and spiritual – and was initiated into the four main schools of Sufism. He went through periods of clairvoyance and clairaudience, experienced a growing intuition and inspiration and had visions. Once he spoke to his teacher about an experience showing his development as a seer, and his teacher only remarked, `I am sorry! It is not the seeing or hearing, it is its acknowledgement that hinders one's progress.' Later he stressed to his own students the danger of becoming fascinated with the phenomena that might arise on the path of spiritual progress. Hazrat Inayat Khan was in this blessed presence for about four years, when in 1907, his teacher gave him his final blessing and teaching before he died.

He was bereft after the passing of his teacher and became very restless, travelling constantly throughout India and even to Burma during the next two years. In 1908 he began a soul-searching pilgrimage visiting both the holy men of India, and the tombs of many saints and mystics, including that of Kwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. He began to imitate the habits and methods of the dervishes and included several hours of meditations with his other daily devotions.

While his experience of the presence of God continued to grow, he was already beginning his teachings, albeit in an ad hoc manner. On his visit to the temple of Manek Prabhu, a great Brahman guru, he was asked what he, a Muslim, was doing there. He replied:

"Muslim or Hindu are only outward distinctions; the truth is one, God is one, life is one. To me there is no such thing as two." (W. van Beek, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vantage Press, NY, 1983, p.68)

After the death of his father in 1910, he took on the responsibility of caring for his youngest brother, Musharaff Khan, who remembered that he used to listen to his brother singing the early morning prayer, and often found him sitting with his vina, moved to tears; that he was of a happy and grateful disposition from childhood, and that he never got angry.

During his pilgrimage he also visited the shrine of Miran Datar where thousands of obsessed and sick people came to be cured. This gave him a deeper understanding of human beings and he saw how many illnesses are caused by lack of insight and self-control and how an illness can be embedded in the mind. Later, during his mission in the West he healed many people who came to him.

At the end of this time the Hazrat Inayat Khan realised that he would make his way in life not as a dervish, but as one who was in the world and not of it. He began again to practise music and to use this most exquisite expression to impart to others the real meaning of art. He was again greatly praised for the depth and beauty of his music, though by now his true purpose was manifest in all he did. At Mysore, he learned from the Sufi sage, Pir Jamet Ali Shah, the practice of mastering the sun. While this gave him mastery over the elements and influences upon life, he nevertheless used his power only in spiritual healing. He was, by now, able to enter samadhi at will, and his music took him instantly to the higher spheres.

Finally the way was cleared for Hazrat Inayat Khan, accompanied by his brother Maheboob Khan and his cousin, Mohammed Ali Khan, to set sail for America on 13th September, 1910. This showed a tremendous act of faith in and devotion to the Master, as both men already had significant careers of their own.

This first trip to America was primarily a time of study – of discovering the psychology of the West. He met with prejudice and suspicion of things Eastern and of things spiritual, and although he was able to perform his music, it was also a time of poverty. He managed to set some groundwork in place, and also met his future wife, Ora Ray Baker, who followed him to England in 1912, despite her family's opposition. They were married in London later that year.

In 1913, having found his efforts in England not very fruitful, he moved to Paris where he made a number of friends responsive to his music. He then visited Russia, where he found the people warm-hearted and appreciative, and a number became his disciples or mureeds. In particular he mentions one interested in translating `A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty'. It is easy to miss the significance of this – that during this time when travel was still relatively difficult, when he endured the strain of making a living in strange countries, when he was confronted by all manner of new impressions, when he was struggling with the work of his mission, in countries whose customs and languages were unfamiliar to him – he was nevertheless producing books. He wrote the play `Shiva' while in Russia, and his first child, Noorunissa was born there on 1st January, 1914.

That year he returned to Paris to represent Indian music at the Musical Congress. Then at the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to England. This was a most difficult time with all thoughts focused on war. Still, he managed to give a number of talks, although at times to some minuscule audiences. He said later, "With patience and with hope, I carried on my work." With the help of some devoted mureeds a Sufi Publishing Society was started, and a number of books were published.

Characteristically, Hazrat Inayat Khan, while aware of the difficulties in the personalities of his mureeds, was graciously and sincerely appreciative of all their efforts. It is both humbling and incredibly inspiring to read his voluminous correspondence with his mureeds and supporters. He seemed to simply be endlessly loving; to clearly respond to the Divine in all. He consoled them and took their interests and difficulties to heart, and healed all he could help.

A number of small centres were established in England, but after the war ended in 1918 he felt that the conditions in England were even more hardened. He moved the International Headquarters of the Sufi Movement from England to Geneva and settled with his family near Paris. In 1920 the first group in Paris was formed and from then the work began to flourish.

In 1921 he visited Belgium and made a private tour through Germany, having also visited Holland where centres were established in a number of cities. In 1922 he gave a Summer School in the home of a mureed – the first held at Katwijk-aan-Zee (the present-day site of the Sufi Temple, Murad Hassil, and home of the International Sufi Summer School). In March 1923 he travelled once more to America, where he was at first detained on Ellis Island, the monthly quota for Indian visitors having been filled.

This second visit was much better publicised and consequently more successful than the first. He lectured in New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He left New York on June 9th, 1923.

In that same summer hard upon his return from America, he held his first Summer School in Suresnes. Later that year he went to Geneva to meet with the International Council and the International Sufi Movement was first incorporated under Swiss law.

From Geneva he travelled to Italy and in Rome he was blessed by the Pope. Many mureeds were initiated and a number of national societies and centres of the Sufi Movement were created. Finally, Hazrat Inayat Khan's work load had become so heavy however, that he had to give up his music.

In all these busy years he also managed a beautifully love-filled family life. He and Amina Begum, as his wife became known, had four children – Noorunissa in 1914, Vilayat in 1916, Hidayat in 1917 and Khairunissa in 1919. He was full of gratitude toward his wife and children.

In 1924 he visited England and befriended Sirkar van Stolk who then accompanied him on his travels. This mureed had been in a prolonged state of ill-health and Hazrat Inayat Khan did much to heal, encourage and strengthen him, so that he, Sirkar, later continued to do his teacher’s work in South Africa.

They went to Switzerland, again to Italy, then Belgium and Holland, back to Switzerland, followed by a tour through Germany, then on to Sweden, Norway and Denmark. He returned to Berlin for a lecture tour, then visited Holland, where the work was flourishing, and on again to Belgium. This pace continued through 1925 when he returned to America, and met Henry Ford in Detroit.

After this last Summer School, he went with Kismet Stam to India, where he had hoped to have some rest and time for reflection. However, it became instead a busy time of travels and lectures. He visited Baroda, Agra, Benares and Sikandra and lectured in Lucknow, Aligar and in Delhi, where he took a residence in Tilak Lodge, Daya Lane.

Around the beginning of 1927 the he caught a cold, which later developed into pneumonia. 
Hazrat Inayat Khan, passed away in the south Room of Tilak Lodge, at 8.20 am on 5th February, 1927.

The life of Hazrat Inayat Khan inevitably was filled with the details of rendering his mission as a Messenger of God. He was an extraordinary musician, an organiser, an inspirer, a healer and consoler. He lived consciously in the presence of God and this was the source of his might and majesty. To those who knew him he was the personification of the perfect man, a living demonstration of the divine qualities, of the love, harmony and beauty with which he hoped to inspire humanity.

In a very real sense the biography of Hazrat Inayat Khan goes on beyond the confines of ordinary existence. He continues to live through the Message, through those he touched and illumined, through those who carry his presence in their hearts.


"The Sufi Movement aims to bring about an understanding between the followers of the different religions by revealing the essential truth which underlies them all; it expresses Divine love in human service and friendship, it cultivates the mind by the thought of unity, and aims to establish peace on earth by esoteric training."

"The Sufi Movement aims to establish peace on earth by esoteric training, which is first an individual peace brought by self-realisation. It is an individual peace which alone can bring about peace on earth and love in humanity."

"The method of the Sufis has always been that of self-effacement, but the effacement of which self? Not the real self, but the false self, on which one depends, priding oneself on being something, in order to allow that real self to manifest in the world of appearances. Thus the Sufi method works towards the unfoldment of the soul, the self which is eternal, to which all power and beauty belong."

Hazrat Inayat Khan

"A Sufi by definition is a religious soul whose nature is to refuse to submit to imposed beliefs, and who is perfectly conscious that life is not necessarily just what one might think it to be. Life is not only lived at the level of physical experience, nor only at the level of thought, nor only at the level of feeling, but also, and most importantly, at a still higher level of consciousness, where the self is no more the barrier separating reality from illusion."

"The meaning of life for a mystic is solely a journey from love to love. The condition of the soul before the journey is a condition of love; what is expected during the journey is love; and when the soul returns after the journey, it returns to love."

Pir-o-Murshid Hidayat Inayat Khan



Extracts from the Booklet – Biography of Hazrat Inayat Khan by Safa Hull


East-West Publication Fonds b.v.: Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, GB, 1979

East-West Publication Fonds b.v.: The Flower Garden of Inayat Khan, illustrated by H.W. le Mair, GB, 1978

Khan, Hidayat Inayat, Once Upon a Time, International Sufi Movement, Netherlands, 1998

Khan, Inayat, The Complete Sayings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Sufi Order Publications, NY, 1978

Khan, Inayat, Nature Meditations, Sufi Order Publications, NY, 1980

Khan, Inayat, The Palace of Mirrors, Sufi Publishing Company, GB, Reprinted from The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, 1976

Khan, Inayat, The Story of My Mystical Life, East-West Publications, Fonds b.v., Netherlands, 1982

Khan, Inayat, The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vols 1-12, first published by Barrie and Rockliff, GB, 1964, reprinted 1972 (Distributed by Servire Publishers, Netherlands)

Khan, Musharaff Moulamia, Pages in the Life of a Sufi, Mirananda, Netherlands, 1982

Stam, K.D., Rays, East-West Publications Fonds b.v., Netherlands, 1927

van Stolk, Sirkar, Memories of a Sufi Sage: Hazrat Inayat Khan, East-West Publication Fonds b.v., The Hague, 1967 Reprinted 1975

Witteveen, Dr H. J., Universal Sufism, Element Books Ltd, GB, 1997