History of the Sufi Movement in Australia

The Sufi Movement in Australia (SMIA) is part of the International Sufi Movement established by Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882 – 1927) during his work in Europe and the United States of America between 1910 and 1926. It was the first Sufi order founded in the West and has centres worldwide, including Australia.

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Sufi Movement has had a following in Australia since the first half of the 20th century although until recently, this history was relatively unknown in Australia or overseas, even in Sufi circles. It began in 1927 with the arrival of Baron von Frankenberg (1889 – 1950), a mureed (student) of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, as an immigrant from Germany. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Baron (known as Shaikh Momin to his students) established lively Sufi groups in Melbourne and Sydney.

From 1951, Sharif Jansen (1908 – 1990), a Dutchman and post-war immigrant developed the Sufi Movement. In 1959 Jansen (known as Murshid Sharif to his students) was appointed as the National Representative of the Sufi Movement in Australia. He established groups in Australia and New Zealand and, particularly after the 1970s, attracted a growing following, mostly among people of ‘Western’ background. Many of the groups following the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan in contemporary Australia have emerged from Jansen’s work.


Early Beginnings: 1927-1950

The first Australian representative of Sufism, Baron Friedrick Elliot von Frankenberg und Ludwigsdorf, was born on January 2, 1889, into an aristocratic and cultured family. His father, Friedrich von Frankenberg, was a German Baron of independent means, and his mother, Jessie Elliot, was born in Australia. Von Frankenberg was brought up mainly in Germany. In 1925, from mid-June to mid-September, he attended the Sufi Movement Summer School, led annually by Inayat Khan at Suresnes in France. He was accepted by Inayat Khan as a mureed, and given the Sufi name of Momin (meaning faithful), as well as instruction in spiritual practices. In 1926 Von Frankenberg returned to Suresnes, for what was to be the last Summer School led by Inayat Khan.

In 1927, Von Frankenberg migrated to Australia and married an Australian woman, Olive Pauline Ward Taylor. His wife, generally known as Stella, or by her Sufi name of Lila, was an accomplished pianist and member of a successful business family in Sydney. In the 1930s the Von Frankenbergs settled on a dairy farm called ‘Spring Hills’ at Camden, on the outskirts of Sydney. The couple built a modern house that they furnished with Persian pottery, European embroidery, Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, and an extensive library of mystical and philosophical writings. Locally, Von Frankenberg was known as ‘the Baron.’ From the 1930s until his death in 1950, Von Frankenberg worked to spread the Sufi Message and established and led the first Sufi groups in Australia. On his death, at the age of 61, he was buried in the Camden cemetery.


Founding the Sufi Movement in Australia: 1951-1990

The next Sufi leader was Dr Karel Frederik Rechlien Jansen (Murshid Sharif).

Some of the current Australian Sufi Movement leaders and members were mureeds of Jansen, and remember him well. Jansen played a major role in the development of Sufism in Australia for forty years, from the 1950s until his death in 1990.

Jansen was born on 17 December 1908 in Indonesia, the son of the Minister of Education in the Government of the Netherlands East Indies, and died in Sydney on December 9, 1990. He grew up in the East Indies but was sent to Holland in 1923 for tertiary studies, completing a law degree and a PhD. He was a keen runner, and in the early 1930s made the hard choice to focus on his studies, rather than train for the Netherlands team for the 1936 Olympic Games.

In 1938 Jansen returned to the Dutch East Indies to begin his career in the Department of Economic Affairs. However, the Pacific War and takeover of the Dutch East Indies by the Japanese in March 1942 cut this short. Jansen was interned as a prisoner of war and spent the rest of the war years incarcerated. There was a high death rate in the camps, and Jansen attributed his survival to the fitness he had built up with athletics, and to his spiritual life. After the war Jansen returned to Jakarta, but politics in the region were changing as Indonesia rejected its colonial status, and by 1950 the Dutch were no longer welcome. In 1951 Jansen immigrated to Australia with his wife, Hermoine, a Dutch woman who had also grown up in Indonesia.

Jansen was first exposed to the spiritual path and philosophy of Sufism by growing up in Indonesia. His interest continued during his student years when he visited Turkey to spend time with Sufis there and undertake some training with the Mevlevi Order. However, the most significant event was his meeting with the man who became his life-long spiritual teacher. This was Musharaff Moulamia Khan (1895-1967), the youngest brother of the Sufi Movement founder. Musharaff's wife was Jansen's aunt and they met at a family gathering. Jansen often told his mureeds the story of how Musharaff Khan entered the room late, and as all the others were deep in conversation, only he noticed that there was no chair for Musharaff. Jansen fetched the necessary chair. As Musharaff thanked him, they exchanged glances and Jansen felt Musharaff's glance penetrate his heart. They experienced, he believed, a deep spiritual quality of mutual recognition. Afterwards, Jansen always dated this encounter with his spiritual teacher as the real beginning of his journey on the spiritual path.

Musharaff Khan formally initiated Jansen into the Sufi path in 1946. In a letter in 1948 to Jansen in Jakarta, Musharaff Khan told him: “You can be sure that distance does not count, since our spiritual link between murshid and mureed has been established. As you know, I am always your well-wisher and your guide, since destiny has brought us together … You are always welcome to open your heart to me, since I have become your murshid. Murshid is as an elder brother, as a guide, as an adviser and as a consoler for his mureed.”

Over the next few years, Jansen's position in Jakarta often required travel overseas and he took every opportunity to visit Musharaff Khan. When apart, Jansen wrote regularly and the correspondence continued, until Musharaff Khan died in 1967.

The early years in Australia were a struggle for the Jansens. Musharaff Khan encouraged them, saying to Sharif that he is “one who responds to the call of his soul despite all the material struggle for life” and who will, by “continuing to deepen in your innermost being … arrive to … happiness and everlasting peace.” He praised Sharif’s “fine attitude of discipleship” and said that he was “most thankful to God, to find on this earth such a soul.” In these years Jansen was a very dedicated but private Sufi, continuing his spiritual exercises and holding regularly the Universal Worship service.

In September 1958 Musharaff Khan became the Pir-o-Murshid of the International Sufi Movement, and appointed Jansen as the National Representative for the Sufi Movement in Australia. Jansen’s previously private life as a Sufi began to expand and he began accepting mureeds. In 1961 Musharaff Khan gave Jansen his Sufi name ‘Sharif,’ explaining “it means noble, another meaning is the one who gives service for the welfare of others.” And further; “It was guided from above to give you this name, so it is not from me, it is from above. I find that you are deserving for this name, because you are humble and at the same time proud in God alone.” From this time, Jansen used the name Sharif when involved in Sufi work.

Sharif gradually became well-known for counselling and guidance and met with mureeds in the evenings and on weekends. They included people from the Baron’s groups, as well as others who had read Inayat Khan's books. From the early 1970s the number of people attracted to Sufism and Sharif's guidance expanded. There was a new atmosphere of openness in which mureeds introduced their friends and spoke openly about their Sufi teacher to others. Sharif continued to see people individually or in couples, and also established regular weekly classes. People from many parts of Australia visited him and took initiation. By the 1980s, in addition to the Sydney mureeds, he was overseeing Sufi groups in Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth as well as groups in New Zealand.


Sufi Movement in Australia (SMIA)

Since Sharif Jansen’s death in 1990, the Sufi Movement in Australia (SMIA) has continued to expand. It includes old mureeds of Sharif Jansen as well as newcomers from the 1990s onwards and is affiliated with the International Sufi Movement now led by Pir-o-Murshid Hidayat Inayat-Khan. Each year many mureeds travel to Holland to take part in the annual Summer Schools and Leaders Retreats, while others attend retreats at Inayat Khan’s dargah in New Delhi. From informal gatherings of mureeds in the early 1990s, the SMIA has evolved an organisational structure, a network of regional centres and leaders, and an Australian Summer School is held in January each year. The Sufi Movement in Australia publishes a quarterly newsletter, ‘Spirit Matters,’ which provides information about Sufi activities in Australia, as well as spiritual articles and poetry.