Hazrat Inayat Khan (July 5, 1882 – February 5, 1927) was the founder of Universal Sufism and the Sufi Order International. He initially came to the West as a representative of several traditions of classical Indian music, having received the title Tansen from the Nizam of Hyderabad. However, Khan's life mission was soon revealed to be the introduction and transmission of Sufi thought and practice to the West. His universal message of Divine Unity – Tawhid – focused on the themes of "Love, Harmony and Beauty" and evinced his distinctive and effective ability to transmit the highest spiritual truths of Sufism to Western audiences of his day.
Although Inayat Khan was initiated into the Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshbandi orders of Sufism, his primary initiation was in the Nizamiyya subbranch of the Chishti Order by Shaykh Muhammed Abu Hashim Madani, with whose encouragement he left India in 1910 to come the West. He traveled first as a touring musician and then as a teacher of Sufism, visiting over three continents. Eventually, he married Ora Ray Baker (Pirani Ameena Begum), an American woman from New Mexico, and they had had four children: Noor-un-Nisa (1913), Vilayat (1916), Hidayat (1917) and Khair-un-Nisa (1919). The family settled in Suresnes, near Paris.
Khan returned to India at the end of 1926. While there chose the site of his tomb, the Nizamuddin Dargah complex in Delhi, where the eponymous founder of the Nizami Chishtiyya, Shaykh Nizamuddin Auliya (died 1325), is buried. Khan died shortly after his decision, on February 5, 1927.
Today active branches of Inayat Khan's lineage can be found in France, England, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, and Russia. He left behind a rich legacy of English literature infused with his vision of the unity of religious ideals, which calls humanity to awaken to the "Truth of Divine Guidance and Love".
Even though Inayat Khan was raised as a Muslim, he was also keenly aware of the Euro-American prejudice against Islam in his time. He therefore made the controversial decision to present Sufism without specifically focusing on its connection to Islam. In his autobiography he importantly states:
"Among the existing religions of the world Islam is the only one which can answer the demand of Western life, but owing to political reasons a prejudice against Islam has existed in the West for a long time. Also, the Christian missionaries, knowing that Islam is the only religion which can succeed their faith, have done everything within their power to prejudice the minds of Western people against it. Therefore there is little chance of Islam being accepted in the West. However, those seekers after religious ideals have more or less regard for the religions of the East and those who seek after truth show a desire to investigate Eastern thought.
Clarifying his understanding of Islam, however, he also states:
"But if the following of Islam is understood to mean the obligatory adherence to a certain rite; if being a Muslim means conforming to certain restrictions, how can the Sufi be placed in that category, seeing that the Sufi is beyond all limitations of this kind?
He taught that blind adherence to any book rendered any religion void of spirit, regardless of its external nature. Indebted to both his Sufi heritage and the philosophical Vedanta/Shankara spirituality of Hinduism, Khan continued the deeply-rooted Indian tradition of spirituality over creed and the renaissance Indian notion of religious tolerance and openness. In the 15th and 16th centuries, spiritual leaders such as Kabir, Guru Nanak Dev and the Mughal King Akbar and his Din-i-Ilahi founded a tradition in which the faithful, especially Hindus and Muslims, would crush their differences on the ideal of spiritual unity. Despite the advance of colonial English influences in the nineteenth century, Khan took this distinctly Indian ideal on his mission to the West.
Hazrat Inayat Khan's decisive emphasis upon Spiritual Liberty in his teachings has resulted in many contemporary Westerners understanding that contemporary Islamic religious practices and Sufism are not inherently intertwined, although his followers continue to perform the traditional Islamic invocations of God (Dhikr) in the original Arabic as found in the Qur'an and the Prophetic traditions (Hadith). There is a historic precedent of certain Chishti masters (and masters of other orders) not requiring their non-Muslim followers to convert to Islam. The numbers of non-Muslim Sufis before the twentieth century, however, were relatively few.
Although Hazrat Inayat Khan's son, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan did not specifically self-identify with the Islamic tradition, his grandson Pir Zia Inayat Khan is an observant Muslim, a scholar of Islam and the current head of the Sufi Order International. His daughter Noor-un-Nisa served with British military intelligence during the Second World War, was captured by the Nazis in France and executed at Dachau concentration camp in 1944.
In 1922, during a summer school, Inayat Khan had a 'spiritual experience' in the South Dunes in Katwijk. He immediately told his students to meditate and proclaimed the place where he was on that moment holy. In 1969, a temple was built on that specific place, a Soefietempel Katwijk.jpg. Every year, a Sufi summer school takes place in this temple, and many Sufis from around the world visit the temple each summer.