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Brief Biography of Hazrat Inayat Khan

based on quotes from Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, East-West Publications, 1979

Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India on July 5, 1882. As a youth, Inayat was brilliant in poetry and music, yet his deepest inner calling was in spiritual matters. As a youth, one day as Inayat was praying...

... he thought to himself that there had not been an answer yet to all the prayers he had offered to God and he did not know where God was to hear his prayers and he could not reconcile himself to going on praying to the God whom he knew not. He went fearlessly to his father and said: "I do not think I will continue my prayers any longer, for it does not fit in with my reason. I do not know how I can go on praying to a God I do not know." His father, taken aback, did not become cross lest he might turn Inayat's beliefs sour by forcing them upon him without satisfying his reason and he was glad on the other hand to see that, although it was irreverent on the child's part, yet it was frank, and he knew that the lad really hungered after Truth and was ready to learn now, what many could not learn in their whole life.

He said to him: "God is in you and you are in God. As the bubble is in the ocean and the bubble is a part of the ocean and yet not separate from the ocean. For a moment it has appeared as a bubble, then it will return to that from which it has risen. So is the relation between man and God. The Prophet has said that God is closer to you than the jugular vein, which in reality means that your own body is farther from you than God is. If this be rightly interpreted, it will mean that God is the very depth of your own being." This moment to Inayat was his very great initiation, as if a switch had turned in him, and from that moment onward his whole life Inayat busied himself, and his whole being became engaged in witnessing in life what he knew and believed, by this one great Truth.

Inayat's early life primarily revolved around music, and he was given many awards and medals of honor for his magnificent singing.

Following a vision of meeting a Sufi teacher, he met Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani who trained him in the ways of the Chishti, Naqshbandi, Qadiri, and Suhrawardi Sufi orders.

... an incident of an amusing nature occurred as for the first time in his life Inayat heard his Murshid's words on metaphysics. He became so keenly interested and filled with enthusiasm about what was being said that he took a note-book from his pocket, intending to take notes of it. But as soon as the Murshid saw the pencil and notebook in his hand, he instantly began to speak of an altogether different subject. Inayat realized by this that his Murshid meant that his words must be engraved on the soul, they were not to be written with a pencil on the pages of a note-book.

He would return home silent and remain speechless for hours, pondering over the words which had fallen upon his ears. His friends began to wonder what could have happened to him in such a short time, that his whole life should be so changed. He had now become quite a different person in his speech, actions, ways, expression, in his attitude and in his atmosphere. In all these, he showed a marked and definite change. It seemed to them as if, while a traveller walking at a certain rate of speed should have journeyed a mile, Inayat had suddenly made such an advance as to cover a hundred miles in the same space of time... 

[his Murshid] used to wear shoes embroidered with gold. One day, when Inayat's eyes strayed to these shoes, a thought arose in his mind: why Murshid with all his simplicity should wear such costly shoes? At once his conscience pricked him, he felt so guilty that such a thought of one who was above question should have entered his mind, that instantly his face turned pale. But the Murshid knew all about it and only said with a smile: "The wealth of this earth is only worth being at my feet."

In looking back on those days with his teacher, Inayat said:

I remember my murshid giving me, in blessing me, this wish, 'May your faith be strengthened.' Being a young man, I thought, 'Is that all he is saying to me?' - not, 'May you be inspired, or illuminated, or prosperous,' or something else? But when I think of it now I know that in that blessing there was all. When belief is strengthened, then there is everything. All that we lack in life is mostly because of our lack of belief. But again, it is not something that one can learn or teach or that one can give to anybody. This comes from the grace of God.

Inayat began a tour of the sacred sites across India, and early in that adventure, he met the son of Guru Manek Prabhu who asked:

"What has brought you here?" said he and Inayat replied: "I have heard that the home of Manek Prabhu is not only a religious temple, but a centre of music also and as I have taken this tour to pay homage to the holy men living on the soil of India, I first chose to visit this place." "But I am very surprised that you have chosen our place, instead of choosing the place of some Moslim Saint," remarked the astonished youth. To this Inayat replied: "Moslim 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. Two is only one plus one."

... "Mukti (liberation) is the ideal of life; it is the rising above the various births and deaths, rather than being involved in the eternal wheel of births and deaths, which is continually running by the ever changing battery of karma (action)."

After touring widely in India and and briefly settling in Calcutta, Inayat began to realize that the time had come for him to begin a new phase of life.

Inayat lived in Calcutta for several years and there received the news of the death of his beloved father, which was to him a blow inexpressible in words, though thus his life became free from any duty binding him as a sacred tie, as he had felt his duty toward his parents to be. Soon after this another misfortune befell him, namely the loss of his medals. In a moment of abstraction the case of medals was left in a car, which could not be traced despite all his efforts. But in place of the disappointment which at first oppressed him, a revelation from God touched the hidden chords of his mind and opened his eyes to the truth. He said to himself: "It matters not how much time you have spent to gain that which never belonged to you, but which you called your own; today you comprehend it is yours no longer. And it is the same with all you possess in life, your property, friends, relations, even your own body and mind. All which you call 'my', not being your true property, will leave you; and only what you name 'I', which is absolutely disconnected with all that is called 'my', will remain." He knelt down and thanked God for the loss of his medals, crying: "Let all be lost from my imperfect vision, but Thy true Self, ya Allah!"

Shortly before the death of his beloved teacher, Inayat had been instructed:

"Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonize the East and the West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end art thou gifted by Allah, the most merciful and compassionate."

To fulfill that mission, Inayat along with his cousin and brother sailed from India to America on September 13, 1910. In his autobiography, Inayat wrote of that voyage:

I was transported by destiny from the world of lyric and poetry to the world of industry and commerce on the 13th of September 1910. I bade farewell to my motherland, the soil of India, the land of the sun, for America the land of my future, wondering: "perhaps I shall return some day", and yet I did not know how long it would be before I should return. The ocean that I had to cross seemed to me a gulf between the life that was passed and the life which was to begin. I spent my moments on the ship looking at the rising and falling of the waves and realizing in this rise and fall the picture of life reflected, the life of individuals, of nations, of races, and of the world.

I tried to think where I was going, why I was going, what I was going to do, what was in store for me. "How shall I set to work? Will the people be favourable or unfavourable to the Message which I am taking from one end of the world to the other?" It seemed my mind moved curiously on these questions, but my heart refused to ponder upon them even for a moment, answering apart one constant voice I always heard coming from within, urging me constantly onward to my task, saying: "Thou art sent on Our service, and it is We Who will make thy way clear." This alone was my consolation.

Initially, their public performances centered on Indian music and they accompanied dancers such as Mata Hari and Ruth St. Denis in both America and Europe.

I found Miss Ruth St. Denis an inventive genius, and I was struck with a witty answer she gave upon hearing my ideas about human brotherhood, uniting East and West. She said, "Yes, we, the people of the Occident and Orient may be brothers, but not twins."

In addition to the musical performances, Inayat gave Sufi lectures that were often held in bookstores or homes. Rabia Martin, of San Francisco, became one of his first students and was soon appointed as his American representative.

I had a vision that night that the whole room became filled with light, no trace of darkness was to be found. I certainly thought that there was some important thing that was to be done next day, which I found was the initiation of Mrs. Ada Martin, the first mureed on my arrival to the West and, knowing that this soul will spread light and illuminate all those who will come in contact with her, I initiated her and named her Rabia  after the name of a great woman Sufi saint of Basra.

Inayat traveled widely in America and Europe from 1910 until 1920, when he set up a residence in France, where he focused on summer schools, classes and lectures.

His message was always aimed at unity, bringing together all of  humanity, rising above the differences and distinctions that have separated us.

One day a visitor came to have an interview with Pir-o-Murshid. He was a lawyer, materialist and atheist, besides was greatly opposed to all those who did not belong to his nation, and had been turned against the work of Murshid by somebody. Therefore he began his conversation, expressing with vigour his attitude. But as he got answers, so it seemed as if the fire of opposition met with water, and as he went along in his dispute, he, instead of getting hotter became cooler. He had expected to hear from the Murshid spiritual beliefs that he could argue upon and to tear them to pieces, but he found Murshid's belief not very different from what he himself believed. He found no effort on the part of Murshid to force his ideas upon anybody. He saw in Murshid the tendency to appreciate every kind of idea, for in every idea there is a good side and he felt that the tendency was to be sympathetic rather than antagonistic. He saw that there was nothing that Murshid stood for, but only believed that the truth was in every heart and no-one else can give it to another unless it rose up from the heart of a person as a spring of water from the mountain. He became so softened in his tone and in his manner after an hour's conversation that he parted quite a different man from what he had come. He shook hands with Pir-o-Murshid and said, "We shall always be friends" and Murshid thought that it was not a small achievement.

In this uniquely western form of Sufism, there are no barriers of race, creed or religion, it is not a religion, but rather a way of life that enhances and fulfills every religion. As Inayat Khan said, "The Sufi sees the truth in every religion."

"You have nicely said to us, Murshid, how Sufism is one with all religions. Now please tell us, what is the difference between Sufism and other religions."

Then Murshid said, "The difference is that it casts away all differences."

Inayat promoted unity and understanding in every aspect of life, and said "religion is the foundation of the whole life in the world, and as long as an understanding is not established between the followers of all different religions, it will always be difficult to hope for better conditions."

In speaking about mankind's longing for the Divine message, yet rebelling against every messenger that has ever come to show the way, Inayat once wrote:

... who can answer this demand? He alone who is sent from above, who is appointed by God to deliver His Message, who is empowered by the Almighty to stand by them in their struggles, and who is made compassionate by the most Merciful to heal their wounds. Man wants something he cannot get, man wishes to believe in something he cannot understand, man wishes to touch something he cannot reach. It is the continual struggle for the unattainable that blinds man, and he forms such high ideas even of the prophet who is only a Messenger, a human being, one like every one else, and who is subject to death and destruction and all the limitations of life, that the prophet does not seem to come up to man's ideal until he has left the world, leaving behind the memory which again rises as a resurrection of the prophet, spreading the influence of all he brought to the world and pouring from above that blessing which arose as vapour and came back from above as a rainfall.

The Sufi Message of Inayat Khan is the echo of the same Divine message which has always come and will always come to enlighten humanity. It is not a new religion or a new message; it is the same message of Unity that has been given to humanity again and again, yet so few hearts are open to hear it.

Inayat continued to travel widely, offering the message to all who were ready to hear it, but in 1926 as he was becoming physically exhausted, he decided to go home to India to rest. However, his popularity was so great in India that he found himself once again endlessly traveling to spread the Message, and while traveling he became ill.

Following the brief illness, Inayat Khan departed from this world in Delhi on February 5, 1927.

Hazrat Inayat Khan 1926

Additional On-Line resources:

            Complete Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan
         The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan


 Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, East-West Publications, 1979.


Click here to hear Inayat Khan singing Surat Mullar

http://wahiduddin.net/hik/hik_music_bio.htm  .... brief summary of Inayat's musical background

In 1909, Hazrat Inayat Khan made a series of musical recordings in India. In 1994, a CD version of the recordings was produced by EMI. (EMI CD NF 1 50129/30 Inayat Khan, The Complete Recordings of 1909)

The recording may be available at:

There may also be a brief 1925 audio recording of the voice of Hazrat Inayat Khan in the archives of the Sufi Movement (HSD7)