'The lover remains solitary among people and mingles
with them as little as water with oil.'
FOLLOWING my decision and the call of God, I left India
in 1910 to sojourn in the Western world, strong in the courage
of the most blissful command I had received from my Murshid
and in the glory of the noble object he had awakened in
Naturally it was a great change in my existence to leave
India, the most spiritually awakened land, and start for
the West, and especially for America, that modern home of
material progress. It was the very opposite of the dream
I had just experienced. The great activity of the people
and the rapidity of things in general, the rush of machinery
above, below, and all around; the transitoriness of affairs;
men running hither and thither for trains and cars with
newspapers and parcels in their hands – all this kept me
under a complete spell of silence and bewilderment.
It was as if I had gone to sleep at home and had found
myself in a bazaar on awakening. But being a Sufi I very
soon became accustomed to this change of life by attuning
myself to my surroundings, and I found that they were indeed
true lovers of Dunya, the material world about which Rumi
has written in his Masnavi.
Every race and nation has its infancy, youth, and age,
as also its birth and its death. And just like every individual
it even undergoes the evolution one passes through during
the different stages of life. For from a philosophical point
of view all the sons of the world are like little children,
and their most important affairs are of no importance than
a child's top. As a new nation America naturally appears
childish owing to its youth, although its material progress
is proportionately as great as the spiritual progress of
India. But America is a land of promise; in time it will
rise to be an ideal child among the children of God and
a leader of reform.
It was very hard for me to keep a balance between my
mission and my profession, which were so different from
each other. On the one hand I had to be a teacher, and on
the other and artist, and especially the interpreter of
an art which was so little known abroad. This could never
be understood by a people accustomed only to look at the
external aspect of things. It was not as in India where
Kabir, the great poet, preached while he sat weaving at
his loom; where Guru Nanak taught within his prison. For
some of the greatest teachers the East has produced were
also masters of music, such as Narada, Tumbara, Bharata
Muni, Tansen, Tukaram, Surdas, Amir Khusrau, Mirabai, Avicenna,
Also, being a stranger, without any influence or good
introductions, which a teacher never requires in the East,
it was a long time before I became acquainted with the right
people. In due time, by the mercy of God, my path was opened
and I cam into contact with those interested in music.
At first I performed and lectured on music at Columbia
University, winning the warm commendation of several professors
and students. This was the beginning of my professional
career in the West, and I started on a tour comprising nearly
all the well-known cities of the United States, where I
spoke at universities, before intelligent and appreciative
audiences, on philosophy and music. This duality heightened
their interest in my work, and as I grew familiar with the
American people I began to realize to my joy that, despite
their commercial trend and materialistic ambitions, God
has not deprived them of that treasure which is love.
Their hearts are even as ours although their artificial
life makes it more difficult for them to achieve that peace
which we can so easily attain in the calm of the East. They
also have a strong desire for spiritual progress, for as
far as man is concerned, it matters not whether he belongs
to the East or to the West; in time he is inevitably attracted
to that eternal Source of Love which can never be eluded.
When I arrived in San Francisco I found much to interest
me there, and my desire for the revelation of truth had
its outlet. I have never approved of the idea of mission
work, especially at this period of human evolution when
a new awakening is imminent all over the world. I escaped
the appearance of being a religious zealot or one who wishes
to convert people, for I bore that message of universal
truth which would harmonize East and West by spreading the
idea of unity and which is Sufism.
I spoke at the universities of Berkeley and Los Angeles
in California, where my music and my discourses on philosophy,
as expressed in the realm of art, attracted much attention.
Although my professional tour did not permit me to do as
much as I otherwise could have done, yet it was the only
means of fulfilling my mission, which had no other support
than that of God. This tour aided me greatly in establishing
the Sufi Order in America, with the following objects at
(1) To establish a human brotherhood with no consideration
of caste, creed, race, nation, or religion; for differences
only create a lack of harmony and are the source of
(2) To spread the wisdom of Sufism, which has been
until now a hidden treasure, though it is indeed the
property of mankind and has never, belonged to any particular
race and religion.
(3) To attain that perfection wherein mysticism is
no longer a mystery but redeems the unbeliever from
ignorance and the believer from falling a victim to
(4) To harmonize the East and West in music, the
universal language, by an exchange of knowledge and
a revival of unity.
(5) To promote Sufi literature, which is most beautiful
and instructive in all the aspects of knowledge.
Praise be to the name of God, that those who were attracted
by the message of truth were for the most part in earnest
and very devout. Indeed, their sympathy made me almost forget
my yearning for the East, and I felt at one with them. Some
very wealthy mureeds wished me to give up my profession,
and proposed to help me materially in order that my needs
should be satisfied without trouble, and that I could thus
be enabled to devote all my time to the Sufi call.
I gratefully refused this proposal, for, being a Sufi,
I did not care about appearances, believing always that
the self was the one dependable staff of life; while music,
being my very religion, was much more to me than a mere
profession, or even than my mission, since I looked upon
it as the only gateway to salvation.
My associates, among whom were my two brothers, Maheboob
Khan and Musharaff Khan, and my cousin Muhammad Ali Khan,
rendered their utmost service by devoting themselves to
the establishment of the Sufi Order which, in due course,
was set on a firm basis. As mysticism had hitherto been
made a hidden and esoteric thing by some teachers who taught
it only to those who belonged to their own race, religion,
nation, or class, it was my task to impress upon the world
that it belonged to them all; and that as I had acquired
it from man, I must impart it again to man, without questioning
his right, his caste, or his creed.
After my American journeying I came to Europe and visited
England, where I immediately sought for my own countrymen
in the hope of seeing familiar faces once again, as I had
beheld so few since leaving India. But to my great disappointment
I discovered them to be the very reverse of my expectations;
some seemed to be avoiding their fellow country-men purposely,
and the others were set on keeping to their own clique.
This revealed a wrong influence of Western culture upon
At last, by continual effort, I gathered my spiritual
fellows from among the Europeans around me, and these proved
to be more at one with my soul than my own people. I found
much more sympathy and response from the English than I
had ever expected from them when in India. Their gentle
and courteous nature revealed a sharp difference between
the Old World and the New. But there was little curiosity
concerning India and her people, and I found it very difficult
at first to come into contact with minds open to philosophy.
It was on hearing the voice of the Suffragettes that
I felt a new religion of sex arising, which would bring
freedom to women in all phases of life. Woman seemed to
me to be prepared for science, art, religion, and philosophy,
while her suffering in life also brought her nearer to the
wider fields of intellect. I saw a lack of harmony between
men and women, that harmony upon which the true happiness
of nations depends. The secret of this sad state, which
is unknown to either sex, lies in the lack of thought cultivation
and in the desire for worldly gain at the sacrifice of all
else, while both sexes must meet on the same plane of evolution
before the ideal phase can possibly be reached.
I appeared several times in public, and eventually before
royalty, and thus prepared the ground for sowing the seed
of Sufism in England. A Sufi Publishing Society was established,
a most necessary organ for the propagation and maintenance
of the Order, founded with the laudable object of publishing
works on both ancient and modern mysticism, philosophy,
religion, art, science, literature, and music.
My journey to Paris was more for music than for philosophy.
Through the kind efforts of such friends as Debussy, the
famous composer, I was able to carry out my mission through
the medium of my art with great success. As my long stay
in the West, as well as my close friendship with several
musical scholars, had trained my ear to Western music, I
especially appreciated that of France, which is so full
of love and emotion. I spoke at the Musical Congress, the
Musee Guimet, and at the University. The sensitive and idealistic
tendency of the French helps to develop those qualities
of the heart, which are attuned to devotion. Their Catholic
training also influences them towards the devotional aspect
My visit to Russia struck another chord in my nature,
for it recalled the East to me again. I found the people
open both to modern progress and ancient thought. I met
the leading musicians, poets, and literary men, who proved
to be absorbed in their work, appreciative, kind, and hospitable,
all of which promises much for their national advancement.
Their voice cultivation and keen interest in all aspects
of art especially pleased me. This concern shown by many
prominent Russians made a lasting impression upon me. I
also found there that Eastern type of discipleship which
is natural to the nation where religion and self-sacrifice
are still in existence, although the bigotry of the Orthodox
Church stands in the way of the highest spiritual awakening.
Before I could bring my message of peace to the rest
of Europe this distressing war convulsed the world.