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Biography, Autobiography, Journal and Anecdotes


The age-old mystic philosophy known today in the East mainly in the different Sufi Orders, was given to the world by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan as the Sufi Message. A very short outline of the "Sufi Message", where possible in his own words, may be appropriate here.

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan explained that Sufism is the ancient School of wisdom from which have sprung many cults of a mystical and philosophical nature such as the ancient School of Egypt. In this same School Abraham received his initiation. Traces of Sufism are to be found in different parts of the world and in all periods of history. To the ancient Greeks this wisdom was known as sophia, from the word "sophos", meaning wise. But the Arabic word "saf" (pure) could be the origin of the word "sufi" for there was a time when Sufis were known as "Brothers of Purity". The Prophet Mohammed called them the "Knights of Purity". Although Sufism is in reality the essence and spirit of all religions, several Sufi Orders representing the esoteric side of Islam came into existence when this religion was spreading. As the Sufis expounded their free thought in Persia there was much opposition and persecution from the then current religions. So in that part of the world Sufism found its outlet in poetry and music through such great poets as Hafiz, Rumi, Shams Tabriz, Sadi, Nizami, Attar and others, giving in this way its wisdom to the world.

He explained furthermore that although the Sufism he represented in the West was different in nature and character from Sufi Schools in the East, he used the same name, as both considered wisdom as a means towards the end. By pointing to wisdom, that same wisdom which is present in the various faiths and beliefs, Sufism makes men rise above the boundaries of creed, race, caste and nation. It is the discovering of the essential Truth underlying all religions and beliefs which is the aim of the Sufi. In his search for what is behind things as they appear to be, in his search for the cause behind the cause, the Safi not only comes nearer to that Ultimate Truth at every step he takes, but at the same time he becomes more loving and understanding towards his fellowmen. It is a harmonious development of the vertical and of the horizontal line: of one's inner being and of the feeling of brotherhood.

In his Biography Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan describes the two periods of his life. The first part, called "Biography", covers his life in India from childhood to manhood, showing his character and interests. From the very beginning this period can be seen as a preparation for the task awaiting him: the spreading of the Sufi Message. The second part he calls his "Autobiography". In this he relates his experiences in studying the Western mentality, the Western way of life, his encounters and his work of delivering the Sufi Message, also the establishment of the Sufi Movement in the West.

The text of the Biography, as presented here, is his final version. Previous to this, two short biographical sketches had been published. The first one appeared as an article in the "Bulletin Mensuel de la Societe Unitive", Paris, of April 1913. It was rewritten as an introductory chapter to the book "A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty" and signed by Tserclaes. The other was a booklet written by Regina Miriam Bloch entitled "The Confessions of Inayat Khan". This was published in London in 1915. Some passages of "The Confessions" have been copied from the Introduction signed by Tserclaes. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan himself had long had the idea of producing an autobiography but the decisive push came from H.H. the Maharaja of Baroda. The Maharaja had encouraged Inayat in his musical career when he was a boy, and when many years later the two met in London, shortly after the first world war, His Highness suggested that Inayat should write his autobiography. From then on he began to record in his pocket notebooks his various observations, notes and short anecdotes.

A part of the Indian period of his life, was dictated by him during 1919 and 1920 to some of his first mureeds in England among whom were Miss Khatidja Young, Miss Hanifa Sheaf, Murshida Sophia Green and Murshida Sharifa Goodenough, from notes about the situation in India at that time and about his family and childhood. These notes had been sent to him at his request by his brother-in-law Mehr Bakhsh and probably also by his uncle Dr. Pathan. Other notes were added in 1922 and 1923 at the time of the Summer School at Suresnes. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan dictated a large part of the "Biography" to his secretary Miss Sakina Furnee who took his words down in shorthand. This part, besides the "extra papers" about his brothers and cousin, included his musical tour throughout Southern India, Ceylon, Burma and Calcutta. The encounter with his Murshid, Sayyed Abu Hashim Madani, the meeting of the darwishes at Ajmer and a few other passages included in the "Biography" have been taken from "The Confessions of Inayat Khan".

The second part of the book, called "Autobiography", begins with Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan's departure from India to the United States of America. Between the summer of 1922 and the autumn of 1925 he dictated the events he wished to put on record to Miss Sakina Furnee and arranged them in the sequence given here in the text. The account of his lecture-tour through the United States in 1925-1926, which ends the book, was dictated to Miss Kismet Stam. The passage dealing with the attitude of the Press and its influence upon the public, referred to in both the chapters "America again (1923)" and "East and West", has been taken from questions and answers recorded after a lecture on "The Purpose of Life" in the summer of 1924. Other parts of the chapter "East and West" had formerly been published in the Magazine "Sufism", March and June 1922. Minor events and considerations, although included in the text, were indicated by him as notes; they have therefore been shown in italics. The anecdotes in the last chapter were collected by Murshida Sharifa Goodenough, Miss Sakina Furnee and Miss Kismet Stam; some of these were taken from his notebooks.

The illustrations and part of the photographs were selected by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. He also gathered together the references which he intended for publication along with other material. They are replicas of the originals. A few references have been added to the "Autobiography" by the undersigned, as they concern well known persons whom he met.

It was his wish that biographical sketches of the "pioneers of the Message" as he used to call them, should be published with his biography. He considered as such those mureeds on whom he had bestowed the higher initiations of Sheikh(a), Khalif(a) and Murshid(a) and those whom he had appointed to the higher offices in the International Headquarters, together with those who carried out the function of National Representative. The ranks mentioned in these sketches are those conferred on them by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan himself. Some of these persons wrote their own biographies for him, others submitted some data, while details on still others were missing altogether. Their names have also been included, with the little information available from the records of the Nekbakht Foundation or with the help of other mureeds.

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan entrusted Miss Sakina Furnee with all these notes, manuscripts and documents. She guarded them most carefully, then copied and arranged them according to his instructions. The greater part of the text was then submitted to Murshida Sharifa Goodenough for correction of the English language to ensure that it conveyed the appropriate meaning, although the typical style and rhythm of his language has been faithfully maintained. In a statement in Miss Sakina Furnee's handwriting it is said that she had to read the entire text two or even three times to him and that he made modifications or additions each time. The final text of the Biography was lastly completed and the version presented in this book is a true copy.

His mureed and secretary Miss Kismet Stam has made a beautiful calligraphic copy of this Biography, a treasure which is kept among the records of the Nekbakht Foundation. Engraved in gold on the leather binding of this copy is the Sufi-emblem - the winged heart - with other designs which, with her kind permission, have been used for this first publication of the Biography.

It was the author's wish that the words "Mr.", "Mrs." and "Miss" should be written in the language of the nationality of the person mentioned in his Biography, e.g. Frau, Herr, Froken, de Heer en Mevrouw.

On the whole this book differs from the usual Western concept of a biography. The last time Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan referred to the proposed publication of the Biography was in Delhi in December 1926 at the end of his life, to Miss Kismet Stam. She says about this subject:

'Murshid wished the Biography to be published exactly as it is'. "But," Murshid said, "people do not like it, they find it too simple." Then Murshid spoke about the possibility of a committee to be formed to choose from different biographies written on the example of the original one by intelligent mureeds who would be capable of doing it. After a while Murshid added, "But that would not be the thing to do." And Murshid's last words about it were these, "Who could write it better than Murshid himself?"

Suresnes, August 1977.

Elise Guillaume-Schamhart
Munira van Voorst van Beest

Staff members of the Foundation "Nekbakht Stichting".