Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, is known in the West as the religion of Rumi, a 13th-century poet whose rapturous verses have captured the modern imagination. But Rumi, who inaugurated the ecstatic ritual of the whirling dervishes, did not create Sufism. The movement, which seeks oneness with the Divine through meditation, poetry, music, and dance, began centuries earlier and flourished in Asia and the Near East before being eclipsed by a more fundamentalist Islam. In 1910, Indian-born Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan brought Sufism to the West.
Hazrat's eldest son, Vilayat, was born in London in 1916; he studied psychology at the Sorbonne, philosophy at Oxford, and musical composition in Paris. During the Second World War, Vilayat served in the British Royal Navy; his sister Noor worked undercover with the French Resistance until she was betrayed by an acquaintance, and captured and executed by the Nazis.
After the war, Vilayat undertook spiritual training in the Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic traditions. After rigorous meditation training in India, he was confirmed as a pir (master). As spiritual successor to his father (who died before the war), he assumed leadership of the Sufi Order in the West (later the Sufi Order International) in 1957. For the next half-century, until his death in June 2004, he promoted the Sufi message of unity, service to others, and "the awakening of humanity to the divinity in all." In the 1970s, Pir Vilayat established the Abode of the Message, a spiritual community, and the Omega Institute, a learning center in Rhinebeck, New York, that offers many yoga programs.
Pir Vilayat was an elegant writer as well as a captivating speaker. But his genius lay in transcending boundaries—cultural, philosophical, and religious—and "thinking like the Universe." In Vilayat's most accessible book, Awakening (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2000), he defined the process of self-realization as "conscious evolution," which is, he added, the "final frontier, the ultimate freedom." Visit www.sufiorder.org to learn more.