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Sufi Sage

Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan embodied the tradition of Rumi, using music and meditation to achieve oneness with the Divine.

By Phil Catalfo

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 to learn more.

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Reader Comments


With the greatest respect to Iskandar this is not how I see it. The truth is the truth. The essence of all the religions is the same. Remember the Sufi saying many lights one lamp. Many religions one Truth. To follow the Sufi path is to follow that truth.
The Sufi tradition goes back so much further than any known religion. And yes I have been following the teachings of the Sufi Order for almost 40 years.
May the blessings of God rest upon you.


Thanks for drawing attention to Vilayat's work. One mistake in this article is the separation of Sufi and Islamic traditions. Indeed, Sufism (Tassawuf, in Arabic) is the mystical dimension of Islam. The way of Islam is three: Iman (Faith/Belief), Islam (Religion/Law) and Ihsan (Sufism/Spiritual Excellence/Beauty Making). It is mentioned in the famous hadith/saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and all the prophets, when he encountered the Archangel Gabriel and was asked about each of the dimensions.
Peace! Namaste! Salaam!

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