Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

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Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
Sri Lanka
DiedDecember 8th, 1986
Philadelphia, United States
Era20th century
RegionSri Lanka, United States

Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (died December 8, 1986) was a Tamil-speaking teacher[1] and Sufi mystic from the island of Sri Lanka who first came to the United States on October 11, 1971[2] and established the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia. From Philadelphia, with its approximately 1,000 followers,[3] branches of the Fellowship have spread throughout the United States and Canada,[3] as well as Australia and the UK. Societies of followers were already in Jaffna and Colombo,[4] Sri Lanka, before his arrival in the USA.

Early life[edit]

According to the older Sri Lankan students, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen emerged from the jungles of that country in the early 1940s and met pilgrims who were visiting shrines in the north. Reports of dreams or mystical meetings that preceded a 'physical' meeting by these early students were not uncommon.[4] According to an account from the 1940s, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen had spent time in 'Kataragama', a jungle shrine in the south of the island, and in 'Jailani', a cliff shrine dedicated to 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani of Baghdad. His association with that Shaikh indicates his connection to the Qadiri order of Sufism.[4] Many of his followers who lived around the northern town of Jaffna were Hindus and addressed him as swami or guru. His role was often as healer of both medical and spiritual illnesses, including curing demonic possession.[4]

Eventually an ashram was formed in Jaffna, and a farm was started south of that city. After business travelers from the south of the country met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, they invited him to visit in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. By 1967, the 'Serendib Sufi Study Circle' was formed by these Colombo students who were predominantly Muslims. Earlier in 1955, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen had set the foundations for a 'God's house' or mosque in the town of Mankumban, on the northern coast. This was the result of a spiritual meeting with Mary, the mother of Jesus.[5] After two decades, the building was finished by students from the United States who were visiting the Jaffna ashram.[6] It was officially opened and dedicated on February 17, 1975.[7]

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen taught through the use of fables. These reflected the background of the student or listener and included Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Sufi religious traditions; he welcomed persons from all traditions and backgrounds.[5]

Work in the United States[edit]

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship

In 1971, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen accepted an invitation from an American woman to visit her in Philadelphia. She had been corresponding with him after being introduced by a university student from Sri Lanka. She and her associates made arrangements for his travel to the United States and for his stay in Philadelphia.[5] By 1973, a group of his followers formed the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, which hosted a meeting house that offered several public meetings a week.[5]

As before in Sri Lanka, people from all religious, social and ethnic backgrounds would join to hear him speak. Across the United States, Canada and England, he won recognition from religious scholars, journalists, educators and world leaders. The United Nation's Assistant Secretary General, Robert Muller, asked for Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's guidance on behalf of all mankind during an interview in 1974.[8] During the years 1978–1980 when the Iranian hostage crisis was occurring, he wrote letters to world leaders such as Iran's Khomeini, Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat and President Carter to encourage a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region.[9][10] Time Magazine, during the crisis in 1980, quoted him as saying that when the Iranians understand the Koran "they will release the hostages immediately".[11] Interviews appeared in Psychology Today,[12] the Harvard Divinity Bulletin,[13] and in The Philadelphia Inquirer[14] and the Pittsburgh Press newspapers. He continued his teaching and personal guidance to his students and visitors until his death on December 8, 1986.


In May, 1984, the Mosque of Shaikh M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was completed on the grounds of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, 5820 Overbrook Avenue, Philadelphia. The building of the mosque took 6 months and nearly all the work was done by the members of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship under the direction of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.[15]

Mazar of M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship Farm is 100 acres (0.40 km2) of farmland located in Chester County, Pennsylvania just south of the small city of Coatesville at 99 Fellowship Drive. The center point of the farm is Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's mausoleum or mazar. It was begun shortly after his death and completed in 1987. It is a place of pilgrimage for Sufis and their Sheikhs, as well as other Muslims and followers of other religions.[16]

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen established vegetarianism as the norm for the community[17] and meat products are not permitted at the Fellowship center in Philadelphia or at the Fellowship Farm.[18]

He was an artist and created paintings and drawings that symbolized the relationship between man and God. He described his art work as "heart's work."[19] Two examples are reproduced in his book titled Wisdom of Man[20][21] and another is the front cover of the book Four Steps to Pure Iman.[22] In 1976, Bawa Muhaiyadeen recorded and released an album of meditation, on Folkways Records entitled, Into the Secret of the Heart by Guru Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.[23]

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen authored over twenty-five books.[24] These books were created from over 10,000 hours of transcriptions of audio and video recordings of his discourses and songs in the United States from 1971 to 1986. Some titles originated from Sri Lanka before his arrival in the U.S. and were transcribed later. The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship continues to study and disseminate this repository of his teachings. It has not appointed a new leader or Sheikh to replace his role as teacher and personal guide.

In "Blue-Eyed Devil", Michael Muhammad Knight attempts to receive a message from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in a dream, in a Sufi practice called Salat al-Istikharah. He travels to the mazar and attempts to sleep on the cushions, but is woken up by the groundskeeper and his attempt at istikhara is unsuccessful.[25]

Titles and honorifics[edit]

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was referred to as Guru or Swami or Sheikh or 'His Holiness' depending on the background of the speaker or writer. He was also addressed as 'Bawangal' by those Tamil speakers who were close to him and who wanted to use a respectful address. He often referred to himself as an 'ant man',[26] i.e., a very small life in God's creation. After his arrival in the United States in 1971, he was most often addressed as Guru Bawa and he established the Guru Bawa Fellowship. By 1976, he felt that the title 'guru' had been abused by others who were not true teachers in his estimation. In that year, he decided to drop the title Guru and the organization became the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.[27] Most of his American students use the familiar name 'Bawa' when speaking of him.

By 2007, an honorific, Qutb, was being used by his students in the publications of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's talks.[28] Qutb literally means pole or axis, and signifies the spiritual center which explains and reveals through divine wisdom the true nature of man.[29] The name Muhaiyaddeen means 'the giver of life to true belief' and has been associated with previous Qutbs. By using this title, his students are presenting him as a universal teacher for this era.


A larger selection of quotes is available at Wikiquote.

  • "The prayers you perform, the duties you do, the charity and love you give is equal to just one drop. But if you use that one drop, continue to do your duty, and keep digging within, then the spring of Allah's grace and His qualities will flow in abundance."[30]
  • "People with wisdom know that it is important to correct their own mistakes, while people without wisdom find it necessary to point out the mistakes of others. People with strong faith know that it is important to clear their own hearts, while those with unsteady faith seek to find fault in the hearts and prayers of others. This becomes a habit in their lives. But those who pray to Allah with faith, determination, and certitude know that the most important thing in life is to surrender their hearts to Allah."[31]
  • "The things that change are not our real life. Within us there is another body, another beauty. It belongs to that ray of light which never changes. We must discover how to mingle with it and become one with that unchanging thing. We must realize and understand this treasure of truth. That is why we have come to the world."[32]
  • "My love you, my children. Very few people will accept the medicine of wisdom. The mind refuses wisdom. But if you do agree to accept it, you will receive the grace, and when you receive that grace, you will have good qualities. When you acquire good qualities, you will know true love, and when you accept love, you will see the light. When you accept the light, you will see the resplendence, and when you accept that resplendence, the wealth of the three worlds will be complete within you. With this completeness, you will receive the kingdom of God, and you will know your Father. When you see your Father, all your connections to karma, hunger, disease, old age will leave you."[33]
  • My grandchildren, this is the way things really are. We must do everything with love in our hearts. God belongs to everyone. He has given a commonwealth to all His creations, and we must not take it for ourselves. We must not take more than our share. Our hearts must melt with love, we must share everything with others, and we must give lovingly to make others peaceful. Then we will win our true beauty and the liberation of our soul. Please think about this. Prayer, the qualities of God, the actions of God, faith in God, and worship of God are your grace. If you have these, God will be yours and the wealth of the world to come will be yours. My grandchildren, realize this in your lifetime. Consider your life, search for wisdom, search for knowledge, and search for that love of God which is divine knowledge, and search for His qualities, His love, and His actions. That will be good. Amin. Ya Rabbal-'alamin. So be it. O Ruler of the universes. May God grant you this."[34]
  • "God has a home inside of our heart. We must find a home inside of God's home inside of our heart" - Shared by Bawa Mahaiyaddeen in conversation with advocate for the homeless at the Muhaiyaddeen community in Philadelphia - 1986.

Literature and books by his students[edit]

A number of books have been published by students of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen that explore his teachings from their perspective and understanding and detail the impact these teachings had on their lives.

  • Owner's Manual for the Human Being by Mitch Gilbert, One Light Press publisher, 2005, ISBN 0-9771267-0-6
  • The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis by Coleman Barks and Michael Green, Ballantine Wellspring publisher, 2000, ISBN 0-345-43545-1. According to the publisher, the book "offers a compelling introduction to the wisdom and teachings of the beloved contemporary Sufi master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, who brought new life to this mystical tradition by opening a passage to its deepest, universal realities. It is the loving handiwork of two of Bawa's best-known students, Coleman Barks and Michael Green, who also created The Illuminated Rumi."
  • One Song: A New Illuminated Rumi by Michael Green, Running Press publisher, 2005, ISBN 0-7624-2087-1
  • My Years with the Qutb: A Walk in Paradise by Professor Sharon Marcus, Sufi Press publisher, 2007, ISBN 0-9737534-0-4
  • THE MIRROR Photographs and Reflections on Life with M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral.) by Chloë Le Pichon and Dwaraka Ganesan and Saburah Posner and Sulaiha Schwartz, published privately by Chloë Le Pichon, 2010, ISBN 0-615-33211-0. A 237-page large-format photographic compilation with commentary by 78 contributors.
  • Life with the Guru by Dr. Art Hochberg, Kalima publisher, 2014, ISBN 0988807556
  • The Elixir of Truth: Journey on the Sufi Path, Volume One by Musa Muhaiyaddeen, Witness Within publisher, 2013, ISBN 0989018504
  • Finding the Way Home by Dr. Lockwood Rush, Ilm House publisher, 2007, ISBN 0972660712
  • GPS for the Soul: Wisdom of the Master by Dana Hayne, BalboaPress publisher, 2017, ISBN 1504384040

Coleman Barks, a poet and translator into English of the works of the 13th-century Sufi poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, has described how he met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in a dream on May 2, 1977.[35] As a result of that meeting, he began to translate the poems of Rumi. Coleman finally met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in person in September, 1978 and continued to have dreams where he would receive teachings.[35] In Coleman's estimation, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen is on the same level of enlightenment as Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, the companion of Rumi.[36] Artist Michael Green worked with Coleman Barks to produce illustrated version of Rumi's works.[37][38]

The band mewithoutYou explored many of the teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in their fourth album, It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright. The Sufi teacher's story of "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie" from My Love You My Children: 101 Stories for Children is told as well as his story about the "King Beetle" from The Divine Luminous Wisdom that Dispels Darkness. Other concepts from the teacher are explored in "Allah, Allah, Allah," about seeing God in every blade of grass and in "Fig with a Bellyache" dealing with sexual temptation from The Divine Luminous Wisdom and The Golden Words of a Sufi Sheikh. The lead singer and writer for the band, Aaron Weiss, and his brother, band guitarist Michael Weiss, were raised in a Sufi household, though Aaron later converted to Christianity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malik and Hinnells, p. 90.
  2. ^ Divine Luminous Wisdom, p. 254.
  3. ^ a b Malik and Hinnells, p. 93.
  4. ^ a b c d Malik and Hinnells, p. 91.
  5. ^ a b c d Malik and Hinnells, p. 92.
  6. ^ Malik and Hinnells, p 92.
  7. ^ The Tree That Fell to the West, p. 171.
  8. ^ To Die Before Death, p. xix.
  9. ^ Haddad and Smith, p 103.
  10. ^ The Truth and Unity of Man: Letters in Response to a Crisis
  11. ^ Article Is the Ayatullah a Heretic? in the April 28, 1980 issue of Time Magazine
  12. ^ Article The Mind is in the Heart by Sam Keen in April, 1976 issue.
  13. ^ Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Harvard University Divinity School. December 1982 – January 1983, Volume XIII, Number 2
  14. ^ Haddad and Smith, p 104.
  15. ^ Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship web-site.
  16. ^ Xavier, M. Shobhana. "An American Sufi Shrine, Bawa’s Mazar in Coatesville, Pennsylvania." Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/con.obj.2016.5
  17. ^ God, His Prophets and His Children, pgs. 150–157
  18. ^ Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship web-site Farm page
  19. ^ Acknowledgments page, Wisdom of Man
  20. ^ Wisdom of Man, pg. 8
  21. ^ Wisdom of Man, pg. 28
  22. ^ Four Steps to Pure Iman, front cover.
  23. ^ Smithsonian Folkways recording FW08905.
  24. ^ Islam and World Peace, pg.173.
  25. ^ "Blue-Eyed Devil", pg. 86-88.
  26. ^ The Tree That Fell to the West, p. 165.
  27. ^ Truth and Light, p. 10.
  28. ^ The Point Where God and Man Meet, p. xi.
  29. ^ Resonance of Allah, p. 716.
  30. ^ Sheikh and Disciple, p. 63.
  31. ^ Islam and World Peace, p. 3.
  32. ^ Questions of Life Answers of Wisdom, Vol.1, p. 220.
  33. ^ Come to the Secret Garden, p. 188.
  34. ^ My Love you My Children; p. 466.
  35. ^ a b Rumi: the Book of Love, p. 140.
  36. ^ Nov. 12, 2007 interview by Chitra Kalyani, IslamOnline.Net article Archived January 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Xavier, M. Shobhana. "From Illuminated Rumi to the Green Barn: The Art of Sufism in America." Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/con.obj.2016.4
  38. ^ Xavier, M. Shobhana. "Interview with American Sufi Artist Michael Green." Interview. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/


  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1972). The Divine Luminous Wisdom That Dispels the Darkness. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-11-2.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1974). Truth and Light: Brief Explanations. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-04-X. Radio Interviews by Lex Hixon – WBAI, New York, and Will Noffke – KQED, San Francisco
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1976). God, His Prophets and His Children. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-09-0.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1976). My Love You, My Children: Stories for Children of All Ages. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-20-1.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1980). The Truth and Unity of Man: Letters in Response to a Crisis. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-15-5.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1980). The Wisdom of Man: Selected Discourses. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-45-7.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1983). Sheikh and Disciple. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-26-0.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1985). Come to the Secret Garden. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-46-5.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (1997). To Die Before Death: The Sufi Way of Life. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-39-2.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (2001). Questions of Life, Answers of Wisdom, Vol. 1. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-32-5.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (2001). The Resonance of Allah: Resplendent Explanations Arising from the Nur, Allah's Wisdom of Grace. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-61-9.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (2003). The Tree that Fell to the West: Autobiography of a Sufi. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-67-8.
  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (2004). Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-65-1.*Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. (2006). The Point Where God and Man Meet. Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press. ISBN 0-914390-79-1.
  • Y. Y. Haddad and J. I. Smith, editors (1994). Muslim Communities in North America. Albany: SUNY. ISBN 0-7914-2019-1.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) Chapter 4: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary American Islamic Spirituality: The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship by Dr. Gisela Webb, Professor of Religious Studies at Seton Hall University
  • J. Malik and J. Hinnells, editors (2003). Sufism in the West. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-27407-9.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) Chapter 4: Third Wave Sufism in America and the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship by Dr. Gisela Webb, Professor of Religious Studies at Seton Hall University
  • Xavier, M. Shobhana (2015). Masjids, Ashrams and Mazars: Transnational Sufism and the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University dissertation.
  • Xavier, M. Shobhana. "Interview with American Sufi Artist Michael Green." Interview. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/
  • Xavier, M. Shobhana. "An American Sufi Shrine, Bawa’s Mazar in Coatesville, Pennsylvania." Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/con.obj.2016.5
  • Xavier, M. Shobhana. "From Illuminated Rumi to the Green Barn: The Art of Sufism in America." Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/con.obj.2016.4
  • Snyder, Benjamin H. (2003). HEARTSPACE: The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship and the Culture of Unity. Philadelphia: Haverford College thesis.
  • Barks, Coleman (2005). Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-075050-2.

External links[edit]

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