Western Sufism

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Universal Sufism, also known as Neo-Sufism,[1] Global Sufism, and Western Sufism,[2] is a new religious movement with its origins in traditional Sufism, Islam's mystical branch, although it is pre-Islamic in its influences.


Universal Sufism was established in the early 20th century.[3] Two forms made up early Universal Sufism: the Sufi Order, which Inayat Khan separated from Islam and brought to the West, and westerners of the more traditional Shadhili Order. Both held the principle of universalism, according to which Sufism can be valid for anyone, regardless of their background.[4]

Inayat Khan originally belonged to the Chishti Order, but founded the Sufi Order between 1915 and 1917 as an independent universalist take on Sufism.[5] After his death in 1927, the Sufi Order split over Khan's succession. Leadership over the Order ultimately went to Inayat Khan's brother, Maheboob Khan.[4]

Inayat Khan's first disciple in America, Rabia Martin, assuming from a letter from Inayat Kahn that she would have to "attend to my [Inayat Khan's] affairs in the West", found herself rejected by the community. She continued independently,[4] and recognized Meher Baba as the Avatar of the age, eventually giving rise to Sufism Reoriented.[6]

One of Martins' disciples was Samuel Lewis, who rose to prominence in the late 1960s and created the Dances of Universal Peace also called "Sufi Dancing".[citation needed] In this role he organized the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society (often referred to as S.I.R.S.), later renamed the Sufi Ruhaniat International. The Sufi Ruhaniat International recognizes a distinct line of spiritual transmission from Inayat Khan through Samuel Lewis. The current head of the Sufi Ruhaniat International is Shabda Kahn.[7]

At various times during the 20th century there have been disputes about who should most rightfully be the next leader of the Sufi Order and more recently the Sufi Movement, another lineage that resulted from the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. However, recent years have brought considerable healing and reconciliation. As well there are other groups like the Sufi Way and the Sufi Contact, who also derive from this Universal Sufism movement. In fact, the Urs of Inayat Khan (the celebration of the anniversary of his death) is now jointly celebrated at his dargah (tomb) in India by the Inayati Order, Sufi Ruhaniat International, and the International Sufi Movement.[citation needed]



  • Sedgwick, Mark (2016). Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199977659.
  • Rawlinson, Andrew (1993). "A History of Western Sufism". Diskus. 1 (1): 45–83.