Universal Sufism

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Universal Sufism is a universalist spiritual movement founded by Inayat Khan[citation needed][dubious ]while traveling throughout the West between 1910 and 1926, based on unity of all people and religions and the presence of spiritual guidance in all people, places and things.

Orders and leadership[edit]

Inayat Khan died in 1927. Leadership of the Sufi Movement he had founded first passed to his brother, Shaikh-ul-Mashaikh Maheboob Khan; in 1948 to his cousin, Pir-o-Murshid Ali Khan; in 1956 to his youngest brother, Pir-o-Murshid Musharaff Khan; and in 1968 to his grandson, Pir-o-Murshid Fazal Inayat-Khan. In the 1980s Murshid Fazal proposed a bifurcation between Sufi Movement and the Sufi Way, which became a specific branch of Inayat Khan’s lineage founded by Murshid Fazal in 1985. For an in-depth description of this history written by Murshid Fazal – read “Western Sufism: The Sufi Movement, The Sufi Order International, and The Sufi Way”.[1] In 1988 Fazal's father Hidayat Inayat Khan became Pir-o-Murshid of the International Sufi Movement. Following the death in 1990 of Murshid Fazal, he was succeeded by the first woman leader of the tariqah (path), Pirani Sitara Brutnell. She died in 2004, naming Pir Elias Amidon as her successor.

The Sufi Order International was founded by Inayat Khan’s eldest son, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. Pir Vilayat led the order for over 50 years, until his death in 2004. He was an avid student of many religious and spiritual traditions and incorporated the rich mystical heritage of East and West into his teachings, adding to it the scholarship of the West in music, science, and psychology. Pir Vilayat travelled widely and wrote several accessible books on Sufism, including "Awakening: A Sufi Experience" (Tracher, 2000). Pir Vilayat founded the Abode of the Message,[2] a retreat center for the Sufi Order that is also used by other Sufi orders and interfaith gatherings. Pir Vilayat was succeeded by his son, Pir Zia Inayat Khan.

An American mureed of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s, Samuel Lewis, rose to prominence in the late 1960s and is well known as the creator of the Dances of Universal Peace. A fellow mureed and protector of Hazrat Inayat Khan's designated spiritual successor, Murshida Rabia Martin, Samuel Lewis served as a Murshid in the lineage of Inayat Khan. 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 Hazrat Inayat Khan through Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chishti (Sam Lewis). The current head of the Sufi Ruhaniat International is Pir Shabda Khan.[3]

At various times during the 20th century there have been disputes among Inayat Khan's and his successors' mureeds about who should most rightfully be the next leader of the Universal Sufi movement. However, recent years have brough considerable healing and reconciliation. In fact, the Urs of Inayat Khan (the celebration of the anniversary of his passing from this world) is now jointly celebrated at his dargah (tomb) in India by the Sufi Order International, Sufi Ruhaniat International, The Sufi Way and the International Sufi Movement.

The richness and variety of teachings within the western Sufi tradition inspired by Inayat Khan is a sign of its vitality.


  • A Universal Sufi initiate has an association with a spiritual teacher, or guide, called a Murshid who prescribes individual spiritual practices for the initiate. From time to time, the Pir (head of the Order) may prescribe practices for the Murids (students) to do as well.
  • There are Universal Sufi centers throughout America and other parts of the world, with Center Representatives who provide classes and group practices. These are often open to the public, not just initiates.
  • The clergy are called Cherags, 'Cherag' means Light Bearer in Persian, and it is their function to help initiates to move towards enlightenment.[4]
  • A Seraj is appointed to oversee the training of and ordination of Cherags.
  • The Universal Worship Service honours the world's spiritual traditions with readings from the holy books of different religions. Cherags take classes in learning about the different religions and the spiritual essence of these traditions as part of their training for ordination.
  • Universal Sufis who have joined a movement are grouped into three different orders, some of whose leaders are the children or grandchildren of Hazrat Inayat Khan.
  • The Federation of the Sufi Message, an association formed in 1997 is a non-hierarchical umbrella organization of Sufi Orders united in their devotion to the spiritual lineage of Hazrat Inayat Khan and the Sufi Message. It includes: The Sufi Order International, The International Sufi Movement, The Sufi Ruhaniat International, and smaller organizations such as Sufism Reoriented.
  • There are also various groups who do not adhere to any particular order, but who are dedicated to the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, these often meet together but are not affiliated to any organised form of Universal Sufism. They do not have physical Pirs or Murshids and are called "Independent Universal Sufi Groups."
  • Sufi Order teachers undergo a rigorous and lengthy training and mentoring before being authorized to teach by the Pir, and ongoing training and supervision is a mandatory part of the function of a teacher in this order.
  • “Representatives and Guides” are authorized to initiate into the Order, give classes, and to give and guide the spiritual practices of initiates.
  • “Coordinators” give classes and perform other honored and valued service in the activities of the Order. Coordinators are teachers-in-training but are not authorized to give spiritual practices or initiations.
  • A “Retreat Guide” is someone specially-trained in guiding the process and practices of individual and/or group Sufi spiritual retreat.
  • “Healing Conductors” are ordained and empowered to conduct a Healing Circle in which they offer prayers for those who have requested healing.
  • In structured orders Sufi initiates and those as yet just exploring the path, are encouraged to connect with an authorized teacher to receive individualized guidance and instruction in the teachings and practices of the Order.
  • There is a lay led independent Universal Sufi order that operates in several locations across the world.[5]

Common practices[edit]

  • Prayer - The Confraternity Prayers are normally read daily at sunrise, midday and sunset. Universal sufis can also pray at any time, in any state, place, aloud or silent, communally or privately.
  • Universal Worship - Interfaith prayer and meditation service.
  • Zikr - Remembrance of the spiritual in daily life. Zikr differs from the Islamic form of Zikr, widening the scope of the term to encompass remembrance of the spiritual in all forms. Zikr formulas are usually given specifically to each individual murid, and their formulas are kept private.
  • Muraqaba - Sufi Meditation.
  • Dances of Universal Peace - Spiritual dance.
  • Prayer for Peace - Daily prayer for peace for a particular country.
  • Ryazat - Universal Sufi mindfulness of breath technique.
  • Attunement - Meditation on beings of a highly development spirituality such as prophets and avatars.[6]
  • Ziraat - Initiatic meditation tool using the symbolism of agriculture.[7]
  • Fasting - There is no set period of fasting, but the act of fasting is utilised as a spiritual tool during times of war.[8]
  • Urs - The celebration of the passing of a Pir including Zikr, meditation and the singing of spiritual songs.
  • Wazifa - Evocation of qualities of the divine. It is the practice of reciting and meditating on some or all of the 99 names of Allah either aloud or in silent thought.


In Universal Sufism there are several prayers which were written by Hazrat Inayat Khan and are recited on specific occasions. Universal Sufism encourages one to pray for peace (Hazrat Inayat Khan's "Prayer for Peace being particularly useful), meditate upon the Divine Peace using the Wazifa "Ya Salaam", courageously and compassionately confront and transform the sources of fear and hostility within oneself, embody peace (which, of course, is not the same as laxity) in all of relationships, and reflect the essential unity of the human family in all of dealings.

Individual prayers include:[citation needed]

  • The Confraternity Prayers or Universal Sufi Prayers: Saum, Salat, Khatum, Pir, Nabi, Rasul
  • Prayer for Peace
  • Nayaz
  • Nazar
  • Dowa
  • The Healing Prayer
  • Prayer for the Dead
  • Blessing
  • Namaz-e Norooz (Prayer for the New Year)
  • Prayer for Peace in the World
  • Prayer of Invocation


Universal Sufism maintains a policy of political non-involvement which is codified in its constitution.[9] Hazrat Inayat Khan considered this necessary and not simply a legality. Pir Zia Inayat-Khan stated that this policy should not discourage Universal Sufis from acting on their convictions, but that as an entity the Universal Sufi orders are apolitical.[10]


Universal Sufism offers an option to undergo "Initiation". Initiation into a Universal Sufi order demonstrates one's sincerity in entering the Sufi path, strengthens one's powers to do so, and confers a blessing upon the pupil which enables progress. This initiation is the linking of the individual Sufi student with the chain of masters and teachers stretching back through the ages. The link so formed is of lifetime duration and forges a solemn bond, similar to the practice of baptism.

Initiation only means a step forward, a step which should be taken with hope and courage, for without courage and hope it would be most difficult to take any forward step. - Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan

One may be initiated into a Universal Sufi Order by one of its Representatives. Those interested in initiation are encouraged to select a Representative with whom they feel a deep trust and respect, for those qualities are necessary to facilitate the training offered. The Initiate receives spiritual practices from her/his initiator which are designed to promote spiritual realization, facilitate the unfoldment of his/her being and assist in meeting life's challenges and demands. The practices are not compulsory, but are given as a gift.

An initiate in a Universal Sufi order is called a murid. Initiation is non-exclusive, and a murid (initiate) may be initiated into or to participate in other traditions, however, it is advised that a student receive his/her daily practices from only one guide and consult their Universal Sufi guide about practices he/she is doing from other Orders or traditions. The intention is to safeguard the well being of the student, so he/she is not confused by mixing practices that may not be complementary.[11]

Spirit of Guidance[edit]

The Holy Spirit is referred to in terms of the Spirit of Guidance. This spirit is particularly manifest in the prophets of the world's religions as well as being manifest in all beings. This belief has parallels in Quakerism (that of God in everyone and the Inner Light) and the concept of Buddha nature.[12]

In the Hadiths the Islamic prophet Muhammad stated that believers should "Seek knowledge even unto China" and this dictum is specifically followed by Universal Sufis who do not limit their source of spiritual knowledge to one particular area or tradition.

Therefore most historical figures, including both founders of great world religions as well as secular individuals, are considered to be important teachers, worthy of respect. Zia Inayat-Khan, the Pir of the Sufi Order International was, during his training, a student of the Dalai Lama as well as an initiate in the Chishti Sufi order. Pir Shabda Kahn, the Pir of the Sufi Ruhaniat International and also an initiate in the Chishti Sufi order includes the 12th Tai Situpa Rinpoche among his direct teachers.

"Winged Heart" symbol[edit]

The symbol of Universal Sufism is the Tughra Inayati or the "Winged Heart", designed by the dervish Hafizullah in honor of Inayat Khan. The winged heart is an old Sufi symbol, and was chosen by Inayat Khan as the seal of the 'Sufi Order of the West' at its founding in 1910. The original rendering of this winged heart calligraphy was presented to Pir Vilayat Khan on the occasion of his 73rd birthday.

The Arabic script of the wings (in mirror image of each other) reads: "Ya Hazrati Inayat", with ya meaning "O" (an invocation, an invitation), and hazrati meaning "presence; a respectful title similar to your majesty". It may also be interesting to note that the word 'Inayat means "guarding, preserving, taking care of; concern, care; a gift, a present".

The Arabic script of the heart reads: "qaddasa Allahu sirrahu", which is a traditional phrase used when mentioning the name of a deceased Sufi saint. The word qaddas means: "sanctify, hallow, glorify, venerate, revere". The word sirr means: "secret, mystery, something concealed; secret thought, innermost thought", or, as the masterful lexicon of E. W. Lane says, "private knowledge; something inserted in the interior; a pleasure, or delight, and dilation of the heart, of which there is no external sign". The Sufis often use the word sirr to describe the divine wonder discovered in the depths of the un-veiled heart.

The phrase exoterically means "may Allah sanctify his secret" or esoterically "may his message spread", or "whose inner thought Allah made holy", or "whose heart Allah has made pure".

The shape of the tughra symbolises that the heart desires heaven. The crescent in the heart suggests the responsiveness and potential of the heart. The crescent represents the responsiveness of the crescent moon to the light of the sun, for naturally it receives the light and develops into a full moon. The explanation of the five-pointed star is that it represents the divine light. For when the light comes, it has five points. It is the divine light which is represented by the five-pointed star, and the star is reflected in the heart which is responsive to the divine light. The heart which by its response has received the divine light is liberated, as the wings show. In brief, the meaning of the symbol is that the heart responsive to the light of God is liberated.[13]


Traditional Sufis have criticized the movement as being contrary to the actual teachings of Sufism. The views expressed by the Universal movement are deemed as contrary to the beliefs and practices of historical Sufi personalities (i.e., Jalaluddin Rumi, Mansur Al-Hallaj, Bayazid Bastami, etc.). Critics believe that this movement is not a legitimate Sufi movement and believe its teachings and philosophy are contrary to real Sufism. According to William Chittick, Sufism is based upon Islam.[14] Traditional Sufis believe that in order to call yourself a Sufi you need to be a Muslim. Traditional Sufi Saadi Shirazi said: "He who chooses a path contrary to that of the prophet [Muhammad], shall never reach the destination. O Saadi, do not think that one can treat that way of purity except in the wake of the chosen one [Muhammad]." Shirazi reiterates what is at the foundation of traditional and historical Sufism, which is Islam.[15]


Universel Murad Hassil

There are five temples called "Universels" currently in use, and one called the Sufi Temple:


Being "universalist", Universal Sufism encourages observing festivals as determined by the local culture and personal taste. There are also a number of festivals peculiar to Universal Sufism:

  • February 5: Visalat Day, the Urs of Hazrat Inayat Khan.
  • July 5: Viladat Day, Hazrat Inayat Khan's birthday.
  • 13 September: Hejirat Day, the date Hazrat Inayat Khan left his native India to bring Sufism to the West.
  • June 17: Urs of Vilayat Inayat Khan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Western Sufism: The Sufi Movement, The Sufi Order International, and the Sufi Way". Sufiway.org. 1987-03-10. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  2. ^ Theabode.net
  3. ^ Marinsufis.com
  4. ^ "Sufi Movement International of the USA - Universal Worship Ray". Sufimovement.net. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  5. ^ "Independent Universal Sufism". Independentuniversalsufism.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  6. ^ "Attunement to the prophets of Judaism by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan". centrum-universel.com. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  7. ^ "Practice of Ziraat". centrum-universel.com. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  8. ^ Sufiatlante.homestead.com, "If a bombing campaign does commence, I suggest maintaining a daily fast (i.e., abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset) throughout the course of the bombing, as I plan to do. In Sufism fasting is described as a form of death. Yes, it is very small in comparison with the large-scale real death that would result from military action, but it is a significant somatic pneumatic device to help us stay aware of the victims of war."
  9. ^ 1923 Constitution (article 5, line 2): "[the Sufi Movement] denies itself all interference in politics, internal or foreign."
  10. ^ Sufiatlanta.homestead.com, "I hope it is understood that the apolitical orientation of the Sufi Order does not imply that mureeds are discouraged from acting on their convictions. On the contrary, in the spirit of spiritual liberty, the work of the Sufi Order is to support mureeds in their inner unfoldment, culminating in the full flowering of the human personality, in which wisdom and willpower move in perfect synchronicity."
  11. ^ Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, centrum-universel.com
  12. ^ "The Christ-spirit cannot be explained in words. The omnipresent intelligence, which is in the rock, in the tree, and in the animal, shows its gradual unfoldment in man. This is a fact accepted by both science and metaphysics. The intelligence shows its culmination in the complete development of human personality, such as the personality, which was recognized in Jesus Christ by his followers." According to The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Volume 9.
  13. ^ Hidayat Inayat Khan, The Meaning of the Flying Heart, sufimovement.org
  14. ^ William C. Chittick (2008), Sufism - Beginners Guide, p. 11 
  15. ^ Gholamreza Aavani, Glorification of the Prophet Muhammad in the Poems of Sa'adi, p. 4 
  16. ^ "Universel homepage". universel.org. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  17. ^ Sufi Centre[dead link]


  • Universal Sufism, H.J. Witteveen ISBN 1-86204-093-1, Element Books Ltd (September 1997)
  • Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, East-West Publications, 1979
  • A Pearl in Wine: Essays on the Life, Music and Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Omega, 2001
  • a brief biography of Hazrat Inayat Khan
  • The Mysticism of Sound and Music, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Shambhala Dragon Editions. ISBN 1-57062-231-0, Revised September 3, 1996
  • Wisdom of Sufism - Sacred Readings from the Gathas, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Houghton Mifflin (P); Revised edition, ISBN 1-86204-700-6, May 2000
  • IIS.ac.uk
  • Murshid Samuel Lewis's' commentaries on the Gathas: Pasi Anfas Series
  • Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, p. 221-222. Online reference found at: The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan: Part III - Journal and Anecdotes
  • Carl Ernst and Bruce Lawrence, Sufi Martyrs of Love, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p. 142. ISBN 1-4039-6027-5.