Universal Worship on 2020-09-27 in Cape Town
In the Sufi teachings, we read:
All pain is significant of change; all that changes for better or worse must cause a certain amount of pain, for change is at once birth and death. If it were not for pain, one would not enjoy the experience of joy. It is pain which helps one to experience joy, for everything is distinguished by its opposite. (Hazrath Inayat Khan. Chalas/Nirtan)
The Heritage of Hazrath Inayat Khan I greet you on this beautiful Spring Sunday. We are nearing the end of September which marks the annual Heritage Month in South Africa. The theme for this year’s Heritage Month is ‘Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage’. Heritage Month recognises aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and intangible: creative expression such as music and performances, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the popular memory. The Liberation Heritage of South Africa is characterised by peoples’ identification with particular spaces and places shaped by historical events and collective memory. Last week, on 13 September, as Magda reminded us, mureeds throughout the world also celebrated Hejirat Day, which marks the date Pir-o-Murshid Hazrath Inayat Khan left India to bring the Sufi message to the West.
Becoming a Sufi is a process. Sufism is, in many ways, the modern English translation of the Arabic ‘tasawwuf,’ a verbal noun meaning the act/path of becoming a Sufi. It is not actually an ‘ism’ or a theory but rather a living experience and a constant quest for perfection.
We are all products of our pasts, our lineages, our contexts; a combination of factors that is conveyed by the term heritage. Our heritage is usually seen as something that we inherit but it is also something that we construct at the same time to bequeath to those who come after us. Accordingly, our heritage is a celebration of our past and of our ancestors – cultural, intellectual, biological – as well as instruments through which we communicate, transmit, interpret and reform this tradition as agents of our own heritage. Hazrath Inayat Khan exemplifies both these currents of pride in one’s heritage without reifying it and ensuring that it has the confidence to remain relevant.
As the whole country celebrates our heritage in its diverse forms, I would like to reflect on the life and legacy of Hazrath Inayat Khan – I will concentrate on three aspects of his heritage:
Across time and geography people have known the power of music for evoking the gods, and acquiring spiritual insight. Whether arising as a textless chant by a single voice or a percussive auditory event for ritual dance, music in its various modes is a virtually inevitable companion to religious and spiritual practices. Not only a constant accompaniment to one’s spiritual trek, musical compositions from the great classical composers to the powerful soundtracks of some popular movies also serve as powerful metaphors and inspirations for that journey.
Hazrath Inayat Khan came from a Muslim family of illustrious musicians. His grandfather and patriarch of the family, Maula Bux, was considered by some to be the “Beethoven of India.” At a very young age, Murshid mastered the veena and as a teenager taught at the Academy of Music in Baroda, an important city in the history of classical Indian music. He performed at the courts of numerous aristocrats and his art of music was aimed at manifesting the art’s spiritual dimension as a confluence of both Islamic and Hindu spirituality and tradition that came together through the beauty and sacredness of Hindustani classical music. Music was a feature of his life from his birth and formed an integral part of his life, the first influence he was exposed to and through which he understood the world – and continues to be a representation of his legacy at his dargah (tomb) in Nizamuddin, Delhi, where musicians fill his resting place with sublime sounds.
Music has a great capacity for eliciting spiritual experiences. We see this in the frequent use of music in religion, in the transcendentalism of some traditions. Robert Schumann describes music as a universal language that animates the spirit. So there is something about music that makes it an effective vehicle for the expression of an ultimate reality that we can call spirituality.
In the Mysticism of Sound and Music, Hazrath Inayat Khan says: “Wind instruments, like the flute and the algosa, especially express the heart quality, for they are played with the breath which is the very life; therefore they kindle the heart’s fire…Instruments stringed with gut have a living effect, for they come from a living creature which once had a heart. Those stringed with wire have a thrilling effect, and the instruments of percussion, such as the drum, have a stimulating and animating effect upon man.”
The Sufi especially loves music, calling it ghiza-e-ruh – food of the soul.
I’m sure many of us will agree that music is one of our most powerful gateways to connect to our spiritual nature — our divine source — the unseen, as well as to the universe around us and those other divine beings that inhabit it with us.
Hazrath Inayat Khan was continually searching for deeper meaning in his life and in his art. By divine providence he came upon his Sufi teacher, Murshid Syed Mohammed Abu Hashim Madani who he spent four years with and, during which time, he developed his nuanced ideas about the importance of the inner dimension of life as the kernel of all existential and metaphysical reality. If the soul is healthy, if the internal state of one’s being is in alignment with the natural order of things, with the spirit of generosity and love, then the form is not important.
A story from the Mathnawi of Rumi, which Hazrat Inayat Khan makes reference to in respect of his articulation of the Sufi path, is that of Moses and the shepherd boy. The shepherd boy called out to God saying that his love for God is so intense that he will cook for God, mend God’s shoes, clean God’s house and take care of the divine beloved’s needs. Moses scolded the shepherd boy for his unsophisticated speech and chided him for referring to God in such a manner for God was high and mighty and had no need of the shepherd boy’s assistance. The shepherd boy was embarrassed and saddened; the light of faith and love that burned in him was extinguished and he wept. God took Moses to account for his attitude to the shepherd boy. How dare Moses separate a lover from his beloved? The shepherd boy’s words were borne out of a love that arose from the inner sanctum of the spirit, its beauty, sincerity and genuineness unmatched by any of the eloquent but empty words of prayer that many others mechanically recited.
For Hazrath Inayat Khan and many others on the Sufi path before and after him, the form of the expression is not what matters. What is of value is an offering of unpretentious and sincere grace and love. This is the core of the Sufi message and the teachings of Inayat Khan. Murshid’s music was such an offering to the extent that his Sufi teacher instructed him to “Go to the Western world, my son, and unite East and West through the magic of your music. God has given you great capacities, and a great task to fulfil”.
Hazrath Inayat Khan’s South Asian context is unmistakable in his teachings, his music and in the imagery that forms a part of his work. The pluralistic South Asian landscape, especially in respect of Hindustani classical music and the Sufi and Bakhti tradition of the region, convinced him that there is only One divine essence from which all creation and constructions of divinity are a partial reflection and that there is only one cardinal ethical principle: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Within this landscape of caste, religious, and language diversity, what was important was not for people to convert or become or take up another religion, language or identity – as in the end all identities are constructs of our limited perception of the world – but rather to expand our identity markers to accommodate the “other” and to see that all pathways for salvation, for meaning, for recognition are united in their search for the divine essence. The Indian landscape – where sanctity and sacredness resides in the rivers and forests, in animals and spirits, in shrines and temples and mosques, in the tombs of noble people; in epic stories and lyrical poems – is the background that informed Hazrath Inayat Khan’s approach to the Sufi path and his teacher’s instruction for him to propagate this vision of a divine encompassing of diversity, joy and love. In early human history, fear of differences was understandable. Cave dwellers had to distinguish between the red berries that would kill them and the nourishing purple ones. Members of warring tribes had to be recognized to avoid sneak attacks and possible death. Survival depended on staying close to what was known and familiar. Heterosexual adults who produced offspring were more likely to survive because of their children’s assistance with labor and later, protection. Societal and religious laws developed to support these goals. In the 21st century, however, such limitations are no longer adaptive. In fact, they are destructive to the evolution of humanity. Our world has become functionally smaller due to greater travel and information-sharing capabilities. We are discovering that our earthly village succeeds best when we treat each other as brothers and sisters should. ‘A fruit salad is delicious precisely because each fruit maintains its own flavour.’
In a world that is increasingly divisive, where identity markers continue to create divisions and are the cause of tremendous suffering and violence, the heritage of Hazrath Inayat Khan serves as a guide for our troubled times and as a balm for our spiritual illnesses. “There is no difference in the destination, the only difference is in the journey.” (Hazrath Inayat Khan)