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Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India, in a highly musical family closely associated with the royal court. Inayat’s grandfather, Maulabakhsh, was the chief musician of the king of Baroda. His father, Rahmat Khan was a master of dhrupad, a classical Indian vocal form. At a young age, Inayat won great acclaim as a musician, singing and playing for rajas and maharajas across India, including the Nizam of Hyderabad, with whom he became a personal friend.
The path of destiny turned for him when he met his Sufi murshid or guide, Hazrat Sayed Abu Hashim Madani. He found the spiritual food for which his soul was longing. As his murshid was passing from this life, he told young Inayat to ‘unite east and west with the music of his soul’.
A few years later, in 1910, Inayat sailed to America, accompanied by his brother Maheboob Khan and his cousin-brother Mohammed Ali Khan. They were later joined by the youngest brother, Musharaff Khan. All three were steadfast companions to Inayat during his work in the West. As ‘The royal musicians of Hindustan’ they gave concerts in America and Europe. But after a short time, the lectures that Inayat Khan gave about spiritual liberty and many other aspects of life became more important. Out of these lectures grew a renewed form and organisation of Sufism among small groups of people in North America and Europe.
He met a young American woman, Ora Ray Baker, and they were married in England in 1913. Together they had four children: Noorunissa, Vilayat, Hidayat and Khairunissa (who used the name Claire). Although they settled at last in Suresnes, outside of Paris, during the sixteen years Inayat spent in the West he traveled ceaselessly, lecturing, teaching, inspiring many, and sowing the seeds of wisdom wherever there were willing hearts to receive them. In 1926, he returned to India for a visit, and after a short illness, passed away in Delhi in 1927.
More than a dozen volumes of Inayat Khan’s lectures, sayings and inspired poetry have been published. His work has been continued by many devotees. In addition to the International Sufi Movement he founded, a number of other organizations have sprung up in his wake, each offering a particular interpretation of the universal Sufi message.
Inayat Khan’s mission took him to places and situations that he would never have imagined, nor particularly chosen for himself. He had the following to say:
Out of reverence, Inayat Khan is called Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan. ‘Hazrat’ is an honorific, signifying spiritual dignity. The title ‘Pir-o-Murshid’ signifies that he was the head of the Inner School of the Sufi Movement.