At the Nekbakht Foundation in Suresnes we were kindly received by Qahira Wirgman, Archivist and Editor of The Complete Works of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. The Nekbakht Foundation is doing crucial work for the preservation and dissemination of the legacy of Hazrat Inayat Khan. For further information about the Nekbakht Foundation, and how to schedule a visit, see www.nekbakhtfoundation.org.
by Humera Afridi
High on a mountain in the magnificent Ticino region of the Swiss Alps, we gathered in friendship for The Way of Union. Speaking an array of languages, belonging to diverse faith traditions, and representing a wide spectrum of ages, over a hundred of us journeyed from near and far, united by the wish to commune with beauty. The Way of Union (August 3-9), as this week of the Zenith Institute summer camp was titled, embodied the quintessential message of Love, Harmony and Beauty, and, over the course of the week, escalated into a multi-hued, “polyphonic glorification of the One being.”
Teachings by Pir Zia Inayat-Khan and Shaykha Nur Artiran of the Mevlevi Tariqa in Istanbul illumined our mornings and afternoons, and spun themselves into our dreams at night. Each session was prefaced by the exquisite harmonies of Nawal, Mehmet and Ali Ungan, and the Mevlevi dervishes who’d accompanied Shaykha Nur to the camp. Their music tuned our hearts, drew us into intimacy, and made our spirits soar. Superficial distinctions and differences, inherent in a gathering as large and diverse as ours, were swept away in the wake of melodies whose beauty served to strengthen the chords of friendship and community.
Distinguished guest speakers Shaikh Al-Mashaikh Mahmood Khan of the Sufi Movement, Shaykha Fawzia Al-Rawi of the Shadhili Order in Vienna, and Shaykh Peter Cunz of the Mevlevi Order in Switzerland further enhanced the rich tapestry of presentations by voicing poignant, revelatory, humorous and thought-provoking perspectives on Divine love, Sufism, and scripture. Daily sohbet—vibrant and moving conversations between participants and honored presenters—expanded our hearts and deepened our sense of togetherness. Each day’s teachings culminated in everyone joining together for Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan’s singing zikr, led by Ravanbakhsh Inayat-Khan on harmonium, and accompanied by the hypnotic whirling of Shaykha Nur Artiran’s dervishes.
Beneath the tent, we were nourished by the ghiza-e-ruh—the food of the soul—in the form of lyrical teachings and a range of soulful and ecstatic devotional songs, or, ilahis. Outside, the cascading beauty of the vistas entered our senses and replenished our beings. Stunning peaks etched in snow and topped with glaciers, and alpine firs rising up in regal-green splendor breathed with us in silent communion. Everywhere we turned, we were greeted by the Beloved’s beneficence—in the glance and smile of a fellow traveler, the bright yellows and purples of wildflowers, the quiet drama of the sun setting between jagged peaks. Nature seeped into the tent and lulled us with the soft sibilance of the rushing stream below; the songs of the birds; the caresses and fragrances of the breeze, and the patter of rain against tarpaulin, all of which combined to create a synesthetic experience so rich it was hardly an exaggeration to say we were in a paradisial garden. An atmosphere of sacredness pervaded the mountain. On some afternoons, one spied an eagle circling and soaring above the tent as if drawn to the ecstasy of so many souls below.
Shaykha Nur Artiran, who carries the special interpretation of Mawlana Rumi’s Masnavi I Ma’navi as her legacy, narrated over the course of our days together several hadiths, or sayings, of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). One anecdote told of how the Prophet urged his followers to go and partake of the fruits of paradise. On exclaiming that since they were on earth, they couldn’t possibly do that, the disciples were advised by his holy Eminence that, “The place where the friends of God gather together is Paradise. The words spoken in that place are the fruits of Paradise.”
Amid the ravishing beauty of the landscape, we savored the sweet and delectable fruits offered by our esteemed teachers. Quoting Rumi, Shaykha Nur reminded us, “An animal is nourished from the mouth, a human being nourished by the ear. The only way to attain this nourishment is by listening.” And so we surrendered our hearts to listening—closing our eyes, sitting in stillness, aware of the cadences of our breath.
Pir Zia shared a dream of Pir Vilayat (may his secret be sanctified) that came to him soon after his passing. Suffused with much light, it was no ordinary dream. “My father looked into my eyes with a smile and all he said is, ‘This world is so small,’” Pir Zia recounted, reminding us that there are worlds beyond the one we know through our five senses. And yet, as little as this world may be, both Pir Zia and Shaykha Nur drew our attention to its profound reality—that there’s nothing that’s not alive and sensing, no bird, stone, or tree that is not part of ourselves.
“Whenever we glorify God, the angels come near,” said Pir Zia. “This is a reminder to us to keep up the regularity of our acts of worship and remembrance. In this way our friends will know where to find us.”
One morning, Shaykha Nur held us spellbound as she movingly recounted the profound relationship with her murshid, Shafiq Jan (may his secret be sanctified), a union that was forged in Divine love and service. “Hold tight the hand of your murshid and your spiritual brothers and sisters,” she advised. “The way we live in this world will determine how we’re resurrected in the next world. God says, ‘My followers are like the stars. Find your way by watching them.’” Shaykha Nur Artiran reiterated the necessity of a guide on the spiritual path. Referencing Rumi’s Masnavi, she said, “Those who find a guide were sincerely looking for one. Desire this. Desire it deeply. Continue seeking, don’t be dissuaded by obstacles.”
Pir Zia reflected that our gathering reminded him of the time of Prophet Abraham, Sarah and Hagar who lived in tents and set up camp by oases. They waited to see who God brought to them and when someone arrived, they undertook three steps—Salam: greeting whoever came in a spirit of peace; Ta’am: sharing bread and nourishment; Kalam: conversation.
“Friendship, kindness, and generosity, always, through the ages, have been the path to God’s realization,” said Pir Zia. “The visitors came to know God palpably through Abraham’s generosity. Sharing bread together forges a bond; a solid bond. It creates a relationship. Once people have shared bread together they can no longer be regarded as strangers,” emphasized Pir Zia Inayat-Khan. “That ideal of the highest friend—the Beloved, Mehboob, Dost, Yaar—is only an abstraction until we learn to practice friendship. That’s why we’re gathered here. My sincere hope is that we’re experiencing a deepening of that friendship that has drawn us here.”
The annual SOI ritual of immersion in beauty on this exalted mountain, where we loosen our ties with the world, go deep within, and mine the peace that is our souls’ inheritance, held an especially powerful resonance during the Way of Union. One was reminded of Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan’s phrase, “the Music of the Spheres.” Murshid stated that when he reached the stage where he touched the Music of the Spheres—when all of life became music to him, and every soul a musical note—he began to tune souls instead of instruments, harmonize people instead of notes. Perhaps this is what we tasted in the banquet of music and lyrical teachings in that glorious landscape. And certainly Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan was present in the Alps, in the company of many seen and unseen friends, working his magic, harmonizing East and West, a feat that was beautifully and seamlessly exemplified in our zikr ceremonies of glorification and the Universal Worship that crowned the Way of Union.
May we continue to savor the fruits of community, harvest seeds of love, and perfect the adaab of friendship, year after year, as we have for the last forty years, honoring Pir Vilayat’s vision of ecstatic communion.
Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest will be published in French on August 15, 2015. Framed as a medieval treatise penned by a fabled African queen, the book articulates a vision of life centered on the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and generosity, illustrating these virtues with scriptural verses, prophetic sayings, sage maxims, and traditional legends and lore. Available from L’Harmattan or in English from Omega Publications.
The classic text of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s sayings, poems, and prayers has been re-released in a hardcover version newly compiled from the most authentic available sources. Available from Omega Publications as well as Amazon.
The next two-year class of Suluk Academy begins in September 2015, with applications being accepted until August 21. This is a wonderful opportunity for those on the Sufi path – new or long-time mureeds – to foster life-long spiritual friendships and immerse oneself in the teachings and practices of Hazrat Inayat Khan and other Sufi masters. More information is available at sulukacademy.org.
The Seven Pillars: Journey Toward Wisdom is now available for purchase via iTunes or Amazon. This multimedia work includes imagery, original musical compositions, narration, meditation, video, and more, and provides a unique way to illuminate the experiences of our life, deepen our insight, and inspire commitment to address the social and ecological challenges before us with integrity and beauty.