By Humera Afridi
“Every activity of vibrations produces a certain sound, according to its dome of resonance, and according to the capacity of the mould in which the form is shaped.” (Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word)
On the morning of January 1, nestled in the Meditation Hall of the Abode of the Message—the site of so many beautiful teachings and powerful meditations—I listened with eyes open and the “ear of my heart” attuned as Pir Zia announced the change in name of the Sufi Order International to The Inayati Order.
Like water, ‘Inayati’ glided effortlessly, wave-like, on the breath. Possessed of an overall smoothness in sound, it conjured the delicate roundness of a pearl. Graceful, subtle, the new name immediately felt natural and right. Inayati brought to my mind, too, another image—that of a tall tree rising out of the earth, like the letter Alif, aspiring heavenward. Sitting across from the colored glass window inscribed with the message, Enter Unhesitatingly Beloved for in This Abode There is Naught but My Longing for Thee, I basked in the litany of evocative images and associations. Moments later, Juliet Capulet’s words arrived unbidden on my tongue:
“What’s in a name?” Juliet mused as she leaned out of her balcony in 14th century Verona. “That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet…” Her beloved Romeo, forbidden to her because he belonged to the feuding Montague clan, would surely “retain that dear perfection” no matter his name or clan. A name, after all, is merely a cloak, a superficial covering.
To an extent, Juliet’s words mirror how I feel about Murshid’s Tariqa—a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet. A change in name cannot alter the essence of Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan’s vision. In its pure essence, his message remains fragrant as ever, enfolded in the hallowed sanctity of that “dear perfection” envisioned and articulated by him in the 1900’s.
And yet, it was with an immense sense of relief that I welcomed the new name, The Inayati Order. In an era of global capitalism, “Sufi Order International” connoted a large, multinational corporation to me, rather than a path of universal Sufism whose message is Love, Harmony and Beauty. If ever asked about my spiritual affiliation, I usually answered, “Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Tariqa” for it sounded more authentically true to me than “SOI,” a name that appears to highlight the executive function of the organization rather than its esoteric spirit. And from the perspective of my South Asian Muslim heritage, I found “Sufi Order International” to be broad and unspecific and surprisingly detached in nomenclature from the ancient languages of Sufism, even though many mureeds take on Arabic or Persian names after initiation.
The announcement unloosed an ease of recognition; untethered a joy of belonging. I admit to feeling lighter, more aligned, more at home knowing that I now belong to The Inayati Order. In Chapter IV, Volume II of The Sufi Message, Murshid says, “There is a great secret hidden in a name, be it the name of a person or thing, and it is formed in relation to the past, present and future conditions of its object…” Inayati holds the secret of loving-kindness, semantically in its meaning, and mystically in the potential of this exalted quality to manifest in one who concentrates on it. Inayati orients us instantly to our Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan—the “inspirer of our Tariqa”—for in the fertile bed of his name are embedded the roots of this blessed Order. And in turning receptively to his name, we open ourselves to a transmission cascading through the ages in a sifted stream of golden light.
In the same chapter quoted above, titled “Name,” Murshid states: “All mystery is hidden in name. The knowledge of everything rests on first knowing its name… All blessings and benefits derived from earth or heaven are gained by mastery which depends upon knowledge, knowledge depending upon name.” I sense there is great blessing in the conscientious renaming of our Tariqa to The Inayati Order, for it draws us irrevocably closer to Murshid and to the essence of Murshid’s message. Invoking his name each time that we pronounce “Inayati Order,” not for a moment do we forget our Murshid and the spiritual lineage to which he is joined, and which enfolds us in its healing shade. Murshid says this, too: “The effect of the name is according to its use; the more it is used the greater the effect.”
He shares an example from the Holy Quran in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is addressed by special names— “… each name having an effect not only on the life of the Prophet, but on his followers who adopted and worked mystically with any of these names,” adding that Sufis through the ages have experienced the mystical values of the various names. Likewise, our own intentional adoption of the name The Inayati Order (and, similarly, the new term of endearment of our Pir) heralds a new phase of spiritual evolution of our Tariqa. The change comes at a time when Murshid’s message of unity, and of Love, Harmony and Beauty is urgently needed in the world, and needs, too, to be reinvigorated within the ethos of our own Order.
Murshid did not set out to name an Order after himself; however, the guidance and inspiration that have informed Pir Zia’s decision to rename the Tariqa after him feel intuitively right. Murshid speaks of the mightier impact of the name that is bestowed by the Holy Ones—for the effect lies not just in the name but also on the will of the one who gave it. Murshid offers the example of his grandfather Maulabakhsh, who was the greatest musician in India in his time. His name, meaning “God Bless,” was given to him by a faqir who was enchanted by his music. After taking this name, Maulabakhsh was successful wherever he went and was “blessed with merit and reward, both of which are the rare gifts of God.” Just as a change in name can transform a person’s life, so, too, can it mold and sculpt the mystic body of a Tariqa, more powerfully so when the will and blessings of the Order’s lineage holder bolster the new name, a name which itself invokes the visionary and holy one who inspired and founded the order.
My understanding of name is that it is a form that gives birth to other forms, by shaping visible, manifest characteristics. Murshid says that we can understand the philosophy of form by studying the process whereby “the unseen life manifests into the seen.” In this mystery, I intuit the creative power of a name; its sound unleashing a field of magnetism that draws towards it, and evinces out of it, all that is needed towards fulfilling its ideal.
“As the fine waves of vibrations produce sound, so the gross waves produce light. This is the manner in which the unseen, incomprehensible and imperceptible life becomes gradually known, by first becoming audible and then visible; and this is the origin and only source of all form,” Murshid says in The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word; Chapter V, “Form;” pg. 37. He further adds that all forms, no matter their plane of existence, are molded according to the law of affinity; every atom attracting towards itself the atom of its own element, and these atom groups together make up a form—a form that, I sense, is not limited to just a singular identity, but extends to a group identity, such as that of a spiritual Order.
In Philosophy, Psychology, Mysticism, Murshid says: “Sufis of all ages have followed this principle of making use of words which are suggestive of a certain sense, a sense which one wishes to bring out and make a reality in one’s life.” The audible sound of a sacred name when repeated impresses one’s spirit, “helping one develop that quality, that virtue, that merit, that power of inspiration” secreted in the name. The mechanism of one’s inner being is such, Murshid explains, that the more one repeats the name, the more living it becomes. But the mantric power resonates further, reflecting “upon the universal Spirit, and the universal mechanism then begins to repeat it automatically. In other words, what man repeats, God then begins to repeat, until it is materialized and has become a reality on all planes of existence.”
And so a yearning is set into place through the force of repetition, building towards a climax of fulfillment through manifestation—the audible form inflecting and molding the visible form. And yet, even as with every breath we approach closer to the ideal of realization, there is, of necessity, also a destruction, reshaping and reforming that take place to allow for the desired expansion towards the aspirational form.
In Path of the Seeker (Chapter 22; pg. 38), Khalifa Nargis Dowland writes: “Form is a vehicle or garment used by the soul of a person, either singly or collectively, in order to gain experience in a material world.
“The experience needed is for a purpose, and when that purpose is attained the form is no longer necessary; but before the purpose is achieved many forms may be used and eventually cast aside. From each there is some lesson to be learned, but no form should be retained after that particular lesson has been absorbed.”
To me, Khalifa Nargis’s words are prescient of our Tariqa’s change in name to The Inayati Order, heralding an evolution in direction, orientation, and focus of concentration. Even as I readily welcome and embrace the new name—for it resonates as an answer to my soul’s question— perhaps for others, especially those who have spent many years identifying with the former name, Sufi Order International, the transition to a new name may not be as smooth.
Here again, Khalifa Nargis eloquently articulates the discomfort that accompanies change: “Most of the pain and sorrow of life is caused by the breaking of form; and yet—strange paradox!—the human spirit progresses by, and only by, the breaking of form. It is the only way to find happiness, for while held in bondage to form of any kind, ‘caged, cabined and confined,’ it cannot rise to seek the freedom that is the breath of spiritual life: freedom to seek the return path leading to the Father’s house, from which it is exiled…” (Chapter 23; pg. 39)
I find my mind looping back to Juliet Capulet who would not be dissuaded from her love, would not surrender to the ways of a world that sought to separate her from her beloved just because of his name and clan. Juliet saw beyond the cover of form, drawn ineluctably to and intoxicated by the essence of Romeo’s being.
Here, again, I turn to Khalifa Nargis who writes in “From the Silence” (pg. 127): “Religions and messengers of God must have a name and form for use in a formal world, but what do forms matter to those who have eyes to see reality underlying all forms: the One and Only Being?” And, again, in Chapter 54 (pg. 223): “Differences exist not in the soul but in the forms or covers necessary for expression in a material world.”
By the mere fact that we inhabit the material world, we are undeniably subject to the influences of forms—forms that must and do change because of the very nature of existence. And so, we circle back to the importance of names and the “psychic affect” they have on their owners, their surroundings, and their sphere of influence. A change in name, Murshid declares, can entirely change a person’s life. With a maestro’s sensitivity to sound, he intimates a person’s entire life from the make-up of her name—“The rhythm of the name suggests the main thing in life, balance or its lack.” (The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word; Pg. 35)
Certainly, I find that on saying “Inayati,” the breath flows uninterrupted by hard, staccato syllables. In the articulation of the name, I sense, too, a movement of breath reminiscent of a vinyasa flow, invoking an alignment of breath and being. The long “ee” sound at the end of the name hints at infinity, a generous and ongoing unfolding. And I can’t help but notice— and marvel—that the word “unity” in English feels homophonically related to Inayati!
Murshid says in The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word, “…from the appearance of a certain name a person’s life, fate or character may be read in whatever language it may be written. For instance, a name beginning with I shows a steadfast and righteous ego, uniqueness and love of God and the pursuit of truth.”
And so, it is with my whole being that I orient myself to Inayati, the new name of our Order, heartened and fortified by all that Murshid and Khalifa Nargis say on name and form as I tread, with the luminous guidance of my Pir, this blessed path of spiritual liberty.