All Americans know about celebrating the principles of liberty on July 4th. But most Americans probably don’t know about the Indian teacher whose ideas of Spiritual Liberty have spread widely in this country.
That person, born on July 5, 1882, was Hazrat Inayat Khan. Khan was born into a family of traditional South Indian musicians. He trained in music and Sufi mysticism. Inayat Khan was instructed by his teacher to take his gifts to the West. He reached the United States in 1910.
Khan traveled widely in Europe and the U.S. He mastered English and developed a distinctive set of teachings for the West, which he organized under an idea he called Spiritual Liberty. His goal was to spread the universal mystical intention of Sufism by linking it with western ideals of individual freedom, choice and liberty.
He married an American woman, Ora Ray Baker and eventually settled in France. Khan died rather suddenly during a return trip to India in 1927. However, Khan’s story doesn’t end there. Over a century after his arrival the reach of Khan’s teachings has been unusually long and his ideas can be found in unexpected places.
His eldest daughter, Noorunissa, embodied the principle of Spiritual Liberty as an intelligence agent for the resistance in France during World War II. Even after being captured and tortured, she refused to give up any information. It is said that her last words before execution were ‘liberte.’
Four western orders spreading Inayat Khan’s teachings were established in the years after his death. The Sufi Order of the West, was organized by Khan’s eldest son, Vilayat, and is maintained at The Abode in New Lebanon, NY. The leadership of the International Sufi Movement, founded by Inayat Khan, was taken over by his brother Maheboob. Hidayat, Khan’s youngest son, how heads this order, based in Switzerland, preserving his father’s original teachings. The United States hosts a sizable branch of this order. The Sufi Way was established by Fazal Inayat-Khan, a grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan, as a more innovative, experimental order.
Finally, the Sufi Ruhaniat International was organized by Samuel Lewis, one of Khan’s disciples, to teach the Dances of Universal Peace. Lewis’ innovation, the Dances combine principles of Spiritual Liberty with music and movement. These Dances have spread widely and are used by many religious/spiritual organizations, such as Quakers, Unitarians, even Disciples of Christ and Methodists.
Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) spread the influence of Khan’s message even further. Bey combined the teachings of African-American prophet, Drew Noble Ali with Khan’s Spiritual Liberty and helped create the Moorish Orthodox Church.
Bey applies concepts of Spiritual Liberty in his vision of TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone), a space in which free music, poetry, theater and art is used to liberate natural human spirituality. One of Bey’s associates implemented this idea in the founding of the Burning Man Festival.
No matter what kind of liberty you celebrate, keep in mind all the things that join us together. Be safe and be free.