The Sufi Way is a direct continuation of the inner school established in the West in 1921 by Inayat Khan. Inayat Khan (also referred to by the honorific titles Sufi Inayat Khan, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan) was an accomplished musician as well as a spiritual master initiated in the four major Sufi orders: Chishti, Qadiri, Suhrawardi, and Nakshbandi.
The prophetic nature of his teachings, which were given over the course of sixteen years in Europe and America (1910-26), reflected on the full scope of humanity's spiritual challenges and offered guidance accessible to people of all faiths. Known as "the Sufi Message," these teachings have been collected in 14 volumes of prose and prayers and are a continual source of inspiration for students of the Sufi Way. Among Inayat Khan's most important teachings was his description of "the unity of religious ideals," a recognition that has had far-reaching influence in the evolution of world culture since his time. As he often pointed out,
"Sufism takes away the boundaries which divide different faiths by bringing
into full light the underlying wisdom in which they are all united."
Traditional Muslim Sufi fraternities trace their lineages from teacher to teacher back to the Prophet Mohammad, and this lineage of blessing also applies to the Sufi Way. However, by opening the understanding of "lineage" beyond Sufism's historic connection with Islam, Inayat Khan both extended the recognition of Sufism's roots into pre-Islamic times and started afresh. This fact is essential in understanding the history and flavor of the Sufi Way. We accept both our Islamic and pre-Islamic roots, as well as the realization that our spiritual lineage includes all authentic human awakening, in whatever culture or religion it has been experienced. This is the profound gift offered to us by our ancestors. Thus, in our view, one can be a Muslim Sufi, a Christian Sufi, and Buddhist Sufi, a Hindu Sufi, or of any other faith tradition, or none at all. Everyone who sincerely wishes to enter the path of awakening and open-heartedness is welcome.
Inayat Khan passed away unexpectedly in 1927. Leadership of the Sufi Movement he had founded first passed to his brother, Shaikh-ul-Mashaikh Maheboob Khan; in 1948 to his cousin, Pir-o-Murshid Ali Khan; in 1956 to his youngest brother, Pir-o-Murshid Musharaff Khan; and in 1968 to his grandson, Pir-o-Murshid Fazal Inayat-Khan.
Murshid Fazal's style of teaching was dynamic, poetic, and responsive to the spirit of the times. However, by the early 1980's, some older members of the Sufi Movement objected to this more radical and experiential style of teaching. In order to accommodate both tendencies, Murshid Fazal proposed a bifurcation between the more traditional Sufi Movement and the more inclusive and experiential Sufi Way, which became a specific branch of Inayat Khan's lineage founded by Murshid Fazal in 1985. (An in-depth description of this history written by Murshid Fazal – "Western Sufism: The Sufi Movement, The Sufi Order International, and The Sufi Way" – can be read by clicking here.)
Following his death in 1990, Murshid Fazal was succeeded by the first woman leader of our order, Pir-o-Murshida Sitara Brutnell. She passed away in 2004, naming Pir-o-Murshid Elias Amidon as her successor.
At various times during the 20th century there were other disputes among Sufi Inayat Khan's mureeds about who should most rightfully be the next leader of the Sufi Movement. Inayat Khan's eldest son, Vilayat, contended for many years that it was his right, culminating in his establishing his own order, the Sufi Order International. Another American mureed of Sufi Inayat's, Samuel Lewis, also rose to prominence in the late 1960's, and while not claiming leadership of the Sufi Movement, began his own related order, the Sufi Ruhaniat International.
The richness and variety of teachings within the western Sufi tradition inspired by Inayat Khan is a sign of its vitality. As Murshid Fazal described it:
"One can conclude in historical perspective that the cause of Sufism's resurgent, adaptive and changing permanency as a feature of human, spiritual thought and practice, is its ability to decentralize and evolve its body of thought among a great variety of leaders. So it remains continuously in a flux of spiritual searching, responding to the present human condition at any particular time."