When I met Inayat Khan in Oslo in October 1923, I had never heard of sufis. The word somehow conveyed to me an impression of birds, flying between Heaven and Earth bringing messages, and I fancied they had done so from the beginning of time.
An engineer and two-bit scientist had to go deeper than that. I queried Inayat Khan, my first teacher. He told me over and over again that not even he knew the origin of sufism but that, at the time of Abraham, it was already firmly established. Abraham himself was a sufi and employed the symbols, the legends, and the practices that have ever since been the hallmark of sufis. Most of the prophets of the old testament were sufis and so were Jesus, Mohammed, El Ghasali, St. Francis of Assisi and, as we now know, so were Dag Hammarskiold and Radnakrishnan, India’s first president.
My next source was Ali Fauzy Bey, the most learned man I have ever known, the most painstaking researcher. He had been head of all Egyptian libraries and was retired when I met him in Istanbul in 1928.
“Shamcher,” he smiled, “so you are a sufi? That means you have entered the bridge between your Christianity and my Islam and we can be very close!”
“But, I replied. “I am not a Christian in the sense that I consider myself different from you, a Moslem, or from my Hebrew friends or my Hindu friends.”
“Ah, Shamcher, that is even better, for then you are really a Sufi and you can begin your life in this sacred path” (I was quite young then) “while I had to confess Islam in order to keep my position. But Islam as well as Christianity and the Hebrew religion spring directly out of the sacred fountain of Sufism, you know, though the Sufis called themselves Essenes (for “S” [ess]) and other names in the past to avoid persecution. We are all of the same religion and any fight among us is misplaced. Hinduism and Buddhism are really the same too, except that we do not yet know the historical connection between those faiths of the Far East and those of the Near East. But we do know the direct historical link between the Hebrew, the Zoroastrian, the Christian and the Moslem faiths, and that historical link is sufism.”
“But Ali Fauzi Bey, some Western historians claim that sufism originated much later in fact after Mohammed.”
“Shamcher, some of my Moslem colleagues must take the blame for that, partially at least, for in their narrow Moslem view, or pressured by Moslem politicians, they have tried to falsify history by relating all that is obviously valuable to Moslem traditions, as having started after Mohammed. What really surprises me, though, is that some Western scholars, usually so conscientious, have swallowed this nonsense. Maybe they, too have been under pressure and been tempted to twist the great Sufi tradition into something recent, limited and narrow. Though not the great authors and scholars, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or Dr. Oliver Leslie Reiser of Pittsburgh, and not the French, who have kept their science more pure than most other nationals. Remember, it was the French who said, “History has not one judgment but thirty-six, each contrasting the others.”
Now he puckered his brows in the most puzzling manner,
“Most Moslems accept sufis as inter-religious friends and some, like myself, see them as the fountain of Islam along with other religions, but many powerful Moslems have persecuted Sufis through centuries, trying to wipe out this whole tradition. When that failed, they tried to make it their own property. I can only hope that those Western scholars who realize the true situation will prevail.”
My next station was the Mevlevi Tekke in Aleppo. The head of the Mevlevi Order, “The Great Maulani” told me he was the twenty-first descendant of Jelaladdin Rumi, the founder of the Order. “Yet,” he added, “my great ancestor was just one in a chain, a chain that stretches all the way back to the beginning of time and in which Abraham, Moses and Jesus were delightful links.” With a sweep of his hand he indicated a huge library. “If you want to read about it, here are scripts of the most conscientious scholars…”
I heard the same from the Nakshibandis, the Tasawufs, the Mojnudin Chisti Order in Ajmer, India, from all the Sufis I visited, and I read the same in the “Encyclopedia of Religious History and Traditions” at the Sorbonne University in Paris where, said Ali Fauzy Bey, the best informed scholars of the West are found.
An article in Sufis Speak, newsletter of Atiya Brautlacht, c. 1973.