Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


Caravanserai Magazine 1990 No.4

Published semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement by the Sufi Movement in Canada, a registered non-profit society. Editor in chief: Nawab Pasnak; Design & Layout: Sufia Sill;

Editorial Board: Virya Best, Ameen Carp, Joan Gaisford, Hidayat Inayat Khan, Nawab Pasnak, Karima Sengupta, Karimbakhsh Witteveen.

Dear Fellow Travellers,
Our fourth issue is concerned with three interrelated topics: symbols, the sacredness of art, and the 80th anniversary of the coming of the Sufi Message to the West.

There is a great deal that can be written about symbols and their use in spiritual teaching. From a certain point of view, though, everything in manifestation is symbolic, and the artist who knows this can produce art that will inspire generations. We are happy, therefore, to have an in-depth article by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan on the Sacredness of Art, but it cannot be emphasized enough that what he says is not for artists alone, or rather that, from Murshid's point of view, we are all artists. Although much can be accomplished through prayer and meditation and esoteric study, if one could assimilate this one article and put it into practice, one would instantly become an embodiment of the Sufi Message.

We mark the anniversary of the Sufi Message with two reprints from the Sufi Quarterly, one detailing Hazrat Inayat Khan's journeys during his stay in the West, and the other giving the first person accounts of several mureeds from the time of Murshid or shortly thereafter. These accounts are, naturally, highly personal, and show an interesting range of response to the powerful presence of the Murshid.

The next Caravanserai will be out in November of 1990. We are grateful to those who have sent us news of local Sufi activities. Please send us more — news, articles, art, poetry or stories. As we sit around the warm fire, listening to the words of many travellers, let us hear your voice, too.

Most hearty regards to all, and best wishes for your travels in the future, from the inn where Sufis meet...

Nawab Pasnak


1990 Volume 4. Hazrat Inayat Khan. "The Divinity of Art"

People belonging to different faiths very often make the mistake of considering art as something outside of religion. The fact is that the whole creation is the art of the Creator, and one sees the perfection of His art in divine man. This shows that the source of the whole creation has the spirit of art at the back of it.

In all ages man has developed his artistic faculty, and he has tried to progress in art. But, in the end, where does he arrive? He remains far from touching either the beauty of nature or the art of creation. Man's art always fails to equal the art of God.

This shows that the source of every soul is the spirit of art, and art is spirit, that everything which has come out from that spirit has manifested in the form of art Did man look more at nature — at the heavens, the beauty of the stars and planets, the waxing and waning of the moon, the different shades of colour which we can see in the sky — the more would man always marvel at the art at work behind it all.

When one is alone with nature, near the sea, on the river bank, among the mountains, in the forest, in the wilderness, a feeling comes over one which is never felt among a crowd, not even if one were in the crowd for years. In one moment a feeling becomes born, as soon as one is face to face with the true art of God. It then seems as if the soul had seen something which it has always admired and worshipped, and now the presence of that mighty Creator, the Artist, is realized through seeing His art. Many experience this, but few will express it. None can come back from such an experience without a deep impression, without something having been awakened to consciousness through having seen the divine art.

This shows that this creation, this manifestation which is before us, has not been made mechanically, has not been created blindly or unconsciously; but as a great poet of Persia, Sa'adi, says, 'The more one looks at nature, the more one begins to feel that there is a perfection of wisdom, a perfect skill, behind it, which has made it, and it will take numberless years for mankind to imitate that art. In fact mankind will never be able to attain it perfectly."

Whoever studies the kingdom of flowers, of vegetables, of minerals, the birds, the insects, the germs, and the worms, the animals and their forms and colours, and the beauty which each form suggests, will surely recognize as did the prophets of old that the world is created by the Spirit, that divine Spirit Who has created it with eyes wide open; and showing perfect wisdom behind it, and perfect skill in it, and a sense of beauty so perfect that man must always be incapable of achieving it.

But now the question comes, "What is man?" Man is the miniature of God, and man has inherited as his divine inheritance the tendency to art. Therefore any one with intelligence and with tender feeling — which goes to make a person normal — must admit the beauty of art. He is born with that tendency. A child is born with the love of art, as is proved by the infant being attracted to toys and beautiful colours. Lines attract him. And the first thing which he begins to like or desire is colour and movement. This is the time of his life during which he is impressed by artistic things. When a person loses his sense of art, it is just as when the heart has become blind. It cannot see the art anymore because of the clouds of all manner of ugliness and undesirableness, and all that one does not like to look upon. All such thing and impressions cover his heart and his soul, and make him, so to speak, blind to beauty, blind to art. But this is not the normal condition. The normal state of a sound mind in a sound body with tender feeling is love of beauty, is to admire art.

No doubt very often man does not live a natural life. That is, his business or profession or responsibility holds him. Some work or some thought for the needs of the body, for bread and butter or any other every-day need holds him and absorbs the hold of his thoughts, so that he becomes useless for the discovery of the beauty and joy and happiness of life. Hence, as we see around us today, life is becoming so difficult and so full of anxiety and trouble and responsibility. From morning till evening man is just loaded with his responsibilities, toiling day and night. He has never a moment to think of the beauty of art. Since art is the first step which leads man to the cause of art, how can a person who has never admired or understood the beauty of art hope to admire or understand the Artist?

So God remains unrecognized, and not through the fault of God, but through the fault of man.

The Creator in the role of an artist has created his beautiful art, which is not far from human eyes. But man is so engrossed in thoughts and occupations which have nothing to do with that art. All his time and thought and effort are devoted to occupations which never allow him one moment to think of art and admire it and understand and appreciate it. Naturally, then, he remains as if his eyes were covered over from the vision of the Artist The real purpose of human life was not that man be born to toil for bread and butter; the real purpose of human life was not that man should be avaricious and compete with his fellow man and hate him and view another with prejudice and use the whole of his time in a kind of spirit of rivalry and competition, in which there can be no harmony or joy or peace. With the necessarily ever-increasing avariciousness there is an absence of that beauty for which the soul so constantly longs.

It would be no exaggeration to say that all these disagreeable things which go on in this world — wars, diseases and the like — all come from the lack of artistic attitude in life, the lack of a sense of beauty, and the lack of that vision which unites the whole humanity in one centre; and this centre is God. When man closes his eyes to beauty, he will never think of looking for the beautiful, although beauty is constantly beside him. Behind the beauty, as Qur'an says, God is. "God is beautiful and He loves beauty." The natural tendency to love and admire beauty is a divine inheritance; it is the spiritual thing which leads to spirituality. Through this tendency one accomplishes one's spiritual duty in life. When that tendency has gone and religion is left without art, then the religion may be perhaps useful for an inartistic society, but it turns into a sort of formality. One does one thing, one does another. As one does weekday work, so one also does Sunday duty.

If God is not to be connected with beauty, in what form shall man idealize Him? In what form could man think of Him? In what form should he see Him? He would be kept away from Him. So when religion is covered in its form and when man keeps art aloof instead of promoting it, man's life becomes empty, for his occupation necessarily keeps art out of his life to a great extent. If then when he goes to a religious place he also finds no art there, his visit comes to be exactly like a visit to any other place in daily life to which habit may take him. There is nothing to pierce through him; there is nothing to awaken that impulse which arises from the earth to Heaven; there is nothing to make him think even for that one moment that God is beautiful and that by beauty we reach out to God.

Man very often separates nature from art. He considers nature different from art; he considers the one superior and the other inferior. But in reality art is that which, by divinely inherited tendency, plays its role through man. God working in nature with His hidden hands has created nature, and He shows His art in that nature. In the other aspect of art which we call 'art,' God produces beauty through the human hand and the human mind, and so finishes that which has been left over to be finished and has not yet been finished in nature. Therefore in one respect art is a step forward to nature, although compared with nature art is so limited. Nature is unlimited. But at the same time, art is an improvement of nature.

Seen metaphysically, the artistic spirit of God is satisfied by fulfilling its artistic tendency through the art of the human being. Therefore those who consider art from a higher point of view recognize the artistic impulse not only as a human impulse, not only as brain work, but as a true artistic impulse, as an inspiration in itself.

But in order to prepare the mind for the artistic impulse, what is necessary? Does one need some kind of learning, or some kind of study? Is there some preliminary study to be made first? No. It requires a tuning, a bringing of ourselves to an object to whose beauty the human heart can respond, to a beauty which the heart can appreciate. When the heart can concentrate upon beauty, then it works itself up to a certain pitch, for inspiration is not a thing which one can pull upon to obtain as by pulling a rope. Inspiration is a thing which comes only when the heart is tuned to that object, when it is in a position to receive it. Therefore inspired artists have been divinely gifted, and the spirit of art is one, thought the arts are so many. When the heart is tuned to the proper pitch, it is not only capable of producing or appreciating one kind of art and beauty, but all kinds.

Thus there can be an art in architecture. A gifted architect can produce a great deal of beauty in his work. So too with drawing, with embroidery, with the work of dyeing, of sewing. In fact there is nothing which man does which cannot have art in it if he knows how to attune himself to that pitch which enables the art to be expressed. Poetry is an art in the same way. Unless a person is tuned to the proper pitch, he may write poetry all his life and yet it will not please either him or anyone else. So with a painter, or a musician (violin, piano, any instrument); he will not please himself or anyone else during his whole life unless he has become tuned to that pitch.

This shows that the question as to what grade of evolution a person has attained comes in every walk in life. Whether a person be a painter, or sculptor, or architect, or designer, or singer, or dancer, whatever walk he may follow, there is no better source of inspiration in nature, whence to draw inspiration from above, than by means of art. The more cultivated the sense of art is in man, the more able he is to respond to the beauty of art, and the more able he is to produce or create something beautiful in himself. The more he comes into touch with that spirit Who is constantly helping every soul toward beauty, the more man can produce. Everything that helps man to approach the beauty of God is sacred. Therefore art can become religion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is no better religion than art itself.

When one has reached to that degree of understanding, when one has reached that knowledge of art by which he can become profited, when the heart is once tuned to that pitch by which one can understand and appreciate art, and when one has changed one's outlook upon life so as to see in the beauty of art the beauty of the divine Being, then one can progress in the true art.

From this we learn that consciously or unconsciously that which our soul is really seeking is art; and yet at the same time man very frequently avoids this very thing that he is really seeking. The right way and the wrong way are so near to one another. The only difference is that a person is journeying along the right way when at every step he can say, "I see the signs that support and help me to go on further and promise that the goal is before me." When he is journeying along the wrong way every step tells him, "I am not in the right way, I must go back; I am not on the road on which I ought to be." Consciously or unconsciously every soul seeks for beauty, and at each step of our lives we think that beauty is receiving us as we go, that beauty meets us at every step on our path, then the soul is satisfied, is full of hope, knowing that the road he is on is his proper road, and that some day or other he will arrive at his goal. The person who thinks at every step of his journey, "I am not on a right road, I do not like this; I am not pleased with that," is making no progress. The beauty he is looking for, he is ever leaving behind. He is travelling in quite another way from that which he is expecting.

So we see that whether our road is right or wrong depends on our appreciation of the artistic side of life or on our lack of it. But by saying this, one does not wish it to be understood that everyone must necessarily practice to become an artist, or learn some branch of art. It is only to say that there is a spark of artistic faculty in every soul. There is not a single soul who has not got this spark. Some have more, some have less. Yet that spark does not have to be used by everybody to that extent which is called 'artist' No. But we must exhibit and utilize that faculty in our everyday life. A person with the artistic faculty is sure to show it in everything he does, even in dusting a room or keeping it tidy, or in keeping a machine in order. In all these directions can a person show art. One does not require a palace before one can begin to manifest art If one really has the love for beauty, one can show the artistic faculty in quite small things.

Besides this there is the fact that the soul manifests outwardly that which it expresses inwardly, so that it is the beauty which man has within himself which he expresses without. Man shows his artistic faculty in his manner towards his friend and towards his surroundings. A person who has no sense of art is called 'rude,' inconsiderate,' 'thoughtless,' 'foolish,' 'simple-minded,' 'crude,' 'coarse.'

A person does not need to have much money in order to be able to express his art. He can express it in various circumstances. He may be the poorest man in the world and yet he can express the beauty of his soul in whatever state he may be place. Beauty will not be hidden; One shows one's art in one's words. When one is in business, or in the family, or among friends, one does not know how many times during the day one hurts the feeling of others; one does not even notice them. Even though one were very learned or experienced, the lack of art would still manifest Even a loving, kind and good person will never be able to express the goodness which is hidden in his heart if art is lacking.

When Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon Upon the Mount, "Blessed are they who are gentle, who are meek, humble, poor in spirit," what lesson does it teach us? It is this lesson of art The lesson is, 'produce in one's personality.' Even so called artists, musicians, poets, painters, if they have not fostered art, if art is not impressed on the soul, and if the soul has not expressed the beauty of art, they do not know art; they are profane, they claim to be something they are not.

Having thought much upon this subject, and being specially interested in art, I have come in contact with artists of different countries both in the East and West. It has always proved that those who have really attained some greatness in their art were those who showed glimpses of art in their personality. It showed in the words they spoke, in the way they received me, and in the manner in which they spoke with me; their tenderness of heart, their friendliness, their interest in my affairs. Every sign of art could be seen in such personalities. Even if not an artist literally, a painter , a singer, a poet, whatever the real occupation, it does not matter as long as one has realized beauty in that occupation, and has perceived beauty around one and has collected around one all that one finds beautiful. All this must be expressed in return, an it is that which is true art.

In the Hindu language, there are two attitudes mentioned by the philosophers, namely, 'hamsadi;' and 'suhradi.' The former attitude is that of a bird of paradise, a mythical bird of the Hindus called Hamsa. If you put milk mixed with water before Hamsa, it will drink the milk and leave the water behind. The suhradi attitude is that of the people. It is the tendency of looking to find where there is any dirty spot and wanting to sit in it Such is the tendency of man. One person is always looking for what may be wrong in people, and is delighted to hear something wrong about them, and is very interested in discussing their faults and hearing of their being disgraced or insulted in some way. Such persons are always wanting to see the evil around them, in whatever form it may be. This pleasure grows until the whole life becomes a burden, for the presence of evil produces its bad impression, and bad thoughts collect around him, for they are reproduced just as a gramophone record produces sounds. Such a person becomes the gramophone record for the evil he collects; he utters it, he retains the bad feelings within; he spreads them abroad whithersoever he goes. Nobody likes him, nor does he like anyone either; the time will come when he cannot even like himself.

Another kind of character is he who overlooks all that does not seem to be harmonious; he looks only for good in every person, and finds some good even in the worst person in the world. This person seeks for good, wishes to see it wherever he can find it, and in this way constantly gathers good impressions.

And what is 'good?' Good is beauty. What is Beauty? Beauty is God. What is virtue? Virtue is beauty. What is beauty is also virtue. One does not have to learn in a book or a scripture or from some other person what is good and what is bad. We can learn from our own sense of art. The greater one's sense of art, the more it will show what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad.

As soon as the senses begin to develop and understand what it is that takes away beauty and what it is that imparts beauty, then such a one gathers beauty as one gathers flowers. Such persons welcome others with beauty, they express beauty, they impart it to others. Others love them. They love others. They live and move and have their being in love, just as it is said in the Bible, "The live and move and have their being in God." So a person who lives and moves and has his being in love will certainly also live and move and have his being in God.

This may be called, 'the divine art,' for which a person may study and strive. But besides this there is the art which every person must look for and develop in his own nature. The Message of Sufism to the western world has this as its chief object, to awaken the spirit of the world from this thought of antagonism and mutual hatred, and to bring about the feeling of human brotherhood; so that all humanity may meet with one another, whatever be their nation, race or religion, in one place, in one centre, namely, the thought of God. And in order to rise to this ideal, and in order to tune our soul to this pitch, so necessary from beginning to end, it is necessary to seek the path of beauty, and to recognize in beauty the Being of God.

God bless you.


1990 Volume 4. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan on the Subject of Symbology"

The ancient methods of religious education were given in symbolical terms, resulting in the preservation of truth in all its essence, de-spite the various dogmatic interpretations which have blossomed abundantly all through the ages. The wise at all times have taught humanity using the art of symbology in ways appropriate to the cultural evolution of mankind in each period of religious history. One could say one of the secrets of this method is the psychological effect of veiling and unveiling beauty, to the extent it is visible to our understanding, although it would seem that words may be inadequate to express the real beauty of the truth behind the symbols invoked.

Various symbols originally inspired by the mystery of the five elements became more and more the object of adoration by sun worshippers, water worshippers and nature worshippers. This led to later elaborations of symbols in various places in the world, specifically China, India and Egypt, and in various religions, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

The symbol of the cross not only pictures pain and suffering, but also refers to the path of crucifixion, which is the toll that the seeker on the inner path is confronted with when possessed by truth, a toll which is followed by resurrection. But in fact, for those who can see through symbols, both crucifixion and resurrection are illusions, known by the ancient Hindus as maya, a Sanskrit word which is the root of the word myth. Studies made in ancient traditions reveal that the symbol of the cross existed among the Brahmins long before the coming of Christ, and that it is from this symbol that the two sacred lines of the cross were conceived, the horizontal called trissoun and the vertical called chakra. The mystical explanation of these lines is that the vertical line represents all activities in life and the outgoing energy directed toward their realization, whereas the horizontal one symbolizes obstructing forces consequent to human limitation.

Every mystic and every artist knows the value of the vertical and horizontal lines, which are skeletons of every form. Geometrical symbols such as the dot, the circle, the pyramid and many others also take a mystical and artistic significance insofar as we direct our consciousness to the secret power which is latent in line and shape, and which can produce great effects on both the observer and the environment.

The dot is of course the essential of all figures, for in the extension of the dot resides the source of every line. Obviously the extension in either direction, horizontal or perpendicular, determines the angle and orientation of every form, be it top, bottom, right or left. In Sanskrit, the dot is called bindu, which means source and origin of all creation. Paradoxically, however, in mathematics the dot also means zero or nothing. The dot is therefore nothing and everything at the same time, mystically expressing that everything there is, is everything and nothing at the same time. The dot can also develop into the circle, in which there is infinite movement (moto perpetuo), therefore a symbol of the entire manifested universe. The triangle symbolizes the beginning, the continuation and the end. It is the sign of life seen from three aspects. From this originated the symbol of the Trinity, known by the Hindus as Trimurti, that is to say, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer. Later, it was known by the Christians as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Egyptian symbolism is one of the most ancient forms of worship, from which many others have arisen. The Egyptian symbol of two wings with a disk in the centre, and two snakes on the right and left, also illustrates the three aspects of the power of the spirit, one being the sound of the universe, another the colour of the elements and the third being action. In this symbol, the centre, which illustrates the bright light of the spirit, is flanked by the two snakes, which represent the direction that the light of the spirit can take in life, either receptive or creative (or, when the two directions are uncontrolled, destructive). This same concept is referred to in the Hindu philosophy of the kundalini, with its two opposite forces, ida and pingala, which the Sufis call jelal and jemal. Mystics also call these two forces the sun force and the moon force, found on the right and left of the body. Furthermore, these two forces are projected alternately (and in some cases appropriately) through the right and left nostrils, in accordance with the immediate activity. The secret of all success resides in the knowledge and the use of the energy appropriate to the activity in which one is occupied, whether it be material or spiritual. This knowledge is called pranayama by the Hindus, and kasab by the Sufis.

The Sufi emblem seen on the Altar of All Religions is in the shape of a heart with wings, symbolizing that true nature of the heart, which knows only the notion of freedom and does not allow itself to be confined by limitations and boundaries, flying upwards into the light of the Spirit of Guidance, illustrated by the symbol of the five pointed star seen within the heart. The crescent moon in the emblem illustrates the receptive and expressive aspects of the heart which reflects and radiates Divine Light at all levels of consciousness.

The Dove which symbolizes the characteristics of the mission entrusted to the Messenger from Above, is also pictured in the shape of a flying heart representing the traveller of the skies peacefully dwelling in higher spheres while being at the same time committed to earthly boundaries, carrying messages from place to place.In the fulfilment of God's Message to mankind, the bringer of the Message is never really separated from the Divine origin, even while amidst the commitments and limitations of human attachments experienced all along the flight from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven in answer to the Call.


1990 Volume 4. Nawab Pasnak. "Now You See It Now You Don't. The elusive nature of symbols"

Driving down a city street, my attention is momentarily diverted by something — perhaps the flight of a woodpecker, or the sight of friend on the sidewalk. When I return my attention to the road, where it belongs, I see that the traffic light in front of me has turned red, and without an instant's reflection, I hit the brakes.

The red light is a symbol, conveying something to me beyond the simple physical information of light of so many angstroms, at such and such intensity. It is also powerful; the information of the need to stop seems to travel from my eye to my foot without passing through my 'conscious' mind. (Of course, if my mind were truly conscious, there would be no need for sudden stops — would there? Or would there?)

On the spiritual path, symbols are a way of encoding wisdom, a way found by the wise of leaving maps and traffic signals for others who wish to follow the same path. In the words of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, "A symbol is an ocean in a drop." In this context, symbols have a particular beauty, in that the more we contemplate them, the more they disclose. They seem to be alive, and like living plants, respond to cultivation. They reward our attention with deeper and deeper insights into the truth which they both reveal and conceal. Moses taught the Hebrews how to sacrifice, for example, not because there was a need of the odour of burnt flesh in heaven, but as a lesson of humbleness and a way of re-uniting their spirits with Yahweh. It is no exaggeration to say that any progress towards real humanity has come about through the agency of such symbols, working in the inner and outer realms.

The transforming strength of a symbol, though, comes partly from its identification in the eyes of the worshipper with that for which it stands. A devoted Christian will offer as much respect to the cross as to the Christ for which it stands, and may learn thereby to sacrifice his own ego for the sake of an ideal. Muslims turn to the physical Ka'aba as a sign of the all pervading God, and are thereby united as one single brotherhood in prayer. We may say, therefore, that the faithful one who can actually see the vast ocean through the silver globule trembling upon a leaf is truly blessed. The humble one who bows before an idol, and knows in it the power of the One to whom all worship is addressed, has truly set foot upon the spiritual path. Such a devotee does not need to know the weight of the idol, nor when it was set there. In fact, such knowledge might even break his faith — not because his faith is of no value, but because it has not yet widened to the point where it can accept such knowledge. In the mind of such a worshipper, the idol and that for which it stands are inseparable; factual details would only disturb that impression.

In our present day, we have the advantage of much knowledge, and it poses some problems to our symbolical education. We live in a world of many cultures, many ways of seeing things, and it is nothing to us to hear in one day the music of Africa, of Russia and of South East Asia, or to study in one semester the sacred stories of Moses, Zoroaster and Buddha. Ours is not a monolithic culture; there is scarcely room on the planet for such a thing any more. We share each other's breath, we hear each others thoughts, we see each other's dreams whether we choose to or hot. Furthermore, so many of the dreams today are material ones, that the spiritual symbols are sometimes lost from view.

Taken rightly, such a multiplicity of forms and fashions can be an invitation to development. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, for example, grew up in the rich culture of Baroda, where Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis and Muslims lived and worked side by side, where many languages were spoken and many faiths flourished, and his unique presentation of Sufism bears the sign of this cosmopolitan up-bringing. Taken another way, though, such a diversity can not only produce an air of bland indifference and superiority ("Oh, yes, that. We saw that last year in California."). It can confuse the vision and distract the heart. When we see so many sets of symbols streaming by, each one, according to its followers, offering 'Truth,' (true comfort, true fidelity, true cleaning power, true God) how can we believe in any of them? And if we should have some little belief, it might well be shattered by the sight of devotees doing violence to fellow humans in defence of their chosen symbol.

If we were only aware of it, the Truth behind these symbols has no need of defence. The Truth is so large and free and all pervading that for us to put ourselves forward as its protectors is like the ant defending the elephant. We would do better service to try to live the truth, to let go our ant-like scurrying, and enter the elephant's majestic calm.

But how is this possible? Let go — how? Enter — how? The ant scurries because it has the limitation of a small horizon, while the elephant sees much further without even moving. Our dilemma is that we have, on the one hand, the followers of various systems, whose horizon is limited to little but their own symbols — and therefore have perhaps not yet touched the innermost heart of those symbols — and on the other hand those who see many symbols, and therefore, thinking themselves to be elephants and not ants, remain unmoved by any symbol whatsoever. The world is very much in need of spiritual awakening, but can it be accomplished now through symbolic education? Or is this a tool which is no longer relevant? Should we put all the symbols aside and try to find truth in an empty room?

We could try. In fact, the notion of an empty room (although of course itself a symbol) is appealing. To sit quietly in a clean, bare room, empty of every representation, and wait for truth to appear. Just to sit and breathe. We need not speak, for speech is symbols. So are thoughts: words and pictures representing experience; put them away. Unform your feelings; no desires to obscure the ebb and flow. Just be still.

And in this silence is the source of all symbols. Touching this, we begin to understand what they truly might mean. Washed in this silence, we begin to see there is meaning hidden behind everything — not only religious symbols, but objects, people, clouds, events — all.

If we need the teaching of a particular symbol, it will be nourished by our visits to the empty room. If we need the illumination of a new symbol, it will only come from our sojourn there. It is a great paradox (as what is not on the spiritual path?) that the wealth contained in symbols becomes accessible to us to the extent that we enter the silence of meditation, where there are no symbols at all.


1990 Volume 4. Nuria J. Lawrence. "The Symbolism of the Ka'aba"

There is both physical and mystical meaning in the hub of the Muslim world.

The Ka'aba is the centre of the Muslim world. For modern Islam, it focuses dialogue between the many different Muslim nations, as each year more than a million of the faithful make the pilgrimage here. The importance of the Ka'aba and Mecca in the development of Islam can be divided between the physical significance, and the mystical interpretation given to the centre by Islamic Sufis such as Ibn 'Arabi.

A cubic structure located in Mecca, the Ka'aba is said to have been built by Abraham. Sura II of the Koran refers to Abraham and Ishmael raising up the foundations of the house, and Sura XXIII tells of God settling "for Abraham the place of the House. The Abrahamic origin of the Ka'aba is stressed in modern Islam, but there are other legends that associate it with Adam and the creation of the world, legends that give rise to the notion of the Ka'aba as physical centre or navel of the world.

The physical orientation of the Ka'aba supports this interpretation. Its four corners point very nearly in the cardinal directions, and the major and minor axes correspond to the risings and settings of the sun, moon and Canopus, the brightest star in the southern hemisphere. Pre-Islamic Arabs had a well established astronomy, and it was believed that winds blew in directions defined by various astronomical phenomena. The four walls of the Ka'aba are aligned so that these astronomically defined winds would strike them head on, and it has been suggested that the Ka'aba was therefore constructed as an architectural microcosm of the pre-Islamic universe.

This interpretation does harmonize with some of the legends connecting the building to Adam. There are different accounts of Adam's involvement, but all of them seem to have their source in the earlier noted Sura II. This passage, which speaks of raising up the foundations of the house, could be interpreted to mean that Abraham built upon the pre-existing foundation of a now vanished building. Which building? According to legend, to the original Ka'aba, built by Adam and destroyed during the flood.

In one version of this legend, when Adam was thrown out of paradise, Gabriel showed him the foundation which had been laid on the 'seventh earth.' Stones were brought from four (or sometimes five) sacred places to build it There is some discrepancy about which mountains the stones were taken from — some accounts include the Mount of Olives and Mount Sinai — but the actual mountains are not as important as the synthesis they represent: Islam, following the 'seal of the prophets,' must somehow incorporate the traditions preceding it. It is perhaps only natural that the sacred building of the religion of unity is itself an embodiment of the unity of Semitic faiths.

The idea of synthesis can also be seen in another legend regarding the reconstruction of the building under 'Abdu '1-Muttalib, the grandfather of Prophet Mohammed. "The Ka'aba being considered too low in its structure, the Quraish wished to raise it; so they demolished it and then they rebuilt till the work reached the place of the black stone. Each tribe wishing to have the honour of raising the black stone into its place, they quarrelled amongst themselves. But they at last agreed that the first man who should enter the gate of the enclosure should be umpire. Muhammad was the first to enter, and he was appointed umpire. He thereupon ordered them to place the stone upon a cloth and each tribe by its representative to take hold of the cloth and lilt it into its place. The dispute was thus ended, and when the stone had reached its proper place, Muhammad fixed it in its situation with his own hand."

The meaning of this story is clear: Prophet Mohammed came to unify the tribes, both politically and religiously, and the Ka'aba is a symbol of this unity. Muhammad helped to rebuild it, to bring the Arabs back to the 'true religion' from polytheism.

The sanctuary not only unified Islam, it also unified the universe. In one version of its origin, Adam was shown a vision of a "building roofed with one great ruby and supported by columns of emerald," the reflection cast by the heavenly centre, the throne of God. The heavenly counterpart, while the most perfect version, was not the only one, for according to 'Abd Allah ibn Abbas, 'This Ka'aba is one dwelling among fourteen dwellings." There was thought to be a sanctuary in each of the seven heavens and earths, directly in line with the one in Mecca, thus placing the Ka'aba firmly at the central point of the universe.

This centrality is not only legendary, for the Ka'aba is the centre of the Muslim world in a very physical sense. Five times each day, every Muslim turns and faces Mecca and the Ka'aba to pray. In medieval times, there were various methods employed to determine the appropriate direction. Some were based on highly technical mathematics, but the variety of mosque orientations suggest that these calculations were seldom used. Systems based on astronomical alignments were more widely employed, perhaps because there were simpler for the layman to understand, and thus could be used by travellers or those without access to a mosque.

Another possible explanation, and one that accords with the mystical interpretations of the Ka'aba developed in about the same period, is that the use of astronomical alignments placed the worshipper in the same relationship to the universe as was the Ka'aba itself, owing to its own astronomical alignment. If the Ka'aba was the centre of the universe, and the spot on earth closest to Allah, then by aligning oneself to the heavens in the same manner, one could participate in this special position as if present at the Ka'aba itself. This could also be the reason for not adopting a generic qiblah such as the Christians have, wherein by facing east one is deemed to be facing Jerusalem, regardless of orientation. (The Christian scheme may also be open to a mystical interpretation, however — that in facing the east, one is facing the returning sun/son.) Each Muslim, therefore, was required to align himself with God, or to entrust himself to someone who knew the proper alignment.

The personal orientation to the reflection of the Throne of God, the centre of the world, provides the bridge to understanding the mystical symbolism of the personal orientation to the Throne of God, the centre of the person. Just as a person trained in the ways of the skies could show a devotee the qiblah, but it was the devotee himself who had to stand correctly, so a person trained in the ways of the heart could show his mureed the way to turn towards God, but the actual turning was the responsibility of the mureed.

Turning inwards, towards the heart, is the essence of Sufi doctrine and practice, for the heart is the connection with God, the point at which the transcendent and immanent meet. To quote one hadith qudsi, "My earth does not encompass Me, nor does My heaven, but the heart of My servant, the man of true faith, does encompass Me." There has been a traditional rejection of intellectualism as a means of reaching gnosis of God. While a certain amount of intellectualism had its place, Sufis like Al-Ghazzali have declared that it must be balanced by mystical understanding. The intellect must be transcended, and attention focused on the heart.

Mysticism traditionally makes extensive use of symbolism as a means of conveying information in a concise form that cannot easily be otherwise expressed. Once someone has experienced the inner reality of the heart, as Fritz Meier says, "every commission and omission, every event and phenomenon, everything he perceives in life and the world, appears to him as a pars pro toto, vehicle of a meaning and an idea, an allusion to a secret which can be found by inner contemplation. We call such vehicles of meaning, which all things now become, symbols the visible part of a whole whose other half was invisible or absent".

For some Sufis, the Ka'aba fulfilled just such a function, becoming a metaphor for the relationship between God and man, between the person and the heart Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240 CE) was perhaps the most explicit in his formulation of this symbolism, developing it from his own experience at the Ka'aba, described in the preamble to his book Meccan Revelations.

During a pilgrimage in 1201 CE, as he was performing the tawaf, or ritual circumambulation, Ibn 'Arabi passed the Black Stone and encountered a mysterious youth, who told him, "I am knowledge, the known and the knower; I am wisdom, the wise man and his wiseness." The youth could be seen as a manifestation of Ibn 'Arabi's higher self, the spark of the divine sought in mystical contemplation. He enjoins Ibn 'Arabi to "behold the secret building before it is too late, and thou wilt see how it takes on life through those who circle round it and walk round its stones, and how it looks out at them from behind its veils and cloaks!" Ibn 'Arabi answers with a poem:

I see the building animated by those who circle round it.
And there is no self-animation, except through a physician with effective power.
But this is rigid matter which neither feels nor sees,
Which is without understanding or hearing!
A lord spoke: This is our duty
Imposed on us all our lives by religious dogma.
I answered him: That is what thou sayest. But hear
The discourse of him to whom science has been revealed by the rite! [the higher self]
Thou seest only solid mineral, without life of its own,
Harbouring neither benefit nor harm.
But for the eye of the heart it contains visibilities
If the eye have no weakness or flaw.
To this eye it is so sublime when it reveals its essence,
That no creature can withstand it...

When Ibn 'Arabi entered the Ka'aba with the youth, he was told, "I am the seventh at the stage where spiritual growth and the secrets of existence, of the individual, and of the Where are encompassed." This has been interpreted to mean that the seven circuits of the Ka'aba signify the acquisition of the seven divine attributes as consciousness ascends to the sphere of the Self.

The Ka'aba thus becomes the point of union between the human self and the cosmic self. Expressed geometrically, two concentric circles are formed, the larger of which represents the cosmic self, and the smaller the human self, both being centred on the Ka'aba.

The tawaf therefore becomes an opportunity to combine the esoteric and exoteric. The tawaf, though, occurs only after the pilgrim has reached Mecca. The long and arduous journey to reach this point is part of the symbolism surrounding the Ka'aba.

However, the journey is not seen in solely symbolic terms. The physical journey is also an opportunity to practice obedience to the law. It is possible that the external benefits of the Hajj applied more to the regular Muslims than to the Sufis. However, both ideas can be found in Sufi thought. Stories about the performance of the Hajj show both esoteric and exoteric elements.

On the exoteric end of the spectrum is Fariduddin 'Attar (1140 — 1234 CE) who tells several stories of pilgrimages, including that of one performed by Bayazid Bastami.

On his way to Mecca, Bayazid encounters a poor man, who asks him how much money he has with him for the journey. When Bayazid tells the man that he has two hundred dinars, the man asks for the money to feed his children, telling Bayazid that he will be benefited by circumambulating him seven times. Bayazid does as he is told, "and lo! he gained immensely in his spiritual experiences, and his later words which were ecstatic effusions were so enigmatic and erratic that it became difficult to understand them."

While the circumambulation of a person instead of the Ka'aba becomes the focus of later stories, this version seems meant to emphasize reliance on God, and the ascetic aspect of the pilgrimage. It can be related to a story about Shaqiq of Balkh, also recorded by Attar.

It is related of Shaqiq of Balkh that he once said to his disciples,
"I put my confidence in God and went through the wilderness with only a small coin in my pocket. I went on the Pilgrimage and came back, and the coin is still with me."

One of the youths stood up and said to Shaqiq:

"If you had a coin in your pocket, how could you say that you relied upon anything higher?"

Shaqiq answered:

"There is nothing for me to say, for this young man is right. When you rely upon the invisible world there is no place for anything, however small, as a provision!

A similar idea can be seen in the story of one of Rabi'a's pilgrimages, during which her donkey died. She refused the help of her fellow pilgrims because, "she had set forth for the Hajj not under their shelter but under the Lord's." They left her, and she prayed: "O master of the worlds! I am a desolate, meek and poor woman. You first invited me to Thy House, Ka'aba, and now killed my donkey, leaving me alone in the wilderness." At this, the donkey revived, and she continued on her way.

While this reliance on God is primarily external, it also implies a spiritual dimension. Relying on no-one but God means that every pilgrim must make the journey essentially alone. In Rabi'a's case, this is true of the external journey. Bayazid, travelling with many people, even prayed to be left alone on one of his pilgrimages. But with hundreds of people on the physical pilgrimage at the same time, this is not always possible. The solitude of the journey is thus primarily inner in nature. The existential knowledge of the higher self can only be achieved by each individual by his or her self.

Both the solitary nature of the journey and the relationship between the external ritual and internal spirit are expressed in the following account of another of Rabi'a's pilgrimages.

Next time when Rabi'a proceeded on a pilgrimage to Ka'aba, and was passing through the wilderness, she observed that Ka'aba, the House of God, was coming to welcome her. Seeing it, she said "What shall I do with the House? I want to meet the Master of the House — the Lord Dost not the Lord say that he who advances a step towards Him, He goes out to meet him seven steps? I cannot be pleased with seeing the Ka'aba; I seek His vision.

At this time Ibrahim Adham was also on his way to Ka'aba, and it was his practice to offer prayers at every step on his way. Thus it had taken him fourteen years to reach the Ka'aba. On his arrival, he found that the Ka'aba had disappeared He was very much disappointed. The Divine Voice thereupon told him, The Ka'aba is gone to meet Hadrat Rabi'a.' When the Ka'aba returned and Rabi'a arrived leaning on her staff due to old age, Ibrahim approached her and said 'Rabi'a, why do you by your queer acts create hue and cry in the world?' Rabi'a replied 'I do nothing of the sort; rather it is you who, to gain publicity, thus reach Ka'aba in fourteen years.' Ibrahim admitted that he did offer prayers at every step of his journey. Rabi'a said, 'You covered the way by saying prayers, whilst I have covered the way through meekness and humility.'

The message of this is obvious: while ritual may eventually take one to God, it is not as effective as heart-felt sincerity. The external elements are not enough by themselves, they must be infused with spirit. With this story, 'Attar is leaning towards the internal emphasis, but still maintains the separation inherent in Rabi'a, who does not (in this story, at least) express a desire to unify with God, merely to see Him. 'Attar would thus seem to be a bridge between the early devotional balance of external and internal, exemplified by Rabi'a (717-801 CE), and the monistic tendencies of his close contemporaries, Rumi and Ibn 'Arabi.

These latter thinkers developed the idea of the mystic as the point at which the external, ritual and the internal, spiritual meet. For them, the mystic has no choice but to infuse his every action with meaning, for once he recognizes himself as an aspect of the self of the cosmos, all other aspects take on a new significance. Thus the true mystic is incapable of engaging in any merely ritual activities. To reach the true Ka'aba of the heart, one has to be personally involved in the deepest sense.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the difference in emphasis is to give a later version of Bayazid's pilgrimage. In this version, he meets the head of the saintly hierarchy, who tells him,

"Of a truth that is God which your soul sees in me,
For God has chosen me to be His house.
When you have seen me, you have seen God
And have circumambulated the real Ka'aba.
To serve me is to worship and praise God;
Think not that God is distinct from me.

Taken from the Masnavi by Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273 CE) this rendition exemplifies Rumi's monism. As a result of his belief that nothing exists save God and that individual existence was ultimately illusory, he held that God could be found within each person. He saw the Ka'aba as unnecessary. If, as the Koran says, God is closer to man than his jugular vein, then there is no need to travel to Mecca to find Him.

We take long trips.
We puzzle over the meaning of a painting or a book,
when what we're wanting to see and understand
in this world, we are that.

It was Rumi who founded the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes, also known as the Whirling Dervishes.' If Rumi saw the person as the house of God, a living Ka'aba, perhaps the famous spinning is an adaptation of the tawaf. If the circumambulation of the Ka'aba as the heart of the world is symbolic of its function as the seat of God, then circumambulation of the inner heart could be equally symbolic of the same function.

Regardless of whether this is the source for the practice of turning or not, the idea that the real Ka'aba is the heart is an idea that Rumi shares with other Sufis. Muhammad b. al-Fadi is credited with saying:

I wonder at those who seek His temple in this world; why do they not seek contemplation of Him in their hearts? The temple they sometimes attain and sometimes miss, but contemplation they might enjoy always. If they are bound to visit a stone, which is looked at only once a year, surely they are more bound to visit the temple of the heart, where He may be seen three hundred and sixty times in a day and night. But the mystic's every step is a symbol of the journey to Mecca, and when he reaches the sanctuary he wins a robe of honour for every step.

According to one legend, seeing the Ka'aba as a mystical symbol has the capacity of bringing man back to the status of Adam in paradise.

Before the fall, Adam was said to have been so tall that he "could hear the song of the heavenly hosts around God's throne." When he was expelled from paradise, he was shortened, and "lamented to God that the higher spheres were now closed to him. God then sent down the tent around which Adam now performed the tawaf, following the example of the angels." This experience can be seen to transform us into pre-fall Adam.

The Ka'aba can be seen in many lights. In the mythology surrounding its origin, it is the centre, the point nearest God. It plays a pivotal role in the legends surrounding the saints, the people closest to God. As a mystical symbol, it shows us how we can become one with God. Through all of these, the Ka'aba functions as a link to a past in which it was possible to commune with God, and a reminder to the present of the responsibility to reawaken that possibility in the future.

The orientation of the Ka'aba. The direction
one must face was established by astronomy and convention. Thus, Muslims in China faced
north-west while praying.


1990 Volume 4. David Murray. "The Geometry of the Universal Worship"

The Divine light candle takes the prominent position on altar, at the back. Directly above it. Is visualized a small yellow globe. This is symbolic of the Divine Source.

Horizontally are lines which emanate from the divine light candle, at 90 to each other, to the corners of the altar, and project out into the space of the room.

A triangular space is created representing outstretched arms symbolizing unity and blessing from the Divine Source. It encompasses all those on earthly plane to relate them to the divine source.

The candles representing the various religions are located directly on the emanating lines. The Attending cherags are located just behind these lines. The Cherags, the candles, all support the geometry which is the all encompassing geometry of blessing.

On ground in front of the altar is a symbolic bowl. The bowl is a worthy symbol. It is receptor. It represents the earthly reception of the Divine Source. It is a point of attention and is to be concentrated on during the service of the universal Worship.
It is a point source of energy which grows and becomes very powerful during the service because of the attention and because of its geometric relationship to the symbolic divine source above the Divine Light candle.

One can imagine a direct line between the Divine Source above the altar and the Divine reception at the plane of the floor in front of the altar.

It actually represents a two-way transmission – the earthly reception of Divine Grace, and the Divine Receiving earthly attentions.

One can also visualize the gradual evolution of a pyramid over the altar. (see pic 6) the pyramid is one of basic geometric symbols for Unity.

Half of the pyramid is in the room and half is behind the altar, hidden. The top point of the pyramid symbolizes the Divine Source, or Unity. The base represents all that aspiring to Unity.

The manifest qualities of the pyramid are directly related to the receptor point of energy in front of the altar. The pyramid becomes more and more solid as the Universal Worship service progresses. It represents the strength of the Divine Transmission.

The pyramid solidifies as the receiving and giving intensifies over the course of the service. We can imagine the void over the altar becoming more and more solid with positive energy.

The Cherags devote their attention while sitting, or while reading to the point of the Divine reception in front of the altar imaging it becoming more powerful.

During prayers, the attention is placed on the point symbolically representing the divine source.

These attentions are essential for the energy to flow as it should.

The blessing at the end of the Service is given from the point of Divine Reception at the floor plane.

The blessing is given at the pinnacle of the energy build-up during the service. By this time a clear path has been created between the Divine source and the Divine Receptor.

A direct Divine Transmission of blessing occurs.

The Cherag imitates the geometry of the Universal Worship by creating a triangular space with the arms outstretched. The pyramid over the altar becomes full and the ideal of Unity is achieved.

The mystical qualities of the pyramid

The crystal cleanses, purifies, heals, unifies the pyramid and its invisible mirror image symbolizes the encompassing of all into one ideal.


1990 Volume 4. "The Sufi Message spreading through the World for Eighty Years"

This September 13th, 1990, Hejirat Day, will mark the 80th anniversary since Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan set sail from India, to bring the Sufi message to the West. In his own words, "I tried to think where I was going, why I was going, what I was going to do, what was in store for me. 'How shall I set to work? Will the people be favourable or unfavourable to the Message which I am taking from one end of the world to the other?' It seemed my mind moved curiously on these Questions, but my heart refused to ponder upon them even for a moment, answering apart one constant voice I always heard coming from within, urging me constantly onward to my task, saying: Thou art sent on Our service, and it is We Who will make thy way clear.' This alone was my consolation.

"This period while I was on the way, was to me a state which one experiences between a dream and an awakening; my whole past in India became one single dream, not a purposeless dream, but a dream preparing me to accomplish something toward which I was proceeding. There were moments of sadness, of feeling myself removed further and further from the land of my birth, and moments of great joy, with the hope of nearing the Western regions for which my soul was destined And at moments I felt too small and little for my ideals and inspirations, comparing my limited self with this vast world But at moments, realizing Whose work it was, Whose service it was, Whose call it was, the answer which my heart gave moved me to ecstasy, as if I had risen in the realization of Truth above the limitations which weigh mankind down."

In the seventeen years that followed, two things certainly were constant: incessant travel, and encounters with loving, _,; receptive hearts. The following articles detailing Pir-o-Murshid's journeys in the West, and giving the first-hand accounts of several of his mureeds, are reprinted from "1910-1950, Forty Years of Sufism," a special issue of the Sufi Quarterly published in the fall of 1950.

An Old Mureed Remembers

On September 13th, 1910, Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan sailed from India, a Living Lamp Whose rays were even then reaching a slumbering Western world. His brother, the late Shaikh-ul-Mahshaik Maheboob Khan, and His cousin, our Representative General, Pir-o-Murshid Mohammed Ali Khan, accompanied Him.

That same week, my own life began to change. So radically that I did not recognize myself. A new wisdom guided my actions. Sometimes, it seemed to be altogether a dream A year later — to the week — my old life fell suddenly apart and, as a direct consequence, I met Murshid. Six days later, I was initiated.

In those bygone days, when the earth bloomed where He passed, I do not recall hearing much talk of 'The Message.' I had merely become — as I understood it — a disciple of 'Sufism.' During the few weeks before I had to leave New York — and Murshid — I learned little about its teachings, for nothing had been written then.

I was amazed when, long afterward, I learned of the incredible wealth of teaching gathered up in the sacred papers; of the beautifully written books to illuminate our way; I wonder sometimes if we are all grateful enough for this treasure. It was a prodigious work He achieved for us in His few days on earth.

It surprised me, also, to discover that later mureeds must have protested at having to devote a half-hour to practices. I protested, too, but in those old days my evening practices alone required over two hours!

All that I received of Sufism, with the exception of four stories, was communicated by Murshid's Presence — 'on the current of the breath,' as we say, now — talking of life in general. Now and then a point of metaphysics was explained. These were the moments when, in my spiritual backwardness, I felt I was really getting something!

All mureeds know the stories Murshid told me — the boy who could not learn 'Alif,' and fled into the jungle; the young mureed who was not scandalized when his Murshid went to worship in the temple of the Goddess Kali; and — of course — the epic love of Leila and Maynun. What mureed of His day ever hears those names without seeing the ecstatic look of the Great Murshid!

During those first weeks away from my Murshid — weeks that were destined to stretch into eleven years — there occurred what seemed to me, even then, a sort of miracle. I had done no mystical, no philosophical reading, up to that time. A gift copy of Emerson's 'Essays' had been opened once — and put back to languish on the shelf. It was meaningless. But, one evening, I picked it up again. Dawn was breaking when I laid it down — another devotee. How had I failed so utterly to understand? His words seemed, now, to blaze with meaning, and the word 'illuminated' clarified the experience for me. These were first fruits of Bayat.

I was privileged to dine several times in the home of Hazrat Inayat before I went away. What was probably the supreme blessing of my entire life occurred on one of these unforgettable occasions. I did not know then that the glance of a seer falling upon a person could confer the greatest grace. So, when I chanced to look over, that evening, and meet the glance of my Murshid, I did not even faintly suspect that a divine impression had been made on my ignorant heart Yet it must have been so, for long years afterward, while doing a certain practice, I suddenly saw again, in memory, my Murshid sitting across from me at dinner, looking at me as He had looked so long ago. Every night, thereafter, I summoned the picture, and one night, as I rested in the benediction of that compassionate glance, a deep stillness fell upon me, and in that blissful instant I realized Whose dinner-guest I had been.

I saw then that, in those earliest days — when I had no idea that there had ever been or ever would be any Messenger but Jesus — I was, even then, in the very Presence of the Messenger for today. Even then, though he was just twenty-nine, Hazrat Inayat's full destiny was upon Him.

Once, I must have said something that caused Him to ask, His eyes twinkling, "But how old do you think your Murshid is?" I said politely — thinking Him much older — "Oh, in the forties?" He laughed. How He could laugh! I regarded Him more closely, then...No, not a mark of time. What had deceived me was the 'divine manner' — Ahklak Allah! The Weight borne by the Message Bearer always lent Him a majesty of Presence that touched even His youth.

A picture of those early times that did not include a glimpse of the Master's lifelong companions would be incomplete. 'Maheboob! Ali Khan!' I hear His beloved voice calling them to share some moment — they must always share everything.

Those two were an unending source of amazement to me. Here were two greatly talented gentlemen, fine musicians, young — and yet — they had only one thought in the world — Hazrat! It was obvious that He was their very being! It seemed unnatural. "Why, they look at him, and hang on his words as if — as if he were God," I protested inwardly.

"He is lovable, but what is so remarkable about him?"

This phenomenon must have provoked me to make some comment — forgotten now — but I recall His brother's reply: "He is a Perfect Man." "No one is 'perfect,'" and we both laughed.

Since then, they have both had to shoulder the Cross, to stand firm against those forces that are fiercest where the Light is brightest. The selflessness that I once deplored has provided great Channels through which The Messenger guides The Message on its earthly way.
Munira Nawn

When the cry of the disciple has reached a certain pitch, the Teacher comes to answer it.

These words of our beloved Master explain best the situation, when Murshid came to Oslo in November, 1924, and gave his lectures. The weather was misty and uncomfortable — my mind and body suffering from still deeper darkness.

When Murshid gave his first lecture, we were sitting there looking at him spell-bound in the first silence, and a wish clear and distinct arose, as it were, from my innermost being:

"If only I could come into contact with such a noble personality!" — but in such a realization, doubts of it being possible also enter and tend to prevent one from making any move to go to Him.

But the thought and wish once being clear it seems as if the destiny will arrange the rest.

I happened to come to Murshid with two friends endowed with more courage than myself; and as I was sitting there, intensively listening to his talk with the others, and to his laughter so refreshing and uplifting and had quite forgotten myself, he suddenly turned to me, saying, "Have you not any question?" Question!! No. He gave me a glance and this glance made me feel, as if a new page had been turned in my life and made me realize wonderfully the Grace of God. As Murshid says: "Grace is all sided," so has all good come since that time. And when later, I read in Vadan, "Souls unite at the meeting of a glance," it struck me that these words best explain the experience of our meeting with our Murshid.

When Shaikh-ul-Mahshaik Maheboob Khan later gave me the Sufi name of 'Rahmat,' and explained it 'The Grace of God,' I felt, and feel it to be a connection with the first experience. An experience such as for which we can never be thankful enough and I pray: "Let me never forget to be thankful."
Rahmat Rasmussen

Not belonging to those fortunate ones who have met Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, I had often wondered how it would have been to have met Him face to face. Most likely I would not have recognized what He was, or else, it seemed to me, that it must have been something so great — too great, perhaps, for a human heart to bear and yet go on bearing.

Then, at the Summer School, it happened to me that our Blessed Shaikh-ul-Mahshaik Maheboob Khan asked me in an interview: "Have you met Pir-o-Murshid?" "No," I answered, "I haven't." I could, however, not help feeling a little curious, when, at my next interview, he asked me that same question: "Have you met Pir-o-Murshid?" I again answered with regret: "No, I am sorry." But at the third interview he still asked: "Have you met Pir-o-Murshid?" It dawned upon me that he wished to make clear to me what I had pondered upon, and this time I only answered: "Not on this plane."

By now, I have had the great privilege and blessing to be a mureed for nearly 23 years, and when looking back I ask myself what life would have been like if I had not by the Grace of God come in contact with the Sufi Movement. At that time I was in great need of help both physically and mentally; life seemed a barren desert, and that it would have continued to be. Through the wonderful teachings of our Master Hazrat Inayat Khan and the help and guidance of our blessed leaders Shaikh-ul-Mahshaik Maheboob Khan and Pir-o-Murshid Ali Khan I was restored to a health I had never experienced before. Though life has not at all been only a dance on roses I have experienced the words of our Master Hazrat Inayat in his poem to His Murshid, which ends

All ill came from my yet unworthy self,
All good from thy Inayat which I seek.

In limitless gratefulness to God and the Master.

Bashiran Bjerke
Ten minutes

The writer was invited to translate Murshid's Oslo lectures. He recounts:

...Outside Inayat Khan's room at the Grand Hotel was a winding queue of curious enthusiasts, among whom an old friend, who promptly attached himself to me upon hearing my errand. We could go in together, he said, and thus ease the queue (and ease your waiting time, too, my fine-feathered friend, thought I, but his proposition was altruistically put. I could not turn it down).

Wondering how I would be able to get in my pot shots of practical questions about the lectures amid the heavy spiritual artillery lire I expected from my friend I entered the room a worried man.

Inayat Khan looked up at us with laughing eyes.

"Shall we have silence?"

The gentle, sincere, almost apologetic tone of his voice contrasted the startling sense of his words. With a graceful bow he asked us to sit down. We seated ourselves in opposite comers of a sofa and he sat down between us and closed his eyes. So did we.

I woke up, refreshed when a bell rang. The interview was over. My friend opened his eyes too. We rose, shook hands with our host, left.

"I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask him," said my friend as we walked out. A thoughtful frown creased his forehead "The funny thing is, I can't remember a single one of them now. They couldn't have been so important. But I feel fine!"

I translated Inayat Khan's talk the next evening, after it had been given in full, without taking notes. My memory had always been good — but not that good!...

Shamcher Beorse


1990 Volume 4. "Journal of Hazrat Inayat Khan's Journeys in the West"

Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan's first address to the Western world, to the people of America, was held at Columbia University at New York, when he had arrived from Bombay after a lengthy journey by sea, which indeed had seemed a gulf between the life that had passed and the life which was to begin.

It found a great response; what however was painful to Pir-o-Murshid and his brothers throughout their interesting tour of the States was, that their Indian music was merely considered as entertainment by the Westerners and everywhere generally they were conscious that their music to the Western people is like "a museum of antiquities, which one would not mind looking at once for curiosity, for a pastime, but not like a factory, which produces new goods to answer people's demands and upon which the needs of many people's life depends."

Proceeding from New York to Los Angeles, Pir-o-Murshid there again spoke at the University, and then to a very large audience, at the Berkeley University of San Francisco, where he met with a very great response. They were welcomed there by Swami Trigunatita and Swami Paramananda, who requested Hazrat Inayat Khan to speak at the Hindu Temple, where he was presented with a gold medal and an address. After their return to New York by way of Seattle, Pir-o-Murshid gave some lectures at the Sanskrit College, where he made the acquaintance of Baba Bharati as well as of Mr. Bjerregaard, the only student of Sufism known in New York, who became a mureed and afterwards, on Pir-o-Murshid's request, wrote a book called "Sufism and Omar Khayyam."

A young Hindu, Rama Swami, joined them in New York and acted as tabla player to them, until in 1914, he remained in Russia; later continuing his musical work successfully in India.

In 1912 Pir-o-Murshid and his brothers went to England.

There they met R. Tagore, and Murshid gave a lecture at the Indian Club. In music, they again found little response there; but they were 'really impressed' by the English character, for Occidental standards. Mr. Fox Strangeways, who Hazrat Inayat Khan supplied information about Indian Music for his book, advised him, — the French being foremost, — to see France. And indeed, their visit to France first, since leaving India, gave them the desire once more to expound Indian Music. There were many who showed interest and sympathy to the philosophy and art of India and Inayat Khan gave several lectures at different places, on music and philosophy.

From France they proceeded their journey to Russia, where Murshid met with a great response generally — Russia reminded him of his country, and "the warmth that came from the heart of the people kept us warm in that cold country," and where, but for the climate, they would have settled at least some years.

Murshid's book on "Spiritual Liberty," was translated and published there, (also published later in France and England.) Amongst the friends he made was Count Serge Tolstoy, son of the great Tolstoy, who became representative of the Musical section of the Sufi Order.

They met many Tatars, Persians and inhabitants of Kazan there, amongst them Bey-Beg, the leader of their Moscow Community, and the ambassador of Bokhara, who urged Murshid very much to go with him to meet the amir of Bokhara, but as his work was destined to the West, he felt he could not have gone East now.
Returning through Petersburg to Paris, they had, by the outbreak of war, to leave for England, where they were to stay until 1920, travelling being confined to England itself, where Murshid lectured at such places as Southampton, Leeds, Sheffield, Harrogate, etc.

It was in these years that the Sufi Movement as such was established, and the Sufi Publishing Society started to publish a first regular edition of Inayat Khan's Sufi Books.

In 1920 they left England for France, whence Murshid proceeded for a first visit to Switzerland, where he established the Sufi Headquarters at Geneva, and also lectured at Lausanne and Vevey.

Returning to France he settled there in the neighbourhood of Paris first at Tremblaye, in 1921 at Wissous and then at Suresnes.

On the soil of France Murshid always felt at home, and he always admired the sociability and courtesy of the French, seeing under the surface of democracy some spirit of aristocracy in their nature; and never did Murshid, since they left home, feel more inclined to practice his music than in France.

In 1921 Hazrat Inayat Khan visited Holland for the first time.

"People in Holland," he characterizes them, "being of democratic spirit, are open to ideas appealing to them. Though they are proud, stern and self-willed, I saw in them love of spiritual ideals, which must be put plainly before them. Dutch people, I found by nature straightforward, most inclined toward religion, lovers of justice and seekers after truth. They hunger and thirst after knowledge, and are hospitable and solid in friendship." Murshid was also invited to Belgium in that year, where he spoke at Antwerp and Brussels.

Pir-o-Murshid made a private tour through post-war Germany; he had been invited there already in 1914 by the German delegates to the Paris Sorbonne congress, and now many also said it was a great pity he did not come before the war. Berlin, Frankfurt, Weimar, Jena, Hagen and Darmstadt, were the places Murshid visited, whilst enjoying "the country's most exquisite beauty of nature."

After the Suresnes meetings 1921, a Summer school was arranged at Katwijk, a small place in the dunes of the Dutch seashore, not far from The Hague. The lectures published later as "The Inner Life" were amongst those given there and the place bears the remembrance of one of the happiest and most sacred occasions in Pir-o-Murshid's life.

For this reason, in later years, Sufis have often assembled there in the dunes in recognition of the joyous associations it held to Pir-o-Murshid and his mureeds, in particular during the Summer school
at The Hague in 1949 and 1950, many mureeds form various countries assembled there privately as well as together under the direction of Pir-o-Murshid Md. Ali Khan.

In the autumn of 1922 Murshid was again in Geneva which hence was to feature prominently and regularly on his yearly programme of travelling. Murshid Talewar Dussaq having been appointed General-Secretary and where now the yearly conferences were to be held, besides Murshid's lectures and classes there.
In March 1923 Hazrat Inayat Khan set on a journey to America again. By the time he arrived at his New York destination, the whole of the United States had heard of the Hazrat's arrival through the newspapers, embarrassing many people with their country's entrance formalities, which questioned Pir-o-Murshid on himself and his work. "And," Pir-o-Murshid says: "I, whose nation is all nations, whose birthplace was the world, whose religion was all religions, whose occupation was search after truth, and whose work was the service of God and Humanity — my answers interested them, yet did not answer the requirements of the law." But they were much impressed and all was arranged to the utmost satisfaction, and thus Pir-o-Murshid's was an exceptional arrival.

In New York Pir-o-Murshid gave a series of lectures on philosophy; thence proceeding to Boston, to lecture on metaphysics, he was pleased to see Dr. Coomaraswamy in charge of the Art Museum, thinking it was the only Hindu who occupied a fitting position in the States. Boston seemed to Pir-o-Murshid a miniature of England in the States — the people reserved, cultured and refined. Thence Pir-o-Murshid visited Detroit, where the Message met with much response, and after a short visit to Chicago, he proceeded to California, where the journey from

Los Angeles to San Francisco by car though nature's beauty was "a heavenly joy indeed" to him.
After giving series of lectures in San Francisco, he visited at Santa Rosa Luther Burbank, the famous horticulturist, who was busy at the time trying to take away the thorns from the cactus. "My work is not very different from yours, Sir," Pir-o-Murshid remarked, "for I am occupied taking away thorns from hearts of men." "Thus," Pir-o-Murshid added "we come to realize how real work through matter or spirit in the long run brings about the same result, which is the purpose of life."

Hazrat Inayat Khan visited Santa Barbara on his way to Los .Angeles, where many people responded to the Message. On the way back, Pir-o-Murshid lectured at Chicago, at Detroit, at New York and then at Philadelphia — response had been great, but inevitably the time of departure came, Europe again was awaiting another tour, another course. In Suresnes and Geneva people were assembling to receive their Murshid's instruction again.

A queer aspect of American appreciation was the attitude of the press followed for that matter by the press of Europe, in their tendency to treat lightly everything spiritual, in order to please the multitude, not feeling or meaning to do harm to the spiritual truth. Indeed "they only think they are doing good to both; bringing the speaker to the knowledge anyway and at the same time amusing the mob, which is ignorant of the deeper truth. Their main object is to please the man in the street. The modern progress has an opposite goal to that which the ancient people had. In ancient times people's thought was to reach the ideal man. Today the trend of people's thought is to touch the ordinary man. Nevertheless, the devotion, appreciation and response I had during my stay in the US all encouraged me and made me feel happy."

After the Summer school, from Geneva Pir-o-Murshid also visited and lectured at Morges, at Lausanne, as Basel, at Zurich, at Rapperswill, proceeding from Switzerland to Italy — to Florence with its fascinating nature and to Rome — then going North again in support of the centres of Paris, and those in Belgium.

Pir-o-Murshid's journeys in 1924 started in January, when he visited England, then Switzerland (Geneva, also Bern and Lausanne) and Italy and again through Belgium he went to Holland. Summer-school and meetings proceeded at Suresnes and Geneva, and Pir-o-Murshid set out upon another journey to Germany — Munchen and Berlin — and from there visited Sweden, there meeting Archbishop Soderblom. Here he greatly enjoyed the beauty of the country and the character of the people, which in Scandinavia seemed to Murshid to show less in their development the strains and stresses which those of Central Europe and US had to undergo; he proceeded to Norway, lecturing at the University of Christiania (as it then was) and at Bergen and to Denmark, where Hazrat Inayat lectured at Copenhagen and Aarhuus, returning from his Scandinavian tour through Germany (Berlin), Holland, Belgium (Brussels and Liege) and France, where lectures had been arranged at the Sorbonne and at Musee Guimet.

1924-25. Pir-o-Murshid was "delighted as ever" again to visit Switzerland, "the land of beauty and charm." From Geneva he travelled to and spoke at different centres — Bern, Lausanne, Zurich, Rapperswill, Basel. Then again he proceeded to Italy, lecturing in Florence at the British Institute, at the Biblioteca Filosofica, etc, and in Rome. Travelling back to France he visited Nice, giving several lectures and being warmly received.

In March Hazrat Inayat Khan paid a hurried visit to Germany, first to give lectures at Berlin and then to give a series of lectures at Munich, before returning to Paris where he had to lecture at the Sorbonne again. In April he crossed from there to England, to deliver addresses at Bournemouth and Southampton.

In the summer and autumn, the Suresnes and Geneva meetings — as usual by now — were awaiting Pir-o-Murshid's presence.

Late in 1925 Hazrat Inayat Khan set our upon another American tour, arriving at New York on December 6th. During the whole first week newspaper reporters rushed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he was staying and in the auditorium in which he lectured, with again the same result in their actual reporting. Nevertheless the series of lectures was a success. Subsequently Hazrat Inayat Khan lectured at Detroit where also he had a very interesting meeting with Mr. Ford, who was much impressed by him and said, "If you were a business-
man, you certainly would have made a success, but I am glad that you are as you are!"

Going west, Murshid spoke at San Francisco (at Fairmonts, Oakland, Berkeley etc). One lady asked the same question (about reincarnation) which she had asked and which had been answered in 1910 and 1923. "I repeated the same answer...but obviously it seemed that it was drowned once more in the noise of her question." Thence Murshid proceeded to Santa Barbara, to Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, La Jolla and San Diego; lecture at Pasadena was arranged in no less a place than the Church of Truth. Pir-o-Murshid felt, "the Church was already Truth, what more have I to say? But still I tried my best to say a little," and the audience, including the clergy, responded very well.

After the Summer school had been held at Suresnes, Pir-o-Murshid taking leave of his family members there, proceeded to Geneva, to attend the meetings as usual and subsequently departed for India. He arrived in Delhi in the first days of November. As is described on another page he did not find a quiet time there: he was urged to give series of lectures again at Aligarh College, at Delhi University, and at Lucknow. After his return from the latter place, in the last of December, Pir-o-Murshid left Delhi for Ajmer, going there upon the completion of his task in the West as he had gone years before, when that very visit had become so great an inspiration to him for his eventual destiny and again he enjoyed the Sama Music and the marvellous serenity of that sacred shrine. The fatal cold he contracted there brought him back to Delhi, where he was staying at 'Tilak Lodge,' a house on the bank of the Jumna river and where his earthly destiny reached its term.

He did not return to Baroda, and it would appear that it could hold but little attraction for him then, with Maula Bekhs' House empty and the Maharaja frequently abroad.
But in India itself too, the Message, Murshid's Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty had been diffused — and Pir-o-Murshid's native country had received it in its earliest and last stages.


1990 Volume 4. The Music of Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Sufi Hymns"

Continuing the musical tradition of his family, Hidayat Inayat Khan studied violin from an early age, and later performed throughout Europe. He has taught music and conducted professionally. He is also an accomplished and award winning composer, with three symphonies, a symphonic suite and numerous shorter works to his credit.


1990 Volume 4. "Saum"

Sia lode a Te, Supremo Iddio,
Onnipotente, Onnipresente, Che tutto pervadi, Unico Essere.
Prendici tra le Tue Braccia Paterne,
Sollevaci oltre la densita della terra.
Adoriamo la Tua Bellezza,
A Te liberamente ci abbandoniamo,
Dio Clemente e Misericordioso,
Ideale Signore di tutta Vumanita.
Te solo noi adoriamo; a Te solo aspiriamo.
Apri il nostro cuore alia Tua Bellezza,
Illumina Vanima nostra di Luce Divina,
Oh Tu, Perfezione dAmore, dArmonia e di Bellezza!
Onnipossente Creatore, Tu Che ci sostieni, giudichi e perdoni le nostre manchevolezze,
Signore Iddio d'Oriente e d'Occidente, dei mondi superiori e inferiori,
E degli esseri visibli e invisibli,
Riversa su di noi il Tuo Amore e la Tua Luce,
Sostenta il nostro corpo, il nostro cuore, la nostra anima.
Facci strumento del fine voluto dalla Tua Saggezza,
E guidaci sul sentiero della Tua propria Bonta.
Awicinaci a Te in ogni attimo della nostra vita,
Finche in noi si riflettano la Tua Grazia, la Tua Gloria, la Tua Saggezza, la Tua Gioia e la
Tua Pace.


Translation graciously provided by Indra Pedrazzoli, Milano.


1990 Volume 4. "Earth & Sky: W"

Ordinarily, this feature looks at human and divine personages (if one may say such a thing) but as this issue is devoted to symbology, we are happy to present a small collection of human and sacred symbols, drawn from diverse traditions.


Walls are naturally associated with doors, gateways and thresholds; in spiritual matters, they signify the boundary between inner and outer, seen and unseen, while on earth, they help to separate sacred and profane space. Philosophically, it might be asked, would any space be sacred if it were not separated from the profane? But walls are more than mere markers — they also suggest protection, and there is a strong tradition of guardians connected with walls and gates. Such guardians are said to prevent the unready, the unwary or the uninitiated from seeing what they should not, either for the protection of the seeker or of that which is sought. It may be, though, that such sights are self-secret, as is suggested in the well known Sufi story of the wall. According to this tale, there was once a people who lived beside a high wall, but although they had lived there as long as any of them could remember, none of them knew what was on the other side. At last, they determined to send one of their number over the wall to find out what was there. The one selected climbed a long ladder to the top of the wall, looked at what lay beyond, and promptly dived to the other side and was never seen again. This of course did not satisfy the people's curiosity, so they selected another. He too climbed the ladder, looked over, and was gone. When the people selected a third seeker, though, they decided to tie a rope around his ankle lest he also try to escape. Like the first two, he climbed the ladder, looked at what lay beyond, and was about to leap from their view when the people hauled him back to their side of the wall. Their cleverness was in vain, though, for they found that the one who had looked beyond the wall had now completely lost the power of speech.


To wander is to travel aimlessly, without predetermined path destination. It might sound better to be a pilgrim, that someone with a known goal, but sometimes much can be accomplished when the goal or the route has not been defined, chivalry, the 'knight errant' was one who set out on an adventure, usually a search for the Holy Grail, not knowing when would take him, a condition still evoked in the knight's move chess. Such wandering is also symbolized in mystic mazes labyrinths which were built throughout Europe in earlier time the path to the goal is not direct, and, depending on the nature of the maze, may require special knowledge to complete. Buddhists, though, wandering connotes samsara, the ignorance that sends sentient beings through the cycle of birth and de until the wheel of illusion is broken and the stillness of nirvana, is attained at last.


Such a large symbol that almost anything said about it is incomplete. Water dissolves, purifies, regenerates and revivifies, sustains, but it may annihilate as well. It is usually (but r always) lunar, especially as the ocean, which responds so read to the moon. It stands for the Great Mother, the womb creation, and therefore, for life and fertility, but it can also stand for unconsciousness, forgetfulness, destruction and chaos. Eve culture and every religion has found great meaning in water. Walking upon water means to rise above the emotions and circumstances which traditionally drown us — every bit as much a miracle as to physically walk upon the surface of the waves. ' the Hebrews, wisdom and the law have been seen as a spring water, while in Islam, water signifies mercy. In the Taoist tradition, water embodies the doctrine of wu-wei, yielding at the point of resistance, thus surrounding, passing on, and event ally wearing away even the hardest rock. Water in its different forms has meaning, too. The spring, for example, has always been regarded as divine inspiration. Dew, on the other hand stands for benediction. Deep water is often seen as the home the dead or of supernatural beings, particularly among Celt peoples, and it is from this belief that many people still throw coins in fountains — though they may, themselves, be unaware of the reason. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan often used the metaphor of rain when he spoke of the Message, coming as it does from above and given to all, without distinction. In Nature Meditations, he offers the following meditation on rain: Send the shower of Thy mercy and compassion on humanity. Pir-o-Murshid also called upon the properties of water to describe two types of belief, likening fixed belief to ice, and fluid, adaptable, progressive belief to flowing water.


When warmed, wax becomes pliable and malleable, and takes whatever shape is offered it Therefore wax represents mutability, and even insincerity. In fact, the word 'sincere' means literally 'without wax.' In this sense, it is the opposite of the symbol of the wall. However, wax has other properties, too. It resembles fat, and so may be said to contain life substance; also, it burns with a clear flame, leaving no residue, which suggests a kind of purity and wholehearted commitment Perhaps it was this aspect Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan had in mind when he described some hearts as being like wax. By this he did not mean they were insincere, but rather that they were easily softened by the fires of love, and, if a proper wick were supplied, could be kindled to give a beautiful light.


As anyone who has savoured a glass of good wine can attest, it easily symbolizes revelation, truth and life — but as anyone who has overindulged can add, it can also signify death. Specifically, red wine may represent the blood of life sacrificed; also, fire, and divine wisdom. Perhaps all three of these meanings are evoked when Sufi poets call to the inn-keeper for yet another cup of wine; to the Sufi, wine represents divine ecstasy, a divine and fiery wisdom which can only be reached when the ego has been sacrificed on the altar of the heart. Wine and water, as a pair of symbols, are solar and lunar, and may represent divine and human nature, respectively, which would add a new dimension to the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast.


The Sufi emblem of the flying heart is composed of several elements, among them, outspread wings. It is notable that wings have been used extensively in depictions of divine and supernatural beings in the West and Middle East, but, with the exception of the winged dragon and the Garuda, very little in the Far East. Wings are active, mobile and solar; they represent divinity, and particularly the protection of the tireless and all pervading God, and the power of the spirit to transcend the limitations of earth. In the Zoroastrian tradition, Ahura Mazda was shown as a winged disk, as were the Sumero-Semitic sun gods Shamash and Asshur. Hermes, as Messenger of the Roman Gods, had a winged cap and sandals, while Cronos, representing the flight of time, had four wings, two in flight and two at rest, signifying perpetual movement and vigilance.. In both Hebrew and Christian traditions, angels and archangels, also heavenly messengers, have wings. Of course, so does the Devil, but this fallen angel is usually given wings of skin, like a bat, rather than softly feathered ones. In the Buddhist tradition, two wings (not ascribed to any particular being) stand for wisdom and method. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan tells us that the wings of the Sufi emblem stand for indifference and independence, through the cultivation of which the heart may become responsive to the ever-present light of God, and thus achieve liberation.


In spite of having wings, usually signs of good omen, the meaning given to this shy, hard-working bird has not always been positive. It is said to be prophetic and magical, and a guardian of kings, as it looked after Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome. It was sacred to Jupiter, Mars and Silvanus, among others. Christians, though, have seen it as representing the Devil, and the undermining effects of heresy. To North American aboriginals, the woodpecker, armed with a hard and heavy beak with which it strikes many blows, was seen as a bird of war.