Sufism Has spread around the world and is often embraced by Westerners especially more readily than mainstream Islam. The Indian-born Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), the first major Sufi figure to come to the West, brought his teachings to America in the 1920s. Hazrat later married the niece ofMary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; the offspring of that union was Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (b. 1916). The formal spiritual successor of his father, Pir Vilayat went on to become a prominent Sufi teacher in America, founding a community known as the Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, New York, in 1974. The Abode is currently the national headquarters of the Sufi Order in the West, Pir Vilayat’s universalist vision of Sufism that teaches respect for all the world’s great religious traditions. The Sufi Order incorporates songs, chants, and scripture readings taken from different religious traditions. But it does not incorporate orthodox Islamic laws and practices, such as the daily prayers, and so is not considered to be genuine Sufism by many Muslims.
Besides learning Sufism from his father, Pir Vilayat studied with an American Sufi named Samuel Lewis. Heir to the Lee jeans fortune, Lewis had been disowned by his family, traveled the world, and studied Zen and Islam. He received the transmission of Hazrat Inayat Khan while Pir Vilayat was still a small boy, and he later became one of Pir Vilayat’s collaborators, ultimately bringing Sufism back to his native San Francisco, where he was known as Sufi Sam (or S.A.M., for Sufi Ahmed Murad, his Sufi name). It was Sam who started the practice of Sufi Dancing, or Dances of Universal Peace, as they were originally known, combining elements of music and chants from various world traditions, including American Indian dances. When Lewis died in 1971, many of his students went with Pir Vilayat as he founded the Abode. Now there are two branches of the Order, one under Sufi Sam’s named successor, the American Moineddin Jablonsky, the other under Pir Vilayat. And there are many more Western Sufi branches based on individual teachers, rather than established lineages, which is the traditional form of Sufi transmission.