By the mid-1920’s, Hazrat Inayat Khan was traveling almost continuously for the sake of the Message. The following brief excerpt from his Journal gives a taste of the challenges he faced in a visit to New York in 1925. He mentions Mrs. Annie Besant, who was at that time the President of the Theosophical Society in India, and had some years earlier announced the coming of the ‘World Teacher.’
My plan about going to the United States remained indefinite till I heard from de Heer van Stolk that arrangements were being made for a lecture-tour beginning from New York. I reached New York on December 6th and had no difficulty whatever with the port-authorities as before*, thanks to our friends Mr. Cosgrave and Mr. Chase Crowley. I was glad to meet Mr. Shaughnessy [a mureed] at my arrival. I was a guest of Mr. Crowley at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. For the first week there was a rush of newspaper-reporters calling on me, and after I had given all the points which touched my philosophy and work, after even I had won the sympathy of some of the Press representatives, I found that in the papers it was said quite differently and often quite the opposite to what I had said. In the place of a horse it was a donkey, and in the place of a man it was a monkey. At my first lecture at the Auditorium of the Waldorf Astoria, there was a great crowd. Some of them came from the advertisements, some of them from the reports the newspapers gave, some of them came to see some phenomena performed on the platform, some out of curiosity; and some had the patience to stay there five minutes after they entered the hall. Nevertheless it was a success. It made me wonder as to what the world wants: truth or falsehood. Souls unconsciously seek for truth, but are delighted with falsehood.
The cause of the following series of lectures not being well-attended, to my mind was that those lectures were given too late after the Presstalk. Also the advertisement was not continued in the same measure as it began. But some of my friends thought that my voice did not reach. [That is, was not audible. —ed.] They did not mind if my inspiration was blown away by shouting, as long as my voice reached the masses. Others thought that I did not speak quick enough for the American mind. I laughed in my mind thinking: how did they expect the weight of Divine inspiration to be carried quickly to the hearts of the mortal world? However, it is the experience of many that New York is a hard field to work. Nevertheless many acquaintances were made, much has been accomplished, several mureeds joined the Sufi group there.
I was asked by the Theosophical Society to speak on the coming world Teacher, and on Mrs. Besant’s proclamation about it. But I thought that such a lecture must be given by someone more competent on that subject, and so I refused it. I was invited at a dinner of an Occult Club, where I heard everyone talking freely on their occult experiences. I felt diffident to talk before its members, who, each of them, seemed to have their specific opinion on the subject. It seemed to me a democratic Movement toward the investigation of truth, or of falsehood.
*In his visit to the United States in 1923, Hazrat Inayat had the following to report:
I was unfortunately detained, as the quota of Indians was completed for that month, and had to visit Ellis Island [the principal Immigration station in Upper New York Bay.]. And I was glad to have had that experience, to see to what extent materialism has affected nations. It seems so contrary to the attitude of the ancients of welcoming a foreigner as a brother and treating him most kindly in every way, that he may not feel that he is in a strange land.
As nothing disappoints me, this reception affected me but little. They would not have me any longer than a few hours only. I was to stand before a tribunal, they asked me many questions in connection with myself and my work. And I, whose nation was all nations, whose birth place 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. In the end my mureed Mrs. Marya Cushing, who was arranging my visit in New York, came to my rescue and answered all their questions to their utmost satisfaction. They seemed in the end much impressed and embarrassed, and immediately exempted me from the law of geographical expulsion.
–from Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, pt. III, Journal