One day, while exploring the closed stacks of the University in Bergen, where she works as a conservator, Nirtan Pasnak made an astonishing discovery : a well used German edition of The Soul Whence and Whither by Hazrat Inayat Khan. Tucked in an envelope at the back of the book was a photo of Pir-o-Murshid, such as were sometimes given to mureeds when they were initiated. This find set off a hunt through the historical records to learn how it came there. What follows is adapted from an article written in Norwegian for the University in Bergen periodical, ‘Bergen På Høyden’. [https://pahoyden.khrono.no/inayat-khan-manuskript–og-librarsamlingen-pamflett/en-sufi-mester-i-bergen/416784]
In the library of the University in Bergen there is a mysterious document, registered on 24.11.1924. At the top of the page a heart with two large wings seems to embrace the whole world, and under the flying heart stand the words “The Sufi Order”. Report of a Lecture by Inayat Khan.
In the 1920’s Inayat lived in Paris with his wife and family, and from there in 1924 he made a tour of Scandinavia: Stockholm, Uppsala, Oslo (then called Christiania), Bergen and Copenhagen.
In the Bergens Tidende newspaper dated 1st of November 1924 we find this (translated) announcement: “’Religion of love.’ An Indian mystic visits Bergen soon. Our city will receive a visit of an Indian philosopher and mystic by the name of Inayat Khan, Pir-o-Murshid (top most master) of the Sufi Order, an old Persian gathering of mystics which under Inayat Khan has undergone renovation through which it has become a totally modern and world encompassing activity of what he himself calls the religion of love, a fully inclusive brotherhood.”
Who were the first followers of Inayat in Norway? These were members of the Theosophical Society, established in various cities in Norway since the 1890’s. In his diary Murshid writes that in Oslo he gave lectures in the University of Christiania and for the Theosophical Society. Theosophy is the movement founded by Helena Blavatsky that has some ideas similar to those of the Sufi Movement. Many Theosophists saw in Inayat the World Teacher they had been expecting, and were inclined to follow him – or at least give him a good hearing. Among them was a young Brynjolf (Shamcher) Bjørset who later moved to the United States and became the first Sufi inspiration to Nawab Pasnak and other young seeking souls in North America. In the early 1920’s Shamcher was very active in the Theosophical society, travelling around Norway and giving lectures, and his book Klodens Sang [Song of the Globe] was published in 1923, before he met Inayat. Miraculously, this book is also in the University Library in Bergen. Here is an excerpt that explains the closeness of thinking and feeling Bjørset had with that of Murshid and why this connection was so immediately established:
Do you have a garden, where you are a gardener or a priest? Where fruits and roots grow and thrive under the care of your hands, where the branches of trees bend down to you in happiness? Do you believe that they are longing only for the earth and water? Don’t you know that they have a strong longing to be enveloped by the warmth of your personality, to bathe themselves in the rays of sympathy that radiates from you? (translation from Norwegian from Brynjolf Bjørset, Klodens Sang, Olaf Norlis Forlag, Kristiania 1923, p.15)
Thus, before Inayat Khan came to Bergen, there were already some people interested in his message. In the announcement in Bergens Tidende we find an invitation to all those who would like to know more and read Inayat Khan’s books in English, to contact Miss Ian Rahusen who lived on Kirkegaten in Sandviken.
In his diary, Murshid expresses his gratitude to Ian (Murad) Rahusen for arranging his trip to Bergen, and describes the country and its people with kind words:
I found a different atmosphere in Norway from that I had felt in Stockholm. People there seemed to be of democratic spirit and they responded more readily to the Message. I went from [Christiania] to Bergen, a beautiful place near mountains. The atmosphere in that place helped my lectures to make a greater and deeper impression upon the people there. Fröken Thistle and some others became mureeds, and the work has been continued there since then. The credit of my success there was mainly due to my mureed Mejuffrouw Murad Rahusen, who by the help of her kind friend Fru Isaachsen, a deep lady of artistic sense and broad views, was able to arrange my visit so splendidly.(Biography, p.199-200)
In Bergen, Inayat Khan stayed in the Hotel Norge, one of the best in those days. Unfortunately the hotel later burned down, and has been rebuilt on the same location in a modern style.
From newspapers we know that Murshid gave two lectures in Bergen, one on the 6th of November in the Reception Hall or Aula of the Bergen Museum, which after extensive renovations now serves for official functions in the University, and another one on the 7th of November at the Public Library.
The lecture in the Museum was on “The Path of Initiation” and in the Public Library, it was about “The Soul’s Awakening”. After the first lecture a newspaper report said: “The lecture was easy to understand. Examples Inayat Khan took from nature and from daily life to illustrate his principal ideas were quite poignant and they carried with them a warm undercurrent noticeable behind each word.” Another journalist wrote: “A lecture – better said a sermon – was heard in deep silence, that showed the listeners’ strong interest in the subject. For many, however, it was a disappointment because there was no interpretation, which was expected in accordance to the preliminary announcement of the lecture.”
In those days, German was the most common foreign language in Norway, especially in Bergen with its strong German background. Knowledge of English was not so wide spread. In Oslo Inayat Khan had the help of Brynjolf Bjørset (later Shamcher Beorse) as his interpreter. However, although Brynjolf had a private conversation with Inayat as he was departing for Bergen, an exchange that subsequently led to Brynjolf taking initiation, he was unable to accompany him, and could not help with the translation in Bergen.
From the newspapers we see that the work of the Sufi Movement continued in Bergen. In 1925 Baron Sirdar von Tuyll came to town with lectures to deepen the understanding of what had been offered by Inayat Khan a year earlier, and until the late 1930’s we find announcements of Universal Worship services. In the library there is a collection of Sufi books in German that belonged to Clara Allers Tresselt, among them “Der seele Woher und Wohin” [The Soul Whence and Whither]. It is full of studious notes in pencil on the margins and on additional papers lying between the pages. Inside, I found an envelope that contained a precious photograph of Murshid, which suggests that she must have taken initiation.
The Second World War was a time of great upheaval, and after the war all Sufi activities ceased in Bergen. At present the Sufi Movement has no public activity in Norway but there is a center of the Inayati Order in Oslo. Nevertheless, the Message of religious unity planted by Murshid still continues in Bergen in another form. When the Museum later became the University, a Department of Comparative Religions was established, and now is world renowned and one of the strongest in the university.