On September 13th, 1910, Hazrat Inayat Khan sailed from Bombay to the West, accompanied by his brother Maheboob and his cousin Ali Khan. It was the beginning of sixteen years of constant travel in the service of the divine Message, and in the Sufi Movement the date is remembered as Hejirat Day, meaning ‘the day of departure’. He was called to the most difficult task imaginable, and in this passage from his autobiography Hazrat Inayat summarizes some of the obstacles he faced. Not surprisingly, the problems he encountered are those that still plague the world today. On this anniversary we might feel reverence and gratitude for the Master’s work, which has no doubt benefited our personal lives; we might also ask ourselves if we are contributing to the cause, and what more we might do to help.
I found my work in the West the most difficult task that I could have ever imagined. To work in the West for a spiritual Cause to me was like traveling in a hilly land, not like sailing in the sea, which is smooth and level. In the first place I was not a missionary of a certain faith, delegated to the West by its adherents, nor was I sent to the West as a representative of Eastern cult by some Maharaja. I came to the West with His Message, Whose call I had received, and there was nothing earthly to back me in my mission, except my faith in God and trust in Truth. In the countries where I knew no-one, had not any recommendations, was without any acquaintances or friends, I found myself in a new world, a world where commercialism has become the central theme of life under the reign of materialism. In the second place there was a difficulty of language, but that difficulty was soon overcome; as I worked more, so my command of language improved.
The prejudice against Islam that exists in the West was another difficulty for me. Many think Sufism to be a mystical side of Islam, and the thought was supported by the encyclopedias, which speak of Sufism as having sprung from Islam, and they were confirmed in this by knowing that I am Muslim by birth. Naturally I could not tell them that it is a Universal Message of the time, for every man is not ready to understand this. Many felt that the idea of universal brotherhood was a sin against the modern virtue, which is called national patriotism. My Message of peace was often interpreted as what they call pacifism, which is looked upon unfavorably by many. Many there are in the West who are prejudiced against anything Eastern, either thinking that it is too foreign to their nature, or assuming that the Eastern people, who cannot even take care of themselves, and are backward in the modern civilization, are behind time; though in philosophical and literary circles the philosophy of India is considered to be antique.
Besides, I often felt as an obstacle on my path the color prejudice that exists in different places in the West. Some separate the religion of the East and West, saying that Eastern religion is for the Eastern people and Christianity the Western religion for the West; for most of the pictures of Jesus Christ are painted in the Western likeness, ignoring the fact that the Master was from the East.
Many in the Western world are afraid of mystic or psychic or occult ideas, for it is something foreign to them, and especially a foreign representative of that is doubly foreign. If music had not been my shield, my task would have become much more difficult for me in the West, and my life impossible. I had to make my living by my profession of music, which has no particular place in the professional world of the West. Most often I had to sell my pearls at the value of pebbles. In the West I could not place my music in its proper place.
During the war, when my musical activities were suspended, patience was the only means of sustenance for me and my family. Yet a smiling welcome was always offered to friends at our table.