August 6th is the birthday of Murshid Hidayat Inayat-Khan; on this day he turns 99 years of age. Today is also the day on which a message has been sent to the members of the International Council that Murshid Hidayat has officially stepped down from his position of Joint General Representative of the Sufi Movement, effective as of the 5th of July, a date he chose intentionally for its symbolism.
It is not possible to put into a few words the profound effect that Murshid Hidayat has had on the Sufi Movement; he is a strong and complex person, a demanding and fastidious musician and composer with a sensitive, deeply mystical nature, overwhelmingly committed to the Message taught by his Father; he served as the leader of this organisation for many years, making enormous changes and confronting difficulties of every kind. What is more, although no one knows for certain, it may be that Murshid Hidayat is the last person remaining who actually knew Hazrat Inayat Khan as a living person. All the other members of the immediate family have since passed away. Perhaps in the decades to come, we will begin to understand what he has given through his service.
Today, it seems appropriate to put before you one of the recollections from ‘Once Upon a Time,’ a little booklet of stories about a very magical childhood that Murshid Hidayat put on paper in the late 1980’s, and that was first published by Sufis in Vancouver.
A Workman Digging in the Street
One day, while Murshid was going out through the gate of Fazal Manzi, holding my hand tight so that I would not run wildly across the road, as I so often did, he was most astonished to see a workman digging a deep ditch just in front of the house, under pouring rain, and with hands and clothes covered with mud.
Murshid walked toward the workman and gently took off his hat to him; and then, while shaking hands, Murshid said, “Bonjour, Monsieur.” But obviously the poor workman was absolutely spellbound at the thought of being greeted by the ‘King’ [as the neighbourhood of Sureness took Murshid Inayat Khan to be] in such a most friendly way, and he stood there for a while, completely panic-struck, till Murshid walked a few steps away down the road, where some mureeds were waiting, and had seen what had happened.
Surprisingly enough, instead of showing their feelings of understanding for the precious example of sympathy, kindness and humility which Murshid had so beautifully illustrated, those who had just seen Murshid’s friendly approach, said to him as he came toward them, “But Murshid, you just can’t do that here in the West. Don’t you know that you are not supposed to shake hands with a workman?”
Murshid became of course very sad, and with deep emotion in his voice, he just only said to them, “Are we not all children of one and the same Father?” After which, all walked away in silence.
Many years later, while I was walking up that same road, an elderly man came running behind me, all out of breath, asking, “Who was that King who lived in the large house just there, up the road?” And while pointing to the house, he told me that years and years ago, he had been digging in a ditch; when suddenly the King came out of the gate, and, “Although he had never seen me, he shook hands with so very much compassion, while also lifting even his hat in a most noble way. And,” he added, “although I am just a workman, and have never learned to read or write, nor did I ever believe in God, yet at that moment I really felt as though Heaven was being offered to me by the grace of that kind King. There were flashes of light in his eyes, which I still always see so clearly ever since, even after so many years. The mysterious magic which that King performed on me that day has protected me during my whole life, and has given me the strength and the courage to endure all the cruel hardships in this world; but more than anything else, those moments have been the happiest that I have experienced.”
Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me, “Who was that King? Do you perhaps know who he was and where he is?”
“Yes,” I said,, “he certainly was a King; perhaps a heavenly King, and now, from out of Heaven he constantly sends us sparks of heavenly light, shining as flashes of blessings, always present in our hearts, whenever we open our hearts to his loving guidance.”
Then I told him that I was the little boy who was holding my Father’s hand while we came out of the gate together; and I retold him the whole story with all the details which he himself had experienced; after which we both fell in each other’s arms with tears rolling down our cheeks.