Between 1910 and 1926, Hazrat Inayat Khan, a musician and Sufi master from the Chishtiyya order in India, introduced Sufism to the United States of America and Europe. He established a Western Sufi order, the International Sufi Movement, with groups in America, England, and across Europe. In the early 1930s this Western Sufism was introduced into Australia. The aim of this study is to explore and analyse the origins, nature and development of the Sufi Movement in Australia with particular attention to the relationship between the spiritual teacher and the disciple. The study, in its various aspects, and as a whole, makes a contribution to understanding religious change, religion and New Religious Movements in Australia, Sufism in the West and the murshid-mureed relationship.
Using what has been termed a “dynamic of religions” framework and Baumann’s model of religious adaptation in cross-cultural circumstances, the study employs a combination of in-depth fieldwork, participant observation, interviews and historiography to identify and analyse both continuity and change in Sufi Movement groups in contemporary Australia. The study found that the early phases of transplantation from India to Europe and America, as well as the struggles within the group after the death of Inayat Khan, substantially shaped the Western Sufism that arrived in Australia. The most significant early adaptations included redefining the relationship between Sufism and exoteric Islam, gender equality, formation of a formal organisation, and the use of music to spread the Sufi Message.
Addressing issues identified in the literature on the master-disciple relationship in Eastern traditions in the West, the study describes and analyses the murshid-mureed (master-disciple, spiritual teacher-student) relationship in Inayat Khan’s time, and in contemporary Australia. It shows that Sufism’s development in the West has been interconnected with understandings and practice of this central relationship.
The study shows that the continued strength of the murshid-mureed relationship alongside emerging alternatives, the factors affecting change generally in the Sufi Movement, as well as the growing popularity of Sufism in Australia, demonstrate the need to consider not only East-West aspects of transplantation, but also the influences of modernity on spiritual traditions.
As well as documenting the Australian history, the study describes the details of the variety of practices and rituals, forms of community and organisation, and forms of the murshid-mureed relationship, found in contemporary Australian groups. This provides insight into the intricacies of Sufi practice in Australia and provides a basis for comparison with other groups. Sufi practice within these groups in Australia includes highly innovative developments alongside preservation of the tradition as taught by Inayat Khan. It also reflects a tension between the spiritual and organisational hierarchy, and concerns for democracy and local autonomy.