The tendency of Fellowship is instinctive in living beings, not only among people, but even among birds and animals. In the stage of the lower creation, where the ego begins its work and where the ego rises against another, there are birds and animals that can be brought together. At the same time, by studying the lower creatures we can understand that even destructive creatures can unite. This gives us an idea that even in the lower stages there is already a tendency towards a higher stage of evolution. When we think of the higher creatures, we see that this fellowship can be developed and that it has developed in people. The proof of this we see in our life in towns. People would rather live together than live scattered in the forests. There are large cities, such as New York, London, and Paris, where there is difficulty in finding housing accommodations. There are also vast open spaces, woods and forests, yet people prefer to live together. However, this is not a virtue, for nothing is a virtue that is not consciously acted upon. Therefore, when human beings must live together this is not a great thing, but when they consciously live together, then the tendency towards human fellowship begins.
The conscious recognition of affiliation requires a link, and the link awakens a feeling of fellowship. For instance, in ordinary language when someone says, “This is my brother or sister,” it only means that the other person is born of the same parents. There can also be an affiliation of professions; an affiliation in ideas; an affiliation of those born in one city. To the extent that a person is conscious of the link that binds one person with another, so far will they realize fellowship. If they do not feel conscious of that link, even if they are physically brothers or sisters, they will feel like strangers. So, the strength of fellowship does not lie in the claim, but in the consciousness of the link; it is not in the profession that fellowship exists, but in the conscious recognition of the affiliation.
The idea of fellowship has manifested differently in the East and the West. In the East, it has manifested in unity in God; in the West in national patriotism. Fellowship has appealed in the East to religion and in the West to national patriotism. However, at the same time in the East, where Hinduism was predominant especially in India, religious restrictions were taught in connection with hygiene, so that people ate and drank separately. Sometimes the wife even had to prepare her own food separately from her husband. Things are different in the West, where there are also questions of hygiene, but life is different from that in the East. In the end it did not prove the ideal life, and the degeneration of Hindu society began when the different limitations began. There were four castes among Hindus: brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and sudras, the caste of the student, the caste of the warrior, the caste of the merchant, and the caste of the laborer. Nobody can deny that there was great wisdom in this division, for there are four different tendencies in humanity, but in the end, it resulted in disaster. The people became weak owing to these divisions, and the link of fellowship was destroyed. This example of Hindu society is in itself an example for human beings in the reconstruction of the world.
In ancient times, Arabia and Persia were split up in parts, each part with its own gods and goddesses. There were many different gods and goddesses. As the Hindu people were most blessed by Shankaracharya, their teacher, so the Arabs were enlightened by the coming of Muhammad. Even fifteen hundred years ago, Muhammad taught the importance of forming a human brotherhood, and this expanded in Islam to the idea of a universal brotherhood. The various families amongst the Arabs began to live together and began to eat together. They would shake hands and worship together in the same house of God. There is a story of the Khalif Umar, that he was greatly hated by a certain criminal. On a certain day this man came to the town and asked where Umar was. He was told that the Khalif was in the forest, looking after his cattle. The assassin thought this was a splendid opportunity to accomplish his plan. As he approached Umar, he saw no warrior there to protect him. Umar was sitting in a worn-out robe. The assassin could hardly believe that the Khalif was so near and so within his power, but he could not trust his eyes that the Khalif whom he had pursued so long was now so near, unprotected. The nearer he approached, the more nervous did he become, so that when he was quite near, the dagger fell out of his hand. Umar said, “Peace be unto you, what do you want?” to which the assassin answered, “Tell me why I tremble before you.” Umar said, “Just as I tremble before God when I think of doing wrong, so dost thou tremble before me.”
Another story told about Umar is that after a war, at the peace negotiations, Umar represented the armies of Islam. The enemies were told by their astrologers that they must make peace when Umar arrived. But as the enemies had never seen him before, they asked, “How shall we know him?” The reply was, “You can recognize him when you see a slave on the camel and Umar walking at his side.” In fact, he came as had been foretold, and the first question put to him was, “Why were you walking while your slave rode on the camel?” He replied, “I have not walked all the way. The first part I rode, and the second part it was my slave’s turn to ride and mine to walk.” And when we think of this, we realize the beauty of the human heart, this perfume that resides in the human soul.
There is another example of human fellowship. When the Prophet Muhammad was waging war against some people, the Prophet was compelled to flee three times from Mecca. Each time a great deal of harm was done to his family. Even he himself had scars and was bleeding from various wounds when he fled. But later, when the Prophet was victorious, these enemies were brought before him, and he asked them, “How shall I deal with you?” They answered, “Deal kindly with us.” Muhammad said, “Yes, I will deal with you in the same way that Joseph dealt with his brethren.” At once they shook hands, and were friends, and all the feelings of hatred were forgiven. By this I wish to say that it is not the intellectual teachings of the great ones that we need, but the example of their lives that is so important to us. Now, the effect of that example can be seen even down to this day in the peoples of Arabia. The Bedouins, spend their lives fighting and robbing and are found everywhere in the deserts of Arabia. Yet, if two of them are found fighting and on the verge of killing each other, and if a third person says, “Unite, in the name of the Prophet Muhammad,” immediately they throw away their weapons, shake hands, and become friends. How much do we wish that we, the so-called civilized nations, would follow such wild people’s example! If people can only move from one country to another but cannot find the link that binds them to each other, what use is that to us? This does not mean that we have to ignore national distinctions, but that we must ignore the narrow boundaries of the nations.
Any person with some heart will wonder, and say, “Will there ever come a time when the hearts will become united and the barriers be removed so people will become united in some higher link that binds them all together?” Considering the question from the psychological point of view, we shall find that no family can be happy where there is a difference of feeling, or a feeling of reciprocal ill will. The atmosphere of such a house can cause all manner of diseases and all sorts of misery. Where there is disagreement or disharmony, perhaps one person is in a better position than the other, but the suffering will be divided amongst them all, and each will have to bear their share of it. The old stories and legends that there came down fire from heaven, or that there came floods and volcanic eruptions, show us that these disasters came as a result of disharmony. Now national disharmony is more prevalent than ever before on earth, for the small communities have now become nations and peoples, so that they can now have a greater power for evil or good. From the psychological point of view, all the nations are one family, so that the whole world experiences the consequences of what one nation does against another. The actions of races and communities are the same as the actions of individuals of the past. Every nation only interested in its own affairs, ignoring the conditions of the others, is equally responsible for the suffering and troubles that they suffer. Just think of the great suffering and pain that the larger part of humanity is going through in different regions of the world today.
If it were not for the fact of illusion and the blindness of humanity for others than themselves, the world would be in a different condition from what it is. But to see life as a whole is not the work of everybody. People have too much to think of with their own affairs, their own worries and troubles. Today is a time such as the world has never seen before. Humankind is divided, ignoring the truth that they depend upon one another. To the person who would think from a humane point of view, even the wise and clever are acting as children. What is required today is this, that some souls, unselfish, strong, confident of the truth of their ideals, should join hands in serving humanity. There are some hearts and minds who see life from different points of view, and it is such as these that are required. The Sufi Message is devoted to this ideal, and is an answer to the call of the earth to the heavens. It is not necessarily a religion or a philosophy, but it is the essence of all religions and all philosophies. It is a point of view that will unite humanity, and its great link is wisdom. It is not the claim or wish of the Sufi Message that this shall be the only movement working for the fellowship of all people, but that the work be shared by everybody who feels called upon to take part in this task. The Sufi Message does not make restrictions upon people coming from other religions, Christian, Buddhist, or Jew, because it looks upon all as one people, coming from the same divine source. Everybody is welcome in the Sufi Message, a message whose aim is to unite people in that feeling of the unity that is their source and life.
CW 1924 II, pp. 829-833.
* Inayat Khan uses the word “Brotherhood” in this talk. This is understandable given the common use of masculine words to refer to both men and women in the twentieth century. Also, Inayat Khan came from an Islamic background that emphasized the importance of men uniting in a religious and social organization that was called a Brotherhood. While respecting this usage of the word, we want to be consistent in using gender neutral language, so we have chosen the word “Fellowship.”