Sufi Orders in Portland (2006)

Those who call themselves Sufis in Portland are a kaleidoscopic mix of observing Muslims, Muslims who are not strictly observant, and those who outright reject any connection between Sufism and Islam. This mix reflects Sufism in the United States as a whole, where Sufism as a form of spirituality has become partially, and in some cases totally, disassociated from Islam. (See Professor Alan Godlas’s categorization of Sufis in the United States. Interestingly enough, this disassociation can vary even among those who claim to belong to the same tariqa (lineage). This means that even within the Threshold Society (below), for example, there are members who are strict adherents of Islam and those who have not taken and do not plan to take shahada (the witnessing of a Muslim that there is one God and Muhammad is His Messenger).

Non-Islamic Sufi Orders Associated with the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan

Sufism in Portland traces its origins back to 1910, when Hazrat Inayat Khan traveled throughout the United States, promulgating a universalistic interpretation of Sufism in which all spiritual paths were regarded as equal. Though a devout Muslim himself, much of what he taught focused on the universality of religion and not on Islam. He read and taught from the texts of several religious traditions.

The teachings of Inayat Khan were formalized into different Sufi groups during his travels in the United States. These groups are: the International Sufi Movement, formed in 1923, Sufi Order International headed by Pir Vilayat, the son of Inayat Khan, until his death in 2004, and Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society (now the Sufi Ruhaniat International), which was organized by Samuel Lewis, an initiate of the teachings of Inayat Khan, in the San Francisco area in 1970. Pir Vilayat and Samuel Lewis worked together for a time in the late 1960s. In 1976, however, Pir Vilayat and the followers of Samuel Lewis (d. 1971) had a falling out as a result of a disagreement over the direction the group should take in terms of membership and leadership. The group split into Sufi Order of the West (now known as Sufi Order International), and Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat (now known as Sufi Ruhaniat International). Both groups still exist in the Portland area today. They hold regular meetings and since 1978 they have organized an annual gathering known as the Pacific Northwest Sufi Camp.

Select Profiles of Sufi Groups in Portland

The links below lead to profiles of other Sufi groups in Portland. The Mevlevi Sufi profile discusses two circles, Mevlevi Order of America and the Threshold Society.

—Miranda Meadow, Student at Reed College, under the direction of Dr. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Pluralism Project Affiliate