One ceremony, many readings – Inayat Khan’s ʿurs and its participants

Jan Scholz and Max Stille

This article deals with the ʿurs ceremony of Inayat Khan, the founder of the spiritual movement of Universal Sufism, which was held in February 2010 in Nizamuddin, Delhi, and focuses on the ceremony’s reception by its participants. With reference to the literary scholar, Wolfgang Iser, who treated the question of indeterminacy in literary texts, the article proposes that the transcultural interactions taking place during this ceremony are based on the ceremony’s high levels of semantic indeterminacy. It argues that, in a process under certain aspects resembling the act of reading literary texts, this indeterminacy is ‘normalised’ by the ceremony’s participants, each of whom ‘pins down’ the ceremony’s ‘meaning’ according to his or her own horizon of expectation. This thesis will be developed on the basis of an analysis of the ritual’s structure. Indeterminacy is particularly high in the case of Inayat Khan’s ʿurs where due to the nature of Universal Sufism and global travel opportunities, participants from different backgrounds join the ceremony. While this indeterminacy on the one hand allows different participants to link to the ceremony, it also seems to be constitutive for the experience of this ritual.

The paper highlights different aspects of this process throughout the ceremony at the shrines of Niẓām ad-Dīn and Inayat Khan, while different parts of the ceremony will be depicted with the aid of videos recorded by the article’s authors as well as by members of Universal Sufism who participated in the ceremony.


‘Eastern’ spirituality in the West has been a major locus of cultural entanglements for more than a century. Transcultural movements propagating such spirituality are often linked to the migration of Asian spiritual teachers to the West. This is also the case for the organisations which connect themselves to Universal Sufism, a movement introduced to the USA in 1910 by the Indian-born Inayat Khan.2

As 2010 marked the centennial year of this transcultural transfer, Inayat Khan’s ʿurs3 which is celebrated annually on February 5th gained particular significance in this year. The members of different associated organisations were invited to participate in a five day programme at Inayat Khan’s dargāh (shrine) located in Nizamuddin, Delhi. About forty Sufis gathered, coming mainly from North America and Europe. As will be explained in more detail below, the ceremony involves unusual rituals for both the context of Nizamuddin (the rituals brought in by the Universal Sufis and which are not found in local Chishtī practice) and for the Universal Sufis, as, to quote Celia Genn, the ʿurs introduces into Universal Sufism “a number of traditional South Asian Sufi practices which Inayat Khan had not transplanted or made a part of his teaching in the West.”4

As the ceremony serves as an encounter for different practices of worship, this article focuses upon the combination of different rituals, stemming from different locations and backgrounds with the aim of questioning the composition of the ʿurs ceremony.5 It is proposed that the ceremony’s structure, which includes ritual elements the pilgrims of Universal Sufism are familiar with, but also elements which they only get to know when participating in the ʿurs pilgrimage, is – because of this circumstance – fundamentally marked by indeterminacy.

It seems that such indeterminacy and polyvalency – resulting from the (un)familiarity with single elements – creates an inclusivist basis which allows different participants to ‘link’ to the ceremony. In approaching this issue, we describe the ceremony as a ‘text’ which is ‘read’ by its different participants. ‘Text’ and ‘reading’ are thus understood in a metaphorical sense: reading does not refer to a process in which narration of a plot (and everything that goes with it) is understood but to the participation in a ceremony in terms of its perception and reception. It is then a translinguistic (semiotic)6 use of the term ‘text’ which is made here. As a text, the ceremony consists of different interwoven and interdependent elements which can with semiotics be understood as signs. These elements have to be set in relation to each other in a process which is, in this respect, similar to the relation-building accomplished when reading.7

First, a short historical introduction to the movement of Universal Sufism will be given to illuminate aspects that might be important for understanding the ceremony’s context of Nizamuddin in New Delhi. Second, the transfer of aspects of aesthetic response theory for the interpretation of the ceremony’s structure will be outlined. In the following, the article will focus on the ceremony on occasion of the ʿurs of Inayat Khan at the dargāhs (shrines) of Niẓām ad-Dīn and Inayat Khan on February 5th, 2010.

2.1 The Readers: Universal Sufism’s Transcultural History8

As has convincingly been argued by Celia Genn,9 the movement initiated by Inayat Khan can be numbered among the New Religious Movements as it shares many parallels with similar movements drawing upon other religious backgrounds. Extending Genn’s argument, two ruptures in the movement’s history can be mentioned.

The first is the colonial-era transformation of Indian religions in a complex process of which the interaction with the West was an integral part. Among the many changes at this time were the strengthening of religion as a focus of Indian pride and a new comparative perspective on world religions with Indian religions among them. It is not possible to think Universal Sufism’s theology without referring to these developments and agents such as Swami Vivekananda and the Theosophical Society as only building on such predecessors could Inayat Khan eventually take the pragmatic but momentous decision to loosen the bonds between Sufism and Islam while working in the West.10 Although Universal Sufism is not exceptional for allowing non-Muslim adepts, the “concept of a non-Muslim Sufi was the exception rather than the rule prior to the twentieth century,”11 and the degree of downplaying of Islamic symbols, which even lead commentators to describe the movement as “Sufism without Islam,”12 was unprecedented.

Second, by saying that important roots of Universal Sufism’s theology already reach back to developments in religion during the 19th century, attention should not be withdrawn from the changes that occurred during the 20th century. Following the International Sufi Movement’s foundation in 1923, it has seen various offshoots and organisational splits. In 1977, for example, the ‘Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat International’, founded by Samuel L. Lewis (alias Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, abbreviated Murshid Sam, 1896—1971), finally separated from the Sufi Order International which was headed by Inayat Khan’s elder son, Vilayat Khan.13

This latter point is directly relevant to the ʿurs, as the ‘Sufi Ruhaniat International’ (the name given to the ‘Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat International’ in 2002) held a distinguished position during the ʿurs. While on the occasion of the centennial ʿurs several organisations of Universal Sufism jointly organized the ceremony14, Sufi Ruhaniat International was the only group led by a pīr (Lewis’ disciple Shabda Kahn) and was the organisation with the greatest number of members in attendance. This was reflected in the ceremony in so far, as the Dances of Universal Peace, a ritual particularly embraced by followers of Ruhaniat (and part of the controversy leading to the mentioned organisational split), was emphasised during the ʿurs. These dances had been introduced into Universal Sufism in the 1960s by Samuel L. Lewi15 16 who is reported to have considered himself “spiritual leader of the hippies.”17 For Vilayat Khan’s organisation the hippie movement did not have the same importance, and neither do the dances which is why they might play a less important role in a year with less Ruhaniat members joining the ceremony. At the ʿurs in 2010, however, the Dances of Universal Peace, an interesting product of transcultural entanglements, provided a crucial link between Universal Sufism’s practices at different places of worship, as will be described in chapter 2.3.

2.2 The Framework: Gaps of Indeterminacy and the Ceremony

The ceremony is an encounter of different practices of worship, where different ‘expectations’ have to be satisfied: every group (i.e., the pilgrims of Universal Sufism, and those participants and spectators who are not pilgrims of Universal Sufism, such as other pilgrims to the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ) expects elements from the ritual tradition it is familiar with. This is not to say that Universal Sufis do not expect rituals differing from those they are used to perform in their home countries. While in the ceremony observed, those who are not Universal Sufis have been mostly spectators, their expectations are nonetheless important for the ceremony, as not linking to Islamic tradition at all would not be possible at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ. Aside from this, there are other reasons for the presence of Islamic rituals: e.g., that Universal Sufism has long since referred to its North Indian and Islamic roots, and has linked to the respective ritual tradition.

As pointed out in the introduction, in order to analyse the fulfilment of the expectations in the ʿurs ceremony, this article draws on aspects of aesthetic response theory as developed by Wolfgang Iser. From his emphasis on indeterminacy and on the resulting performative dimensions of the realisation of texts, impulses can be derived for approaching the question of the fulfilment of the pilgrims’ expectations.

Without intending a typology of readers, Iser offers a phenomenological analysis of the interaction between the text and the reader of literature. Following his model, the meaning of a text is only created during its realisation which takes place in the act of reading, a process during which the various “schematised views” or “perspectives”18 a text offers are concretised by the reader. This involves ‘creative participation’ which relies on the reader’s horizon of expectation and the text’s indeterminacy.

According to Iser, indeterminacy arises from the fact that the literary text permits “no referral to any identical real-life situation.”19 This means that the reader can never fully identify20 the text with his prior experiences, be they real-life or literary.21 One crucial aspect is that these gaps embody “an elementary condition for readers’ reactions,”22 i.e., for the reader’s realisation of the text during which the reader ‘normalises’ the text’s indeterminacy. In this process, the aforementioned lack of identification is levelled by applying the text as far as possible to the reader’s own standards, thereby ‘pinning down’ the text’s meaning in terms of the reader’s prior experiences which form his horizon of expectation.

In short: the literary text is understood as a “hollow form into which the reader is invited to pour his own store of knowledge.”23 The text itself does not fix its meaning, but is always capable of several different realisations, as it leaves gaps open which different readers will fill in different ways (which does not mean it can be filled arbitrarily, as the text structures the gaps). It is the act of reading – each reader’s filling-in of the form – which creates the text’s meaning. The reading process is in this sense always a process of selection, “the potential text is infinitely richer than any of its individual realisations.”24

Transferring these thoughts to the ceremony has, of course, limitations. The comparison between an abstract and a concrete text can at certain points be questioned. To name but one of the important differences, the ceremony cannot be fictional as is the literary text, and thus one cannot speak of a non-referral to a real-life situation in the same manner. Nevertheless, there are, as will be shown, points of convergence, such as the satisfaction of different expectations by the ceremony, to make the endeavour a thought-provoking one. As has been mentioned, from a semiotic perspective also rituals can be understood as texts. The ceremony in question can be described as a ‘skeleton of schemes’ which allows several different realisations and whose potential meaning is only constituted in the process of normalisation of indeterminacy with reference to the participants’ prior experiences, their expectations and observations. This implies that what might be a decisive part for one participant might not be regarded in this way by another for whom it constitutes a ‘blank’ to be filled by his imagination. As will be pointed out, this participative imagination not only allows different experiences, but also enhances each experience.

2.3 Universal Sufism in Nizamuddin: The Dance in a Different Context

As has been described above, most devotees of Universal Sufism come from North America and Europe. One of the central rituals of Universal Sufism and the Sufi Ruhaniat Society in the USA, the UK, France, Holland, Germany, Australia and other “Western” countries are the Dances of Universal Peace (s.a.), videos of which are posted by different members on video platforms such as YouTube. Many of the comments posted show that, while the Dances of Universal Peace make extensive use of Islamic forms of invocations (e.g., Arabic names for God), they contradict the expectations of some Muslim viewers. This can be illustrated by two comments on one video, one of which states: “What a devil is this? Muhammad s.a.w25, his companions & people after them never never teach this. Looks similar Christian style”26, the second one: “What is that supposed to be? New religion mixed with Islam?”27 The frequency of such statements shows that the ‘Islamicity’ of the Dances of Universal Peace is an important issue for certain viewers.

Video 1

Next to highlighting the vivacity of such controversies, the Dances of Universal Peace also constitute a good example for the continuity between the Universal Sufis’ ritual activities in America and Europe and those they perform during the pilgrimage. Already during the evening preceding the ʿurs, i.e., on the first day of the five-day-programme, one such Dance of Universal Peace was performed in front of Inayat Khan’s shrine in the same manner as it is done in the USA. The group travelling with Shabda Kahn performed the dances every evening for two hours in a separate room in their hotel. After the pilgrimage, two videos showing the dances at the shrine were posted on YouTube.28 This underlines the importance given to the dances by the Ruhaniat group.

Video 2

These two videos, one from the USA and one from Delhi, indicate the continuity between the performances in the USA and in India. In a next step, it is interesting to situate them in the Islamic neighbourhood of Nizamuddin:

This part of Delhi, named after the Sufi Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ, is marked by a high density of centres of different religious groups. Adherents to the Niẓāmī branch of the Chishtiyya make up the biggest part of the quarter’s inhabitants, as well as of the many pilgrims who annually visit Niẓām ad-Dīn’s shrine. However, there are also many other important graves of Sufis as well as nobles who were buried in the vicinity of Niẓām ad-Dīn’s tomb. Furthermore, the famous shrine area and the qawwālī-performances on Thursday nights and festive occasions attract a growing number of tourists.

Located only minutes away from the shrines of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ and Inayat Khan is the ‘world centre’ of the Jamāʿat-e Tablīgh, a “reform-minded group”29 which takes an at least ambivalent position vis-à-vis many practices of Sufism. The centre provides the starting point for tablīgh (missionary) activities all over South Asia, and attracts missionaries from all over the world, some of whom also “come to study at the adjoining madrasa, which provides Ḥanafī teaching associated with Deoband.”30

The dargāh of Hazrat Inayat Khan, which includes a shrine, a garden, rooms for events, a library and some guest rooms, is one of the spiritual centres built in recent decades. One regular activity taking place in the dargāh are qawwālī performances held on Friday afternoon. Attached to the dargāh premises is the ‘Hope-Project’, an NGO founded by Inayat Khan’s son, Vilayat Inayat Khan, in 1980, focusing on philanthropical work, especially on health care and education.

Considering the differences spelled out in the YouTube comments quoted and the religious environment at Nizamuddin, it might at first be expected that the ʿurs celebration could be received as controversial. While keeping in mind that controversy might, for different reasons, not be articulated publicly, one reason for this might also be that the ʿurs festivities are characterised by the combination of different rituals, as this combination allows the respective groups – the Universal Sufis and the local Chishtī-adherents31 – to identify with their respective ritual tradition.

The combination of different rituals leads to indeterminacy and, in doing so, also to an inclusive basis. Both the inclusivity and the ceremony’s indeterminacy result from the same structural condition. While they cannot be equated, they are, however, linked to each other: This is, on the one hand; because the unfamiliar elements are perceived as undetermined, and therefore can fade into the background (but do not necessarily have to) that the participants’ identification with those perceived as determined is facilitated. On the other hand, if the ceremony’s structure’s function was reduced to merely allowing for such identification, a further function of the structure - offering potential connections - would be dismissed. The text’s indeterminacy gives rise to blanks., i.e., “vacanc[ies] in the overall system of the text, the filling of which brings about an interaction of textual patterns” resulting in a “need for combination.”32 The ceremony’s indeterminacy can therefore be understood as enabling not merely incidentally – but maybe even expressly – a particular perception and experience, as will be described in the following.

3.1 The ʿurs Ceremony at Niẓām ad-Dīn’s Shrine

The part of the ʿurs most exposed to a wider public was the ceremony at Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ’s dargāh which took place on the morning of Inayat Khan’s ʿurs and during which several prayers in Urdu, English and Arabic were read out aloud, and qawwālī was performed by the group ‘Meraj Ahmed Nizami Qawwal’. Then the chādar was placed on the tomb of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ, unfolded in front of the shrine, and brought to the dargāh of Hazrat Inayat Khan in a procession. There, it was put on Inayat Khan’s tomb, where different prayers were recited.

An important element at the part of the ceremony held at the courtyard of Niẓām ad-Dīn’s shrine was the recitation of the prayers of Universal Sufism called Invocation, Salat, Saum and Khatum.33 The prayers constitute one of the most central elements of Universal Sufism’s religious practice, being recited on different occasions. Like the other prayers used during this ceremony, they are broadcast via loudspeaker to be heard all over the ‘courtyard’ of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ’s dargāh.

Video 3

The English prayers are central for the devotees of Universal Sufism, who know them by heart and recite them in chorus with the prayer leader’s voice. The aesthetic affinity of the Universal Sufi prayers to Christian prayers is characteristic; for those listeners familiar with Christian liturgy Our Father Who art in heaven might resonate. Anybody socialised in a Christian context, but still not familiar with this Universal Sufi ceremony, can find in such prayers “a familiar world reproduced in an unfamiliar form.”34 Parts like this, which build on familiar vocabulary, metaphors and performance,35 require little ‘normalisation’ on the part of the Western Sufis.36

A counterpart to these recitations which the Western pilgrims know well can be identified in other prayers, which clearly link to an ‘Islamic context’, such as the recitation of the fātiḥa and other Islamic prayers in Arabic and Urdu. In this case, the Western pilgrims did not participate in the recitations, as these prayers do not form part of their usual ritual practice. Furthermore, due to linguistic hindrances, the prayers content is not understood. Despite these circumstances, these elements form an integral part of the ritual.

The framing of this part of the ritual can suggest that, initially, the importance assigned to the form prevails over the content: on the ‘scheduling’ on the evening before the ʿurs, the pilgrims were told that certain texts would be recited from the Koran, as well as ‘classical Sufi prayers’. Their content, however, was not commented upon. Such framings form part of the horizon of expectation of the pilgrims for they have an important role in the shaping of their prior experiences and dispositions. The recitations of canonical Islamic texts can thus be understood as gaps of indeterminacy, elements which initially do not denote a specific meaning for the pilgrims of Universal Sufism. These gaps are filled or ‘normalised’ – in Iser’s sense – by referring to the horizon of expectation.

This might involve possibilities such as: identifying the content of the undetermined prayers with that of the determined ones; seeing the differences between the two and combining or comparing the two different prayers; perceiving the undetermined prayers as Islamic or Sufi prayers, as something authentically Indian or Sufi and thus fulfilling travel expectations; or even to just ignore them.37 We will return to this point later, in the context of a second example of Arabic and Urdu prayers.

As pointed out above, besides Universal Sufis, visitors to the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Auliyāʾ who did not aim to attend the ʿurs ceremony of Inayat Khan, were present during this part of the ʿurs. They were thus, with regard to the Universal Sufis’ ceremony, in the role of spectators, not of participants. In contrast, the qawwālī-musicians who had an active and indispensable role in the ceremony during their performances, can, at least during these parts, be considered as participants.

Most of the attendants did not seem to be particularly familiar with Universal Sufism. Listening to a recitation of English prayers is in itself rare in the context of Nizamuddin; furthermore, some of the prayers’ textual contents might connect rather disturbingly with many current interpretations of Islam, (e.g., the prayer’s passage which invites the believer to recognise the ‘spirit of guidance’ “as Rama, as Krishna, as Shiva, as Buddha […] as Abraham, as Solomon, as Zarathushtra, as Moses, as Jesus, as Muhammad, and in many other names and forms, known and unknown to the world.”38) Those who are not Universal Sufis but present during this part of the ceremony mostly remained in the role of spectators (at this point including the qawwālī-musicians, who did not engage in the ‘congregational’ recitation), and seemed to wonder about those elements of the ceremony which, for them, were undetermined.39

The qawwāls’ performance in front of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ’s dargāh can be described as a counterpart to the English prayers. By now, the musicians had an active role as participants of the ceremony, and the passers-by could observe a ritual they are familiar with, while its precise form was different from what they are used to. It was pointed out to us that the performance of the qawwāls was relatively low-key compared to their engagement on other occasions. Another correlation of the familiar ritual practice with the qawwālī performance in this case is the critique by some local spectators, noting that some of the Universal Sufis were sitting on the shrine’s veranda with their backs turned towards the shrine.

While some of the Universal Sufis followed the usual practice of offering money to qawwāls, most of them were engaged in documenting the ceremony. The leaders of the groups, sitting in the first row, accepted money which was given to them as part of the ritual. That one of them was taking pictures at the same time can serve to illustrate how two dimensions of the ceremony are combined: the observation of the ritual’s requirements on the one hand, and the ritual’s documentation – in what might be called a ‘touristic mode’ – on the other.

Video 5

With regard to the question of indeterminacy, qawwālī constitutes an interesting case. It is, despite occasional translations of single verses during the afternoon-performance described below, undetermined on the textual level; as a musical form, however, it is relatively well-known, due to the above-mentioned concerts, on Fridays at the dargāh of Inayat Khan, the above-mentioned participation in the ritual’s requirements (offering money), and possibly even the participation in qawwālī-courses prior to coming to India. Recalling an earlier ʿurs celebration, a participant writes, with regard to the qawwālī-performance: “After a stream of quotes, the Qawwalis burst into repeated Allah Hu’s or pick up a phrase from the poetry and sing that with great fervour and clapping of hands.”40 The textual level is secondary; the fervour and the clapping of hands are at the centre of attention. What is explicitly referred to are the “Allah Hu’s”, which are known from the dhikrs the Universal Sufis perform all over the world, and in which different elements are combined, short Arabic quotations forming a pre-eminent element. This focus is reflected by the qawwāls’ performance, in which many parts are skipped in favour of repeating the parts known to the Universal Sufis.

Thus a specific expectation is satisified: as the performance is geared towards a musical experience, in a sense, a rhythmically catchy musical form of the dhikrs known to the Universal Sufis, which might be distracted by lengthy textual recitations.

The ceremony at Niẓām ad-Dīn’s dargāh ended, as has been mentioned, with the unfolding of the čādar that had been lying on the saint’s tomb. In a procession, it was carried to Inayat Khan’s dargāh, where the pilgrims spent the rest of theʿurs day.

3.2 The ʿurs Ceremony at Inayat Khan’s Shrine

After gathering around the tomb of Inayat Khan inside the shrine where the čādar had just been laid, everyone joined Shabda Kahn in repeating the English prayers which had been recited at the dargāh of Niẓām ad-Dīn in the standard order (Invocation is followed by Saum, Salat and Khatum). Their performance was determined for the Universal Sufis: The text, as well as the appropriate gestures and mood, were well-known to the Universal Sufis, who followed it without hesitation. The small number of Indian participants, i.e., particularly the qawwālī-musicians who had come over from the shrine of Nizamuddin, did not join the recitation. As in the case of the English prayers, they became spectators during those rituals of Universal Sufism which are not usually performed in the context of Nizamuddin.

After the prayer recitation, following the directions of Shabda Kahn, everybody squatted around the shrine, facing its end where the qawwāls and the Universal Sufis’ leaders were seated. The next step was left relatively undefined. The normally quite detailed programme leaflet which had been handed out to the pilgrims announced that “Sufi Prayers of Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan – Fatiha” would be performed. The essential Islamic prayers which were summarized under this title consisted broadly of Koranic recitations and prayers praising the prophet Muḥammad and the shuyūkh of the Chishtiyya. As during the recitations in Arabic and Urdu at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Auliyāʾ, also these parts were not translated or explained.

Among the texts recited were the muʿawwidhatān (“the two sūras of taking refuge [from evil]”41) and the ‘throne verse’ - both are attributed with healing powers, and are read out on many occasions, not only in Islamic Sufism, but in different Islamic currents. The first non-Koranic part of the Arabic recitations was the durūd-e tāj (‘Blessing’ or ‘Invocation of the crown’), an invocation of God’s blessings on the Prophet, who is believed to intercede on behalf of those uttering the prayer. It does have significance for a number of Sufi ṭuruq and the Barelwī Movement. Enumerating a long list of Muḥammad’s epithets and references to his life, again, his status as the khātim an-nabiyyīn (‘seal of the prophets’) is stressed. Other common topoi linking to and epithets of Muḥammad were mentioned. Also a praise poem on the Prophet in Urdu (naʿt) was recited.

Such Islamic prayers and their praise of the prophet in unequivocally Islamic terms connect to an Islamic perception of the ceremony. The Indian qawwālī-musicians mark their participation in this part of the ritual by performing the gestures expected in certain Islamic contexts, kissing the own hand and touching the heart on hearing the prophet’s epithet, or wiping the own face with the palms of the hands.

For the Universal Sufis, these prayers seem to constitute a ‘gap of indeterminacy’ during which most of them are attentively listening to the speaker’s performance. As in the case of the Arabic and Urdu prayers at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ, here again, the form which is listened to is received as detached from its content – but not from meaning.

From a perspective analysing the ceremony as text, it can be argued – presupposing that the prayers are set in relation to each other – that the combination of the English prayers (which are understood by the pilgrims) with those in Arabic and Urdu (which are not understood, as the pilgrims – with very few exceptions – do not speak the languages in question) expands the former, adding a further dimension. This is supported by the pilgrims’ attentive listening, as well as their remarks about the ʿurs ceremony, which indicate that these prayers, although not understood by the pilgrims (with very few exceptions) on a literal level, importantly contribute to their experience of the ceremony, enhancing the ceremony’s aesthetic quality for them, i.e., its sensuous-emotional value.

The ‘standard’ process where the message of a text is understood through linguistic code competence, regulating both denotative and connotative meaning, is not fully applicable to the case of the prayers in question, because the linguistic code (in this case, of Arabic) is not mastered, and, in consequence, the literal meaning is not understood by the pilgrims. However, meaning attribution is still possible but by means of a different code: if the content is not ‘available’, the form can nonetheless function as a signifier, one that is decoded on the basis of a different code. In the case described here, the recitations themselves can be understood as carriers of meaning (as signifiers), encompassing everything which forms part of the recitations – pitch of the voice, articulation, gestures and mimics of the reciter, etc.43 The code on the basis of which a connotative meaning can be attributed to these signifiers is then – as mentioned – not the linguistic code (of Arabic or Urdu), but the ‘cultural code’, a system of world-modelling following a certain cultural model.44 This ‘cultural code’ refers back to the Western imaginary of India, Sufism and Islam, the collective imaginary shaping their experiences. In short: Although not ‘understood’ in a literal sense, these prayers are not meaningless - they are meaningful as they provide connotations which are again assigned on the basis of the own horizon of expectation.45

Video 6

After the durūd-e tāj, the last of the activities grouped around the transfer of the chādar from Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ’s shrine to that of Inayat Khan, and a break for lunch, the ceremony’s program continued in the afternoon with the Universal Worship Service. The development of this central element of Universal Sufism’s ritual practice can be traced back to the 1920s and -30s; it has remained relatively stable since then.46 This stability also characterizes the service performed on the afternoon of the ʿurs: when the pilgrims of Universal Sufism assemble in a room attached to the shrine of Inayat Khan in front of a simple altar on which the officiant lights candles “symbolically representing” the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam one after the other. The liturgy is well-known to everyone and is, as in case of the Dances of Universal Peace, practiced in the same manner as in the pilgrims’ home countries. The prayers are recited along by everyone, just as bodily movements, such as standing up or the greeting upon receiving the blessing, are performed with ritual routine. The Universal Worship Service may thus, in the terminology proposed here, be regarded as the element of the ceremony which is most determined for the pilgrims.

The last illustration from the ʿurs ceremony is taken from the final ‘night vigil’ which took place in the shrine of Inayat Khan, and which formed the last activity of the ʿurs day. The qawwāls who had performed in front of the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ and at the grave of Inayat Khan while the chādar had been placed there were now playing for the third time on this day. However, as qawwālī is a less determined form in Universal Sufism than in North Indian Sufism, the performance could be expanded by the Murshid of Universal Sufism who led this part of the ceremony: after a while he joined the qawwāls and took up the role of the lead singer.

The background of this role-reversal is that this Murshid, Kiran Rana, was himself a pupil of the leader of the qawwāls, and had joined them on a tour through the Netherlands in 200847. The Murshid of Universal Sufism also teaches qawwālī and is described as enjoining the mission “to bring qawwalis to the West – but not as an exotic article to be awed by but as a living experience, one that has as much relevance to our daily lives as it has for ‘them over there”48 He himself describes his goal as to “create a group that is musically strong and able to perform within the form while expanding the form”49. As qawwālī is, “[f]or all of it’s [sic] tradition and age, […] a dynamic and contemporary form, one that does not depend on language or even cultural background”50, English qawwālīs are thus possible and desirable: “I have a vision of this form, and all kinds of ideas for new English or free-language qawwalis, and how these can become ways to write poetry, write song, create chants and free-form improvisations and ‘raps’”51. In accordance with this creative approach of free reception Kiran Rana already adopted quite a number of English translations of Sufi poetry of Inayat Khan and others as “open, flexible song frameworks used to explore the potential and dynamics of qawwali.”52

The goal here is not to describe the creative adaptation of the undetermined form of qawwālī by the Murshid of Universal Sufism, but to understand the effect of his participation in the qawwālī on the other participants. While, as has been described, qawwālī was certainly not unknown to any of the participants during the night vigil, it nevertheless was not fully transparent to most of them, particularly on a textual level. This of course changed when Kiran Rana adopted English lines, something that made the sound more familiar, even to those who did not pay attention to the exact wording. That the qawwālī is indeed, as Kiran Rana describes it, “non-linear, rhythmic, associative, describing the landscape of our dreams and desires the opportunity to improvise and play with the melody and the rhythm”53, was then proven to the listeners when he announced taking the “liberty of having a rap here”. In accordance with this reception guideline’s announcement, defining what follows as “rap”, the listeners now witnessed something more familiar, not only concerning the linguistic code in a narrower sense, but also in relation to musical registers. Their behaviour changed accordingly: while clapping had before been restricted to the musicians (as it is usually the case in qawwālī-performances), it was now the listeners who started to clap along with the rhythm.

Video 7

The rap, as one element of the ceremony’s text, fosters creating connections to personal experiences of many of the Western participants. It makes it easier to ‚normalize‘ the qawwālī in view of each participant’s horizon. As it is part of a qawwālī-performance, it is also connected with the preceding performances of this genre on the very day (s.a.). Iser maintains that, for a literary text: “each intentional sentence correlative opens up a particular horizon, which is modified, if not completely changed, by succeeding sentences” and “the subsequent modification” of sentences “will also have a retrospective effect on what has already been read”54. This is – on the translinguistic level – valid here as well. When comparing the qawwālī-performance including the rap to the prior qawwālī-performances, the listeners perceive a tension due to the differences in language and musical form, an active recognition on their part which generates participation and pleasure. Furthermore, comparing the earlier and later qawwālī-performances projects the experience of familiarity and participation made in the evening onto the qawwālī-performances heard in the morning, which seem to culminate in the evening performance; the listeners can retrospectively attribute meaning to the former performances against the horizon of the latter.

4. Conclusion

In this article, we have analysed the composition of the ʿurs ceremony of Universal Sufism with respect to indeterminacy. This indeterminacy has been analysed as triggering response mechanisms on several levels.

The participants of the ʿurs connect the expectations they have prior to travelling with what they meet at Nizamuddin. These expectations include experiences of earlier travel and of activities in the West, descriptions of Indian and or Sufi rituals, as well as pictures from travelogues or just general images transmitted via media - in short: the discursive imaginary the pilgrims have and which forms their horizon of expectation. While this is, in a general sense, a very common process, as apprehension always takes place on the basis of the already known, it has a particular dimension in the case of the ceremony described. When the pilgrims realise (in Iser’s sense) their ceremony in Nizamuddin, they do so according to their dispositions, which “form the background to and a frame of reference for the act of grasping and comprehending.”55 One can rightly put forward that rituals are always realised according to the own dispositions. What however characterises the Universal Sufis’ ceremony is that its structure allows the pilgrims to connect the ceremony to the rituals they are used to perform at home while also introducing new elements. These new elements are, so to say, decoded with a code which is different from the one usually used in Nizamuddin, i.e., they are decoded on the basis ofthe Universal Sufis’ dispositions. This process seems to add what has been described as a particular aesthetic dimension to the ceremony.

Some examples of this process have been mentioned. Next to providing the opportunity for ritual participation in a foreign land, the participation in the qawwālī ritual at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ prominently includes taking pictures. Expectations are fulfilled in a twofold way: through the own participation in the ritual, and through the ritual’s visual documentation (often simultaneously). Existing images – a certain imaginary of India – are reproduced and experienced at the same time. While parallels between ritual participation and touristic activity are manifold, the ceremony in question constitutes an interesting example. The pilgrims follow two codes at the same time: the ‘tourist code’ on the one hand, and the participant’s on the other. This leads to a particular experience: while the act of photographing is, in a sense, always one experiencing the photographed, this is enhanced in the present case; the photographers are not simply observers, but they are at the same time part of the ritual themselves.

Beside the role of the horizon of expectation, the setting into relation of different elements has been mentioned. Although the ceremony does not forward a narrative as does a prose text, different rituals of the ceremony have to be set in relation to each other. When interrelating different elements, an additional dimension is added, as known elements are interwoven with the less well-known ‘Indian’ rituals. While in the case of the former, the range of possibilities for different realisations is relatively constrained, because they are well-known to the pilgrims, the latter are enlarging the ceremony. This process is stimulated, because, like a literary text, the ceremony can also be “conceived in such a way that it will engage the reader's [i.e., here, the participant’s] imagination in the task of working things out for himself.”56

As has been mentioned, this process of working-out can take different shapes. On an abstract level, we have outlined that the ceremony’s structure, as well as the information gathered from participants so far, suggest that, by use of a semiotic approach, the question of the ceremony’s ‘meaning’ for the pilgrims can fruitfully be described as one where the relatively undetermined rituals allow the pilgrims to experience ‘connotations’ they associate against the background of their horizon of expectation, i.e., their imaginary. In other terms, the undetermined rituals seem to function (on the part of the Universal Sufis) as signs referring to their imaginary of India: While the signs’ denotations (e.g., the texts’ literal meaning) is not focused upon, the signs’ connotations are actualised during their participation in the rituals. This process seems to characterise (among others, of course) the pilgrims’ experience in Nizamuddin, an experience which can be described as an aesthetic one (in awareness of the difficulties of its definitions), if this term is understood as foregrounding sensuous-emotional aspects. In order to make assertions about the concrete realisations, further research, possibly including qualitative interviews, would have to be conducted.

Such mental activity and dialectic of imagination and realisation finds its counterpart on the level of action. The creative responses which the ceremony’s undetermined elements trigger include performative acts by the participants which are not predetermined by the structure, but still depend on it: i.e., the ceremony’s structure does not prescribe the acts in question, but it enables and stimulates the participants to perform them. The qawwālī evolving into rap has been discussed as an example of an undetermined element which can be expanded - and in the ceremony indeed was expanded - on a performative level. This performative level, to quote one of the Murshids of Universal Sufism again, is based on an understanding of qawwāli as “open, flexible song frameworks”, which are used to create a “living experience.” This experience is partly generated by the new textual and musical dimensions qawwālīs gain in such performances which again relate specifically to the horizon of the Western participants. In this way, not only the identification with prior experiences is possible in the case of the ceremony’s elements which are known from home – the Dances of Universal Peace, the English prayers, the Universal Worship Service – but, by the ‘bridge’ of this intermediary, also the less-known parts can be connected more easily to prior experiences, be they images or sounds from the media, common knowledge about Sufism, or various musical interests.

This process not only fulfills the expectations, but it also, to a degree, negates it, as rap is new to qawwālī, particularly in a ritual context, and qawwālī is new to rap. With Jauß, we can speak of an “aesthetic distance”, defined “as the distance between the given horizon of expectations and the appearance of a new work.” The horizon change resulting herefrom leads to an aesthetic value. Not only is an experience articulated, but, in in doing so, a new experience is brought about. Again, this specific aesthetic value is not predetermined by the ceremony’s structure, but enabled by it.


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Bosworth, C.E.: “al-Muʿawwid̲h̲atāni”. Id. [et al.] (eds.): The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, vol. 7. Leiden: Brill, 1993. pp. 269 f.

Centrum Universel: The Sufi Message (Website). Available from: Accessed on February 2nd, 2014.

Ernst, Carl W. and Lawrence, Bruce B.: Sufi Martyrs of Love: The Chishti Order in South Asia and Beyond. New York [et al.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Genn, Celia: From Chishtiyya Diaspora to Transnational Sufi Movement. Paper presented on the 16th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. 2006. Available from: Accessed on November 3rd, 2010.

------ “The Development of a Modern Western Sufism”. Martin van Bruinessen, Julia Day Howell (eds.): Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam. Library of Modern Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 67. London: Tauris, 2007. pp. 257—278.

Hermansen, Marcia: “What’s American about American Sufi Movements?”. David Westerlund (ed.), Sufism in Europe and North America. London, New York: Routledge, Curzon, 2004. pp. 36—63.

------ “Two Sufis on Molding the New Muslim Woman: Khwaja Hasan Nizami (1878—1955) and Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882—1927)”. Barbara D. Metcalf (ed.), Islam in South Asia in Practice. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2009. pp. 326—338.

Harth, Dietrich: “Rituale, Texte, Diskurse: Eine formtheoretische Betrachtung”. Burckhard Dücker, Hubert Roeder (eds.): Text und Ritual: Kulturwissenschaftliche Essays und Analysen von Sesostris bis Dada. Hermeia, vol. 8. Heidelberg: Synchron, 2005. pp. 19—48.

Inayat-Khan, Zia: A Hybrid Sufi Order at the Crossroads of Modernity: The Sufi Movement and Sufi Order of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. PhD thesis, Chicago, 2006.

Iser, Wolfgang: “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”. New Literary History, vol. 3, 1972. pp. 279—299.

------ The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1978.

------ “Indeterminacy and the Reader’s Response in Prose Fiction”. Id. (ed.), Prospecting: from Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. 1993, pp. 3—30.

Kahn, Shabda: Shabda Kahn, Sufi Ruhaniat International (Website). Availabe from: Accessed on November 3rd, 2010.

Kohl, Karl-Heinz: “Die Syntax von Ritualen”. Helwig Schmidt-Glintze (ed.), Liturgie, Ritual, Frömmigkeit und die Dynamik symbolischer Ordnungen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 2006, pp. 103—126.

Kristeva, Julia: “Le mot, le dialogue et le roman”. Séméiôtiké: Recherches pour une sémanalyse. Paris: Seuil. 1978, pp. 82—112.

Küçük, Hülya: “A Brief History of Western Sufism”. Asian Journal of Social Science, vol. 36, 2008. pp. 292—320.

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Michaels, Axel: “‘Le rituel pour le rituel’ oder wie sinnlos sind Rituale?”. Corina Caduff, Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka (eds.): Rituale heute. Berlin: Reimer, 1999. pp. 23—47.

------ “‘How do you do?’: Vorüberlegungen zu einer Grammatik der Rituale”. Heinrich M. Schmidinger, Clemens Sedmak (eds.): Der Mensch – ein „animal symbolicum“?. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007. pp. 239—258.

------ “The Grammar of Rituals”. Id. [et al.] (ed.), Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia. Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual, vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010. pp. 7—28.

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Staal, Frits: “The Meaninglessness of Ritual”. Numen 26, 1979. pp. 2—22.

Scholz, Jan and Stille, Max: “The Open Ritual: Indeterminacy in a Modern Sufi Ceremony”. Ines Weinrich (ed.), Performing Religion. Beiruter Texte und Studien (forthcoming).

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1. This article, written in 2010, is the revised version of a lecture given at the workshop “Changing Popular Visual Cultures of Muslim Shrines: Transcultural Flows and Urban Spaces”, which took place in Heidelberg in June 2010. The authors are heavily indebted to Dr. Udo Simon for the invitation, as well as for his suggestions, and to the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes e.V. whose support enabled them to conduct their field research. For further reflections on the ritual in question cf. Scholz, Jan & Stille, Max “The Open Ritual: Indeterminacy in a Modern Sufi Ceremony”, Ines Weinrich (ed.), Performing Religion, Beiruter Texte und Studien (forthcoming).

2. The correct transliteration of the movement’s founder is ʿInāyat Khān. For all names and terms of Universal Sufism, the standard English writing as used by the group itself has been preferred (Inayat Khan in this case).

We use “Universal Sufism” as an umbrella term for the many disparate groups which claim the legacy of Inayat Khan. These include, but are not limited to, the four hosting organisations of the ʿurs 2010: the International Sufi Movement, the Sufi Order International, the Sufi Ruhaniat International, and the International Sufi Way. The organisations’ differences will not be dealt with in this article, but it has to be kept in mind that they are of course reflected in the character of the ʿurs, particularly in the program on the days following the ʿurs day as this might change according to the focus of the respective hosting organisation.

The most comprehensive overview over the history and development of these movements is the PhD thesis of the current leader of the Sufi Order, Inayat Khan’s grandson Zia Inayat-Khan from Duke University: Zia Inayat-Khan, A Hybrid Sufi Order at the Crossroads of Modernity: The Sufi Movement and Sufi Order of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, Chicago, 2006. Other important publications include Carl W. Ernst, Bruce B. Lawrence, Sufi Martyrs of Love: The Chishti Order in South Asia and Beyond, New York [et al.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, pp. 140—143; Celia Genn, From Chishtiyya Diaspora to Transnational Sufi Movement, paper presented on the 16th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, 2006, available on [last accessed on November 3rd, 2010]; ead., “The Development of a Modern Western Sufism”, Martin van Bruinessen, Julia Day Howell (eds.), Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam, Library of Modern Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 67, London: Tauris, 2007, pp. 257—278; Marcia Hermansen, “What’s American about American Sufi Movements?”, David Westerlund (ed.), Sufism in Europe and North America, London, New York: Routledge, Curzon, 2004, pp. 36—63; Hülya Küçük, “A Brief History of Western Sufism”, Asian Journal of Social Science, vol. 36, 2008, pp. 292–320, pp. 301—304.

3. Literally ‘wedding’, i.e. spiritual union of the founder with God, i.e. his death anniversary.

4. Genn (2006), op. cit., p. 7.

5. By 'ceremony' we understand the combination of different rituals. It is the description used by the Universal Sufis themselves. It will be employed throughout this paper, despite the fact that it is a somewhat problematic analytical category.

6. For Kristeva’s understanding of the translinguistic procedure which can partly be applied to ritual as well, see Julia Kristeva, “Le mot, le dialogue et le roman”, Séméiôtiké: Recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris: Seuil, 1978, pp. 82—112, p. 84 f. As for the literary text, we can also note for the ritual (at least in our case) expanding Kristeva (additions in brackets): “le mot (le texte [le rituel]) est un croisement de mots (de textes [de rituels]) où on lit au moins un autre mot (texte) [rituel].”

7. For the comparison of ritual and text cf. Lévi-Strauss’ reflections on myth and ritual and further studies such as Frits Staal, “The Meaninglessness of Ritual”, Numen 26, 1979, pp. 2—22; Hans H. Penner, “Language, Ritual and Meaning”, Numen 32, 1985, pp. 1—16; Axel Michaels, “‘Le rituel pour le rituel’ oder wie sinnlos sind Rituale?”, Corina Caduff, Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka (eds.), Rituale heute, Berlin: Reimer, 1999, pp. 23—47; id., “‘How do you do?’: Vorüberlegungen zu einer Grammatik der Rituale”, Heinrich M. Schmidinger, Clemens Sedmak (eds.), Der Mensch – ein „animal symbolicum“?, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007, pp. 239—258; id., “The Grammar of Rituals”, Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia, id. (ed.), Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual, vol. 1, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010, pp. 7–28; and Karl-Heinz Kohl, “Die Syntax von Ritualen”, Liturgie, Ritual, Frömmigkeit und die Dynamik symbolischer Ordnungen, Helwig Schmidt-Glintze (ed.), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006, pp. 103—126. Interesting to this article are also Dietrich Harth’s general reflections on ritual, text and discourse since Harth mentions Eco and the aspect of the openness of art, cf. Dietrich Harth, “Rituale, Texte, Diskurse: Eine formtheoretische Betrachtung”, Burckhard Dücker, Hubert Roeder (eds.), Text und Ritual: Kulturwissenschaftliche Essays und Analysen von Sesostris bis Dada, Hermeia, vol 8, Heidelberg: Synchron, 2005, pp. 19—48, p. 26.

8. The following section does not aim at providing a historical analysis of the various organisations claiming a connection to Hazrat Inayat Khan or even of those present at the ʿurs in Delhi in February 2010. Nevertheless, some basic features of the development of Universal Sufism shall be highlighted as a necessary context for understanding the ceremony’s reception by the Western pilgrims.

9. See Genn, (2007), op. cit., pp. 258 f.

10. The conversion to Islam was not a requirement for his students. Genn (2006), op. cit., p. 3.

11. Ernst, Lawrence (2002), op. cit., p. 142.

12. Cf. also Marcia Hermansen, “Two Sufis on Molding the New Muslim Woman: Khwaja Hasan Nizami (1878—1955) and Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882—1927)”, Barbara D. Metcalf (ed.), Islam in South Asia in Practice, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2009, pp. 326—338, p. 35.

13. Inayat-Khan (2006), op. cit., p. 270.

14. Besides Ruhaniat, the following organisations were represented: International Sufi Movement (represented by Murshid Nawab Pasnak, the organisation’s leader), Sufi Order International (represented by Hassan Suhrawardi Gebel), Sufi Way (represented by Murshid Kiran Rana), Sufi Contact and The Fraternity of Light.

15. The dances were, however, not performed in the part of the ceremony held at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ.

16. Cf. also Hermansen (2004), op. cit., pp. 50 f.

17. Shabda Kahn cites him saying: “Allah came to me and said to me I make you spiritual leader of the hippies.” Interview with Shabda Kahn on Sufi Radio, KWMR Community Radio in Point Reyes, CA, July 2010, 8:40–8:44 min. The interview was downloaded from on November 3rd, 2010.

18. Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”, New Literary History, vol. 3, No 2, Winter 1972, pp. 279—299, p. 279 f. Iser takes the category of the “schematised views” from Ingarden.

19. Id., “Indeterminacy and the Reader’s Response in Prose Fiction”, id. (ed.), Prospecting: from Reader Response to Literary Anthropology, London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993, pp. 3—30, p. 7.

20. Ibid. The term ‘align’ would probably be a more precise translation of the German Deckung.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., p. 6.

23. Id., The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, p. 143.

24. Iser (1972), op. cit., p. 285.

25. S.a.w. is a common abbreviation for the Arabic eulogy to the prophet Muḥammad, which can be translated to English as “May Allah honour him and grant him peace.”

26. Comment by user ibni11 on [last accessed on November 3rd, 2010].

27. Comment by user 1AnsarService on [last accessed on November 3rd, 2010]. It was originally posted in German: “Was ist denn das? Neue Religion mit islam vermischt?” Translation by the authors.

28. The spiritual leader of the Ruhaniat International, Shabda Kahn, has posted a total of five videos of the pilgrimage 2010 so far [November 2010]. Besides the two videos showing the Dance of Universal Peace on the evening preceding the ʿurs, three videos of him performing Indian Ragas on the day of the ʿurs can be found.

29. Ernst, Lawrence (2002), op. cit., p. 78.

30. Hermansen (2009), op. cit., p. 33.

31. Further research would be desirable to understand the interplay between the two groups (each of which is of course itself very heterogeneous). This article avoids making statements about the involvement of the usual attendees at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn during the festivities, but focuses instead on the pilgrims of Universal Sufism.

32. Iser (1978), op. cit., p. 182.

33. The prayers’ titles can be considered as proper names, and therefore we follow the writing used by Universal Sufism.

34. Cf. Iser (1993), op. cit., p. 7.

35. Of course allusion is not only made to ‘Christian’ elements: at the same time, subtexts and influences can also be found in the text such as the idea of waḥdat al-wujūd or Sufic light theories.

36. We limit ourselves to pointing out the relation of determinacy and indeterminacy on a macrolevel, thus concerning the text of the ceremony. This relation often builds, as in this case, on concrete texts used in the ceremony (prayers etc.); it would therefore be fruitful to make a detailed analysis of these texts. This, however, would exceed the scope of this study. 

38. The full text can be found, e.g., on the website [last accessed on February 2nd, 2014].

39. The fieldwork conducted so far does not allow for specific assertions on the normalisation of indeterminacy on the part of the Indian observers. It has to be mentioned, however, that the prevalence of Islamic rituals during this part of the ceremony might cater an interpretation in which the ceremony is perceived in the frame of ‘usual’ rituals at the shrine of Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyāʾ.

41. C.E. Bosworth, “al-Muʿawwid̲h̲atāni”, id. [et al.] (eds.), The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, vol. 7, Leiden: Brill, 1993, pp. 269 f.

42. For an overview over definitions of denotation and connotation cf. Klaus-Dieter Ludwig, “Stilistische Phänomene der Lexik”, Fix [et al.] (ed.): Rhetorik und Stilistik / Rhetoric and Stylistics: Ein internationales Handbuch historischer und systematischer Forschung / An International Handbook of Historical and Systematic Research, vol. 2, Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009, pp. 1575—1594, p. 1582 f.

43. Cf. Barthes’ approach concerning the message “le signifiant du second message est en fait formé par le premier message dans son entier.” Roland Barthes, “Le message publicitaire, rêve et poésie”, Les Cahiers de la publicité, vol. 7, 1936, pp. 91—96, p. 93.

44. Umberto Eco, Einführung in die Semiotik, 9th ed., München: Fink, 2002, p. 25

45. The assertions made here are, following the aesthetic response theory, reflections on an abstract level, which do not rely upon empirical inquiries. However, it would be interesting to correlate them with further empirical research concerning the participants’ perception and reflections.

46. For a detailed description of the early developments of the Universal Worship Service, its basic elements, its formalisation to a “liturgical ritual” as well as references to literature from within Universal Sufism, cf. Inayat-Khan (2006), p. 127 ff.

47. [last accessed January 11th, 2014] and the linked pictures from the tour.

49. [last accessed January 11th, 2014].

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid.

54. Iser (1972), op. cit., p. 283

55. Iser (1978), op. cit., p. 37.

56. Iser (1972), op. cit., p. 280.