Baron Momen von Frankenburg
Friedrich von Frankenberg was an early Australian representative of Sufism, the mystical order of Islam first brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan. He was born to an aristocratic and cultured family and raised mostly in Germany. His mother, Jessie Elliot, was the daughter of a wealthy Australian industrialist family. Her family owned property in Algeria, and her father resided there for lengthy periods. This may be where von Frankenberg first encountered Islam. In 1925 he attended the Sufi Movement Summer School, led annually by Inayat Khan at Suresnes in France. He was accepted by Inayat Khan as a mureed, and given the Sufi name of Momin (meaning faithful), as well as instruction in spiritual practices.
In 1927, Von Frankenberg immigrated to Australia, leaving behind his wife and son in Germany. His mother, Jessie Elliot, had inherited a substantial estate from her father, but it had been frozen during World War I because Elliot and her son were German nationals. Von Frankenberg seems to have initially travelled to Australia in order to settle his claim to the family property. In Australia, he married an Australian woman, Olive Pauline Ward Taylor. His second wife, generally known as Stella, or by her Sufi name of Lila, was an accomplished pianist and member of a successful business family in Sydney. In the 1930s the Von Frankenbergs settled on a dairy farm called 'Spring Hills' at Camden, on the outskirts of Sydney. From the 1930s to the end of his life Von Frankenberg worked to spread Sufism in Australia and established and led the first Sufi groups in Australia. During World War II, von Frankenberg again came under suspicion from the Australian authorities, due mostly to his German background. He was questioned and his mail was monitored, but he was not interned. In the later years of his life, the small movement that he had founded split, with some members following Francis Brabazon into becoming disciples of Meher Baba.
Von Frankenberg died in 1950 at the age of 61 and was buried in the Camden cemetery.
From Chishtiyya Diaspora to Transnational Sufi Movement[
The first Australian representative of Sufism, Baron Friedrick Elliot von Frankenberg und Ludwigsdorf, was born on January 2, 1889, into an aristocratic and cultured family. His father, Friedrich von Frankenberg, was a German Baron of independent means, and his mother, Jessie Elliot, was born in Australia. Von Frankenberg was brought up mainly in Germany. In 1925, from mid-June to mid-September, he attended the Sufi Movement Summer School, led annually by Inayat Khan at Suresnes in France. He was accepted by Inayat Khan as a mureed, and given the Sufi name of Momin (meaning faithful), as well as instruction in spiritual practices. In 1926 Von Frankenberg returned to Suresnes, for what was to be the last Summer School led by Inayat Khan.
In 1927, Von Frankenberg migrated to Australia and married an Australian woman, Olive Pauline Ward Taylor. His wife, generally known as Stella, or by her Sufi name of Lila, was an accomplished pianist and member of a successful business family in Sydney. In the 1930s the Von Frankenbergs settled on a dairy farm called ‘Spring Hills’ at Camden, on the outskirts of Sydney. The couple built a modern house that they furnished with Persian pottery, European embroidery, Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, and an extensive library of mystical and philosophical writings. Locally, Von Frankenberg was known as ‘the Baron.’ From the 1930s until his death in 1950, Von Frankenberg worked to spread the Sufi Message and established and led the first Sufi groups in Australia. On his death, at the age of 61, he was buried in the Camden cemetery.
Memories of The Baron
JOANNA Bruford was just a young girl when a suave and sophisticated man she called ``Mr Uncle'' would regularly visit her family's home and talk about his religious movement, Sufism.
Ms Bruford said her memories of Baron von Frankenberg, who led the Sufi movement from his home in Camden, are hazy but she recalled he visited her parents' home in Melbourne many times until his death in 1950.
Ms Bruford's parents were members of the Baron's Sufi order that she described as a ``philosophical offshoot of Islam''. It attracted more than 100 members from Sydney and Melbourne.
``He stayed with us when he would come down from Camden,'' Ms Bruford said, describing the Baron as ``enigmatic''. ``I do have one very vivid memory and that is when my brother and I were summoned to the sitting room and we stood there like two good children,'' she said.
``Mr Uncle, as we called him because we had respect for him but loved him too, gave us each a torch and he said something about light in the darkness. I felt it to be a really significant moment.''
Asked whether it seemed odd growing up in a home with a photo of Sufi founder Inayat Khan on the mantelpiece and people coming and going for religious meetings, Ms Bruford replied:
``I felt comfortable in my difference but in a country town like Camden it would have been entirely different.''
Ms Bruford's sister-in-law, Jo-Anne Bruford, agrees. She is married to Joanna's brother Bernard and has long been fascinated by the religious order her husband's family once belonged to.
In mid-1990 while on a drive from Canberra to Sydney, Jo-Anne Bruford visited Camden and spoke to elderly locals who remembered the Baron. She located the Baron's ``small hamlet'' at The Oaks and visited his grave.
She said she thought he was a ``dictatorial guru'' but one local she spoke to described the Baron as a ``lovely man''.
``He was very active in the show society and the Masonic lodge,'' Mrs Bruford said.
A few years later, Mrs Bruford discovered the Baron's security file held by the National Archives of Australia and described its contents as ``an absolute goldmine''.
Part of our history
Its headquarters were right on our doorstep.
Baron Frederick Elliot von Frankenberg brought an unconventional form of Islam known as Sufism to Camden in the 1930s, spreading the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, an Indian Sufi Muslim leader who founded the movement in 1910.
Locally known as `the Baron', von Frankenberg was born in 1889 into an aristocratic German family. He became a disciple of Khan and shortly after immigrating to Australia in 1927, he bought a dairy farm known as Spring Hill on Burragorang Valley Road.
It was in his lavishly decorated home that he shared with his Australian wife, Olive Pauline Ward Taylor (daughter of one-time Sydney Lord Mayor Sir Allan Taylor) that the Baron hosted his religious meetings.
Members of the Sufi group stayed at the Baron's Camden home, attended regular classes and universal worship services.
They would begin by exchanging a ritual peace greeting in Arabic, read from the writings of Inayat Khan and meditate.
In her thesis on the history of Sufism in Australia, Dr Celia Genn describes the Baron as a ``charismatic and impressive figure...the women remember him as gentle and thoughtful...the men described him as warm and open.''
But the authorities saw the Baron differently. He was under police surveillance for several years during World War II when both his German background and his religious beliefs brought him under suspicion.
A dossier kept by the National Archives of Australia includes letters to von Frankenberg written by his followers and intercepted by Australian security services, many of which are stamped ``secret''.
There is also a transcript of an interview the Baron gave police shortly after his Camden home was searched in 1942 and documents seized.
Police feared the Baron was a ``strong Nazi sympathiser'' who was transmitting and receiving messages from Germany by a radio in his basement. No radio was found.
Inayat Khan was born into a princely Muslim Indian family (he was a great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous eighteenth century ruler of Mysore).
Although Inayat Khan was initiated into the Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya, and Naqshbandi orders of Sufism, his primary initiation was in the Nizamiyya subbranch of the Chishti Order by Shaykh Muhammed Abu Hashim Madani, with whose encouragement he left India in 1910, to come the West. He traveled first as a touring musician and then as a teacher of Sufism, visiting over three continents. Eventually, he married Ora Ray Baker, an American woman from New Mexico, and they had four children: Noor-un-Nisa (1913), Vilayat (1916), Hidayat (1917), and Khair-un-Nisa (1919). The family settled in Suresnes, near Paris.
Khan returned to India at the end of 1926. While there, he chose the site of his tomb, the Nizamuddin Dargah complex in Delhi, where the eponymous founder of the Nizami Chishtiyya, Shaykh Nizamuddin Auliya (died 1325), is buried. Khan died shortly after his decision, on February 5, 1927.
Today active branches of Inayat Khan's lineage can be found in France, England, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, and Russia. One of his followers, Baron Von Frankenberg, inherited some land in Camden, Australia. With Inayat's permission, he moved and established a Sufi group there (which attracted the poet Francis Brabazon). He left behind a rich legacy of English literature infused with his vision of the unity of religious ideals, which calls humanity to awaken to the "Truth of Divine Guidance and Love."
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