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Shah, Idries

Category: Magician

Idries Shah (1924 –1996) was an author and teacher in the Sufi tradition who wrote over three dozen critically acclaimed books on topics ranging from psychology and spirituality to travelogues and culture studies.

Born in India, the descendant of a family of Afghan nobles, Shah grew up mainly in England. In 1960, he established a publishing house, Octagon Press, producing translations of Sufi classics as well as titles of his own. His most famous work was The Sufis  which appeared in 1964.  Over the years, Shah developed Octagon Press as a means of publishing and distributing reprints of translations of numerous Sufi classics. In addition, he collected, translated and wrote thousands of Sufi tales, making these available to a Western audience through his books and lectures. Several of Shah's books feature the Mulla Nasrudin character, sometimes with illustrations provided by Richard Williams. In Shah's interpretation, the Mulla Nasrudin stories, previously considered a folkloric part of Muslim culture, were presented as Sufi parables.

 

In his writing, Shah presented Sufism as a universal form of wisdom that predated Islam. Emphasizing that Sufism was not static, but always adapted itself to the current time, place and people, he framed his teaching in Western terms. Shah made extensive use of traditional teaching stories and parables, texts that contained multiple layers of meaning designed to trigger insight and self-reflection in the reader.

Shah felt the best way to introduce Sufi wisdom in the West, while at the same time overcoming the problems of gurus and cults, was to contribute to knowledge. As part of this approach, he lectured on the study of Sufism in the West at the University of Sussex in 1966.

Shah later explained that Sufi activities were divided into different components or departments: "studies in Sufism", "studies of Sufism", and "studies for Sufism". 

  • Studies for Sufism helped lead people towards Sufism and included the promotion of knowledge which might be lacking in the culture and needed to be restored and spread. 
  • Studies of Sufism included lectures and seminars, which provided information about Sufism and acted as a cultural link between the Sufis and the public. 
  • Studies in Sufism referred to being in a Sufi school, carrying out those activities prescribed by the teacher as part of training, and this could take many forms which did not necessarily fit into the preconceived notion of a "mystical school".
 

In late spring 1987, about a year after his final visit to Afghanistan, Shah suffered two successive and massive heart attacks. He was told that he had only eight per cent of his heart function left, and could not expect to survive. Despite intermittent bouts of illness, he continued working and produced further books over the next nine years. Idries Shah died in London on November 23, 1996, at the age of 72.

At the time of his death, Shah's books had sold over 15 million copies in a dozen languages worldwide.

References

  • Oriental Magic (1956)
  • The Secret Lore of Magic (1957)
  • The Sufis (1964)
  • Tales of the Dervishes (1967)
  • Caravan of Dreams (1968)
  • Reflections (1968)
  • The Way of the Sufi (1968)
  • The Book of the Book (1969)
  • Wisdom of the Idiots (1969)
  • The Dermis Probe (1970)
  • Thinkers of the East – Studies in Experientialism (1971)
  • The Magic Monastery (1972)
  • The Elephant in the Dark – Christianity, Islam and The Sufis (1974)
  • A Veiled Gazelle – Seeing How to See  (1977)
  • Neglected Aspects of Sufi Study (1977)
  • Special Illumination: The Sufi Use of Humour (1977)
  • A Perfumed Scorpion (1978)
  • Learning How to Learn: Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way (1978)
  • The Hundred Tales of Wisdom (1978)
  • Seeker After Truth (1982)
  • Sufi Thought and Action  (1990)
  • The Commanding Self (1994)
  • Knowing How to Know (1998)
  • Observations (1998)

Observations

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