Obituary: Idries Shah
Cecil, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
Idries Shah devoted the best years of his life to bringing to the West a better understanding of Sufism (a mystical movement of Islam, with the belief that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge).
Shah was born in British India in 1924, the son and heir of Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah of Sardhana, and belonged to a distinguished Hashemite family. Their best-known 19th-century forbear was Jan Fishan Khan, a notable warrior and Sufi sage.
As a young man Shah often accompanied his father on his many diplomatic missions, thus acquiring the grasp of cultural divergencies needed for application of the Sufi maxim, "Right place, right people". In 1955 Shah decided to make his home in England, though he continued to travel widely both in the East and in the United States. The Sufis, published in 1964 with an introduction by Robert Graves, was not his first book in English, but it was the first to attract critical acclaim. It was followed by a series of books, including The Way of the Sufi (1968) and Neglected Aspects of Sufi Study (1977), making Sufi classical masters accessible to Western readers and bringing to their attention the teaching story as an instrument of self-development. This initiative offended some traditional Orientalists, who persisted in regarding Sufis as belonging to an Islamic sect rooted in the past and having little contemporary relevance. When in 1967 Graves published his new translation of Omar Khayym, challenging Edward Fitzgerald's refusal to treat the Persian Khayym as a Sufi poet, critics saw a chance to attack Shah, despite the fact that he had had no hand in Graves's version. Those interested in Sufism as a force in the modern world rallied to Shah's support and 24 of them, drawn from both East and West, compiled a Festschrift in his honour, Sufi Studies, East and West (1973). …