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The Sufis Paperback – January 5, 1971

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Editorial Reviews


"...more extraordinary the more it is studied, because what it states about a subject which is by definition beyond verbalization." -- Doris Lessing, Encounter: Books & Writers, August 1972

"...the best introduction to the body of Shah's is ... forced to use one's mind in a new way." -- Doris Lessing, New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1971

"...vastness of learning and exposition that calls to our patience - and perhaps to our loss if it calls in vain." -- Stevie Smith, The Observer, November 1, 1964

"Important historically and culturally." -- Los Angeles Times

"The book has flashes of what (without intending to define the word) I can only call illumination." -- D. J. Enright, New Statesman

"The first fully authoritative book on Sufism and the human-development system of the 'dervishes'..." -- Afghanistan News, May 1964

From the Publisher

Idries Shah's definitive work, "The Sufis", completely overturned Western misconceptions of Sufism, revealing a great spiritual and psychological tradition encompassing many of the world's greatest thinkers: Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Ibn El-Arabi, Al-Ghazzali, Saadi, Attar, Francis of Assisi and many others.

The astonishing impact of Sufism on the development of Western civilization from the seventh century is traced through the work of Roger Bacon, John of the Cross, Raymond Lully, Chaucer and others. Many of the greatest traditions, ideas and discoveries of the West are traced to the teachings and writings of Sufi masters working centuries ago.

But "The Sufis" is far more than an historical account. In the tradition of the great Sufi classics, the deeper appeal of this remarkable book is in its ability to function as an active instrument of instruction, in a way that is so clearly relevant to our time and culture.

The spiritual and psychological tradition of Sufism was regarded, before this pioneering book was published, as the preserve of ecstatic religionists and a small number of Oriental scholars, who treated it in the main as a minority cult. The false image of Sufism as a mere Islamic sect was changed so much by this book that it is now given serious attention as a psychological and mystical system of extraordinary richness and importance.

Today, studies in Sufism, notably through Shah's research and publication, are pursued in centers of higher learning throughout the world, in the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and many other areas of current human concern.

"The Sufis" is the pivotal work which heralded the revelation of the astonishing richness and variety of Sufi thought and its contribution to human culture contained in Idries Shah's many books on the subject. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 5, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385079664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385079662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 94 people found the following review helpful By galaxy 33 on January 18, 1998
Format: Paperback
Terry W. Williams, Ph.D., Del Mar, CA.

Idries Shah's The Sufis, first published in 1964, is the seminal work of this famous Afghan author and a first-of-its-kind modern statement on Sufism. A famous Sufi once said, "Previously Sufism was a reality without a name. Now it's a name without a reality." One meaning of this saying is that there was a time when the science and procedures of learning the meaning of mankind's existence were clearly understood and formed an essential part of human life. However, that meaning has been lost by humanity and only the name remains. In The Sufis, Idries Shah has made a monumental contribution to bringing this precious meaning back into the life stream of humanity.

This book, written after years of travel, research, and collection of an amazingly diverse array of materials, presents the reader with a series of startling revelations concerning the basis of the knowledge structure of Western and Eastern thought. The idea of an advanced knowledge in the custody of, for the most part, unknown and mysterious people with strange powers, may seem at first glance to be an absurdity. The idea that the unified knowledge of the Sufis concerning the developmental and evolutionary potential of mankind influenced or lay behind the organization and theories such as those of Chivalry, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Roger Bacon, Geber, Hindu Vendantist teachings, the Troubadours, in Shakespeare, the Rosicrucians, the techniques of Japanese Zen, in Chaucer - to name only a few - is sure to clash with the conditioned thinking inculcated by submersion in conventional thought and maintained by our environment.

In the book, Shah states: "Sufism, in one definition, is human life.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Through lack of information, misunderstanding and cultural prejudice, the words 'Sufi' and 'dervish' have acquired strange associations in the West, where they're likely to conjure up images of wild-eyed ragamuffins or whirling fanatics. Idries Shah's compelling book THE SUFIS shows this to be not only erroneous but unfortunate, because the world into which it gives a tantalizing glimpse is one of unsuspected sophistication, breadth and relevance to the human condition. With deft scholarship and eloquent prose, Shah shows Sufism to be nothing like what one might expect - not a religious cult, nor a political movement, nor a collection of vague-minded idealists. Instead it emerges as a body of men and women who see themselves as engaged in the practical task of unlocking the hidden potential of the human being and guiding it to completion, both on an individual and a societal level. The way in which they do this, they say, is tailored to local needs and conditions and thus varies from epoch to epoch and from culture to culture, as well as from individual to individual - something that has confused scholars no end and given rise to much misunderstanding. This has been exacerbated by a profusion of imitators, many of them well-meaning but misguided. Sufism seems to have achieved an understanding of the human mind that goes far beyond that of modern psychology, many of whose tenets - e.g., conditioning and the unconscious - it anticipated by centuries. Its influence on the world has been enormous, though not widely known. In the West alone, Sufism lies behind a host of diverse cultural heirlooms, ranging from Freemasonry to alchemy to the Kabala, and had a profound impact on such thinkers as Roger Bacon, Paracelsus and St. Francis of Assisi.Read more ›
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
The most comprehensive book on the subject available in our culture. Has chapters on Classical authors such as Attar and Rumi. Also, the amazing Mulla Nasrudin; whose antics, jokes, and quibs have helped to inspire and instruct for centuries. Yet this is not an historical book or an academic one, but real, live Sufi teaching and instructional material, designed for contemporary culture. Never boring, often challenging, The Sufis sheds light on organizations and people who have throughout history, come and gone, leaving only the empty husk. I especially enjoyed the Seeker After Knowledge chapter, a teaching narrative that memorably illustrates deficiencies in our approaches to knowledge.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Having been a reader of Shah's books since the mid seventies, and gradually coming to the realization that I am a slow learner, I can only say that I agree fully that we need to have not only the teacher and the place, but to be in the right time of our lives in order to learn. I learned a tremendous amount from The Sufis the first time I read it. Since then I have returned to the book occasionally. Now I am going through it again, more slowly and carefully than ever before, and really, it is as though I have never read it. There are truly layers there which we cannot guess at until we reach a certain level of inner development. I persevere, and perhaps some day I will understand. I also consider myself fortunate to live in a world where books such as this are available for us to read.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
Sufism is not a religion (if by that we refer to organized groups with prescribed methods of ritual and dogma) because Sufism is the shedding of one's externals, the releasing of the True Self from the Commanding Self. It is the purification of the soul through seven stages, largely centered around (but not necessarily restricted to) esoteric interpretations of the Qu'ran, the Holy Book of Islam. Idries Shah's work is based upon his lifetime experience, having been raised as a dervish (a student of Sufism) and ultimately becoming a Grand Sheikh, like his father before him (the recently deceased author's lineage was legitimately traced as far back as the Prophet Mohammed). Hailed internationally as a master and scholar, he was a guest lecturer at several Universities, including Stanford, as well as a visiting professor at Geneva. First published in 1964, THE SUFIS is Idries Shah's classic and most expansive work. It brings to light the wonders of a highly misunderstood international society first established in the East, whose influence in the West remains largely unknown, while its true birth remains concealed beneath the veils of space and time.
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