A critical comprehensive overview of a book named The way of the sufi by IDRIES SHAH

"A critical comprehensive overview of a book named "The way of the sufi by IDRIES SHAH"

A critical comprehensive overview of a book named The way The way of the sufi by IDRIES SHAH

Sidratul Muntaha Jatoi

The way of the Sufi is penned by Idries Shah. It constitutes on nine parts. I would critically analysis each of chapter separately, so we can have, not only clear understanding of thoughts that has been expressed in each of chapter but in this way we would  be able to cast our critique on each of chapter in a quite lucid way. But before, writing my thoughts and critique on the thoughts of Sufi tradition I would like to offer you a brief snapshot of a author. Idries Shah was born in a British Indian, on 6 June 1924 and brought in a England, his father was Afgan and his mother was Scottish. He died on,23 of November, in 1996.He was a author, thinker, and teacher in the Sufi tradition. Shah penned dozen of books on different topics such as, on psychology, spirituality, travelogues and culture studies.

 Part I: The Study of Sufism in the West

  In this part Shah discussed the difficulty that one can face while reading Sufism. He argued that when a new student starts to read Sufism "One of the first things that he could discover is that the very word.

‘Sufism’ is a new one, a German coinage of 1821."®1. But this is not the truth we found roots of Sufism in western societies and have a very established Schools of Sufism such as the Qaidris, the chishti, The Suhrawardi and the Naqshbandi school of thought. Furthermore, he discussed the origin of word Sufi and included different descriptions about word Sufi by agreed upon most famous and accepted one. which  has been accepted by most of scholars. He says, "according to some authors, and they are in the majority, Sufi is traceable to the Arabic word, pronounced soofi which literally means ‘wool’, referring to the material from which the simple robes of the

 early Muslim mystics were made."®2. In this part author lamented that we don't have any authentic source to read Sufism therefore, students face thousand of confusions while going through the subject. Therefore, he suggested readings by naming the authors such As Nicolson and in addition he can be sensed of complaining from western thinkers that they have always paid a lip service to the subject. In his own words, "The redoubtable English philosopher Bertrand Russell, too, is found to have written a huge book, Wisdom of the West, in which Western thinkers whose connection with Sufi thought is clear are named, but where no mention of Sufis or Sufism may be found"®3.Further more, he has aslo discussed different opinions about Sufism by not taking any of side, views such as sufism as reaction against Islam, some says historically it develops from the Islam and few says no its totally associated with Christianity.

In this very first part author tried to generalized the concept of Sufism. He wrote, on page number twenty-two that" Sufi literature contains material which is ahead of its time. "And further more he tried to overvalued the sufism by saying that psychological conditions that has been experienced and talked by Sufi saints such as by, Afghan Jalaludin Rumi (died 1273), Hakim Sanai of Khorasan ,(fourteenth century), El-Ghazali of Persia, and Ibn el-Arabi of Spain (died 1240),has later been verified by,"‘Freudian’ and ‘Jungian’.

Here he had forgot to recall that concept of Sigmund Freud ,which is popularly known as Freudian, and method of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung were purely psychological. And whatever we found in the teachings of these Sufi saints is purely poetical and spiritual therefore, mixing spirituality with psychology is totally unjustice and unfair approach to justify sufism and depicting its relevancy in 21st century. However he did not end here, further in a quest to justify or using sufism which is totally spiritual discipline ,as a substitute of psychology and science, he writes "Sufi claims that ‘man rose from the sea’, and that he is in a state of evolution, covering an enormous period of time, appeared to be fanciful nonsense until the nineteenth-century Darwinists seized upon this material with delight."®4. For me and many of students of 'philosophy of science' and its sub-branch 'philosophy of biology', this thought is hilarious. Everybody knows that Darwin's concept of evolution was a scientific one and there is no match between Sufi's poetical phrases with the Darwin's theory of evolution. Therefore, we can sense this effort is nothing but to snatch the credit of, one's scientific labour for the sake of filling belly of the silly argument.

In addition, the author tried to protect sufism from the attack of rationalism by saying that the experience of sufi saints is totally impossible to share. On page number twenty six he writes,""The Sufis state that there is a form of knowledge which can be attained by man, which is of such an order that it is to scholastic learning as adulthood is to infancy. Compare,for instance,El-Ghazali: ‘A child has no real knowledge of the attainments of an adult. An ordinary adult cannot understand the attainments of a learned man. In the same way a learned man cannot understand the experiences of enlightened saints or Sufis."

Now if you examine these words critically it is obviously nothing but a defence mechanism to save sufi thoughts from constructive criticism. Therefore, this first part is quite basic & introductory one. And no doubt he has eloquently showcased the basics of sufism in this part.

Part II; Classical Authors

In part two author has penned biography & teachings of eight sufi thinkers namely,El-Ghazali,Omar Khayyam,Attar of Nishapur, Ibn El-Arabi,Saadi of Shiraz,Hakim Jami, Hakim Sanai,& Jalaludin Rumi.


El-Ghazali,as we know, he was a twelfth century sufi thinker.His books were burnt by Mediterranean extremists &  bigots from Spain to Syria.®5,

In this part author complaints that scientific and psychological discoveries of El Ghazali are yet not acknowledged because of his sufi outlook. Author writes"‘Mysticism’ having been given a bad name like the dog in the  proverb, if it cannot be hanged, can at least be ignored. This is a  measure of scholastic psychology: accept the man's discoveries if you cannot deny them, but ignore his method if it does not follow your beliefs about method."®6

But my concern here is, what kind of scientific discoveries he had made? His teachings may be carried for the ethical purpose but naming them as a scientific discoveries and blaming that they are not recognizing by scientific western societies is totally absurd thought. There is no doubt in it that these sufi saints have challenged the religious extremism and therefore were victimized by them. But exaggerating their contributions which they have made for humanity is nothing but bullshit.

 Omar Khayyam

 As I have said earlier that teachings of sufis can be regarded as ethical but titling them as a scientific or philosophical discoveries is hilarious idea. In my view they can be taught in the Ethics as a well wisher of society. we can add their teachings in the Ethics, but we can't consider them as a final by not apply criticism upon them. Now have a look on the following poetic verses of Omar khayyam;

"I drink wine, and opponents from right and left say:

‘Drink no drink for it is against faith.’

Since I know that wine is against faith,

By God let me drink, the blood of the enemy is lawful to me"®7

In addition in this part author has limited himself only to the teachings of Omar Khayyam.

 I AM  

"Every clique has a theory about me.

 I am mine; what I am, I am.®8


Attar of Nishapur

Attar of Nishapur has wrote hundred and fourteen books. Author of this book in this part has presented  some of Attar's teachings.


The Moon was asked:

‘What is your strongest desire?’

  It answered:

  ‘That the Sun should vanish, and should remain veiled for ever in clouds.’®9

 I am of view that their poetical teachings must be decoded because we have enormous pearls of ethical teachings in it.

 Ibn El-Arabi

Mohiudin ibn el-Arabi is one of the great Sufi thinkers.He has been titled as Sheikh el-Akbar,means ‘the Greatest Sheikh’in Arabs.

Shah in this part followed the same pattern he has given his little biographic introduction and presented some of his teachings.


 "The ordinary lover adores a secondary phenomenon.

 I love the Real.


Saadi of Shiraz

Saadi of Shiraz was the thirteenth century classical Sufi author.In this part there is brief introduction and teachings of Saadi.


"The alchemist dies in pain and frustration,

while the fool finds

treasure in a ruin."®11

Hakim Jami (1414-92)

In this part there is some commentary of jami's writings and than author quotes his teachings.


"Stop boasting o f intellect and learning; for here intellect is hampering,

and learning is stupidity."®12

Hakim Sami

Sanai is of eleventh and twelfth centuries Sufi thinker.The writer has penned his brief introduction and teachings in this part.


"What appears to be truth is a wordly distortion of objective truth."®13

Jalaludin Rumi

Lastly in this chepter he talks about teachings of Jalaludin Rumi and penned his teachings. Those who know,cannot tell

   "Whenever the Secrets of Perception are taught to anyone ,

 His lips are sewn against speaking o f the Consciousness."®14.

Part;III  Four Major Orders.

In this  chepter or part author discussed about origin and teachings of four major Sufi orders namely, The Chishti Order,The Qadiri Order,The Suhrawardi Order,The Naqshbandi Order.In this part author described the teachings of each order and ita evolution in a quiet lucid manner.But as we have discussed the personal inclination of author towards the subject, averted him from casting his criticism on the Sufi orders.


In this part he has explained meaning of" Khidr".As he(author)writes,"Khidr is the ‘unseen guide’ of the Sufis,and it is he who is believed to be the

anonymous Guide to Moses in the Koran."®15

 In addition,he has also included quotes of several Sufis on life,death,sin,evil,fortune, knowledge,money and generosity.


"Sin against God is one thing; but sinning against man is worse."®16

Sufian Thauri


Part five is mostly comprises on the teaching stories of different Sufi thinkers about man, magic, cradle and there are several stories that has been incorporated in this chapter so one can have a clear understanding of the teachings of Sufi thinkers.

On the concluding note, author has eloquently described the origin and evolution of Sufi thoughts and provided little biographic notes of Sufi thinkers. Along with this you one can reach by the reference of this book to the many Sufi texts. But my criticism on this book is nothing but the dogmatic way to look at the subject. Therefore,one can't found criticism in the entire text on Sufi thoughts.For me this approach has dimed beauty of the text. So obviously element of criticism is missing otherwise this text could be an amazing reference book on Sufism.


  1. ®1,The way of Sufi page 13.
  2. ®2,Same Book,page 14.
  3. ®3 same book ,page,19.
  4. ®4,same book,page 22.
  5. ®5 same book page 51.
  6. ®6 same book page 52.
  7. ®7 same book page  59.
  8. ®8 same book page,61.
  9. ®9,same book page 65.
  10. ®10 same book page 79.
  11. ®11 same book page 83.
  12. ®12 same book page 97.
  13. ®13,same book page 100.
  14. ®14,same book page 105.
  15. ®15,same book page 161.
  16. ®16,same book page,163.

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