In his writing about Sufism, Idries Shah did some revolutionary things.
Critically, and almost alone, he said that it was possible to divorce the essence of Sufi philosophy from what he insisted were secondary accretions of islamic culture and religion. Moreover, he said, in making this material available to the West, you could not only do this, you must do it. This is because, he believed, you can only absorb materials that are designed for your own time and place. Sufism as an essence may be ‘truth without form’ but, in order to penetrate into the human mind, it must be delivered in a package shaped to fit the receiving culture.
‘When something new enters a culture, there is a period where, like a new object being thrown into the chimpanzee pen at a zoo, all the chimps rush over to touch it, throw it on the floor, fight over it and so on,’ he once told me. ‘We must wait until the dust settles; only then will people be in a position to assess this material.’
My father died in 1996 and the dust is settling fast. He leaves a body of work behind and, on this work alone, he believed, he should and would be judged. This anthology is intended to provide a basic sample of his work, an essential reader, to allow people to do exactly what he would have wished them to do: to think for themselves and to make up their own minds.
— From the Editor’s Note, by Saira Shah