2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of the 20th century’s most influential book on Sufism — The Sufis by Idries Shah

2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of the 20th century’s most influential book on Sufism — The Sufis by Idries Shah

The Sufis, a modern classic that has been translated into over two dozen languages, has attracted the praise of such famous authors as Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, J.D. Salinger, and Doris Lessing.

The most authoritative book about Sufism produced for a modern audience, this definitive work explores an immemorial wisdom tradition best-known for its connections with Islam — but which both predates and goes beyond it.

Sufis espouse a mystical teaching and way of life that have had an immeasurable, though little-known, impact on East and West for thousands of years. Core to this ‘practical philosophy’ is the cultivation of intuition and experience as a guide to life — rather than over-reliance upon logic and the intellect. Its members believe that theirs is the secret tradition behind all religious and philosophical systems.

Shah’s remarkable book includes accounts of the lives and work of the best-known Sufi masters, encompassing many of the world’s greatest thinkers, including the Eastern luminaries: Jalaluddin Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Ibn Arabi, Al-Ghazzali, Saadi Shirazi, and Farid Al-Din Attar.

Many of the greatest traditions, ideas and discoveries of the West are connected to the teachings and writings of Sufi savants working centuries ago. The astonishing impact of Sufism on the development of Western civilization, especially from the seventh century onwards, is traced through the work of Roger Bacon, St. John of the Cross, Raymond Lully, The Templars, Rosicrucians, Chaucer, Sir Richard Francis Burton, and others.

But more than a history, The Sufis is a dynamic book of instruction for modern times, reflecting the idea that living Sufism is never a static artefact of the past, but adapts to the current time, place and people.

‘A seminal book of the century, even a watershed... In our reference books Sufis are likely to be described as Islamic mystics; at best as “the inner truth of Islam”. But this book explains that Sufism predates both Islam and Christianity, and that it is a mistake to equate it with any particular culture or phase of a culture.’


‘This book is not addressed to intellectuals or other orthodox thinkers or to anyone who will fail to recognise it at once as addressed to himself.’


‘The Sufis must be the biggest society of sensible people ever to have been on earth.’