Written by Hezhbar Shinwary
Recently one of the American publishing companies requested Ms. Parveen Pazhwak to translate some children’s books. A number of these books were sent to me for the purpose of getting acquainted. When I observed the pictures (illustrations) and studied the books I found them to be very closely resembling the life and culture of the people of Afghanistan. However, since I had never heard the name of the author before, I first imagined that the author might be an Indian, a Pakistani or an Arab. But after reading the back cover of one of the volumes I discovered that Idries Shah is an Afghan writer. Believe me, first my ignorance and secondly for the sake of drawing the attention of my (expatriate) countrymen to a man from my homeland, who is also a great perceptive man and a thinker has greatly touched me! Therefore, the purpose of this writing is to review the works of the respected Idries Shah, which has not been done yet, (and) to familiarize his countrymen with his biography and beginnings. This is also an attempt to overcome my guilty conscience. I am presenting a scientific and technical review, (based on) investigation, thorough coverage and information about the life and works of this valuable and capable author (Idries Shah) to the news media, the responsible literary and cultural authorities of my country.
Hezhbar Shinwary, January 6, 2004 Canada.
A long time ago, at the start of the Twentieth Century, there was a young man in the city of Edinburgh, England. He worked hard to learn the secrets, the subtleties and wishes of the inner self. His name was Sayyed Iqbal Ali Shah* and his father was Sayyed Amjad Ali Shah, also known as the Paghmani Naqshbandi. Before finishing his education he came to know a Scottish lady. This acquaintance led to a full blown love affair between them and ultimately resulted in their marriage. Sayyed Iqbal returned to Afghanistan and started to live in his ancestral fort in the pleasant climate of the town of Paghman.
Before World War I, Sayyed Iqbal Ali Shah immigrated to India, and became a resident of Shimla. Sayyed Idries Shah was born in that city on June 16, 1924. Sayyed Idries was in touch with two rich cultures from the very beginning. His mother taught him the customs and teachings of the Western World, while his father made him familiar with the real and ancient knowledge of the East. Sayyed Iqbal transferred (instilled) his love of the land and people of Afghanistan to his son. This was the kind of love that remained in Idries Shah’s heart for the rest of his life. He was proud of being an Afghan and the country of his origin, Afghanistan. Sayyed Iqbal had grown up in the Eastern and Sufic environment, so was his son from the days of his childhood. Idries Shah was still a child when his family moved to England and started to live in London. World War II broke out when he was sixteen and it made a lasting impression on the young man. After the war, between 1345-1355 (of the Afghan Solar Calendar) Idries Shah traveled to the Latin America and Asian countries. He studied the Sufi and Dervish way of thinking in great depth. His father wrote a book titled, “Islamic Sufism” in the year 1334 while he (Idries Shah) was busy in his travels. As a consequence of these travels, research/investigations about Sufism and the Dervish Path, he wrote his first book, “The Oriental Magic” in 1956. He wrote a second book about his travels to Arabia titled, “The Kaaba of the Desire”. During these travels Idries Shah experienced/came to know the Dervishes, the Sufis, the Gnostics (“spiritual knowers”), the struggle between the world of logic and love and the enlightenment of the heart, and the reluctance about the problems/questions of “being and nothingness”. Finally his enlightened heart came to rest on the light of Truth and Love. He organized his life based on these experiences. To him the Temple (Moslem mosque) and the Idol house are nothing but places where the Absolute Beloved shows Itself. Idries Shah compared the “intellectual results and meditations”? with the ways of the thinking of the West. He worked hard so that the Western World becomes familiar with the Eastern Sufic thinking. He was able to accomplish these goals during his life. He has been called the Pir (ancient) and Murshid (guide) of his time. He has hundreds of thousands of followers throughout the world. Idries Shah, during the length of his fruitful life, published more than 35 books and 500 articles and research papers in the field of Sufism. Similarly, many books and other material from the classical writers of the East have been translated, published, and introduced to the West (by him). His books have been published in more than 12 living languages of the world and more than 15 million copies of his books have been sold. Idries Shah has written 10 books for the children, besides his works on Sufism. He has attempted (to communicate) that from these stories one will be able to think deeply like the people of the East, including Afghanistan, in order to benefit from this way of thinking. He, in his book, “The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water” is directly influenced by the Gnostic problems/worries posed by the Molana Jalal-ud-din Rumi Balkhi. He has very skillfully narrated this tale in a simple and understandable language for children to read. From his worthwhile and best-selling works for children, besides “The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water” are “The Boy Without a Name”, “The Silly Chicken”, “The Farmer’s Wife”, “The Man With Bad Habits”, “The Old Woman and the Eagle”, “The Clever Boy and the Dangerous Animal”, “The Magic Horse” and so on—.
In 1978 the attack of the Soviet Union’s army on Afghanistan severely shocked the sensitive mind and psyche of Idries Shah. He could not relax and sit still due to his love for Afghanistan. He entered Afghanistan and joined the resistance movement. He personally experienced the material and spiritual losses inflicted by the Russian forces on the Afghan soil. The consequence of these travels was his novel, “Kara Kush”. In this novel he describes the revolutionary fighters of Afghanistan who are trying to defend their country from the atrocities of the Russians. This book is a first piece of literature of its kind in the West. Idries Shah has tried to communicate that this was not an individual struggle against an aggressive foreign army. But it was a war fought by the people of Afghanistan. This way Idries Shah put Afghanistan on the world literature map, and drew attention of the people of the world to his ancestral homeland. Hence, he expedited the cooperation of the righteous people against the evil aggressor. Some of Idries Shah’s famous books are, “Afghan Caravan”, “Book of the Book”, “The Sufis”, “Stories of Mullah Nasrudin”, “Oriental Magic”, “Caravan of Dreams”, “Elephant in the Dark”, “Tales of Dervishes”, “World Tales”, “Wisdom of the Idiots”, plus tens of other book titles and hundred of titles of articles and scholastic research papers. Sayyed Idries Shah has been a valuable advisor to several kings and presidents of democratic countries. He has been involved in worthwhile and humane activities; his great conspicuous personality is such that he had a great respect from the bottom of his heart for humans and their well-being. His advice and leadership has been useful even in sciences and commerce.
Sayyed Idries Shah, after a life in search of Truth, passed away on November 23, 1996.
Sayyed Idries Shah was married in 1958 and has one son and two daughters.