Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sufis - Idries Shah

"Humanity is asleep, concerned only with what is useless, living in a wrong world.... Do not prattle before the People of the Path, rather consume yourself. You have an inverted knowledge and religion if you are upside down in relation to Reality. Man is wrapping his net around himself. A lion (the man of the Way) bursts his cage asunder." 
- The Sufi Master Sanai, teacher of Rumi, in The Walled Garden of Truth (1131 C.E.)

Eleven years ago I was eighteen and packing to go to University. I asked my father for a couple of books to take with me. He handed me two battered books, The People Of The Secret by Ernest Scott and The Sufis by Idries Shah.

In the turbulent weeks that came with my first term at University I completely forgot about my books, only to re-discover them a few months later while hibernating in bed after a nasty bout of freshers flu. I started reading The People of the Secret and barely left my room for the next few days in order to finish it. I remember writing down lists of questions and ticking them off as I answered them as another piece of history or knowledge snapped together like jigsaw pieces in my mind. I'm glad I read it first, because it was everything I needed to hear as the final shaky foundations of my angsty teenage atheism crumbled, and prepared me for the next book.

I initially knew nothing about The Sufis, only faintly what Sufism was (Islamic mysticism or something similar?) and that it was written by a man my father knew who died when I was eleven. I have read the book and it has had a great impact on me. On that I am not qualified to elaborate and all I can do is urge you to read it yourself. Here is how I read my copy, a chapter here and a chapter there: I highlight the parts that jump out at me, and then go through the section again and try to focus more on the parts that didn't.

Ending my great risk of 'prattling', I'll pass you on now to more qualified reviewers, John Bell and John Zada writing for Aljazeera on The Sufis as an antidote to fanaticism:
"This month [October 2014] marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Sufis”, penned by the late Idries Shah. This classic by one of the foremost authorities on the subject was written for a western audience caught in a vogue of Oriental spirituality cults, or an overly academic approach to Sufism. The book was designed to help readers come to better grips with what constituted genuine mysticism, and to provide a sense of Sufism’s universality, which according to Shah, went far beyond its role in Islam.
Shah asserts that genuine Sufis are followers of an age-old tradition of experiential knowledge that is flexible and ever evolving, and which aims to bring its adherents to a true understanding of the nature of reality – which the biological brain or the culturally blind mind, operating in a certain mode, cannot ascertain on their own.

Sufis, Shah says, far from necessarily being members of an Islamic sect, have always existed within different faiths and cultures, including those of early antiquity that predated Islam.

It is not a system of thought or an academic process, Shah explains, but a living state. Indeed, Sheikh Abu El Hasan Fushanji sums it up: “Formerly, being a Sufi was a reality without a name. Today, it is a name without a reality.”

In “The Sufis”, we learn of the fascinating, and little-known influence that Sufis have had on the world, including Europe and the West. We are shown, for example, how the music of the Troubadours, the writings of Chaucer and Dante, medieval chivalry, and Freemasonry, as well as many less overtly mystical cultural fruits, are linked to the Sufis of the East.

Many of the “giants” among them are household names all over the world: Jalaludin Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Saadi of Shiraz, Ibn al-Arabi, al-Ghazali – just to name a few. It is partly through their achievements that the idea of Sufis as strictly Islamic mystics is perpetuated. But Shah uses them in this book for illustrative purposes. The most famous Sufis, he suggests, are exemplars of what humans east, west, north and south can be.

Indeed, given the rather strange state of the world, the type of thinking outlined in “The Sufis”, and other books by Shah, may be more needed than ever. With its flexible and organic approach to life and its refreshing lack of exclusivism, Sufism represents a powerful counterpoint to the dogmatic and violent fixations of extremists everywhere. In contrast to the closed extremist, oblivious and often inimical to his or her context, the Sufi might be defined as one who is open, through experience and learning, to any, and all, possibilities appropriate to an ever-widening horizon of contexts."
The Idries Shah Foundation has embarked on a programme to re-publish many more of Shah's books, all as relevant (or more relevant) today as when they first appeared, given the state of the world we are living in.

The East, where this knowledge sprung from, may in particular benefit from a reintroduction, which is why subscriptions to the foundation have made it possible for 32,000 books by Idries Shah (which include children's books [scroll down]) and related Eastern classics to be sent to Afghanistan — where they are going to be distributed for free to schools, universities, and public libraries. It's like the literary equivalent of the rediscovering of the crafts used to build the original Minbar of Saladin.

The 50th Anniversary Edition of The Sufis is physically stunning in design and quality, reflecting its inner content. It is a book that will be read and re-read by me for the rest of my life. 

For £12.99 on Amazon you can't go wrong.

Full disclosure: I was contacted by the Idries Shah Foundation and offered a copy of their new 50th Anniversary paperback edition of The Sufis. They invited me to mention it on my blog which I am very grateful for as it has caused me to reflect on the effect the book had on me and how I must read it again soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

30 Totes and Bags to Sew - a fantastic new craft book by my sister-in-law

Know someone who likes sewing? I've just found their perfect Christmas present!

My sister in law, the very talented Angharad Handmade has written her first sewing book, 30 Totes and Bags to Sew! This is the UK title, the US title is 'Tote-ally Amazing' and if you are into crafting or sewing in any way you must check it out immediately!

I'm not the most skilled at sewing myself.. (as my previous shoddy attempts will testify) but I know lots of people who and I know this will interest some of you.

This book would be the perfect Christmas present for the seamstress in your life: I've flicked through a copy and I'd be hard pressed to find a craft book more functional, colourful and fun. The instructions are detailed enough for even a needle-phobe (like me) to follow, with colour photos of every step, fold out patterns and extra info on sewing techniques, materials and tools.

I'll stop rambling and hand you over to Helen to share more details herself...

"The book focuses on the Tote bag, that's to say a bag with two handles, and I really wanted to include as broad a range of designs as possible, so inside you'll find projects ranging from a teddy bed tote for young children, to an oilcloth car caddy, to a velveteen evening bag. There are also lots of techniques covered such as reverse appliqué, kanzashi flowers, embroidery and freezer-paper stencilling. I'm so pleased with the final appearance of the book; the team at Quintet and my editor Julie Brooke have done an amazing job with beautiful photography and layouts - it has a spiral binding with hardback cover which has to be my favourite thing as a consumer of craft books as it means you can have the book open flat in front of you whilst working through a pattern. There are also plentiful colour photographs to illustrate the steps, as well as full-size pattern pieces in an envelope at the front of the book."

A few of the bags from the book. The possibilities are endless. 30 bag designs.. infinite fabric choices.... it will keep you busy for many years!

Here's a YouTube thumb through so you can get an idea how well written and snazzily designed this book is!

30 Totes & Bags to Sew: Quick & Easy Bags for all Occasions 
£14.99 by Helen Angharad Henley 
A book of 30 bag designs ranging from the fun to the functional. The book has a hardback spiral binding for ease of use, allowing it to be opened out flat as you work. Full-sized pattern pieces are included in an envelope at the front of the book.
144 pages with colour step-by-step photography.  
Published in 2014 by Search Press Ltd. 
ISBN 978-1-78221-096-2

Enjoy :D