Omar Ali-Shah

Omar Ali-Shah
Omar Ali-Shah
ओमर अली शाह
عمر علی شاہ
Born 1922
Died September 7, 2005 (aged 82–83)
Jerez, Spain
Occupation Sufi teacher, writer
Ethnicity Anglo-Afghan Indian
Subjects Sufism
Notable work(s) The Course of the Seeker

Sufism for Today

The Rules or Secrets of the Naqshbandi Order

Spouse(s) Anna Maria Ali-Shah
Children Arif Ali-Shah & Amina Ali-Shah
Relative(s) Shah family

Omar Ali-Shah (Hindi: ओमर अली शाह, Urdu: عمر علی شاہ) was a prominent exponent of modern Naqshbandi Sufism who lived from 1922 to 2005. He wrote a number of books on the subject, and was head of a large number of sufi groups, particularly in Latin America, Europe and Canada.


Life and work

Omar Ali-Shah was born in 1922 into a family that traces itself back to the year 122 BC through the Prophet Mohammed and to the Sassanian Emperors of Persia. He was the son of Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah of Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh, India and the older brother of Idries Shah, another writer and teacher of Sufism.

Omar Ali-Shah gained notoriety in 1967, when he published, together with Robert Graves, a new translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.[1][2][3] This translation quickly became controversial; Graves was attacked for trying to break the spell of famed passages in Edward FitzGerald's Victorian translation, and L. P. Elwell-Sutton, an Orientalist at Edinburgh University, maintained that the manuscript used by Ali-Shah and Graves – which Ali-Shah claimed had been in his family for 800 years – was a "clumsy forgery".[3] The manuscript was never produced for examination by critics; the scholarly consensus today is that the "Jan-Fishan Khan manuscript" was a hoax, and that the actual source of Omar Ali-Shah's version was a study by Edward Heron-Allen, a Victorian amateur scholar.[4][5][6]

The two brothers, Idries Shah and Omar Ali-Shah, worked and taught together for some time in the 1960s, but later agreed to go their separate ways.[7] Their respective movements – Idries Shah's "Society for Sufi Studies" and Omar Ali-Shah's "Tradition" – were similar, giving some prominence to psychology in their teachings.[8][9] Omar Ali-Shah's teachings had some distinctive features, however.[8] He had many more followers in South America, and his movement attracted a younger following than his brother's.[8] There were also more references to Islam in his teachings, and unlike his brother, Omar Ali-Shah's movement embraced some Islamicate practices.[8]

Omar Ali-Shah's followers sometimes undertook organised trips to exotic locations, which he described as having a developmental, or cleansing, purpose: "One of the functions performed in the Tradition is making, keeping and deepening contacts with people, places and things, such as making trips similar to the ones we have made to Turkey and elsewhere."[10] Sufi travel was seen as a pilgrimage to sites that could both energise and purify the visitor.[10]

Following the death of Idries Shah in 1996, a fair number of his students became affiliated with Omar Ali-Shah.[8]

Omar Ali-Shah – called "Agha" by his students – gave lectures which have been recorded for distribution in printed format.[11] He died on September 7, 2005 in a hospital in Jerez, Spain.

The Sufi student and deputy, Professor Leonard Lewin (University of Colorado), led study groups under the guidance of Idries Shah, Omar Ali Shah and his son, Arif Ali-Shah.[12]


  • Omar Ali-Shah (1988). The Course of the Seeker. Tractus Books. ISBN 2-909347-05-2. 
  • Omar Ali-Shah (1993). Sufism for Today. Tractus Books. ISBN 2-909347-00-1. 
  • Omar Ali-Shah (1998). The Rules or Secrets of the Naqshbandi Order. Tractus Books. ISBN 2-909347-09-5. 

See also


  1. ^ Graves, Robert, Ali-Shah, Omar: The Original Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, ISBN 0140034080, ISBN 0912358386
  2. ^ Letter by Doris Lessing to the editors of The New York Review of Books, dated 22 October 1970, with a response by L. P. Elwell-Sutton
  3. ^ a b Stuffed Eagle, Time magazine, 31 May 1968
  4. ^ Aminrazavi, Mehdi: The Wine of Wisdom. Oneworld 2005, ISBN 1851683550, p. 155
  5. ^ Irwin, Robert. "Omar Khayyam's Bible for drunkards". The Times Literary Supplement.,,25336-1947980,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  6. ^ Moore, James (1986). "Neo-Sufism: The Case of Idries Shah". Religion Today 3 (3). ; the author's website features a link, Pseudo-Sufism: the case of Idries Shah, to an online copy of the paper
  7. ^ Hayter, Augy (2002). Fictions and Factions. Reno, NV/Paris, France: Tractus Books. pp. 177, 201. ISBN 2-909347-14-1. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Malik, Jamal; Hinnells, John R. (2006). Sufism in the West. London, UK/New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 29–30. ISBN 0415274079. 
  9. ^ Westerlund, David (ed.) (2004). Sufism in Europe and North America. New York, NY: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 54. ISBN 0415325919. 
  10. ^ a b Malik, Jamal; Hinnells, John R. (eds.) (2006). Sufism in the West. London, UK/New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. p. 39. ISBN 0415274079. 
  11. ^ Malik, Jamal; Hinnells, John R. (eds.) (2006). Sufism in the West. London, UK/New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. p. 34. ISBN 0415274079. 
  12. ^ Staff. "Obituaries". University of Colorado. Retrieved 2010-02-09.  See entry for Leonard Lewin. Professor Emeritus Leonard Lewin 'established and, for many years, led study groups under the guidance of Idries Shah, Omar Ali-Shah and Arif Ali-Shah', according to his University of Colorado obituary.

External links


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