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Religious Imitators

Taken from: Learning how to Learn
By: Idries Shah

Chapter 1: Real and Imagined Study

Sufis and their Imitators

Q: What can you do about imitators? It has been observed that, since you started to make Sufism known really widely in the West, numerous small groups have been enlarged, and entirely new ones have sprung up – and most people realize that these are just cults, and not Sufi groups at all.


A: That reminds me of a joke. It is said that a small boy was faced with an examination question: 'What is rabies and what can you do about it?' He wrote as his answer: 'Rabies is Jewish priests, and there is nothing you can do about it!

These Sufis are Sufists, not Sufis, and there is nothing that you can do about it. I am, however, interested in an inherent assumption: the one be hide the question- that one should either have to do anything about it, or that one could, indeed, do anything about it... If we do try to do anything about it, we risk attracting large numbers of disenchanted former Sufists, who would hope at first that we could give them THE REAL THING – but who would become doubly homeless, so to speak, when they found that one branch of the entertainment industry had closed down, and another failed to open up!

Sufi studies in the West and in the contemporary East, it should be remembered, are repeating a pattern. Throughout the ages there have been Sufis and imitators. Perhaps, to clarify things in your own mind, you might like to ask yourself this question: ' Why do I imagine that there is any activity that does not have imitators, charlatans, confusion and 'tourists' and passengers? People do not find that they can do anything about tricksters or cranks who offer a trip to the Moon – except to increase public information on spaceflight.

I cannot help feeling that the questioner is defining his own mentality and showing us that he is thinking in a more confined why then his limitations require.

If we can do anything about the imitation, it is to spread the information of the real. But our doing this depends upon the audience being prepared. The preparation involves a wideness of horizon and the intelligent use of the clear thinking methods which are already current in all present-day societies, though only lately coming into use in our area of interest.

The negative attitude is to look at the imitators. The positive one, surly, is to remember the worlds of Jalaluddin Rumi, who said that false gold only exists because there is such a thing as the Real...


In Fini ma Fihi we find the allegory of the Jacket. 'In Winter' says Rumi, ' you look for a fur garment, but when summer comes you have no time for it, it is an encumbrance. So it is with imitations of real teachings. They keep people warm until the time comes when they can be warmed by the Sun...'

So, like the fur garment, people will cleave to cults and imitations because these thing suit them, respond to something within them which call for cults and imitations.

At the same time, of course, they imagine all sorts of things about themselves, such as that they are genuine, sincere, unconcerned about themselves and concerned about others or about truth.