Ayn Rand, Sufis and Scholars

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Ayn Rand, Sufis and Scholars

I have been reading an interesting book in my spare time. It is called Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah. It is a story collection from the Sufis (the most peaceful and introspective branch of Islam).

I had always heard of the Sufi teaching stories, but I knew very little about them. So I became curious and got this book. I'll be honest. Some of these stories are a delight.

Here is a passage called "Note" at the beginning of the book. It is self-explanatory:

Because what narrow thinkers imagine to be wisdom is often seen by the Sufis to be folly, the Sufis in contrast sometimes call themselves "The Idiots."

By a happy chance, too, the Arabic word for "Saint" (wali) has the same numerical equivalent as a word for "Idiot" (balid).

So we have a double motive for regarding the Sufi great ones as our own Idiots.

This book contains some of their knowledge.

Idries Shah adds the following line to the book description on Amazon:

The stories of these self-styled "idiots" are in fact skillfully designed exercises in which the movements of the characters portray psychological processes. The result is a working blueprint of the mind.

One of the stories jumped out at me because, if you make certain adaptations, you could very easily do this with Ayn Rand. In fact, when I read it, I burst out laughing.

After bickering on O-Land forums for several years, all I could think was: so true, so very true.



Sufi Ajmal Hussein was constantly being criticized by scholars, who feared that his repute might outshine their own. They spared no efforts to cast doubts upon his knowledge, to accuse him of taking refuge from their criticisms in mysticism, and even to imply that he had been guilty of discreditable practices.

At length he said:

"If I answer my critics, they make it the opportunity to bring fresh accusation against me, which people believe because it amuses them to believe such things. If I do not answer them they crow and preen themselves, and people believe that they are real scholars. They imagine that we Sufis oppose scholarship. We do not. But our very existence is a threat to the pretended scholarship of tiny noisy ones. Scholarship long since disappeared. What we have to face now is sham scholarship."

The scholars shrilled more loudly than ever. At last Ajmal said:

"Argument is not as effective as demonstration. I shall give you an insight into what these people are like."

He invited "question papers" from the scholars, to allow them to test his knowledge and ideas. Fifty different professors and academicians sent questionnaires to him. Ajmal answered them all differently. When the scholars met to discuss these papers, at a conference, there were so many versions of what he believed, that each one thought that he had exposed Ajmal, and refused to give up his thesis in favor of any other. The result was the celebrated "brawling of the scholars." For five days they attacked each other bitterly.

"This," said Ajmal, "is a demonstration. What matters to each one most is his own opinion and his own interpretation. They care nothing for truth. This is what they do with everyone's teachings. When he is alive, they torment him. When he dies they become experts on his works. The real motive of the activity, however, is to vie with one another and to oppose anyone outside their own ranks. Do you want to become one of them? Make a choice soon."

How's them apples? If only Rand had done something like this when she was alive...


As a coda to the story, I add, "Use your own mind. Better to be blazingly wrong and you than to be right and a shadow of another."


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