The Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah










by Professor L.F. Rushbrook Williams*

Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, the father of Idries Shah, belonged to a family of Muswi Saiyids directly descended from Ali Musa Raza, the eighth Imam, and thus from the Prophet Mohammed himself. For centuries, this family has provided scholars, soldiers, and statesmen-including kinsmen of the Sassanid dynasty of Iran—who have played a prominent part in the history of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and India.[1]

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Where Cultures Mix: Ed Grazda talks to ISF

About Ed Grazda

Ed Grazda was born in New York in 1947. He has photographed extensively around the world, from Mexico to Afghanistan, and across much of Latin America and Asia. His work forms parts of collections in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is a leading member of the Errata Foundation, an organisation aimed at increasing public awareness of photography.

1. You’ve photographed all over the world, often returning to the same places over long periods of time. Could you comment on how this has shaped your work? Was it a conscious decision from the start, or simply how things developed?

My long-term commitments were not a plan, it just developed as I went: going to Peshawar in 1980 was an eye opener. The people – Afghan refugees – the landscape and the tribal culture all made for interesting photos, and the access was great. The Afghan Mujahideen knew the power of photography and welcomed photographers. I went back in 1982 and continued until 2004. I made many good friends and had many great experiences.

My work in the US Southwest came from early trips in my college years – I loved the landscape and the place that this area had in the history of photography: O’Sullivan, Jackson, Hillers etc. Also, being on the Navajo Reservation – a sovereign nation – is special: you are not in 21st century America. It took many years for me to focus on the Trading Posts and their history.


2. You’ve worked in both colour, and black-and-white. How do they compare?

I am a black-and-white photographer. In the 70s, 80s and 90s I would shoot some Kodachrome on trips with the thought that the colour would be more marketable to magazines etc. I generally did not consider them my main work, and being slides they were hard to print. With the coming of digital scanning I was able to access these photos. For the Trading Post book, after photographing in 2010 I went back to slides from the l970s and realised that I had photographed the same places in colour and black-and-white. I don’t do digital photography.


3. At times you’ve focussed on places where different cultures rub together (e.g. New York mosques and Navajo Trading Posts in the Far West). How did the ideas for those projects develop?

I am interested in where cultures mix. The Mosque book is the only idea that I didn’t originate. Jerrilynn Dodds – a writer on Islamic architecture – asked me to do the photos for her project on The Mosques of New York; my work in Afghanistan and Pakistan and my contacts within the Afghan community in New York were what sold her. It was an interesting experience and helped me get to know my home city a little more.

The Navajo project came about as a natural process after many years’ visiting the area. The mix of cultures and history there – Native American, Spanish, Anglo – I find interesting. Not an easy place to photograph, but very rewarding.



4. You spent many years working in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from 1980 to the early 2000s. What were the most important lessons from that time for you?

Lessons learned: trust your instincts, travel light. And as they say in tribal areas (Pakistan): ‘You see five fingers? Five fingers are not the same. Everything is not what it seems.’







Link Original:


Long before human ancestors began hunting large mammals for meat, a fatty diet provided them with the nutrition to develop bigger brains, a new paper argues.

The paper suggests that our early ancestors acquired a taste for fat by eating marrow scavenged from the skeletal remains of large animals that other predators killed and ate. The argument challenges the widely held view among anthropologists that eating meat was the critical factor in setting the stage for the evolution of humans.

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Cultural Crossroads: Professor Wendy Doniger










Professor Wendy Doniger is a scholar of Hindu culture. She studied at Harvard and Oxford and is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. Her numerous books include Hindu Myths: an Anthology, Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts, and The Hindus: An Alternative History. This last work became a No. 1 bestseller on its publication in 2009, but was later withdrawn from sale by its publisher, Penguin India, after coming under attack. It is now published by Speaking Tiger Books.

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House of Wisdom

The House of Wisdom( Arabic: بيت الحكمة‎; Bayt al-Hikma ) refers to a major Abbasid public academy and intellectual center in Baghdad or to a large private library belonging to the Abbasid Caliphs during the  Islamic Golden Age.[1][2] The House of Wisdom is the subject of an active dispute over its functions and existence as a formal academy, an issue complicated by a lack of physical evidence following the collapste of the Abbasid Calphate and a reliance on corroboration of literary sources to construct a narrative. The House of Wisdom was founded either as a library for the collections of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the late 18th century and later turned into a public academy during the reign of  Al-Ma’mun or was a private collection created by Al-Mansur (reign 754-775) to house rare books and collections of poetry in both Arabic and Persian. [1][3] Regardless, the House of Wisdom existed as a part of the major Translation Movement taking place during the Abbasid Era, translating works from Greek and Syriac to Arabic, but it is unlikely that The House of Wisdom existed as the sole center of such work, as a major translation efforts arose in Cairo and Damascus even earlier than the proposed deal of original research occurring in the Islamicate world, which had access to texts from Greek, Persian and Indian sources, as opposed to the “Bookshelf Thesis” that reduces the contributions of Islamicate scholars to mere translation and preservation of Greek texts.[4]

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