Unpopular Truths: Bullfighting & Sufism, Beauty & Wisdom

Ignoring prejudice and observing the real. AFH at the final corrida of Juan José Padilla in Seville (Photo: Klarina Pichler)

I recently did an interview with fellow author – a specialist on Spanish and Moorish History and Art – Jason Webster for the Idries Shah Foundation – online here – on my interest in Sufism and my history in el mundo de los toros, ‘the world of the bulls’ in Spain.

Sufism is perhaps best described as a mystical form of Islam more closely related in its theology and philosophy to Buddhism than the other interpretations of Mohammed’s teachings, and as a result is the most internally persecuted variant of that religion both historically and during its current civil war.

Idries Shah was a noted author for many reasons but most of all introducing the ideas of Sufism to the West, as he did to me via his book The Caravan of Dreams. 

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home in 2012 the day before his return to the ring. (Photo: Zed Nelson for GQ magazine)

Sufism’s link to the corrida de toros, a dance with the evident threat of – and executing with a sword the magnificent reality of – a Spanish fighting bull may seem distant, but they are there. It is also no coincidence that I was reading his writings just before I discovered Spain – as I say in the interview, his was one of the few books I took with me when I went to live in the Sahara desert, and when I returned to Europe, it was by ferry from Tangiers, so I landed in – and fell in love with – Spain, almost exactly twenty years ago to the day. (Perhaps it is, I have no record of the date.)

I hope I brought out more than such minor personal and geographical links, though, in my rather digressive responses to Jason’s questions, ranging as they do from German philosophy to the Qur’an, Oscar Wilde to William Shakespeare.

Now I must return to work on the second edition of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, with added material including my own return to the ring, more on running with bulls (which I also covered in The Bulls Of Pamplona, with its extraordinary photos by Jim Hollander and foreword from the Mayor of that city), and the return to the ring – minus one eye – of my original teacher in bullfighting, Juan José Padilla in 2012 and his retirement corridas this year for which I was present.

(I am publicising the reissue in physical form of Into The Arena everywhere from the most recent edition of the most popular magazine in bullfighting, 6Toros6 (right), to the forthcoming long feature in the most recent issue of the Boisdale Life – an unique glossy magazine at the Vanity Fair end of the spectrum, whose pages I share with articles from the likes of my friends Bruce Anderson and Tom Parker Bowles to Sir Jackie Stewart and the late great David Bowie, and whose 100,000 copies are available free from London’s airports – just before you board the plane – to inside the Houses of Parliament themselves. The book launch will be held in London at Boisdale of Belgravia in lieu of my fee.)

Anyway, once again, the interview is here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison