Born in India, Shah was the descendant of a family of Afghan nobles. His mother was Scottish.
Idries Shah was born on June 16, 1924 in Simla, Himachal Pradesh, India. The descendant of a family of Afghan nobles, Shah grew up mainly in England. His father, Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, a writer and diplomat, was leader of the Sufis, his mother, Saira Elizabeth Luiza Shah, was Scottish.
His family on the paternal side were Musavi Sayyids. Their ancestral home was near the Paghman Gardens of Kabul. His paternal grandfather, Sayed Amjad Ali Shah, was the nawab of Sardhana in the North-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a hereditary title the family had gained thanks to the services an earlier ancestor, Jan-Fishan Khan, had rendered to the British.
Shah mainly grew up in the vicinity of London, United Kingdom. He began accompanying his father in his travels from a very young age, and although they both travelled widely and often, they always returned to England where the family made their home for many years. Through these travels, which were often part of Ikbal Ali Shah's Sufi work, Shah was able to meet and spend time with prominent statesmen and distinguished personalities in both East and West.