Martin Lings (also known as Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din) (January 24, 1909 – May 12, 2005) was an English Muslim writer and scholar, a student and follower of Frithjof Schuon, and Shakespearean scholar. He is best known as the author of a very popular and positively reviewed biography, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, first published in 1983 and still in print.
|Martin Lings or Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din|
Lings was born in Burnage, Manchester in 1909 to a Protestant family. The young Lings gained an introduction to travelling at a young age, spending significant time in the United States due to his father's employment. Lings attended Clifton College and went on to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he gained a BA in English Language and Literature. At Magdalen, he was a student and then a close friend of C. S. Lewis. After graduating from Oxford Lings went to Vytautas Magnus University, in Lithuania, where he taught Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.
For Lings himself, however, the most important event whilst at Oxford was his discovery of the writings of the René Guénon, a French metaphysician and Muslim convert, and those of Frithjof Schuon, a German spiritual authority, metaphysician and Perennialist. In 1938, Lings went to Basle to make Schuon's acquaintance and he remained Frithjof Schuon's disciple and expositor for the rest of his life.
In 1939, Lings went to Cairo, Egypt, in order to visit a friend who was an assistant of René Guénon. Not long after arriving in Cairo, his friend died and Lings began studying Arabic. Cairo became his home for over a decade; he became an English language teacher at the University of Cairo and produced Shakespeare plays annually. Lings married Lesley Smalley in 1944 and lived with her in a village near the pyramids. Despite having settled comfortably in Egypt, Lings was forced to leave in 1952 after anti-British disturbances.
Upon returning to the United Kingdom he continued his education, earning a BA in Arabic and a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London). His doctoral thesis became a well-received book on Algerian Sufi Ahmad al-Alawi (see Sufi studies). After completing his doctorate, Lings worked at the British Museum and later British Library, overseeing eastern manuscripts and other textual works, rising to the position of Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts 1970-73. He was also a frequent contributor to the journal, Studies in Comparative Religion.
A writer throughout this period, Lings' output increased in the last quarter of his life. While his thesis work on Ahmad al-Alawi had been well regarded, his most famous work was a biography of Muhammad, written in 1983, which earned him acclaim in the Muslim world and prizes from the governments of Pakistan and Egypt. His work was hailed as the "best biography of the prophet in English" at the National Seerat Conference in Islamabad. He also continued travelling extensively, although he made his home in Kent. He died in 2005.
In addition to his writings on Sufism, Lings was a Shakespeare scholar. His contribution to Shakespeare scholarship was to point out the deeper esoteric meanings found in Shakespeare's plays, and the spirituality of Shakespeare himself. More recent editions of Lings's books on Shakespeare include a foreword by Charles, Prince of Wales. Just before his death he gave an interview on this topic, which was posthumously made into the film Shakespeare's Spirituality: A Perspective. An Interview With Dr. Martin Lings.
Martin Lings, a Sufi Writer on Islamic Ideas, Dies at 96
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: May 29, 2005
Martin Lings, a widely acclaimed British scholar whose books on Islamic philosophy, mysticism and art reflected his own deep belief in Sufism, the esoteric, purely spiritual dimension of Islam, died on May 12 at his home in Westerham, Kent County, England. He was 96.
|Martin Lings's biography of Muhammad used the earliest sources.|
Dr. Lings's long career was studded with accomplishments, some quite novel - like his 1996 book comparing his interpretation of Shakespeare's spiritual message to Sufism. His books on Islamic calligraphy were influential, as was his biography of an Algerian Sufi saint.
He was the keeper of Oriental manuscripts at the British Museum and British Library and the author of a well-received biography of Muhammad that was based on Arabic sources from the eighth and ninth centuries and, according to some reviewers, read like a novel. The presidents of Pakistan and Egypt each presented Dr. Lings with an award for the book, and The Islamic Quarterly called it "an enthralling story that combines impeccable scholarship with a rare sense of the sacred worth of the subject."
His own personal intellectual and spiritual journey reflected his friendship with the philosophers René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon, who saw modern history as a sorry record of decline, and man's salvation in traditional religion. Dr. Lings followed them in converting to Sufi Islam, about which he wrote the entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
He was considered by some, including initiates he instructed, to be a Sufi saint, and by many non-Muslims to be a provocative intellectual. In the foreword to Dr. Lings's "The Sacred Art of Shakespeare: To Take Upon Us the Mystery of Things," Prince Charles wrote, "Lings's particular genius lies in his ability to convey, as perhaps no one else has ever done, the theatrical underpinnings of these texts, leaving readers with deep and lasting impressions not only of those masterpieces of dramatic artistry, but of the extraordinary man behind them as well."
His later books addressed spiritual issues in broad terms, suggesting in one, "The Eleventh Hour: The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern World in the Light of Tradition and Prophecy," first published in 1987, that the end of time was near.
Martin Lings was born on Jan. 24, 1909, in Lancashire. He was raised a Protestant, and later became an atheist, according to Zaman, a Turkish newspaper. He graduated from Magdalen College of Oxford University, studying English under C. S. Lewis, who became a close friend.
He taught in several European universities, then became a lecturer in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English at the University of Kaunas in Lithuania. In 1939, he went to Cairo to visit a close friend who shared his enthusiasm for the philosopher Guénon, who had moved from France to Egypt in 1930. The friend had become Guénon's assistant.
When the friend died in a horseback-riding accident, Dr. Lings took over his responsibilities. He quickly learned Arabic to communicate with Guénon's Egyptian wife. He converted to Islam and became Guénon's spiritual disciple, adopting the philosopher's view that all the great religions share the same eternal wisdom.
Dr. Lings taught English at the University of Cairo, lived near the base of the pyramids and each year produced a Shakespeare play. After savage anti-British riots, preceding Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalist revolution, Dr. Lings returned to Britain in 1952. He earned a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies for his thesis on the Algerian Sufi, Ahmad al-Alawi. He published it in 1961 as a book, "A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century."
The Journal of Near Eastern Studies called it "one of the most thorough and intimately engaging books on Sufism to be produced by a Western scholar."
Dr. Lings studied the saint's life with Frithjof Schuon, the metaphysician who shared Guénon's dark pessimistic premonitions and had been Alawi's personal disciple. Dr. Lings became Schuon's disciple, learning Sufi methods as well as doctrine.
|L-R: The Late Hasan Le Gai Eaton, Fuad Nahdi, the late Martin Lings (Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din), Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Peter Sanders.|
In 1955, he joined the British Museum as assistant keeper of oriental printed books and manuscripts, becoming keeper in 1970. In 1973, he performed the same function at the British Library. This work led to his publishing "The Quranic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination," to coincide with the 1976 World of Islam Festival in London, with which he was closely involved.
Dr. Lings is survived by his wife, the former Leslie Smalley, whom he married in 1944. Earlier this year he traveled to Egypt, Dubai, Pakistan and Malaysia, and only 10 days before his death, Dr. Lings addressed 3,000 people observing the Prophet Muhammad's birthday in Britain.