Friday, May 13, 2005

About Martin Lings

One of the damned things about this world is the ease with which we can go through a day and not feel the dimming of light. Our sense of sacred connection is so co-opted by Starbuck casualness, essential spiritual accoutrements within us are disabled from perceiving the depth of loss that humanity suffered recently with the passing of Martin Lings. In Islamic tradition (and I’m pretty sure the tradition is widespread), when a great person dies, whether a saint or scholar or sage, the whole world is somehow effected, even the fish in the sea. The night before Mr. Lings passed, I happened to have been reading one of his books that my wife had ordered and just received, Symbol and Archetype: A Study in the Meaning of Existence. Once again, I was awestruck by the ease with which Mr. Lings was able to convey tiers of profundity in a short passage (even one sentence) and to do so with uncanny consistency. His translation of verses from the Quran are, in themselves, masterpieces of High English, which none before him could achieve, and not for lack of trying. As I put down the book, I made a short prayer that God bless this man. The next day, I learned of his passing.

Mr. Lings was among the early lights of my life. More than two decades ago, I read his gripping narrative on the life of the Prophet (Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources). I remember reading almost all of it in one sitting. Had it not been for my need to sleep, I would not have stopped. Shortly thereafter, though, I finished, and when I put the book down I finally understood what it meant to “taste the sweetness” in having love of the Prophet and of prophethood in general. It would be but the first book of Mr. Lings that would be transforming.

About 21 years ago, a University of Chicago graduate student handed me Mr. Lings’ book, Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century. He told me, “Read this. You’ll like it.” I didn’t touch the book until a couple of years ago. I then started. No exaggeration, it took me a full year to read it. It was so packed, I could not dare dishonor it with cursory handling. I compare the experience with a long epiphany. For some months, before being accosted by the world again, it was difficult for me to look at things the same flat way that our era trains us to do. Purpose was everywhere, hidden right there in plain sight.

The “tyranny of quantity” once again shows its cracks: one man inspiring so many to reclaim the esoteric and also to love the Last Prophet. The “sâbiqûn” (the “foremost” in faith and certitude) are few in our times, as the Quran says. It seems that they're even fewer now.

I end this very short personal tribute as I started, with an indictment of the ethos of the times: the shame of our day is the postmodern flattening of existence, the demotion of anything special, anything transcending and capable of a lasting narrative. We’re trapped in the glorified Soup Cans of Andy Warhol, his paintings that celebrate banality, his caustic attempt at making what is ordinary appear special, which, after all, is a backdoor, slinking strike against “special,” the concept and the possibility. Jagger sings “Paint it Black,” and so they do.

God’s mercy be upon Mr. Lings.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

May Allah have mercy on him, reward him for all his work, and allow us to benefit from it.

T'is a sad day for us, but, inshAllah, a good one for him.


5/13/2005 9:35 AM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

I've always heard "Martin Lings" in the background whenever anyone mentioned books to read. I've always put them off. No longer; God Willing I'll put his work "Muhammad" in queue, after Strunk and White, Bulliet, and this mealy effort by Feisal Abdul Rauf I'm forced to read for a book club...

PS Who is Andy Warhol? You're dating yourself...

5/13/2005 11:23 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Well, Abuljude, either I'm dating myself or someone was too busy focusing on, say, medical school instead of art history. Just kidding. Warhol is considered one the major postmodernist artists of the era.

5/13/2005 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No more I say: Would it had been!
For I have seen what I have seen
And I have heard what I have heard.
So if to tears ye see me stirred,
Presume not that they spring from woe:
In thankful wonderment they flow.
Praise be to Him, the Lord, the King,
Who gives beyond all reckoning."

— from 'Collected Poems' of Martin Lings

Ibrahim Tahir, Wardah Books, Singapore

5/13/2005 11:28 PM  
Blogger Eiman Abdelmoneim said...


Thanks for bringing his passing to my attention as I was completely unaware. May God have mercy on his soul.

5/14/2005 1:03 AM  
Blogger Julaybib said...


When a person of light passes out of this world, Allah replaces him with another. See the introduction to Futuh Al Ghraib, translated by M. Aftab-ud-din Ahmad (New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan).

May Allah reqard Martin Lings with the bliss of Janna.



5/14/2005 3:19 AM  
Blogger Rizwan said...

Barak Allah fikum for the personal tribute. It was moving.

5/31/2005 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to thank Mr. Abusharif for his moving tribute to the late Dr. Martin Lings, aka Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din (radiya Allahu 'anhu). Those of us who knew this great saint, & whose lives have been forever changed by his noble example, will remain indebted to him in countless ways for the rest of our lives. May we all live up to the responsibility embedded in our having had the honour of crossing his path, one way or another, however briefly.

Leena El-Ali

5/31/2005 8:48 PM  

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