Sunday, December 16, 2007

Martin Lings

Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din) (January 24, 1909May 12, 2005) was a lifelong student and follower of Frithjof Schuon and a British sufi [1].

Lings was born in Burnage, Manchester in 1909 to a Protestant family. The young Lings gained an introduction to traveling at a young age, spending significant time in the United States due to his father's employment.

Lings attended public school at Clifton College and went on to Magdalen College, Oxford (BA (Oxon) English Language and Literature). At Magdalen he was a student of C. S. Lewis, who would become a close friend of his. 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 that occurred while he was at Oxford was his discovery of the writings of the French Muslim metaphysician René Guénon and the German spiritual authority and meta physician and Perrenialist Frithjof Schuon. 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 of his, who was an assistant of René Guénon. Not long after arriving in Cairo, his friend died, and Lings began studying and learned the Arabic language.

Cairo became his home for over a decade; he became an English teacher at the University of Cairo and produced Shakespearean plays annually. Lings married Lesley Smalley in 1944, and lived with his wife 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 about Muhammad, written in 1983, that 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.[2] 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 renowned Shakespeare scholar. The unique 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 HRH The Prince of Wales.


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