Dimming of light - Passing away of Martin Lings

Category: Europe, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Views: 11007

One of the damned things about this world now 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 (May 12, 2005). 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 prophet hood in general. It would be but the first book of Mr. Lings that would be transforming. 

A University of Chicago graduate student, whose first name is Ibrahim, handed me Mr. Lings' book, A 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, about 21 years later, in fact. 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 hard 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 sabiqun (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 canvas celebration of banality and caustic attempt at making what is ordinary appear special, which, after all, is a backdoor, slinking strike against "special," the concept and possibility. Jagger sings "Paint it Black," and so they do. 

God's mercy be upon Mr. Lings.

(Martin Lings was born in Lancashire in 1909. After a classical education he read English at Oxford where he was a pupil and later a close friend of C. S. Lewis. In 1935 he went to Lithuania where he lectured on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English and subsequently he went to Egypt and and lectured mainly on Shakespeare at Cairo University. In 1952 he returned to England and took a degree in Arabic and in 1955 he joined the staff of the British Museum where from 1970-73 he was Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts. For the following year he held the same post in the newly founded British Library. In addition to writing many books he is also the author of the chapter 'Mystical Poetry' in Abbasid Belles-Lettres, which is Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, and the chapter on 'The Nature and Origin of Sufism' in Vol.19 of World Spirituality, as well as articles for Studies in Comparative Religion, Sophia, The New Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

Ibrahim N. Abusharif is the editor of Starlatch Press. He may be reached at [email protected]. You may visit his blog: http://fromclay.blogspot.com.

Martin Lings book, 'Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources' is one of the most widely read biography of the Prophet of Islam. It has provided inspiration to the lives of many.

With an unusual gift for narrative, Dr. Lings has adopted a style that reflects both the simplicity and the grandeur of the story he tells.

You can buy this book at the IslamiCity Bazar.

  Category: Europe, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
Views: 11007
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Older Comments:
With total submission to the will of Allah, we mourn the death of our revered ustaz and sheikh. May Allah grant him Al Jannat Firdaus, amin. Wassalam.

Rahimatou Allah alaika ya Abou Bakr Siraj ad-Din (aka Martin Lings). I have read quite few biography books of our so much beloved Prophet Mohammed, may the peace of Allah be upon him. I have read your book translation in French. In your writing you have shown so much love and reverence for the Prophet Mohammed may the peace of Allah be upon him. Your writing style, with beauty and excellence of such biography, did indeed reflect your love for the Prophet.

There seems to be some confusion. Mr. Lings was indeed a Muslim. He converted to Islam in the 1950's. There's no doubt about him being a Muslim. Allah have mercy on his soul.

The passing away of Martin Lings is indeed very sad. His book on the life of the noble prophet (PBUH) made Arabia and the prophet (PBUH) come alive.

Mr. Lings was easily able to capture how the piety and devoutness of the followers comingled with the lust, greed and hunger for power of the disbelievers in that little microcosm of Arabia.

Muslim or not, Mr. Lings has done a great service to the Ummah by writing about the prophet (PBUH). May Allah reward him for that.


God bless his soul. Al-Fatihah.
I must say that his book 'Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources'was among the first few books that spurred my interest into searching and reading other great books on Islam.
It's a must read.

From Allah we come to Allah we return.

His books have left a very profound effect on me. It was superbly written.
May he be among those whom Allah favours.

I thought Martin Lings' (ML) book was a very well written and touching account of the Life of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Whilst there are accounts in it that have been described as problematic, teachers (who have used it for their seerah classes) have said that as long as you are aware of them, they have considered the benefit in it to far outweigh the possible sharr and thus described it as recommended reading.

One of the main problems, that was outlined in such a seerah class, related to the Prophet's (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) marriage to Zaynab after her divorce from Zayd the Prophet's adopted son (ML pg 212 -213). The picture painted in the ML book was that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) admired Zaynab's beauty whilst she was still married to Zayd. But as has been outlined in Qadi Iyad's 'Muhammad: The Messenger of Allah' (section 5, pg 351-354) there would have been a great fault in it which would not have befit the Prophet as Prophet knew zainad from pre-islamic years and she was offered to him as a wife by her own brother instead prophet)saw_ forced her to marry Zayd. If prophet(saw) admired her , why not marry her while she was still a virgin and very interested in marrying him?

....Rather Allah had made Zayd divorce her & marry the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) so as to remove the barriers set up by ties of adoption & invalidating its customs.

When I had first read it I was unaware of these facts yet it still left a lasting impression after hearing of them - a very good book well worth reading. Insha-Allah I hope this has helped.

Another link today states that ML has reverted to Islan, this is news!!


I've read Martin Lings' biography of the Prophet pbuh. Through this book, I came to few things about the early days of Islam in detail.

Was Martin Lings a revort?

May Allah grant peace to his soul.

May Allah Subhanotalah grant him the best in the next world Ameen. As it is stated in the Hadees Bukhari when the time draws nigh, the first to depart will be knowledge with the passing of scholars. Looking at the condition of our Ummah can we afford to loose such good people? Pakistan just made headlines today as its secular agenda and policies instituted by the US puppet leader Musharraf, an admirer of the kuffar and avowed anti-Islamist, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, has now made this erstwhile country of Muslims, now famous for - an ideal place for Homosexuals to live and thrive. How utterly deplorable and shameful. Is this to be the source of pride for Muslims? How terribly tragic. Please read the BBC link below: