Martin Lings

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Martin Lings
(Abū Bakr Sirāj al-Dīn)
Martin Lings in 2004
Born(1909-01-24)24 January 1909
Burnage, Manchester
Died12 May 2005(2005-05-12) (aged 96)
Westerham, Kent
Religion Islam
EraModern era
Movement Traditionalist School
Notable work(s) Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources
Alma mater
Tariqa Shadhili
OccupationIslamic scholar, author; Shakespearean scholar,Historian
Spouse(s)Lesley Smalley (1944–2013)

Martin Lings (24 January 1909 – 12 May 2005), also known as Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn, was an English writer, scholar, and philosopher. A student of the Swiss metaphysician Frithjof Schuon [1] and an authority on the work of William Shakespeare, he is best known as the author of Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources , first published in 1983 and still in print.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

The Swiss are the citizens of Switzerland or people of Swiss ancestry.

Frithjof Schuon Swiss philosopher, poet and painter

Frithjof Schuon, also known as ʿĪsā Nūr ad-Dīn ʾAḥmad, was an author of German ancestry born in Basel, Switzerland. He was a spiritual master, philosopher, and metaphysician inspired by the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta and Sufism and the author of numerous books on religion and spirituality. He was also a poet and a painter.


Early life and education

Lings was born in Burnage, Manchester, in 1909 to a Protestant family. [2] The young Lings gained an introduction to travelling at a young age, spending significant time in the United States because of 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. [2]

Burnage suburb of the city of Manchester in North West England

Burnage is a suburb of the city of Manchester in North West England, about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Manchester city centre and bisected by the dual carriageway of Kingsway. The population of the Burnage Ward at the 2011 census was 15,227. It lies between Withington to the west, Levenshulme to the north, Heaton Chapel to the east and Didsbury and Heaton Mersey to the south.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Clifton College grade II listed independent school (UK) in Bristol, United kingdom

Clifton College is a co-educational independent school in the suburb of Clifton in the city of Bristol in South West England, founded in 1862. In its early years it was notable for emphasising science rather than classics in the curriculum, and for being less concerned with social elitism, e.g. by admitting day-boys on equal terms and providing a dedicated boarding house for Jewish boys, called Polacks. Having linked its General Studies classes with Badminton School, it admitted girls to the Sixth Form in 1987 and is now fully coeducational. Polacks house closed in 2005.

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. This prompted his embracing Islam to embrace the branch of the Alawiyya tariqa led by Schuon. Thereafter, Lings remained Schuon's disciple and expositor for the rest of his life. [3]

René Guénon French metaphysician

René-Jean-Marie-Joseph Guénon, also known as ʿAbd al-Wāḥid Yaḥyá, was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from sacred science and traditional studies, to symbolism and initiation.

Ahmad al-Alawi Founder of a popular modern Sufi order

Ahmad al-Alawi, , was an Algerian Sufi Sheikh who founded his own Sufi order, called the Alawiyya.


In 1939, Lings went to Cairo, Egypt, to visit a friend who was an assistant of René Guénon. Soon 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. [4] Lings married Lesley Smalley in 1944 and lived with her in a village near the pyramids. [5] Despite having settled comfortably in Egypt, Lings was forced to leave in 1952 after anti-British disturbances. [6]

Cairo Capital and largest city of Egypt

Cairo is the capital of Egypt. The city's metropolitan area is one of the largest in Africa, the largest in the Middle East and 15th-largest in the world, and is associated with ancient Egypt, as the famous Giza pyramid complex and the ancient city of Memphis are located in its geographical area. Located near the Nile Delta, modern Cairo was founded in 969 AD by the Fatimid dynasty, but the land composing the present-day city was the site of ancient national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo. Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life, and is titled "the city of a thousand minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture. Cairo is considered a World City with a "Beta +" classification according to GaWC.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia, as traditionally defined. Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

On 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. [2] After completing his doctorate in 1959, Lings worked at the British Museum and later the British Library, overseeing eastern manuscripts and other textual works, [2] 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 .

Sufism, or Taṣawwuf, variously defined as "Islamic mysticism", "the inward dimension of Islam" or "the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam", is mysticism in Islam, "characterized ... [by particular] values, ritual practices, doctrines and institutions" which began very early in Islamic history and represents "the main manifestation and the most important and central crystallization of" mystical practice in Islam. Practitioners of Sufism have been referred to as "Sufis".

British Museum National museum in the Bloomsbury area of London

The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It was the first public national museum in the world.

British Library National library of the United Kingdom

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest national library in the world by number of items catalogued. It is estimated to contain 170–200 million+ items from many countries. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK. The Library is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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. [7] His work was hailed as the "best biography of the prophet in English" at the National Seerat Conference in Islamabad. [8] He also continued travelling extensively, although he made his home in Kent. He died on 12 May 2005. [5] Lings and a salafist scholar named Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi had a public debate about some accounts of Lings his biography of Muhammad. The exchange was published by Saudi Gazette.

Martin Lings Lings2.jpg
Martin Lings
Martin Lings during a lecture. Lings33.jpg
Martin Lings during a lecture.

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. [9] 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. [10]


See also

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  1. , a follower of the Alawiyya Sufi tariqa,Islamic scholar concerned with spiritual crisis
  2. 1 2 3 4 Martin, Douglas (29 May 2005). "Martin Lings, a Sufi Writer on Islamic Ideas, Dies at 96". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  3. Martin Lings, A Return to the Spirit, Fons Vitae, Kentucky, 2005, pp. 4–5.
  4. Eaton, Gai (27 May 2005). "Obituary: Martin Lings". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  5. 1 2 Eaton, Gai (26 May 2005). "Martin Lings". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  6. Arabic obituary in Al-Ahram International Edition, 11 June 2005. Transl. in A Return to the Spirit, Fons Vitae, Kentucky, 2005, pp. 87–90.
  7. Sedgwick, Mark (3 June 2004). Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press. p. 8. ISBN   9780199744930.
  8. Muhammad : His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings
  9. The Secret of Shakespeare: His Greatest Plays Seen in the Light of Sacred Art, Quinta Essentia, Cambridge, 1996.
  10. Shakespeare's Spirituality: A Perspective
  11. Sedgwick, Mark (3 June 2004). Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press. p. 245. ISBN   9780199744930.