Dr. Martin Lings, Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, (1909-2005) was a great scholar of Islam and Comparative Religion. He was tutored by C. S. Lewis at Magdalen College, Oxford who wrote of the young Lings’ that he was one of those rare students who reminded Lewis of the purpose and value of teaching. Lings was the author of the magisterial ‘Muhammad: His Life based on the Earliest Sources’ for which he received a number of national awards and of which, a fine critic of English Literature had remarked, “But for the prejudice in the West towards the topic, this book would have been recognised as one of the great biographies of the English language.” In his own life and example Lings embodied, beautifully, the prophetic character.
Lings could be most accurately described by his own writings when he likened this world to a nursery garden “for there is nothing in this world that has not been planted here with a view to its being eventually transplanted elsewhere. The central part of the garden is allotted to trees of a particularly noble kind, though relatively small and growing in earthenware pots. As we look at them, all our attention is caught by one that is more beautiful, more luxuriant than others. The cause is not naked to the eye immediately but we know what has happened – the tree has broken through the pot and struck roots deep into the earth. And because it has gone deeper, inwardly, it has gone higher, outwardly. Such is the case with some people who go deeper into the essence that they become stronger, outwardly, in form.”
Martin Lings was one such person. A noble man who had spent his whole life polishing his heart with the remembrance of God such that his heart was rendered pure, transparent, enabling him to see through the physical form to the spiritual reality – from the symbol to the archetype. A man whose life and teachings, even after his death, are transforming lives and changing perceptions.
“A Message of Hope at the Eleventh Hour”
The talk by Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi explained how the eleventh hour is characterised not only by darkness but also by divine mercy which are all the more conspicuous against the background of the prevailing gloom. It is upon this aspect of mercy and grace, compensating for global decadence, that Martin Lings was fixated and not on the decadence itself. The parable of the eleventh hour given by Jesus – the fact that the workers who worked only for the eleventh hour received the same wage as those who worked throughout the heat of the day – clearly refers to the ‘increase’ of mercy at the end of time, a principle affirmed in islam by the saying of the Prophet: ‘He who omits one tenth of the Law in the beginning of Islam will be damned; but he who accomplishes one tenth of the Law at the end of Islam will be saved.
Saint and City:Shaykh Abu Bakr and Jerusalem
“The lecture by Professor Emeritus Abdallah Schleifer elaborated upon how Mecca and Jerusalem have existed from all Abrahamic Time bound together by the revelations of the Abrahamic Religions, by Torah, by Ingeel (the New Testament) and by Quran, just as the waters of Jerusalem – as legend would have it — feeds the well of Zamzam in Mecca hundreds of miles away. According to Shaykh Abu Bakr, the Night Journey of the Prophet from the ruins of the Temple—the farthest mosque — in Jerusalem to the heavens was a consummation of the blessed signs of a relationship between the Holy Land and Mecca where Muhammad was met by all the Biblical prophets and whence, from a rock on the site of the Temple, he was taken up, still accompanied by the Archangel, to the highest Heaven, and back again to the Kaaba.
“Art and the Real”
In this lecture, Kamil Khan Mumtaz spoke of how the crisis of the modern world, the present global environmental, social and economic crisis, is a consequence of the denial of the Absolute Transcendent Real and the adoption of the relative, the material “world” – the illusory maya – as the primary reality. This can be seen in all realms including Art. Until recently, we thought of Art as a means of imparting aesthetic pleasure, of seeing ourselves and the world through the subtle sensibilities of the artist. Today we talk of art as an industry. Much of what is presented as art today is so removed from the aesthetic criteria of a generation ago, that it is difficult to find an acceptable definition that can be applied to the art products across the different stages of human history. Art is the representation of the Real as perceived by the artist. But man’s perception of the Real has changed through four major epochs.
“A Qur’anic Response to An Inconvenient Truth”
The lecture by Dr. Shah-Kazemi was a response to former US Vice-President Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – a documentary highlighting the environmental crisis and his own work which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Dr. Shah-Kazemi explained how the environmental crisis is a catastrophic consequence of an essentially materialistic conception of the universe and could never have happened in a world defined by tawhid, that is, “integrating oneness”, the cardinal principle of Islam. In terms of tawhid, the natural environment is nothing other than the expression here below of that “environment” constituted by the divine Reality itself. The only effective solution to a crisis as all-encompassing as the one facing us today is a solution that is likewise all-encompassing: one which integrates the practical and material aspects with the ethical and spiritual dimensions of our existence, beginning with the microcosm, the “small universe” which each human being is.
“Repair and Redeem:
Iqbal’s Re-statement of Sufi Thought”
The lecture by Suheyl Umar explored how one of the most outstanding sages and poets of our times, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, took up the challenge posed by the modern age of secular modernity and materialism and instead proposed traditional Islam and Sufism as systems of repair and healing. Critics have claimed that Iqbal was hostile to Sufism, although a careful study of his writings proves the opposite: While he criticized some of the decadent aspects of prevalent Sufism, the essence of Iqbal’s thought drew its sap from it. Iqbal and Rumi share a common legacy: they employ the same universal languages of the human soul – poetry and mysticism to reform society. The universalistic characteristics of Iqbal’s thought and his constructive-critical engagement with both the Islamic tradition and with modern Western thought make his writings a perfect bridge between the East and the West.