Lings, Martin 1909–2005

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Lings, Martin 1909–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born January 24, 1909, in Burnage, Lancashire, England; died May 12, 2005, in Westerham, Kent, England. Religious scholar, museum keeper, and author. Lings was a famous authority on Sufism and Islamic culture. Raised in a Protestant family, he abandoned his religious beliefs as a young man. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied under Christian apologist and author C. S. Lewis, earning a B.A. in English in 1932. While lecturing in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English at the University of Kaunas in Lithuania for four years, he earned an M.A. in 1937. In 1939, Lings traveled to Cairo, Egypt, to visit a friend then working as an assistant to philosopher René Guénon, whose work sparked Lings' curiosity. When his friend died in an accident, Lings became Guénon's new assistant, and of necessity he learned to speak Arabic. Converting to Islam, he took a job as a lecturer in Shakespeare at the University of Cairo in 1940, remaining there until 1952, when riots against the British compelled him to return to England. Having become interested in Arabic culture, he matriculated at the University of London to earn a bachelor's degree in Arabic in 1954 and a doctorate in 1959. While at the university, Lings became a disciple of metaphysical philosopher Frithjof Schuon, who taught him about Sufi doctrine and methods. His doctoral thesis was later published as the biography A Moslem Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi (1961), a second edition of which appeared as A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century (1971). Lings then embarked on a second career as a writer and keeper of museum book and manuscript collections, specializing in Arabic and Oriental works. From 1955 to 1970 he was an assistant keeper at the British Museum, and from 1970 to 1974 was named keeper of Oriental manuscripts and printed books. Meanwhile, he produced such books as Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art (1966; fourth edition published as The Sacred Art of Shakespeare in 1998), The Quranic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination (1976; reprinted in 2004 as Splendours of Qur'an Calligraphy and Illumination), Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (1997), and his last book, Mecca (2004). Convinced that human civilization was in decline, Lings maintained that salvation could only be found through traditional religious beliefs.



Guardian (London, England), May 27, 2005, p. 31.

Independent (London, England), May 21, 2005, p. 40.

International Herald Tribune, May 30, 2005, p. 2.

New York Times, May 29, 2005, p. A23.

Times (London, England), May 25, 2005, p. 59.