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- October 6th 2006
by Inner Traditions
(first published 1983)
- Date of birth: January 24, 1909
- Died: May 12, 2005
- Born: in Burnage, Manchester , The United Kingdom.
- Description: Martin Lings was an English writer and scholar, a student and follower of Frithjof Schuon, and Shakespearean scholar. He is best known as the author of a very popular and positively reviewed biography, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, first published in 1983 and still in print.
Lings was born in Burnage, Manchester in 1909 to a Protestant family. The young Lings gained an introduction to travelling at a young age, spending significant time in the United States due to his father's employment.
Lings attended 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 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 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 Arabic.
Cairo became his home for over a decade; he became an English teacher at the University of Cairo and produced Shakespeare plays annually. Lings married Lesley Smalley in 1944 and lived with her 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 of Muhammad, written in 1983, which 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. 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 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 HRH The Prince of Wales. 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.