A critical analysis of Martin Lings’ Biography Of The Prophet ﷺ
© 1437/2016 webearwitness.com
All praise is due to Allah; we praise Him and seek His aid and His forgiveness. And we seek refuge in Allah from the evils of our own selves and from our evil deeds. Whomsoever is guided by Allah, there is none to misguide him. And whomsoever He misguides, there is none to guide him. And we bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah, Who is alone, without any partner. And we bear witness that Muhammad ibn Abdullah is his slave/servant and His Messenger. May Allah Almighty bestow His peace and blessings upon him, his family, his Companions, and upon all those who strive in their footsteps until the Day of Judgment. Verily the best of speech is the speech of Allah, and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. Indeed the evilest of things in religion are those which are invented; and every religious invention is an innovation, and every innovation is a misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.
Martin Lings’ Life of Muhammad (ﷺ) from the Earliest Sources has gained wide popularity over recent years, and it continues to be sold and recommended unabated. This current essay is a collection of three letters exposing the fraudulent sources used by Mr. Lings and moreover, his adherence to the doctrine he calls “the Perennial Philosophy.”
The letters are reprinted from the February and March 1989 issues of Saudi Gazette newspaper, where they appeared in the column Questions of Faith. The first letter was written by the late Shaykh Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi (raHimhuAllaah), the second being Mr. Martin Lings’ reply and the third letter comes from Shaykh Abu Bilal as a counter-reply. Mr. Lings could send no further response after the counter-reply. The letters appear as they originally had been published, only with minor spelling and printing corrections.
It is hoped that a reading of these letters will Insha’Allah, help Muslims see for themselves the false beliefs and values expounded by the adherents of Perennialism, who ostensibly claim to uphold the banner of Islam yet are far removed from Islam’s pure teachings.
And to warn against the usage and application of weak or rejectable and forged hadeeths [traditions], which have marred the beauty of Islam and have prevented Muslims from real progress and success in realizing their faith. May Allah establish our feet firmly in the path of our Messenger Muhammad (ﷺ) and protect us from ever willingly exchanging truth for falsehood, Ameen.
Editorial update: In 1991, JIMAS in Ipswich, Suffolk, UK printed this series in book format under the title, “Letters against Martin Lings’ Biography Of The Prophet”. Later in 1995 the now defunct Society for Adherence to the Sunnah (SAS), slated it for US publication and retitled it “Perrenialist Poison- Exposed In Martin Lings’ Biography Of The Prophet”. However, due to financial constraints at the time, it was never printed. A pirated copy was made from the SAS re-titled version and later made its way to the internet. This current re-titled version is from the original SAS copy.
SHAYKH ABU BILAL’S CRITICAL ADVICE
Sir, Congratulations on the opening of a religious section in your newspaper, entitled The Message. I trust it will be of great service disseminating valuable information regarding various aspects of the Islamic faith.
However, I must admit that I was dismayed to see that you have begun a serial of excerpts from Martin Lings’ biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The reason for this is that the book–although its language is graceful and its style enticing–is not a dependable historical document of the Prophet’s life as portrayed in the Glorious Quran and the authentic Sunnah.
I would like to draw your attention to a few facts which I trust will clarify my point. Mr. Lings draws heavily on sources which, although ancient, are not fully trustworthy; eg. Al-Waagidi’s Maghaazi, and Al-Azragi’s Akhbaar Makkah. The former is replete with forged and weak traditions, and its author, Al-Waagidi has been unanimously assessed by critics of hadeeth literature to be rejected as a narrator of traditions. This heavy dependence of Mr. Lings upon spurious sources for his narrative renders his biography unreliable as an exposition of the impeccable life and times of the Prophet of Islam. There are in fact quite a number of examples in the book which clearly indicate certain gross errors as well as distorted views of the author; however, lack of space permits me to mention only a few, in brief.
At the beginning of his treatise (p. 1-2), Lings chooses to quote from the distorted texts of the Bible’s Book of Genesis (ch. 15, v. 5), rather than rely on authentic narrations of the Prophet Muhammad regarding the story of Abraham and how he settled his wife Hagar and son Ishmael at Makkah. The Biblical account put Ishmael’s age at 13, whereas the traditions of Al-Bukhari indicate that he was a suckling babe at the time of their arrival in Makkah. It could be said, with justification, that the age difference is of minor significance–and this can be readily conceded–however, there is a vital issue at stake here; viz., Mr. Lings’ view of what is to be regarded as dependable source material for his writing.
When he was justifiably criticised for his quoting from the Bible instead of Islamic sources in an article entitled “Unscrupulous writing about the Prophet” in a local newspaper, Mr. Lings later replied: “I myself am more prepared to accept what Divine Revelation tells us than what was handed down in Arabia by word of mouth from generation to generation.”
He further labels the authentically established Islamic version of the story as traditions of the Arabs. Thus he considers the interpolated and distorted text of the Bible “Divine Revelation”, whereas the authentic narrations of the Prophet related to us on the authority of Al-Bukhari are mere “traditions of the Arabs”, and therefore–it is assumed–unreliable. The Prophet has said: “Verily I have been given the Quran and that which is like unto it, along with it,” i.e., the Prophetic Sunnah which we are obliged to accept as another aspect of the final Divine Revelation; if it has been verified to be transmitted to us in a dependable manner.
The second example is Mr. Lings’ rendering of the relationship between the Prophet and Zaynab, for this creates the impression of a passionate romantic love affair between them. He paints a picture of Zaynab at her house who–being lightly clad–upon hearing of the Prophet’s arrival at her door, was so eager to greet him that “she leapt to her feet and ran to the door, to invite him to stay until her husband Zayd returned” (p. 213). That is, she was improperly dressed, and the Prophet was overcome with passion, amazed at her beauty. Mr. Lings borrowed his “story” from certain forged narrations of Al-Waagidi et. al., and these were aptly described by some critics as “proper material for a Hollywood film”. Obviously, such material is absolutely unacceptable for such a sacred subject as the life of the Prophet Muhammad, his virtuous wives and righteous companions.
The final example I will mention–and perhaps the most detrimental –which clearly points to gross misconceptions and distortions of the Prophet’s Seerah by Mr. Lings is the incident of the Prophet’s entry into Makkah on the Day of Victory. It is well known that he was commissioned by Almighty Allah to purify the Ka‘bah of all signs of polytheism, by ridding it of all the idols surrounding it. Furthermore, the Prophet ordered his companions to destroy and efface everything which remained inside the Ka‘bah by way of painting or sculpture, and to remove such before he entered inside to pray. This has been authentically related in the compilation of Al-Bukhari, et. al.
Lings on the contrary, relates another “story” (see p. 300) gleaned from the forged narratives contained in his so-called “dependable ancient sources” (i.e., Al-Waagidi, Al-Azragi et. al.). This “story” totally contradicts what has been authentically related regarding this incident and contradicts the essential principle of towheed (unicity of Godhood) for Lings writes the following: “Apart from the icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus and a painting of an old man said to be Abraham, the walls inside (the Ka‘bah) had been covered with pictures of pagan deities. Placing his hand protectively over the icon, the Prophet told ‘Uthman to see that all other paintings, except that of Abraham, were effaced.”
I ask: Can it be believed that the Prophet (pbuh) would protect such icons of Mary, Jesus and Abraham in this manner, and that he would allow these idols to be left intact inside the sacred Ka‘bah, the very symbol of pure unadulterated towheed?! The answer should be quite obvious to anyone possessing firm faith and good sense, for if such a story were true–and it certainly isn’t–then it follows that the Prophet affirmed the very symbols of polytheism and by implication, it indicates that he approved of the distorted existing versions of the previously revealed religions of Christianity and Judaism, symbolised by his protection of their two respective icons.
And that is precisely the aim of Lings’ mentioning this forged tale, since it is consistent with the false doctrine and philosophy to which he adheres and which he avidly propounds in his other writings, namely, The Perennial Philosophy. The principal theme of Perennialism is that all religions are in reality one, and mutually supportive and acceptable; it is merely their “outer” manifestations which appear to differ! (See Lings’ book The Eleventh Hour, p. 71, 74, 77, 80). He furthermore believes in reincarnation (p. 26-29) and the pagan theory of pantheistic monism, i.e., the union of man and God (p. 104, 106).
Needless to say, such aberrant doctrines and tenets are totally contrary to the pure and unadulterated teachings of Islam as contained and preserved in the Gracious Quran and the authentic Prophetic Sunnah; the sole criteria for distinguishing truth from error and falsehood.
From what has preceded by way of this brief expose regarding the aforementioned biography of Muhammad, and in light of Mr. Lings’ distorted views on Islam, I strongly recommend that the intended serial of quotations from his book be immediately discontinued and replaced by dependable literature on the life of Muhammad (pbuh).
Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi
Imam, Medical City Mosque,
King Khalid Nat. Guard Hospital,
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
MARTIN LINGS’ RESPONSE
Having discussed my life of the Prophet as unreliable, Mr. Kanadi goes on to say that ‘lack of space permits him to mention only a few examples of the gross errors as well as distorted views of the author’. In fact only three are mentioned but we may assume that there are the worst, that is, the grossest and most distorted. Let us examine them.
The first is now out of date, because in the latest edition of my book, the Biblical statement that Ishmael was 13 when he came to Makkah has been omitted and replaced by what is generally believed by Muslims, namely that he was a babe in arms. Mr. Kanadi may be unaware of this; but in any case he has no right to accuse me of labelling traditions of the Prophet as traditions of the Arabs. If I had found recorded any statement by the Prophet himself that Ishmael was a babe at that time, I would have immediately accepted it without bothering to consult Genesis in the first place. When I say traditions of the Arabs I mean ‘pre-Islamic’ traditions. But on reflection I think it is almost certain that the Prophet accepted these traditions as regards Ishmael, and so I have conformed to them, while retaining my other references to Genesis in order to remind Christian and Jewish readers of the promises which their Bible records as having been made by God to Abraham on behalf of Ishmael.
As to the second example of my gross errors and distorted views, it has to do with what led up to the Prophet’s marriage with Zaynab. Let your readers look at p. 213 and they will find that like the rest of my book it is full of the greatest veneration for the Prophet. He is portrayed as a man in total domination of his desires, a man who is not prepared to let his own individual feelings sway his behavior from the norm in any respect. The incident in question has, for all men, a great spiritual value, which is, to say the least, not characteristic of Hollywood films! The account of the Prophet’s visit to the house of Zaynab and of his sudden consciousness of his love for Zaynab is given not only by Ibn Sa‘d in his Tabaqat from which I have taken it, but also by Tabari, Baydawi, the Jalalyn and others of the great Qur’an commentators. The Prophet’s exclamation upon his first awareness of the love in question is quoted throughout Islamic literature: Glory be to God, the Infinite! Glory to Him who disposeth men’s hearts! These words have become a precious part of our Islamic heritage, and they are indeed worthy of meditation, for the lesson they teach us is profound. We have here a supreme example of true spiritual objectivity which does not allow the strongest emotional impact to divert it from the remembrance of God, Allah. It is also highly significant that it was God who put this love into his heart. But as to our critic, he glosses my words amazed at her beauty by overcome with passion; and since I and my sources have been at such pains to show precisely that the Prophet was not overcome–indeed, that is the main point of the page in question and no reader could be in doubt about it–Mr. Kanadi is here guilty of no less than a serious calumny against me and those whom I have followed.
As to the third example of my gross errors and distorted views, it has to do with an icon of the Virgin and Child which a Christian had painted on an inside wall of the Ka‘aba. According to all authorities,on the day of the Victory of Makkah the Prophet entered the Holy House and ordered the effacement of the paintings on its walls. Some accounts do not mention any exceptions; according to others the Prophet placed a protective hand over the icon while ordering that the other paintings should be effaced except one of Abraham. In my book I mention both accounts; the reader can take his choice. But the authorities for the exception are good; al-Wagidi quotes Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri; and Al-Azraqui quotes Ibn Ishaq which shows that the incident must have been related in the now lost complete Sirah of Ibn Ishaq before it was abridged by Ibn Hisham. I wished to mention it because it is particularly pleasing to Western readers. But as to exactly what happened on that occasion God knows best, Allahu a‘lam. Our critic would do well to ponder these last words instead of claiming to have absolute certainty that the men who believed this incident to be true are wrong and that he is right, men who lived incomparably nearer the time of the Prophet than we do and who were no less set than we are on recording the truth.
Moreover, we must remember that the Prophet was bent on destroying the pagan idols and the paintings of the deities which the Quraysh and the other Arabs worshipped. The icon was in a different category, not pagan and not worshipped by Quraysh who were even accustomed to laughing at the mention of Jesus (Quran, 43, 57). How can anyone claim to be absolutely certain that at the moment in question the Prophet was not moved to make a gesture of adab towards a brother Messenger? Allahu a‘lam. But Mr. Kanadi writes: ‘If such a story were true–and it certainly isn’t–then it follows that the Prophet affirmed the very symbols of polytheism and by implication it indicates that he approved of the distorted versions of the previously revealed religions of Christianity and Judaism. Our critic is here on very unsafe ground; for whatever the truth of the above story may be, no one doubts that after the Victory of Makkah the Prophet made treaties with various Christian communities and these pacts bound him to protect their churches, all of which contained icons similar to this painting in the Ka‘aba. Moreover he expressly invited a delegation of Christians from Najran to make use of his mosque in Madina for the performance of their Christian rites. But Mr. Kanadi comes dangerously close to criticising the Prophet, for what is implied in the story which he says is false is also implied in the undisputed act of spiritual generosity which we have just mentioned. It is likewise implied by the pacts, for to protect icons is a positive gesture, wherever they may be, it means allowance if not approval. Moreover and above all, by identifying the existing versions of Christianity and Judaism with polytheism, Mr. Kanadi thereby reflects the clear distinction made by God between polytheism, which Islam absolutely forbids, and Christianity and Judaism which He compels Islam to allow and to protect until the end of time.
Having said his say about my life of the Prophet he adds, in case his readers are not yet shuddering at my gross errors and distorted views, three calumnies in correction with my other books. Firstly he says that Lings has mentioned “this forged tale since it is consistent with the false doctrine and philosophy to which he adheres and which he propounds in his other writings, namely the Perennial Philosophy. The principal theme of Perennialism is that all religions are really one, and mutually supporting and acceptable.”
That is not correct: he should have said “That all true religion is in reality one.” The Qur’an defines the Perennial Religion in the words Verily religion with God is Islam. But we have to understand the word Islam here in its wider sense for the Qur’an affirms that Jesus and his companions were Muslims and it says the same of every messenger of religion and his first followers. Perennial Philosophy is not in the least concerned with pseudo-religion, nor is it concerned with the various distortions and deviations from true religion. Mr. Kanadi should not write about what he does not understand. Then he accuses me of believing in reincarnation, a charge which is the opposite of the truth since reincarnation is one of the false beliefs which my writings continually refute. Thirdly he says that I believe in the theory of pantheistic monism, i.e., the union of man and God. No, I do not believe in pantheistic monism; but I do believe in a blessing which is greater than Paradise (see Qur’an, 9:72) namely Ridwan, and which was defined by God on the tongue of His Prophet in a hadith qudusi in terms of which suggest a certain measure of union: “My slave ceases not to draw near to Me with devotions of his free will (nawafil) until I love him; and when I love him I am the hearing with which he hears, the sight with which he sees, the hand with which he grasps and the foot on which he walks,” (Bukhari, LXXXI, 37).
Now let me put to your readers the following question. How is it that this book which since its publication in 1982 has been so highly praised by Muslim scholars all over the world, and has been awarded first prize in a competition for the best life of the Prophet by a panel of Sirah experts specially chosen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Pakistan–how is it that it should be dismissed as unreliable by a relatively new convert to Islam who has certainly not had the time to acquire the qualifications of the eminent authorities just referred to? Moreover it was not merely a question of a prize: Such was the enthusiasm of these authorities that the government of Pakistan decided to distribute copies of my book free of charge amongst members of their armed forces, and they produced a special edition of 15,000 copies to be printed in Lahore for the purpose. Quite independently of this, a scholar from the Muslim community of Cape Town writes in his review of the book: “This work should be translated into Arabic so that the whole of the Arab world may drink from it. It should be the prescribed text on the Nabawi period in all institutions of learning everywhere, in madaris, colleges, institutes and universities, as well as in all libraries, local, municipal, institutional, mosque and personal.”
The chief criticism made by Mr. Kanadi is that I have drawn heavily on Kitab al Maghazi which “is replete with forged and weak traditions and its author al-Waqidi has been unanimously assessed by critics of hadeeth literature to be rejected as a narrator of traditions.” Our readers will by now have come to realise that the words gross and distorted, so persistently used by Mr. Kanadi of me, are in this case something of a boomerang. The truth of the matter in question is that there are certain books, including al-Waqidi’s which are precious and almost indispensable mines of information about the early years of Islam and which are consequently to be found in every self-respecting library throughout Dar-al-Islam. Within this venerable class of books some scholars have judged that Kitab al-Maghazi, contains more weak hadith than, for example, the works of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa‘d. Not one of them would say that al-Waqidi’s masterpiece is ‘replete with forged traditions’, because in the first place only God–and the forger–can know whether a tradition is forged. On the other hand, it is universally admitted that many so called “weak traditions” may in fact be true. In any case, in drawing upon all my sources, I have been at great pains to be selective.
Mr. Kanadi and I are both of Western and non-Islamic extraction. One of the great differences between us is that I am more than 80 years old and I entered Islam over 50 years ago. I have had therefore more time to learn something about Islamic ways and in particular about Islamic adab. I am also old enough to have learnt that there is a margin where different opinions are bound to exist and where no one has the right to insist that his opinion alone is correct. If Mr. Kanadi had written to the Saudi Gazette and said, ‘Since you have begun a series of excerpts from Martin Lings’ biography of the Prophet (pbuh), might I suggest that you do not include pp. 213 and 300 (he might have wished to mention other pages also) because they contain information which in the opinion of some authorities may not be accurate’–if he had written this, I would have found his intervention altogether admissible.
Is it not somewhat ironical that while he is pouring abuse on me and my book, the publishers are being besieged by Muslim organisations from all over the world with requests to make my book more easily available inasmuch as it is the perfect antidote to the poison of the present attacks which are now being made against Islam and the Prophet (pbuh).
Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din
known as Martin Lings
SHAYKH ABU BILAL’S REPLY & REFUTATION
Having read Martin Lings’ response (Saudi Gazette March 10) to my previous criticism of his biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as well as his adherence to the Perennial Philosophy, and finding it untenable, I am obliged to reply by–way of counsel (naseehah)–for the sake of Allah, His Messenger and the ummah of believers.
First, I must commend Mr. Lings on his ability to admit at least some of his errors, and for his willingness to correct them; for reversion to the truth is a virtue, as it is rightly said. On the other hand, it distresses me greatly to see him struggling under the influence of certain unfortunate misconceived notions about Islam in general, and the Prophetic Sunnah, in particular.
Take for example, Mr. Lings’ insistence on retaining his romantic account of the Prophet’s falling in love with Zaynab as recorded in Ibn Sa‘d and the commentaries of At-Tabari, Al-Baydaawi, and others whom he designates authorities–as if they were somehow infallible. I reiterate that these narrations have been assessed by the scholars of Hadeeth criticism to be rejected (mardoodah) due to the weakness of the narrators and the disconnection of the chains of transmission; a fact which renders them unacceptable for the purpose of application in matters of deen. That is the reason given by Ibn Katheer, the hadeeth scholar and commentator, for his refusal to include them in his famous tafseer which is an abridged version of At-Tabari’s commentary. (See Tafseer Al-Quran Adheem, V.6, p.420)
Another example is Mr. Lings’ facile attempt to defend the fabricated story of the Prophet (on the Day of Victory over Makkah) which has him placing his hands protectively over icons of Jesus, Mary and Abraham inside the Ka‘abah, and leaving them intact instead of having them effaced. Frankly, I am amazed at Mr. Lings’ obvious lack of familiarity with the noble Hadeeth sciences, especially Hadeeth criticism which deals with the assessment of the degree of veracity of Prophetic traditions. It is a thoroughly precise and exacting science which is the exclusive property of the Muslim Ummah as no other peoples possess anything remotely near to its thoroughness and precision. Such a noble science protects our faith from the invasion of blameworthy innovations and inventions, for nothing is accepted in matters of deen unless it is related on the authority of an acceptable isnaad (chain of transmitters).
In light of the above, let us look at a few of Mr. Lings’ untenable pronouncements relating to some aspects of Hadeeth criticism. Take, for example, his outlandish statement regarding Al-Waaqidi’s Al-Maghaazi: “Not one of (the scholars) would say that Al-Waaqidi’s masterpiece is replete with forged traditions’, because in the first place only God–and the forger–can know whether a tradition is forged”!! Now the truth of the matter is that the eminent specialists in the branch of Hadeeth sciences known as Ilm ar-Rijaal have unanimously rejected Al-Waaqidi as a narrator of prophetic traditions. A cursory glance at their ruling regarding him will be enough to refute Lings’ totally erroneous claim. The great Hadeeth critic Ibn Hajar relates that Al-Imam Ash-Shaafi‘ee has said of Al-Waaqidi’s books: “They are all lies.” An-Nisaai states that “Al-Waaqidi was well known for his fabrications of prophetic traditions.” Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Ahmad call him “a liar whose narrations are to be rejected.” Abu Dawood emphatically says of him: “I’d never record or relate his Hadeeths; I have no doubt at all that he used to forge traditions.” Other eminent Hadeeth scholars have variously described him as a liar, forger, counterfeiter, rejected, etc. (For details, see Ibn Hajar’s Tad-dheeb At-tah-dheeb, V.9, pp.363-68)
So much for Mr. Lings’ bold claim that “not one of the scholars would say Al-Waaqidi’s masterpiece is replete with forged traditions’.” I agree with Mr. Lings; truly Al-Maghaazi is a masterpiece–in forgery that is! As for the latter part of his claim that “only God–and the forger–can know whether a tradition is forged”, it is like saying: “Only God–and the forger–can know whether a certain bank note is forged.” Surely he must realise that Hadeeth scholars employ a meticulous scientific system of research with exacting standards; they can tell a forged hadeeth as accurately as an expert on counterfeiting tells a phony bill from an authentic one. Moreover, I wonder whether Mr. Lings realises the ramifications of his statement, for it necessarily follows that we cannot in certainty say that any hadeeth is forged–since only God and the forger can know for sure–and by extension, why not use these hadeeths freely as Mr. Lings does in his books; and as is the common practice by the various adherents to the various deviated sects and cults.
The other gross and baseless generalisation made by Mr. Lings is that “it is universally admitted that many so-called ‘weak traditions’ may in fact be true.” Firstly it must be emphatically stressed that there is no such universal admittance as claimed. Secondly, the theoretical possibility that a certain weak tradition may be true, is not at all the point at issue here. The fact of the matter is that once a hadeeth has been assessed to have the degree of weakness–after taxing research and scrutiny–it is no longer permissible–by consensus–to apply it in matters of deen. Mr. Lings’ usage of certain previously-mentioned weak and forged traditions–along with others I have not mentioned for the sake of brevity–calls into question the author’s claimed “scrupulous and exhaustive fidelity to authentic and reliable sources.” (back cover, 1986 edition). After including weak and forged hadeeths in his seerah, can Mr. Lings really claim that he has been “at great pains to be selective?”
Now to return to the claimed story of the Prophet’s protection of the icons and Mr. Lings’ attempts at fanciful sophistry in explaining how such a forged story might be possible. He claims that the icons of Jesus, Mary and Abraham were in a different category than the other idols, “not pagan and not worshipped by Quraysh” and other Arabs. Does Mr. Lings think that these statues, icons and paintings were placed inside the Ka‘aba solely for the purpose of decoration?! Obviously they were placed there to be worshiped along with Allah, as is related in the Quran wherein the pagan Arabs are quoted as saying about their idols: “We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allah.” Such polytheists would not have had the least compunction about worshiping a few more idols such as the three icons mentioned, since they hoped that all of these might bring them near to Allah!
As for Mr. Lings’ question: “How can anyone claim to be absolutely certain that at that moment in question the Prophet was not moved to make a gesture of adab towards a brother Messenger?,” the reply is from two points of view. Firstly, there is to be found in the compilation of Ibn Khuzaymah, et.al. an authentic hadeeth which serves as a devastating reply to Mr. Lings’ untenable suggestion of adab. It is related that the Prophet also was shown the statues of Abraham and Ishmael, the former depicted clasping divining arrows, whereupon he ordered for them to be turned out of the Ka‘aba and toppled upon their faces, resulting in their being smashed to pieces. Would Mr. Lings suggest that the Prophet has shown “poor” adab to his brother Messengers here by having their images toppled on their faces and destroyed? Such a “gesture of adab” as suggested by Mr. Lings is obviously totally erroneous in light of the preceding hadeeth. Secondly, it must be asked: would such an alleged act of “protecting” the icons of Jesus, Mary and Abraham not be considered a gesture of bad adab towards Allah the Exalted and His inviolable House, the very symbol of towheed?
Mr. Lings then goes on to claim that the story of the Prophet’s supposed protection of the icons in the Ka‘aba is supported by his “spiritual generosity” for he allowed Christians to make use of his mosque; and by the pacts and treaties which allowed them to have icons in their churches. The reply to this argument may be phrased in the following questions: Does Mr. Lings wish to imply that the Prophet allowed them to set up their icons in his mosque for the performance of their Christian rites? If the answer is an emphatic “no!”–which I trust it must be–then the analogy presented bears no weight whatsoever. The same may be said regarding the treaties for the mere fact that dhimmis are allowed to have icons in their churches in no way constitutes the slightest “proof” for Mr. Lings’ opinion that such icons could be “protected” by the Prophet and left inside the House of Allah which was dedicated to His sole worship.
Furthermore, since it has been unconditionally established that the story of the icons is a fabrication transmitted by way of certain known forgers of traditions, and it is contradicted by authentic narrations of Al-Bukhari which consistently verify the Prophet’s having completely destroyed and/or effaced all of the idols, paintings and icons inside as well as outside of the Ka‘aba, it is a gross error that one draw upon this concocted story and then claim anything is validly implied therein.
Moreover, Mr. Lings unwittingly comes dangerously close to committing a grave transgression against the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), by upholding this forged tradition, for it necessarily follows from his untenable rendition of the auspicious event of the Conquest of Makkah that the Prophet failed to carry out the Divine Order to purify the most sacred House of its defilement caused by the presence of various idols. This amounts to an accusation of negligence on his part, or even contravention of the Divine Command.
However, this is only “the tip of the iceberg” regarding Mr. Lings’ various misleading pronouncements on Islam in particular and religion in general. Despite his outright denial (in his letter) of a belief in pantheistic monism (i.e., the unity of man and God), he admits to it in the same breath since he opines (wrongly, of course) that the hadith qudsi he quoted “suggests a certain measure of union.” Obviously, any “measure” whatsoever of union constitutes union. Furthermore, he clearly espouses the doctrine in his book The Eleventh Hour. For example, on p.10 he says: “The Kingdom of heaven is within you. This truth is the basis of esoterism, the science and discipline of inwardness, and the aspiration of the esoterist goes beyond salvation to sanctification, which in its highest sense is deification, that is, union (the Hindu yoga) with the Absolute Infinite Perfection of the Divine Essence. This extinction of all relativity is the nirvana of Buddhism; and in Islamic mysticism the saying that ‘the Sufi is not created’ testifies to the same ultimate Reality.” In another pronouncement on this subject Mr. Lings quotes from the master and veritable “High Priest” of Perennialism, Frithjof Schuon who claims that “On the one hand, space together with time, then the existence of things, and then their qualities, ‘prove’ God; on the other hand, they ‘are’ God, but seen through the veil of ‘Outwardness’ or of ‘Distance’” (p.107) In fact, this statement indicates adherence to a belief in the essential union between the rest of creation and God! The doctrine of “union” with God is rejected by Islam which maintains a clear distinction between the created and the Creator.
As far as reincarnation is concerned, I stand by my claim that Mr. Lings subscribes to this concept precisely according to the definition of the term, which is: “Rebirth in new bodies or forms of life” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, p.722). True, Mr. Lings does not subscribe to the theory that a human (or other being) can be reborn into the same world twice. As for being reborn into a number of other worlds and existences, he confirms that such a thing–in his view–is the real state of affairs as is witnessed from the following quotations from his Eleventh Hour: “But a man can, after death, ‘become an ape’ in the sense that he can pass on into another state of existence in which, having lost his centrality, he might occupy a position analogous to that of an ape in this world; and ape could ‘become a man’ in the sense that through some mysterious workings of Divine Grace he might, after his death in this world, be born at the centre of the world that comes ‘next’ to it on the rim of the samsara, the great wheel of universal existence.” (p.26)
After explaining the doctrine of the samsara, Mr. Lings boldly avers: “But truth has its rights, and nothing less than the full doctrine of the samsara is capable of giving a concept of the universe adequate to what contemplative intelligence demands as a symbolic basis for meditating on the Divine Infinitude.” (pp.27-28) Again on p.28 Mr. Lings clearly reaffirms his belief in continuous rebirths by posing the following question: “If beings had no existence previous to this life, how can we explain the birth of thousands of souls day after day into conditions spiritually so unfavourable as to offer no apparent hope of salvation? But if one is aware that our position in this state was ‘earned’ in our previous state upon the great round of existences, the problem no longer looms so large. The state of those countless people in the modern world who do not seem to have been given ‘a fair chance’ can only be the result of their having already developed a centrifugal impetus in one of the samsara’s other worlds.” (p.28-29) Islam of course, includes no such belief in previous existences.
Finally, Mr. Lings claims that I don’t understand the true nature of his Perennial Philosophy since I said that its principal theme is that all religions are really one, mutually supportive and acceptable. He opines that I should have said: “All true religion is in reality one.” However, this playing with semantics is something of a boomerang for it follows that there must be other “true” religions besides our present Islam! However, since Islam (as taught by the final Prophet and Messenger Muhammad) supersedes all previous divine revelations and religions, the fact is that the only existing true religion is one–as contained in the Message of Muhammad (pbuh). In spite of this truism, Mr. Lings makes it clear in his other writings that he considers all present day “traditional” religions to be equally valid forms of worship.
Let’s hear what Mr. Lings himself say on this subject. Drawing upon the writings of the Perennial master Frithjof Schuon once again, Mr. Lings avers that “the dogma that there is only one valid religion, namely ‘ours’, may serve as an example of an argument that is psychologically somewhat outworn…Modern man cannot help having a broad view of the world than his ancestors had…This broader view may enable him to be impressed by religions other than his own, and at the very least it compels him to see that their existence makes the worldwide spread of his own religion impossible (!) If other religions were false, what of the glory of Him who allowed them to establish themselves, with their millenial roots, over so vast an area?” (p.68, The Eleventh Hour)
And in speaking about esoterism (the so-called “inner” path of mysticism) Lings mentions what the Hindus call jnana-marga, the why of knowledge or gnosis. He points out that “The mention of jnana does not mean, in this context, a movement towards Hinduism. For each seeker the way in question could be, in principle, any one of the orthodox esoteric paths which are now operative.” (p.77) That is, any one of the established “orthodox” paths of esoterism (e.g. esoteric Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam etc.) is acceptable as a means to spiritual guidance!
While expounding the works of another of the venerable Sufi masters, Mr. Lings borrows extensively from the writings of René Guénon which claim Hinduism as another valid way of worship. On p.80 of his Eleventh Hour Mr. Lings states that ‘Another advantage of Hinduism as a basis for the exposition of universal truth is the comprehensive breadth of its structure…Hinduism’s breadth of structure is matched by its unequalled length of span across the centuries as a fully valid way of worship, by reason of its providential escape from the degeneracy which other religions of its own age suffered in the normal course…To make this most ancient religion the basis of a doctrinal exposition is thus to offer the Western world for those few who are capable of taking it, a mysterious and purely positive renaissance of relatively primordial heritage which has long been out of reach.”
Lings further says of René Guénon: “A note which is sounded in all his writings is the need for orthodoxy, a term which has become, in academic use, almost a synonym for narrow and fanatical esoterism, but which Guénon re-establishes in its true sense, while extending its guarantee of rightness beyond the limits of one religion only. In his perspective it takes on a vast significance to include, for all seekers of religious truth, every form of worship that has its origin in Divine intervention and has been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation by an uninterrupted process of tradition.”
From the above statements it is clear that Mr. Lings agrees to the concept of “orthodoxy” as expounded by Guénon, who extends its guarantee of “rightness” beyond the limits of one religion only, to include every form of worship claiming to “divine intervention” and a faithfully transmitted “tradition.” It must be questioned at this point: Which religion is not claimed by its followers to have been instigated by “divine intervention” and to have been “faithfully” transmitted generation after generation? On the basis of such claims it follows that every such “religion” must be accepted as “orthodox”, and therefore valid, as an effective approach to God!
Mr. Lings hoped to escape from the realities of this thorny issue by claiming I don’t “understand” the Perennial Philosophy. Let us say–for the sake of argument–that I don’t understand. But what about his colleagues and supporters of the Perennial movement–do they also not understand, Mr. Lings? Take for example, Mr. Gai Eaton, your fellow Perennialist and a prolific expounder of the Perennialist Religion’s false doctrines. In his book Islam and the Destiny of Man, Mr. Eaton–while expounding on the unity and acceptability of religions–states: “Are we to suppose that God mocks sanctity when it is achieved by methods other than our own?…To rest one’s faith upon such suppositions is, in the words of Martin Lings, ‘to think ill of Providence’.” (p.37) According to this statement, sanctity–a higher stage than mere salvation–can be achieved through religions other than Islam; to think otherwise is–according to Mr. Lings–to think ill of Divine Providence. Dear readers, do you think that Mr. Eaton, an eminent Perennialist in his own right, has also not “understood” where his colleague and co-perennialist is really at?
And what of Mrs. Aisha Gouverneur, an ardent supporter of Perennialism and industrious purveyor of Perennial literature including The Eleventh Hour, through her so-called “Islamic Texts Society.” Does she also not understand the Perennial Philosophy as conveyed in the writings of Mr. Lings, Gai Eaton, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, et. al? Listen to what she “understands” about Perennial doctrine as indicated by recorded statements made by herself during a lecture before an audience of Western lady converts at Jeddah on January 7, 1989: “How can you believe that God would send to Hell people who are sincerely practising their religions?” In the following lecture (Jan. 7, 1989) she insisted: “All religions are alike; they are like the spokes of a wheel going to a central hub. It doesn’t matter which one you take, as long as it takes you where you’re going.” (i.e., to God) Now let’s just compare this to the following quotations (p.71) from Mr. Lings Eleventh Hour: “Religions in their outermost aspects have often been represented as different points on the circumference of a circle, the centre of which is the Divine Truth. Every such point is connected to the centre by a radius which stands for the esoterism of the religion in question.” (p.71). I ask: did Mrs. Gouverneur the perennialist devotee not understand the writings of such Perennial heavyweights as Martin Lings, Gai Eaton et. al.? I dare say that the answer must be quite obvious to the reader.
From the preceding brief exposition, it should be apparent that I have indeed understood what I’m writing about. Mark my words: There is no attempt at calumny here against Mr. Lings; it is he alone who has reaped blame and censure upon his own person and reputation by insisting on following the perilous path of Perennialism rather than adhering to the straight path of unadulterated Islam as contained in its inviolable sources of infallible Revelation, about which the Prophet has said: “I have left you two things; you will never go astray so long as you hold firmly to them: Allah’s Book and my Sunnah.”
Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi
About Mustafa Al-Kanadi
Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi was born in Italy on July 4, 1950. At the age of four he emigrated with his family to the Lakes District of northern British Columbia where he spent his childhood and early teens. His family then moved in 1965 to Vancouver B.C. where he completed his secondary education.
In 1968 he embarked on the B.A. program at the University of British Columbia, and he graduated in 1972 from the Faculty of Arts with a major in English Literature. After a year’s social work, he entered the Professional Development Program of the Education Faculty at Simon Fraser University. Having concentrated in the field of Special Education, he graduated with honors in the summer of 1974.
During his final semester at S.F.U. he embraced Islam. After living in the Muslim community of Vancouver for a year, he realized the need to further his Islamic education. With this objective in mind, he traveled to Makkah during Ramadaan of 1976 in order to perform Hajj and to apply for admission to a program of Arabic and Islamic studies. He entered the Arabic Language Institute at Umm Al-Qura University and completed the language program in two and a half years.
He then applied and was accepted to the College of Shari’ah and Islamic Studies where he undertook a concentration in the field of Quraanic and Hadeeth Sciences. He graduated with honors in 1983.
In May 1989, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Quraanic Sciences from Umm Al-Qura University. A few weeks later, he passed away at the age of 39, leaving behind five beautiful children. During his short life, he wrote a number of tretises on various Islamic topics, and was actively engaged in writing, translating and daw’ah work.