Sunday 25 October 2009

Islamic literature by converts to Islam - III

This is third in the series of posts on the subject. In this post we shall review contributions by Muslim converts on various other subjects that deal with the important aspects of human life.

Spirituality and futurology

The spiritual crisis of modern world, which stems from over-emphasis on materialistic rationalism, has been an important subject for Muslim converts over the last century. Some converts to Islam were eminent philosophers and metaphysicists who enjoyed excellent reputation among the western academics. Frithjof Schuon and René Guénon were leading perennial philosophers of the 20th century. Their works represent the highest quality scholarship in perennial philosophy. Schuon's The Transcendent Unity of Religions prompted T.S.Eliot to say: "I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religions". René Guénon's The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times are important works. Both Schuon and Guénon concentrate on the study of religion and its regression in the modern world. Being Schuon's disciple and expositor, Martin Lings wrote The Eleventh Hour: The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern World in the Light of Tradition and Prophecy. Another work by Lings, published posthumously, is A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers in which he answers questions relating to his life, Islam and Sufism. HRH The Prince of Wales writes in the foreword, “One of the great privileges of my life has been to know Dr. Martin Lings.... he saw beneath the surface of things and helped us penetrate the veil behind which lies the sacred meaning to so many of life’s mysteries ... I used to look forward so much to what became an annual visit from Martin Lings when I had a chance to explore with him some of his inner discoveries, whether in the world of Shakespeare or of Sufism.” Gai Eaton's Islam and the Destiny of Man and King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World uncover the spiritual dimensions of Islam and are well written books on a difficult subject.

Political dimension of Islam

After becoming Muslims, many converts to Islam have wholeheartedly identified themselves with the social and political aspirations of the world of Islam. This empathy manifests itself in their writings. Muhammad Asad is a leading example. His Principles of State and Government in Islam explores the theoretical foundations of an Islamic state in modern world. His articles, written in the 1940s in his journal Arafat, discuss the rationale behind the demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. He also highlighted the importance of ijtihad (process of making new laws by independently interpreting the primary sources of Islamic Law) for this age. His booklet, Islam at the Crossroads, published in 1934, is highly critical of western materialism. It briefly reviewed the political and social status of the Muslims and concluded that Muslims should abstain from imitating the "dazzling exterior" of the western civilisation while adopting the good things. He later served as an Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Pakistan in the United Nations. Many other Muslim converts have made worthwhile contributions to the literature on political and social philosophy of Islam. Maryam Jameelah has written many books that explore the social and political dimensions of the Muslims in the 20th century. Murad Hofmann in his book, Religion on the Rise: Islam in the Third Millennium, has attempted to predict the future developments of Islam. His other books also have chapters exploring the issues in detail. In the recent years many other publications contributed by converts to Islam have appeared that explore the socio-political aspects of Islam with the empathy it deserves.

Islamic art

Islamic artists have abstained from depicting human images on the grounds that it may be considered idolatry which is forbidden in Islam. Therefore, Islamic art has mainly focused on architecture, calligraphy, painting and decorative arts. Some really good books have been written by the converts to Islam which have played an important role in introducing the salient features of Islamic art to western readers and art critics. One of the most important works is Titus Burckhardt's Art of Islam, Language and Meaning. This is a scholarly work on this subject and attempts to define the underlying principles of Islamic art. Another notable work is Splendours of Qur'an Calligraphy and Illumination by Martin Lings.

Memoirs and personal narratives

Many converts have written their personal narratives describing how they found their faith. Such works as these have informed us about the spiritual experiences they went through before making their final decision. These works give us some insight into the lives of people who suffer from this unprecedented spiritual crisis that is a hallmark of a materialist and consumerist society.

Many books have appeared since the early 20th century and it does not seem to have stopped. An autobiography of Charles Gai Eaton, A Bad Beginning: The Path to Islam, is due to be published later this month, October 2009. However, no such work has surpassed the extraordinarily written spiritual autobiography by Muhammad Asad, The Road to Mecca. It has served to attract thousands of western readers to the charms of Islamic civilisation. Maryam Jameelah (aka Margaret Marcus) wrote in her autobiography that as a young American Jewish girl, she discovered Asad's book in a public library near her home. Her parents would not allow her to take out the book, so she read it in the library over and over. "What he could do, I thought I could also do, only how much harder for a single woman than for a man! But I vowed to Allah that at the first opportunity, I would follow his example." After conversion, she later moved to Lahore on the advice of Maulana Maududi. The charm of Asad's book seems never ending. This is reflected in its continued publication more than 50 years after it first hit the bookshops in New York and London.

In the next post, we'll conclude this discussion; and will see how this is helping in the propagation of Islam in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Assalam walakum,

    This blog is a very nice blog, I have found it very beneficial to know more about islam. Thanks for sharing the information.