A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers


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  • Author: MARTIN LINGS
  • ISBN: 9781887752749

Dr.Lings answers various questions posed to him relating to his life, Islam, Sufism, Religion and Spirituality.

 This final work of the greatly revered Martin Lings opens with an insightful autobiographical account of his own interior journey, the finding of a spiritual master, and the conclusions he ultimately reached regarding the inner life and Islam.
The 96-year-old author, a respected British scholar, recounts the lessons learned from his life as a practicing Sufi, including the answers to profound questions such as: How did I come to put First things First?, What is the Spiritual Significance of Tears and Laughter?, What is the Spiritual Significance of Civilization?, What is the Qur'anic Doctrine of the Afterlife and How is it related to Sufism?, and Why "With All Thy Mind"?

Prior to publication of this volume, its distinguished author, Martin Lings, did in fact "return to the Spirit" on May 12th 2005. This has occasioned the addition to this work of an "In Memoriam" appendix.
Readers will be treated to tributes that have arrived from the world over written by those who simply read and loved his work to those who knew him personally, some of whom were under his spiritual direction. These diverse accounts of this extraordinary man round out a profound image of his person. The book also includes a selection of previously unpublished photographs taken throughout his life.


Dr. Martin Lings is the author of the authoritative biography of the Prophet, Muhammed, His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. He has also written What is Sufism?, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions, Shakespeare in Light of Sacred Art, The Book of Certainty, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, The Quranic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination and two volumes of poems, The Element and The Heralds.
He is also the author of the article on Sufism in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the chapter on Sufism in the Cambridge University Publication Religion in the Middle East, and numerous articles for the quarterly journal Studies in Comparative Religion.

Martin Lings was born in Burnage, Lancashire, 1909. After taking an English degree at Oxford in 1932, he was appointed Lecturer in Anglo-Saxon at the University of Kaunas. His interest in Islam and in Arabic took him to Egypt in 1939, and in the following year he was given a lectureship in Cairo University. In 1952 he returned to England and took a degree in Arabic at London University. From 1970-74 he was Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books at the British Museum (in 1973 his Department became part of the British Library) where he had been in special charge of the Qur’an manuscripts, amongst other treasures, since 1955. Dr. Lings passed from this world on May 12th 2005 and is survived by his wife.
In Dr Lings' case, he saw beneath the surface of things and helped us to penetrate the veil behind which lies the sacred meaning to so many of life's mysteries. He helped us to look beyond the literal and to comprehend that there are many layers of meaning within the hidden universe - something which science is now at last beginning to recognize through the acknowledgement of an inherent order and harmony to the world about us and within us.
                      -from the Foreword, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales

"Lives of great men all remind us / We can make our lives sublime…"
"Beholding His glory, we ourselves are transformed from glory unto glory." 
Martin Lings has been a role model for me…like everyone else who knew him intimately, I revered him for being the saint he was.
                 -from the Introduction, Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions

With a poet's pen, a metaphysician's mind and a saint's concerns, Dr. Lings has left for us a profound posthumous farewell letter, filled with poignant insights gleaned from a lifetime of devotion, contemplation and concern about the human condition. He did in his life what he is urging the rest of us to do: return to the spirit.
                -Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, author and scholar
                  The Zaytuna Institute ( From the In Memoriam section)

Writing with the same measured beauty that typifies all his books, and with a fresh perspective as always on the many vestures of Truth, the author has chosen, in this final spiritual testament, to bequeath yet additional gifts: numerous treasured moments of insight into his own inward life-the life, as those of us who had the privilege of knowing him personally can well attest, of a genuine saint.
                        -James S. Cutsinger,
                          Author and Professor of Theology and Religious Thought
                         University of South Carolina
At the end of a long and dedicated life Martin Lings wrote this short but remarkable book, a summation of a body of work extending over half a century. In it he has dealt with some of the most difficult questions dividing Christians and Muslims. He has done so convincingly and with characteristic wisdom while offering the reader fascinating glimpses of his own spiritual history. This is essential reading for anyone who seeks answers to the really important questions, which trouble the contemporary mind.
                        -Hassan Le Gai Eaton
Martin Lings seems to me a man profoundly quiet. He was accomplished and honored; he had much to teach but nothing to prove. In his writings, which I have read fairly extensively, he neither condescends to the reader nor appeals for the reader's indulgence, but says merely and plainly what he knows. His aim, as he put it, was to make his work "reliable in that it is not written any more simply than the truth allows." I am particularly indebted to him for his book on Shakespeare, which I think of and return to again and again.
                    -Wendell Berry, Kentucky author of more than 32 books
                       Former professor of English
                     Past fellow of the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations
In the chapter "What is the spiritual dimension of tears and laughter?" Lings demonstrates how tears which well up in moments where we confront Truth, Beauty, or Virtue- which are the presence of God in the intellect, in form, and in the will- are in fact portals to the Divine for us when that part of our being, our Imago Dei- witnesses Itself. He explains, "In spontaneous overflowings of the body, the material realm is transcended.
But at their highest level, which is indicated by the word "Spiritual", the psychic plane is also largely surpassed. The body is necessarily endowed with various means of escape from itself. Some of these are merely at its own level not to speak of that which, by the very fact of its separation necessarily sinks from being a living substance to a dead substance.
But at the same time the escape in itself, as such, can in varying degrees afford access to a higher plane of existence". How important for us to understand the deeper alchemical functions of these common emotions and thereby hopefully make transformative use from such gained awareness.
                       -R. Dumesnil Miller 

A remarkable kind of last testament by an individual who successfully bridged the gap between Christianity and Islam, His questions and answers will be of great value to both Muslims and Christians who are seeking the Truth. His words are a blessing for our times.
                  -Rama Coomaraswamy

This latest book by Martin Lings is perhaps the easiest to read of all that he has written. The basis of sound objectivity which we have learned to rely on is still there; but from the very start of A Return to the Spirit that basis is overlayed with a subjectivity into which the reader is irresistibly drawn.
The opening chapter, "How did I come to put first things first?," deeply concerns every well-intentioned individual. So do all the other chapters, each in its own particular way. We quickly find ourselves conscious of being very much in our element and this consciousness lasts throughout our reading of the highly informative "Answers"- to quote the book's subtitle- that are given to the "Questions".