Crisis of the modern world

Crisis of the modern world:

René Guénon also known as ʿAbd al-Wāḥid Yaḥyá  expalin this crisis in the book Crisis of the modern word – see here- . For Guénon, history is only the reflection of a vast cosmic process taking its source in a metaphysical dimension (according to his metaphysical doctrine). From the traditionalist perspective, the temporal, phenomenal world is an outflow and manifestation of an unseen metaphysical reality that forms the origin and basis of the material, historical reality human beings perceive with their five senses. It has been pointed out by several authors that such a conception of History is radically different from that of Hegel who on the contrary locks his in the sphere of time. More precisely, as Georges Vallin explains, in Hegel’s thought, the timeless mystery of non-duality, of the “coincidence of opposites” found in Guénon, is replaced by “a time-based dialectic of thesis and antithesis.” For Vallin, this notion of confinement in time of the human condition, in opposition to the “metaphysical perspective” of Guénon, continued with the conception exposed by Martin Heidegger in Being and Time. For Guénon, such a confinement of History in Time, cut off from any transcendent reality, takes on a satanic dimension that explains the fall of the modern world.

Charles Upton (poet) writes that:

in the Reign of Quantity, Guénon sees history in terms of the Hindu concept of the manvantara, the cycle of manifestation composed of Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron ages; […] This cycle is an inevitable descent from the pole of Essence (or forma) toward the pole of Substance (or materia). […] Essence is qualitative while substance is quantitative; As the cycle progresses or descends, the very nature of time and space changes.[…] In earlier stages, time is relatively eternal, as the cycle moves on, however, time begins to take over and accelerate, but this constant acceleration of time can’t go on forever. Time, the “devourer” ends by devouring itself. At the end of time, Time will be changed into space again. […] This ultimate timeless point is simultaneously the end of the cycle of manifestation and the beginning of the next.[…] Before this ultimate transformation, in the latter days of the present cycle certain final developments must take place. Since quantity has particularly to do with matter, the Reign of quantity must also be the reign of materialism. The age of miracles ceases, the world becomes less permeable to the influences of the higher planes of reality.]
hereby the book on pdf.

look also: Goethe, the “Refugee”








Servants ask Allah and He grants more and more through His attribute, Al Karim. He grants endlessly. Those who reach the point of being forgiven reach their highest aspiration but the servant’s happiness makes shaytan unhappy. It creates problems for him and the servant becomes hopeless. Man is oppressing his own soul. He can only be free when the ego is crushed. Then, no evil can be created, nor any devil followed. Only Truth can be seen. Man must not worry or be hopeless of Allah’s Mercy. The Holy Quran therefore prescribes: kill your selves (egos).”

  • Islam in the Modern World:

Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition

By Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Reviewed by Zachary Markwith

In  the  premodern  period,  the  term  “traditional  Islam” would have been a pleonasm. Following Napoleon’s  conquest  of   Egypt  in  1798  and  the subsequent  spread  of   modernism  in  most  parts  of  the Muslim world, such is not the case today.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s definition of traditional Islam  is  now  imperative  to  distinguish  those  currents  of   the  religion  that  remain  faithful  to  the  form  and  spirit  of   the  Qur’an  and   Sunnah or  Wont  of   the  Prophet  Muhammad,  including   the intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and artistic principles and heritage of   Islam, from those modernist and “fundamentalist” aberrations that more  often than not resemble Islam in name alone. In the words of  the late  Charles Le Gai Eaton:

Who speaks for traditional Islam: the Islam lived for centuries by theologians and jurists,  by  philosophers  and  scientists,  by  artists  and  poets,  by  Sufis  and  simple  people  of   faith  throughout the Islamic world during fourteen centuries of  Islamic history—the Islam which is in fact still followed by the vast majority of  Muslims from the Atlantic to the Pacific?

There  may  be  still  many  who  speak  privately  for  this  tradition  but  there  are  only  a  few  writers and, among these few, Seyyed Hossein Nasr is pre-eminent.

Nasr’s expanded volume Islam in the Modern World , first published in  1987 as  Traditional Islam in the Modern World , is a veritable summa of  traditional Islam—both as a metahistorical ideal and reality that transcends the  contingencies of time and space and as a living religion that has flourished  for over fourteen centuries to shape the lives and worldviews of  diverse  Muslim populations from Senegal to Indonesia. In his prologue “What  is Traditional Islam?” Nasr provides us with a rich and rigorous definition of traditional Islam, relating it first and foremost to the Supreme  Principle and the doctrine of  Unity ( al-tawhīd ), the Qur’an and  Sunnah of  the Prophet of  Islam, including canonical books of   Hadīth  or sayings of  the Prophet, the Sharī‘ah  or Divine Law and classical schools of  jurisprudence ( fiqh ) and theology ( kalām ), the various manifestations of   Islamic spirituality, including Sufism ( tasawwuf ), Islamic philosophy ( falsa fah / hikmah ), and Islamic art and architecture, for example. We discover that  the  various  expressions  of   traditional  Islam—including  Sunnism    and Shī‘ism, the schools of Law and Sufism, the unique syntheses of  Abū Hāmid Ghazzālī and Mullā Sadrā, or Ottoman and Safavid art and  architecture,  for  example,  all  grew  organically  from  roots  of   the  Qur’an and  Sunnah  as so many branches of  the same tree. Even those   forms of  heterodoxy and hypocrisy that existed in Muslim lands in the  premodern period were contained and mitigated by a general awareness  of orthodoxy and the immutable principles of the religion, the influence  and presence of  exoteric and esoteric scholars, traditional institutions and  forms of governance, and an ambience that reflected and gave profound  expression to Islam’s inner teachings. These aspects of  Islam have by no   means been entirely eclipsed in the modern period, but they are under   assault from both the West and certain quarters in the Muslim world.

Modernist and “fundamentalist” parodies Islam often have more in  common with western ideologies, institutions, goals and forms of  activism than they do with principles and heritage of  Islam. Nasr observes,

It is remarkable how the so-called fundamentalists share with the Islamic modernists their          complete espousal of  modern science and technology, indifference to Islamic sacred art,  hatred of  traditional wisdom and the peace and contemplation associated with the inner  life, and many other aspects of  traditional Islam. In many ways, Islamic “fundamentalism”  and modernism are two sides of  the same coin and share much in common on many issues,  including a stand against traditional Islam.

Islamic modernism and “fundamentalism” are both reactions to the   diminished social, political and military power of  Muslim empires and  nations when confronted with the rise and onslaught of  western philosophy,  science,  technology,  and  military  and  commercial  expansion.

Many Muslims and western commentators see this as proof  of  “what  went wrong” with the Muslim world as opposed to what went wrong  with the West. Nasr is among the few contemporary Muslims scholars  who are informed, discerning and courageous enough to question the  worldview  and  trajectory  of   the  modern  West  itself—as  opposed  to  simply aping the ideologies and ethos of  modernism, including humanism, scientism, rationalism, relativism, socialism, democracy, militarism,  and the idea of  progress, for example, while simply attaching the adjec tive  “Islamic”  to  these  expressions  of   modernism  to  give  the  veneer of   authenticity.  In  order  to  regain  power  and  prominence,  Muslim   modernists and “fundamentalists” betray the principles of  their tradition—Divine, philosophical, ethical and aesthetic—and instead adopt secular  worldviews  and  modes  of   action  that  depart  from  both  the   forms and substance of  traditional Islam. Moreover, those in the West  should be aware that, despite the existence of  pure exoterism (which  must be differentiated from the exoteric forms of  Islam) among some  Muslims in the premodern period—so-called Islamic fundamentalism  and its more violent manifestations is more a product of  and a reac tion to the West and modernism that the Islamic tradition itself.


   It was in fact initial support from western governments that gave power and prominence to some of  the most well known manifestations of  Islamic “fundamentalism,” including Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Wahhābism. Thus, Islamic fundamentalism is as much a product of the West as it is the Muslim world, which is true even where there is no political or military  support from the West at the genesis of  such a movement because they most often come into being as a reaction to western wars, colonization, occupation or influence. Moreover, the very tactics and technology used by militants in the Muslim world are direct products of  the West. By and large, the vast majority of  Muslims have demonstrated incredible self-restraint, patience, and reliance upon God and the principles of  their religion in the face of  open hostility and aggression. Even most Muslim “fundamentalists”—who themselves make up less than 5% of  the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims—cannot be considered militants, and among those that can far less can be labeled terrorists. A recent study in fact found that a significantly larger percentage of  Americans compared to the Muslim populations surveyed think that attacks in which civilians are targeted are justified—which can also be discovered by counting the civilian deaths among Americans and Muslims through the acts of  terrorism and war in recent years. John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam?: What a  Billion Muslims Really Think  (New York: Gallup Press, 2007), p. 95. For some reason, however, peace-loving Muslims are forced to apologize for the criminals in their societies, while both religious and secular people in the West rarely have to even question the violence that their elected leaders and governments commit in their name around the world. So while we are forced by circumstance to address modernism and “fundamentalism” among Muslims here, it is useful to recall that these aberrations are not confined to any one civilization or religion, and that they in fact began and persist most strongly in the West.

It isimperative to understand this point because most secularists and non-Muslim believers in the West assume that the modernization of the Muslim world and the diminished role of  Islam in the public and private spheres will mitigate extremism, when nothing could be further from the truth.

When traditional Islam is understood and practiced, Muslims are required by Islamic Law to protect the lives, property and honor of non-Muslims and all non-combatants; they cultivate knowledge, piety and virtue through following the Qur’an and Sunnah ; and have access to metaphysical principles through Islamic spirituality, philosophy and art through which they fulfill their entelechy. From honest business practices  and  healthy  homes  to  the  cultivation  of   poetry  and  the  sciences, traditional Islam connects Muslims to Heaven and communicates a measure of  Divine Wisdom, Beauty, Peace and Justice to the faithful through which they can thrive here on earth.

In Islam in the Modern World , Nasr surveys various manifestations of  Islamic modernism and “fundamentalism” and is careful to offer a nuanced survey of  these phenomena, as opposed to a neatly bifurcated image  that would divide the Muslim world into categories of  good Muslims  and bad Muslims. Nasr is acutely aware of  the complexities in Muslim countries and even in a single individual were Tradition, modernism and  “fundamentalism” all vie for influence. He discusses various forms of Islamic modernism and “fundamentalism,” such as the Salafiyyah and  Islamic rationalism of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khān in India and Muhammad  ‘Abduh in Egypt, Wahhābism originating from the teachings of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhāb, Arab, Turkish and other forms of nationalism, Pan-Islamism and its relation to Jamāl al-Dīn Astrābādī or al-Afghānī, and various forms of  “Islamic” socialism and Marxism found in the Arab  world, Pakistan, and Iran. Nasr also discusses those nations and groups  that display characteristics of  traditional Islam, Islamic modernism and Islamic  “fundamentalism,”  including  the  Deoband  movement  in  the Indian subcontinent, Khomeinism in Iran, and the Ikhwān al-Muslimīn  or Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other Muslim nations. Moreover,  he also analyzes the rise of Islamic messianism or Mahdiism, where  the aspirations of  a number of  individuals and groups are centered on  the appearance of the Mahdī to redress the domination and injustices  Muslims face—some leaders even claiming to be the expected Mahdī  himself. While belief in the eventual rise of the Mahdī is based upon authentic sayings of  the Prophet of  Islam, the false attribution of  this function to this or that leader for the sake of  gaining political and social power is among the signs of  the times and an impediment to the revival of  the Islamic tradition for the greater community.

The solution, for Nasr, is beyond these three responses:

There  is  a  fourth  kind  of   reality  in  contemporary  Islam…that  must  be  mentioned,

especially since it has received practically no attention so far in Western analyses of  the contemporary  Islamic  world.  This  reality  is  the  revival  of   the  Islamic  tradition  from within by those who have encountered the modern world fully and who, with complete awareness of  the nature of  that world and all the religious, philosophical, scientific, and social problems it poses, have returned to the heart of  the Islamic tradition to find answers and to revive the Islamic world as a spiritual reality amid the chaos and turmoil created throughout the world by what are called modernism/post-modernism and “fundamentalism.”

The theater of  action of  this group has been not mass meetings or political gatherings, but the hearts and minds of  individuals gathered in small circles. For this group, Islam is traditional Islam with its roots sunk in Heaven and its branches spread through a vast world stretching in space from the Atlantic to the Pacific and encompassing a time span of  over fourteen centuries.

This group of  traditionalists rejects nothing of  the Islamic tradition, not its arts, sciences, or philosophy, and certainly not Sufism and the inner teachings, which they consider to be the heart of  the whole body of  Islam, whose limbs, governed by the Sharī‘ah , are animated  by the blood flowing from the heart. For this group, it is Islamic metaphysics that provides answers to problems posed by such modern ideologies and “isms” as rationalism, humanism, materialism, evolutionism, psychologism, and the like. For it, the revival of  the Islamic   world must come from a revival within Muslims themselves. This group’s idea of  reform  is not that of  the modernists or          fundamentalists,” which always begins with the outward; the latter always wish to reform the world, but never individual human beings themselves.

These traditionalists emphasize inner reform of men and women and through them of Islamic  society  as  a  whole.  Their  attitude  toward  the  world,  including  the  modern  one, is not that of passive acceptance. They criticize the modern world in light of immutable principles and view it as a canvas, alluring from afar, but shown to be of  an illusory nature when examined from close quarters. They stand at the center of  Islamic orthodoxy and consider all violent movements that incorporate the worst elements of Western civilization in order to combat that civilization to be a disservice to Islam and below the dignity of  God’s last revelation.

This group believes in inner revival (tajdīd), which is a traditional Islamic concept, and not external reform (islāh) in its modern sense, which has thus become an alien idea grafted upon the body of Islam. The model for this group is an al-Ghazzālī, an ‘Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī, or a Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī, not some thirteenth/nineteenth- or fourteenth/twentieth-century leftist revolutionary who simply bears a Muslim name or some self-righteous puritanical reformer or angry “fundamentalist” who is impervious to the inner and intellectual teachings of  religion. This group acts without acting, in the sense that its function is more that of knowledge  and  spiritual  presence  than  of   ordinary  activism.  But  it  is  from  this  group that there has flowed and continues to flow some of  the most profound and religiously significant  Islamic  responses  to  the  modern  world.  And  it  is  this  group  that  in  the  long  run will have the deepest effect upon the Islamic community, as has been the case during most of  Islamic history.

(  Nasr also discusses the Mahdī and Mahdiism in relation to the “invisible men” ( rijāl al-ghayb) of  Islamic esoterism and more generally to the “Eliatic function.” Islam in the Modern World pp. 116-118. See also, Leo Schaya, “The Eliatic Functon,” Studies in Comparative Religion 13, no. 1 and 2, pp. 31-40; and Zachary Markwith, “The Eliatic Function in the Islamic Tradition:  Khidr and the Mahdī,” Sacred Web  25, pp. 47-74.)

In addition to the figures mentioned above, Nasr also cites the Amīr ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā’irī and Shaykh Ahmad al-‘Alawī, both from Algeria, as  eminent  exemplars  of   Islamic  spirituality  who  have,  through  their  teachings and presence, catalyzed an inward revival of the hearts of Muslims after the spread of  modernism. Throughout the book he lists the names of  various other representatives of  traditional Islam, including Sufis such as Muhammad al-Tādilī of Morocco, Salāmah al-Radī of Egypt, Shams al-‘Urafā’ of Iran, Badī‘ al-Zamān Nūrsī of Turkey, and Shāh Mas‘ūd of Afghanistan; Muslim philosophers including Muhammad Tāhir Tabarsī and ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī of Iran; influential religious  leaders and thinkers such as Muhammad Bāqir al-Sadr and Ayatollah  Sīstānī in Iraq; and Muslim artists and architects such as Hasan Fathy and  ‘Abd al-Wāhid al-Wakīl of Egypt and Kāmil Khan Mumtāz of Pakistan.

Moreover,  Nasr  makes  more  explicit  reference  in  the  new  edition  of   this volume to the role of  the Traditionalist School, and in particular the critical task carried out by René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Titus  Burckhardt, and Martin Lings—all western Muslims—in reviving Tradition and the Islamic tradition in particular. Nasr writes,

…it is necessary to say a word about the term “tradition” as used here, as in all of  my other writings. As used by the Traditionalists, the group that formed around the work of René Guénon that is rooted in the “perennial philosophy,” this term implies both the Sacred as revealed to humanity through revelation and the unfolding and development of  that sacred message  in  the  history  of   the  particular  human  community  for  which  it  was  destined;  it  implies both horizontal continuity with the Origin and a vertical connection that relates each moment in the development of  the life of  any single tradition to the metahistorical  Transcendent Reality.

Nasr goes on to relate Tradition to the Islamic terms al-dīn or religion, al-sunnah  or the sacred models of  the prophets, al-silsilah  or the chain of  transmission that connects each generation back to the founder of  the  religion  and  through  him  to  God,  and   barakah   or  “that  grace… originating with the revelation.”

(Note:. The terms and realities cited above take on particular significance in Nasr’s exposition of  traditional Islam. Al-dīn  remains religion as such, but it is also the religion revived  and  inaugurated  by  the  descent  of   the  Qur’an  to  the  Prophet  Muhammad  beginning  in  the year 610. For Muslims, the Sunnah  primarily means the Wont of  the Prophet of  Islam,  while  a silsilah   is  an  initiatic  chain  of   transmission  that  connects  each  generation  back  to  the Prophet, and through him to God. The  barakah  or grace originating with the revelation  refers first and foremost to the Qur’anic revelation, despite the fact that all revealed books  and  prophets  remain  sacred  to  Muslims—especially  those  from  the  Abrahamic  traditions  referred to throughout the Qur’an.)

Nasr understands the reality of  Tradition in the most universal sense, as the common Origin or roots of all revealed religions, as well as the need for particular manifestations of Tradition. Moreover, its was precisely through Guénon’s universal exposition of  Tradition—which embraces not only religion as this term is generally employed in the modern West, but in addition metaphysical principles, symbolism, initiatic doctrines and rites, written and oral transmitted knowledge, social institutions and all of  the various features of premodern civilizations—that Nasr could recognize these features in Islam and thus provide us with his expansive and penetrating vision  of  traditional Islam.

Note:  Nasr writes elsewhere, “Tradition…means truths or principles of  a divine origin revealed or unveiled to mankind and, in fact, a whole cosmic sector through various figures envisaged as messengers, prophets, avatāras , the Logos or other transmitting agencies, along with all  the ramifications and applications of  these principles in different realms including law and  social structure, art, symbolism, the sciences, and embracing of  course Supreme Knowledge along with the means for its attainment.”  Knowledge and the Sacred  (New York: Crossroad 1981),pp. 67-68.)

For Nasr, a theoretical or nostalgic awareness of  Tradition is not sufficient to change our condition and reconnect us to the Supreme Principle, but also a practical commitment to a particular  tradition through which Tradition as such or the Primordial Tradition is  experienced existentially, as each later manifestation of  Tradition relates back to our common historical and metahistorical Origin as so many  branches of  the same tree.

Nasr’s  understanding  of   traditional  Islam  stands  in  stark  contrast to those revisionist and reductionist trends defined more generally as Islamic modernism and Islamic “fundamentalism.” Moreover, his own  life and corpus is among the most significant indications of the reviva of traditional Islam in the contemporary period. Benefiting from the Traditionalist perspective and corpus, including an awareness of sophia perennis  or the universal wisdom at the heart of  all religions, the study of  Islamic philosophy and Sufism with traditional masters in Iran, North Africa and the West, and advanced training in modern philosophy and science  at  M.I.T.  and  Harvard,  Nasr  has  written  some  of   the  most   significant studies on these subjects to appear in the modern area, including Knowledge and the Sacred,Three Muslim Sages,The Garden of  Truth,Islamic  Art  and  Spirituality,  and  Man  and  Nature,  to  name  but  a  few  of  his over fifty works on Tradition and the Islamic tradition, including Islamic  philosophy,  science,  art  and  spirituality.  He  has  also  devoted important  volumes  to  the  Islamic  tradition  as  a  whole,  including  his Ideals and Realities of  Islam  and The Heart of  Islam , as well as to the study of   the  primary  Islamic  sources,  including  his  spiritual  biography  of  the Prophet, Muhammad: Man of  God  and his forthcoming translation, HarperCollins Study Qur’ān

Nasr’s Islam in the Modern World  and his other works cited above are illustrations of  how the heart of  Islam animates the limbs of  the tradition. Since their publication in 1987, his penetrating chapters, “Jihād: Its Spiritual Significance,” “Islamic Work Ethics,” and “The Male and the Female in the Islamic Perspective,” for example, have been essential correctives  to  the  distorted  views  held  on  these  subjects  in  the  West and parts of the Muslim world. While recognizing and defending the significant function of the Sharī‘ah  in defining how Muslims interact with  others  in  society,  Nasr  lends  profound  expression  to  the  higher metaphysical and symbolic nature of  jihād, work, and men and women in Islam, including a call to Muslims to wage the greater jihād  against their own soul before they try to change the world around them; the relation between prayer and good works, and the equilibrium and complementarity between men and women that is rooted in the Divine Names and Nature and the Universal or Perfect Man (whether male or female), and reflected in the macrocosm.

Nasr  also  includes  an  important  selection  entitled,  “Traditional  Twelve-Imam Shī‘ism and the Reality of Shī‘ism Today,” wherein he discusses the spiritual and philosophical currents and manifestations of  Ithnā ‘asharī Shī‘ism throughout history, from the mourning of Imam Husayn during the month of  Muharram each year to the more sober “transcendent theosophy” (al-hikmat al-muta‘āliyah) of Mullā Sadrā. One of  Nasr’s most unique contributions to the study of  traditional Islam in  our era or any other is his insistence that Sunnism and Shī‘ism are both  orthodox manifestations of  Islam.

He writes elsewhere:

…It can be said that Sunnism and Shī‘ism are two orthodox dimensions of Islam providentially placed in this tradition to enable collectivities of  different psychological and spiritual temperament to become integrated within the Islamic community. Being each an affirmation of  the doctrine of  Unity, they do not in themselves destroy the profound unity of  Islam, whatever their formal differences may be. They are rather two ways of  asserting the truth of  the shahādah, Lā ilāha illa’Llāh. They are two streams which originate from the same fountain, which is their unique source, namely, the Qur’anic revelation. And they finally pour into a single sea which is the Divine Unity whose means of realization each contains within itself. To have lived either of  them fully is to have lived fully as a Muslim and to have realized that Truth for the sake of whose revelation the Qur’an was made known to men through the Prophet of  Islam.

(Note:  One can see the beginning of such an awareness in the writings of Nasr’s two greatest teachers: Frithjof Schuon or Shaykh ‘Īsā Nūr al-Dīn Ahmad, a Sufi master of Sunni inclinations, and ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī, a Shī ‘ite gnostic and philosopher. Despite recognizing the efficacy of the other branch of Islam, both Schuon and Tabātabā’ī seem to naturally privilege Sunnism or Shī‘ism.  Standing upon the shoulders of Schuon and Tabātabā’ī, we see in Nasr’s perspectives and writings  an existential awareness and defense of the full legitimacy of both Sunni and Shī‘ite Islam—their  distinct historical, political and religious perspectives, as well as the inner nexus between the two  branches related to Sufism or  ‘irfān , Islamic philosophy, the doctrine of  Unity and the primary  Islamic sources. See Frithjof  Schuon, “Seeds of  a Divergence,”  Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, trans. J. Peter Hobson (World of  Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd, 1976), pp. 91-110; and  ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī, “Appearance of Gnosis (Sufism) in Islam,” Shi‘ite Islam , trans. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Albany, NY: State University of  New York Press, 1977), pp. 113-115.)

Nasr also deals extensively with Islamic education, science and philosophy.  We  discover  the  challenges  of   integrating  traditional  Islamic education with modern education. As an educator at prestigious universities in the Muslim world and the West since 1955, as well as a traditional teacher  (mu‘allim)  of   wisdom  (hikmah)  and  gnosis  (‘irfān)  outside  of academia, Nasr is in a privileged position to assess these challenges and  offer solutions based upon principles and the realities on the ground.

Though traditional sources, which include the views and writings of  the Ikhwān al-Safā’, Ibn Sīnā, Suhrawardī and Mullā Sadrā, Nasr discusses the epistemological principles and nature of  knowledge in Islam, as well as  the stages and raison d’être of education, which according to the Ikhwān are “tahdhīb (refinement), tathīr (purification), tatmīm (completion), and takmīl (perfection).”

Nasr relates education to not only memory and logical analysis, but more importantly to the spiritual, aesthetic and ethical refinement of the soul and “the perfection of the intellectual faculty,” which he later writes leads to the “the perception (idrāk) of  God…”

Anyone who has suffered through a modern education knows how far the business of  education in the West and increasingly most parts of  the  East is from the vision and program Nasr and other traditional Muslim educators have exposited. He also writes,

The  very  process  of   learning  (ta‘līm)  transforms  the  soul  and  enables  it  to  undergo  the process of  going from a state of  potentiality to one of  actuality. Education, therefore, lies at the heart of  religion and is the basic concern of  Islam; in its totality, embracing both the Sharī‘ah  and the inner way, or Tarīqah , the religion of  Islam itself  may be said to consist of  a vast program of  education for all aspects of  the human being from the corporeal to the highest faculties of  the soul.

In  the  various  chapters  on  Islamic  philosophy  and  science,  Nasr  surveys the main figures and intellectual schools that have helped to shape the views of  Muslims and their vision of  God, the cosmos, the soul and its return to God. He demonstrates the Qur’anic and Muhammadan foundations of  hikmah  and goes on to discuss early Peripatetic (mashshā’ī) and Ismā‘īlī philosophy, the School of Illumination (al-ishrāq) of Suhrawardī, the theoretical gnosis (‘irfān-i nazarī ) of Ibn ‘Arabī and  other Sufis, and the transcendent theosophy ( al-hikmat al-muta‘āliyah ) of   Mullā Sadrā. While always beginning from the point of view of first principles or metaphysics, Nasr also recalls the holistic vision and heritage  of  Islamic cosmology, mathematics, medicine, alchemy, astronomy and  other intellectual, natural and arcane sciences. Moreover, there is an additional appendix on philosophy and education entitled, “The Traditional Texts Used in the Persian Madrasahs and the Question of the Revival  of  Traditional Islamic Education,” which gives modern readers a rare  glimpse into the curriculum and syllabi of  a living intellectual tradition  based on Revelation (Qur’ān), gnosis ( ‘irfān ) and reason ( burhān ).

In the next section on Art and Architecture in Islam in the Modern World one begins to sense what is it like to live and breathe in an ambiance that reflects paradisal realities and how the intrusion of modern art and  architecture in the Muslim world and all traditional societies is arguably the single most pernicious attack—by both modernists and “fundamentalists”—on Tradition and the souls of  men and women. Nasr reminds us that sacred Islamic art is related to the Arabic revelation itself—as Qur’anic  recitation  and  calligraphy  are  the  sonoral  and  visible  forms  of  the Word of  God. He also discusses the mosque, Islamic gardens and homes, prose, poetry, and music, carpets and the art of  traditional dress, for example, and how the very principles of  the religion and the  Presence of the One radiate through these forms as so many symbols that intellectually and existentially communicate Divine archetypes. Nasr  also stresses throughout his corpus the significance of both outward  and inward beauty or virtue. Thus, the greatest work of  art in Islam is the Muslim—and more precisely the  muhsin or virtuous Muslim—who ennobles  the  materia   of   his  or  her  soul  through  its  reception  of   the  Qur’an  and  following  spiritual  model  of   the  Prophet  of   Islam.  Not  surprisingly,  most  modernists  and  “fundamentalists”  are  impervious  to the significance of Islamic art and the Divine Presence contained therein and, for example, erect modern skyscrapers next to the Ka‘bah in Mecca, while leveling the tombs of  Muslim saints. And we are told to  believe that the existence of  the tombs of  saints is a form of  idolatry!

Also  noteworthy  is  his  appendix  “Western  Interpreters  of   the  Islamic  Tradition”  on  Louis  Massignon  and  Henry  Corbin,  who  might  be characterized as accidental goods of the inherently evil program of Orientalism—which Joseph Lumbard (Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of  Tradition) observes that “for the most part…served as the hand-maid of  the colonialist enterprise, providing its ideological justification.”

Yet, as Nasr has pointed out, there was something providential in Massignon’s study of Hallāj and Corbin’s study of Suhrawardī, for example, as Hallāj most clearly reflects the ‘Īsawī or Christic archetype in Islam through his theophanic locutions (shathiyyāt), martyrdom and legacy, while Suhrawardī preserved Greek, Persian and Islamic philosophy through the wisdom of  Ishrāq  or Illumination, which while making use of  the rational faculty, takes reason as a starting point on a journey from the material world or the symbolic Occident to the spiritual or angelic world symbolized by the rising of the Sun in the East. Not only are these figures and their perspectives among to most profound openings to Islam for western audiences, but Nasr also points out that Massignon and Corbin helped to resuscitate these expressions of  Islamic esoterism and philosophy in the Muslim world itself.

Of special interest to readers of  Sacred Web  is the appendix “Islam and Some of the Major Western Traditionalists” on René Guénon (‘Abd al-Wāhid Yahyā), Frithjof Schuon (‘Īsā Nūr al-Dīn Ahmad), Titus Burckhardt (Ibrāhīm ‘Izz al-Dīn), and Martin Lings (Abū Bakr Sirāj al-Dīn). These Muslim traditionalists have offered the most penetrating and far reaching  critique  of   modernism  to  date  based  upon  both  the  Islamic  sapiential tradition and the universal principles contained at the heart of  all religions often referred to as the sophia perennis. Nasr demonstrates the impact of  the traditionalists and their perspective in both the Islamic world and the West. As one of the last great sages in the first generation  of  this intellectual fraternity, Nasr offer his readers an insider’s perspective that constitutes the most important biographical source on these figures. While recognizing the universal validity of all revealed religions and the special role that teachings of  non-Islamic origin played in the lives and perspectives of Guénon, Schuon, Burckhardt and Lings, Nasr insists that they all formally embraced Islam and followed the spiritual or contemplative path of Sufism because of the vitality and accessibility  of   Islamic  esoterism  in  the  contemporary  period.  He  perceptively  observes concerning Schuon:

There is no doubt that he was a Sufi shaykh, one, however, with an exceptional metaphysical vision  and  breadth  of   knowledge,  who  was  a  product  of   the  Islamic  esoteric  tradition.  Even his non-Islamic dimensions can be understood to a large extent in light of  the fact that Sufism is the esoterism of  the last major revelation of  humanity, and that, like Islam, whose function it was to integrate all revealed truths that came before it, Sufism contains within itself  all the possibilities of  esoterism.

Thus,  we  can  assert  that  the  Islamic  tradition  was  the  fertile  soil  for the reemergence of  the sophia perennis  in the contemporary period.

Moreover, through the discerning eyes of  Nasr those from the Muslim world can also reflect upon the special role that some westerners have played in preserving and rearticulating Tradition and the Islamic tradition in particular. In fact, the Muslim response to modernism and the very exposition of  traditional Islam in western languages would remain piecemeal  without  the  contributions  of   the  traditionalists.  A  whole new generation of  scholars and lay believers the world over have now embraced the term and reality traditional Islam and often refer to them selves as traditional Muslims (or the equivalent to traditional in other languages, such as sunnatī  in Persian). We would argue that this is in large part due to Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s introduction of  this term and what it implies in his life and work.

While there are a number of  Muslims  in the West and the Islamic world who employ traditional Islam with full awareness of it meaning, this is not always the case. One can only hope that those Muslims who make use of  it, yet share characteristics with both traditional Muslims and Islamic “fundamentalists” will explore the more universal dimensions and openings of  traditional Islam, such as Sufism, Islamic philosophy, and sacred and traditional Islamic art, as  well  as  a  more  tolerant  and  judicious  treatment  of   non-Muslims  and other revealed religions. Traditional Muslims, especially the Sufis and philosophers, going back to the Prophet Muhammad himself  did not throw  around  invectives  at  Jews  and  Christians  as  routinely  as  some  Muslims do today, which despite being directly related to western colonization and wars in the Muslim world, is a departure from both the spirit and form of  Islam. For the most part, our ancestors were more accepting  of   the  “People  of   the  Book”  (ahl al-kitāb)  and  often  more  conversant  in  other  forms  of   wisdom  (hikmah),  including  the  Greek  and Persian philosophical heritages, the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel, and even aspects of  the Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese traditions.

Due to the rise of globalization and relativism and the break down of those barriers that once divided most religious communities, an awareness of the formal diversity and transcendent unity of  the revealed religions is now imperative for non-Muslims and Muslims alike to remain faithful to their own tradition and respect the traditions of  others.

With  so  many  so-called  experts  speaking  and  writing  about  Islam, the Muslim world and its relation to the West, Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Islam in the Modern World  is essential to understand the complexities in both the Muslim world and the West. Through reading this fine work one  begins  to  see  the  challenges  and  opportunities  that  confront  us through the lucid vision of  a philosopher who is an isthmus between both worlds. One hopes that more spiritual seekers, believers, educators, artists, journalists and policymakers in the Muslim world and the West will avail themselves of  this volume and the wisdom contained therein.

(Note:  Nasr has influenced and trained several generations of  scholars and intellectuals from the West and the Muslim world who have exposited the principles and manifestations of  traditional Islam in their work, including William Chittick, Sachiko Murata, James Morris, GholāmRezā A‘vānī, Osman Bakar, Zailan Moris, David Dakake, Joseph Lumbard, Ibrahim Kalin, Walid El-Ansari, and Caner Dagli, for example. A number of  leading Muslim scholars from the West also first encountered Islam through the writings of  the traditionalists, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, despite not fully accepting their views on other religions. Yusuf  writes, “I remember purchasing a small metaphysical treatise by an author with a foreign name way back in 1976 as I was browsing the shelves in a small spiritual bookstore located amidst a beautiful garden in Ojai, California. The title was  The Book of  Certainty: The Sufi Doctrine of  Faith, Vision and Gnosis , and the author was Abū Bakr Sirāj al-Dīn [Martin Lings]. At the time, I knew nothing of  Islam let alone who the author was, yet the title intrigued me. It was, in essence, what I was searching for—certainty…my curiosity had been piqued and shortly thereafter, in a life-altering transaction, I purchased a Qur’an and  began to read a very personal revelation that would compel me to convert to the religion  of Islam.” Hamza Yusuf, “A Gentle Soul,” in Martin Lings, A Return to the Spirit (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2005), pp. 112-113. Yusuf  writes elsewhere, “In a time when religions suffer  greatly from a lack of  articulate and reasonable spokespersons, believers from any tradition  who know Dr. Nasr’s work are able to raise their heads high when his name is mentioned and say, ‘He makes us all proud to be people of faith.’ I have been reading Dr. Nasr for over twenty years and his intelligence, prescience, and relevance astound me still.” The Essential  Seyyed Hossein Nasr, front material. Keller also writes in his translation Reliance of  the Traveller, “[Seyyed Hossein Nasr] is the author of  a number of  works that are among the best available in English on the relevance of  traditional Islamic sciences and mystical disciples to the  situation of  modern man, including Ideals and Realities of  Islam, Man and Nature Islamic Science: an Illustrated Study , and  Sufi Essays. The translator is indebted to his writings for being among  the reasons he became a Muslim.” Ahmad ibn Naqīb al-Misrī,  Reliance of  the Traveller  (‘ Umdat al-sālik ), trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Beltsville: MD: Amana Publications, 1994) p. 1095. It  should be noted that while Keller has written against some of the views of Guénon, Schuon and the traditionalists, Yusuf  has shown greater sympathy for other religions in recent years.  See, for example, his essay, “Buddha in the Qur’ān?” in Reza Shah-Kazemi,  Common Ground  Between Islam and Buddhism  (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2010), pp. 113)

Reviewed by Zachary Markwith

One God, Many Prophets by Zachary Markwith is an exposition and defense of religious pluralism written from within the Islamic tradition. Through selections from the Quran, sayings of the Prophet Muḥammad, and the writings of Muslim philosophers and Sufis, we discover that traditional Islam and Muslims acknowledge the common Divine origin of previous revelations and prophets as cardinal tenets of faith, and also the esteemed status of other revealed religions and those who practice them. This volume also examines fascinating and timely aspects of Islamic philosophy and spirituality alongside other wisdom traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Greek philosophy, and Hinduism. The themes and principles discussed include Islam and the perennial philosophy, love of the divine feminine, the metaphysics of the Self, Christic, Eliatic, and Hermetic wisdom, and traditional cosmology. The universal and particular wisdom of Islam highlighted throughout this volume is an affirmation of the universal or perennial wisdom of humanity. It challenges us to see Islam and all revealed religions not as competing ideologies, but as “paths that lead to the same summit.”