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The Legacy of Titus Burckhardt by Dr.

Mazeni Alwi Having written about Martin Lings, I felt it is appropriate to write about his contemporary, Titus Burckhardt, as a matter of thematic continuity. Burckhardt, a swiss, was only a year older than Lings but he died in 1984. Lings wrote the introduction to Burckhardts Letters of a sufi master the Shaykh Ad Darqawi and Fez, city of Islam. Apart from his translations of classic Sufi texts by Ibn Al Arabi and Abd Al Karim Jili, making the metaphysics of the former known to the western world as well as his own writings on the subject, Burckhardt was also a distinguished art historian. With the intimate understanding of an insider, his authoritative work on Islamic art is unsurpassed. Thirdly, his role as an expert engaged by UNESCO in the conservation efforts of the city of Fez is another area where he has made a major contribution in the domains of Islamic intellectual, spiritual and artistic traditions. It is Burckhardts work in these 3 related areas that before returning to Malaysia in 1990, I took 2 months off and drove from England to Morocco, stopping for a couple of weeks in Andalusia, whose culture and civilization Burckhardt also wrote about (Ibn Arabi was from Murcia in Southern Spain). I was also drawn to Fez for the reason that Ibn Khaldun, credited for the birth of critical historiography and sociology, lived and taught in the Qarawiyyin mosque university in the heart of the medieval city for a period during the 14th century. I first stumbled on Titus Burkhdardt some 25 years ago through his translation of Letters of a Sufi Master The Shaykh ad-Darqawi (simply known in Darqawi circles as Rasail or letters), first published in 1969. This was republished by Fons Vitae in 1998. The book consists of excerpts of letters of Mulay al Arabi ad-Darqawi (died 1823), founder of the Darqawi branch of the Shadhiliya Tariqa (Sufi order) to his disciples, instructing them on the spiritual path. The letters were collected and later published in a lithographed edition in Fez in early 19th century. They are a gem of Sufi literature, offering a fascinating insight into how a Sufi shyakh guides his disciples in the rigorous path of Islamic spirituality. As these are letters of instruction, the emphasis was more on practical methods and operative aspects of Sufism rather than doctrine. In his counsel to his disciples Shaykh Darqawi referred heavily to aphorisms from Ibn Ataillahs Al-Hikam (a widely used Sufi text even today all over the Islamic world), other masters of the Shadhiliya order including his own teacher, as well as the Quran and the prophetic tradition. Burckhardts translation has enriched Sufi literature and made available a document of extraordinary power and beauty that belonged to a recent past. Here are some examples of these epistolary gems, The Fuqara (pl. of faqir, novice of the spiritual path) of ancient times sought only for what could kill their souls and bring life to their hearts, whereas we do just the opposite . They strove only to become free of their passions and dethrone their egos; but as for us, what we long for is the satisfaction of our sensual desires and the glorification of our egos, and thus we have turned our backs to the door and our faces to wall. Subduing ones ego forms one of the major themes of Rasail, and in another letter, The first lesson that my master gave me was as follows : he ordered me to carry two baskets full of fresh fruit through the town. I carried them in my hands and did not wish, as the others told me, to put them on my shoulders, for that was unwelcome to me, and constricted my soul, so that it became agitated and fearful and grieved beyond measure, till I almost began to weep. Never before had my soul had to suffer such a thing, so I was not conscious of its pride and cowardice (Shaykh Darqawi, of noble lineage, was a young scholar then). While I was in this state, my master who perceived my pride and my inner distress, came up to me, took the two baskets from my hands and placed them on my shoulders with the words: Distinguish thus between good and evil. Thereby he opened the door for me and led me the right way, for I learned to discriminate between the proud and the humble, the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the orthodox and the heretical, between those who know and translate their knowledge into deeds, and those who do not. From that moment no orthodox person ever overpowered me with his orthodoxy, no heretic with his heresy, no scholar with his knowledge, no pious man with his piety, and no fasting man with his ascetism. For my master, may God have mercy on him, had taught me to distinguish truth from vanity, and wheat from chaff. Burckhardt also brought us an unlikely story that could only have come from classic Sufi literature, the account of Shaykh Darqawis first meeting with his master: That night I asked God to confirm my intention (of becoming a disciple of the Master Ali al-Jamal), and I spent the whole night picturing him to myself, wondering what he was like and how my meeting with him would be, unable to sleep. When morning came, I went to find him at his Zawiyah in the Rumaylah quarter, located between the two cities (old and new Fez), on the river bank, in the direction of the Qiblah, on the very spot where his tomb lies today. I knocked on the gate and there he was before me, sweeping out the Zawiyah as was his custom, for he never gave

up sweeping it everyday with his own blessed hand, in spite of his great age and high spiritual function. What do you want, he said. O my Lord, I replied, I want you to take me by the hand to God. Then he began to reprove me furiously, hiding his true state from my eyes, with words such as these, And who told you that I take anyone at all by the hand and why ever should I do so for you?. And he drove my away all to test my sincerity. So I went away. But when night came I questioned God once more (by means of the Holy Book). Then after performing the morning prayer, I went back again to the Zawiyah. I found the master again sweeping as before and knocked at the gate. He opened it and let me in and I said: Take me by the hand, for Gods sake!. Then he took me by the hand and said: Welcome!. He led me into his dwelling place in the inner part of the Zawiyah and manifested great joy. O my Lord, I said to him, I have been looking for a master for so long!. And I, he replied, was looking for a sincere disciple. Burckhardts translation of selections from Rasail opens up a fascinating dimension of Islamic tradition whose vestiges was still present in late twentieth century to the western world. A more complete translation of Rasail was later produced by the English Sufi Aisha Abd ar Rahman at-Tarjumana titled The Darqawi way. What surprised me most was, not long after reading Burckhardts translation, I came across a jawi-malay translation by the Terengganu scholar Tok Pulau Manis in the early 1900s (The Darqawi Tariqa is largely North African but many scholars of Tassawwuf from all over the muslim world lived and taught in Mecca before the collapse of Caliphate and the imposition of strict wahhabism). How did Burckhardt came to write that translation? In his book, Fez, city of Islam, he gave an account of his visit to Morocco in 1933 34 as a young man of 25, Seeking a spiritual master, I settled in Fez, where I divided my time between this search and the study of Arabic. After six months, however, I had reached a dead end . Then follows his account of his meeting with the sage Hajj Muhammad Bu Shaara, with whom he stayed and later recommended him to one of the foremost ulama of Fez, Mulay Ali ben Tayyib Darqawi, the grandson of the Shaykh Darqawi. It was Mulay Ali who completed Titus Burckhardts education in Arabic, theology and Sufism, making him read and learn by heart many chapters of the Koran, as well as the essentials of Islamic doctrine and rituals by Ibn Ashir, and also making him attend the courses in traditional science, which he himself and other scholars gave at Qarawiyyin University, then situated in the mosque of the same name (traditional Islamic universities were based in great mosques). He wrote, On the day that Mulay Ali gave his lectures at the great mosque, a saddled and caparisoned mule was waiting for him at the door of the sanctuary to take him back home before midday. As soon as he was in the saddle, he told me to grasp the tail of the animal which trotted up the steep lanes of the Medina . His garments were always in an impeccable condition and bore witness to his rank as a scholar. I sometimes saw him, however, in the garb of the Sufis, wearing a patched cloak. Nevertheless, his presence in Fez raised the concern of the French Protectorate authorities. To them it was unimaginable that someone, especially a foreigner, could so diligently attend the courses at the traditional university, for other than political motives. In those interwar years, a swiss intellectual and artist officially converted to Islam could only be a cause of trouble and in the pay of a foreign power hostile to France. He was made to leave Moroccan territory. Once back in Switzerland, Burckhardt was only able to return to Morocco after she regained independence in 1956. The book Fez, city of Islam was first published in 1960 in german but the English translation by The Islamic Texts Society of Cambridge only appeared in 1992 (It was part of a series which he edited Homesteads of the Spirit to which he also contributed two other volumes, Siena, city of the virgin and Chartres and the birth of the Cathedral). Fez, city of Islam conveys a profound understanding of the sacred roots that nourish Islamic culture and civilization, drawing from his own experience and the people he knew when he was young student of Islam, as well as references drawn from classical texts by scholars who had lived in the Maghreb in past centuries. For bonus the book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of many of the citys rich architectural heritage as well as his black and white prints of 1930s. As Fez has been the intellectual, cultural, spiritual heart of North Africa, he dedicated whole chapters to traditional science, Islamic orthodoxy and Sufism. There is also a chapter on the houses of Fez, The true unveiled face of Fez remains hidden to whoever knows Fez only from the street, and has seen only the shopping alley-ways and the grey outer walls of the houses , but once inside its exterior drabness gives way to a beautiful courtyard, some with a small garden and fountain, with arches leading to the surrounding rooms. As Martin Lings wrote in the introduction, Titus Burckhardt is an authority whose works are a constant source of inspiration the publication of this book in English is like the unearthing of a great treasure. It was in recognition of Burckhardts unrivalled knowledge and authority on Fez that he was appointed special advisor to UNESCO with particular references to the preservation of the unique architectural and cultural heritage of Fez.

Related to the architectural, cultural and intellectual heritage of Fez, Burckhardt is also an authority in yet another domain, Islamic (and religious) art. He is an accomplished art historian, following in the footsteps of a great-uncle, and his father was a sculptor. His last major work was Art of Islam. Unfortunately I am in possession only of its French version, LArt de lIslam. He was persuaded to write the book side by side with his activities as adviser to the Arts Council of Great Britain during its preparation for the exhibition of Islamic art during the World of Islam Festival in London in 1976. Unlike the many books of Islamic art, Burckhardt wrote from the position of an authoritative figure who also had an intimate familiarity and profound understanding of Islamic civilization and its intellectual and spiritual traditions. Burckhardt gives his penetrating insight into the intellectual principles, contemplative nature and spiritual role of the Islamic art forms architecture, calligraphy, the decorative arts, those related to worship and the mosque, the folk crafts as well as thoughtful thesis on the influence of other cultures that greatly enriched it as the religion rapidly spread beyond the Arabian peninsula. In a world stifled by the crushing weight of a secular materialism and uniformizing consumerism, Titus Burckhardt has left a precious legacy. In Fez, city of Islam, he expressed his concern over dehumanizing ravages of secular modernity on traditional muslim society, Whereas previously men were differentiated only by their culture, the community is all of a sudden split into economically determined classes, and with the cheap products of the factory, a poverty without beauty invades the homes, ugly, senseless and comfortless poverty is the most widespread of all modern achievements. Writing then in 1960, he could have been easily rebuffed as a western romantic irrationally smitten by the hollow charm of the Islamic orient, who wanted it remain stagnant for his own selfish romanticism. It is also true that sclerotic traditions that have no mechanism for self rejuvenation within themselves and the accretion of negative external influences have led to the stagnation and decay of Islamic civilization, hence the fixation for secular modernism for some and a reformist spirit driven with the puritanical zeal for others have formed our main responses to modernity. But today, the unintelligent embrace of modernity and the careless jettisoning of traditional wisdom has caused, the muslim world to sink deeper in crises of all forms imaginable political despotism, poverty and ignorance of the common folks whereas the rich wallow in consumerist materialism, religious fanaticism on the one hand and the loss of values in the embrace of the latest post modern fashions on the other. As for his Fez, une ville humaine (badly translates as a human city, the title of one of his lectures), Burckhardt may have succeeded in preserving the many beautiful buildings and monuments, but the march of secular modernity and materialism is too overwhelming despite his noble efforts at rehabilitating its Islamic culture and tradition. Taking a look at todays metropolises and urban environment of the muslim world reminds one of Burckhardts horror of poverty without beauty. Today, after all those costly false starts, what we need is to intelligently seek a balance between conforming to modernity and remaining faithful to our traditional wisdom and values. There is perhaps something to be learned in the romanticism of men like Titus Burckhardt and Martin Lings. Dr. Mazeni Alwi