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Morals of the Heart (Fawa'id al Fu'ad).

This valuable Sufi text, the title of which might be translated as "lessons to be absorbed in the deepest part of oneself," is a collection of conversations proffered during the course of 188 meetings by the early 14th-century Indian Muslim Shaykh Nizam ad-Din Awliya with his disciple/compiler Amir Hasan Sijzi at Ghiyathpur between the years 1308 and 1322 A.D. With this work, the noted scholar of Islamic mysticism and introducer of this bountiful volume, Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, tells us, "Sufi literature entered a new phase and assumed a more lively, realistic, and concrete form related to actual circumstances. It made Sufi teachings accessible to a broad audience of Indian Muslims."

The history of the text's survival is a story in itself begun with color and enthusiasm in a brief Preface by the retired archivist and distinguished scholar of pre-Mughal India, Simon Digby, followed with mounting energy and exhaustive detail by Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, and finally synthesized for his American readers by the text's translator, Bruce B. Lawrence, with proper credits given to his masters in Persian Sufism and in the art of translation, which he presents in lively and insightful prose.

The result of this crosscultural and transtemporal collaboration is a fascinating and convincingly authoritative first-hand glimpse into the ascetical and mystical path of Sufism as it was lived by a master and processed to others of his time by anecdotal retellings and animated evocations of prior classical Arab and Persian lives and embodied virtues, often lyrically highlighted by quotations from mostly Persian poetry. The book is a feast for readers drawn to accounts of disciplined mystical experience and thought, Islamic and comparative, and to religious history and literature, in a particular context and in general.

The spine of the conversations is the implicit narrative of the master-disciple relationship extending, by no means least, to the translator himself. Lawrence, following with the present volume his earlier study Notes from a Distant Flute: The Extant Literature of Pre-Mughal Indian Sufism, establishes himself as one of our leading authorities on Indo-Persian Islamic mysticism, and as one of a growing number of distinguished American scholars who have mastered the language and thought of Islamic mysticism, as it were, from within, through direct association with master practitioners of the present and, through them in situ, of the past they have inherited.

It is a devoted work of scholarship, of prose translation, and, most of all, of approximate recreation of the age-old experience of the transmission of a master's teachings over time.

What might be added by way of a shyly offered general suggestion relates to the art of poetry and the elusive realm of the imagination. Lawrence, in close communication with Christopher Shackle of the London School of Oriental Studies, wrestles doggedly with an Indo-Persian couplet's meter and rhyme scheme, only to conclude with an unwanted parody worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan: "Even though He says He'll kill me, / That He says it can't but thrill me."

Unfortunately translation of what is authentic religious poetry in another culture cannot be approximated merely by sincerity and knowledge of languages. Indeed, approximation is not the right goal for this realm. One must give play to one's grasp of the authentic in another's voice by imagining what is unstated and what envelopes together the other and oneself. One must imagine what is not discoverable in the other's text: the air and light and aromas and noises one breathes and sees and hears in everyday experience that nourishes one's own heart with its rare spiritual aspiration and inspires oneself to transcend mere translation and thereby to realize a mutual experience in it. In simple terms, one must know one's own, especially contemporary, poetry even more deeply than the other's.
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Author:Mason, Herbert
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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