The Diwan: a new translation

Editorial Qasida is pleased to announce the publication, of  a new translation of the famous Diwan of the great Moroccan Alim and Sufi master, Sidi Muhammad Ibn
al-Habib, may God be pleased with him, whom a small group of us first met in 1971 shortly before his death on his way to Hajj at the great age of of 103.

He appeared at a significant time in Moroccan history at the end of a great époque of western Sufism and he was in some ways the isthmus between the old Muslim world of the East and the new age of Islam taking root in the West. Morocco is of course, significantly, one of the most western Muslim nations, parts of it being in fact further west than the UK. Ibn al-Habib was teaching formal knowledge of the Islamic sciences in the Karoueen mosque in Fes as long ago as the year 1900 but by the time he died in 1971 he was a renowned spiritual master as well, with many disciples in Morocco and Algeria and a small number from Great Britain, France and America. He is buried in his zawiyya in Meknes.
Photo of the zawiyya below right (Courtesy of Peter Sanders.)
Morocco; Meknes; Zawiyya Shaykh Muhammad ibn al Habib The first translation of this Diwan into English was by British translator Humphrey Davies in 1971 and a few years later a more complete translation was made by American translator Aisha Bewley. No other translations have been published till now. It seems new translations of any Arabic works of importance are much needed, including of course the Qur’an itself, for those whom Arabic is difficult of access. A new English text helps to give perspective and a fresh mind to translated ideas that can become jaded or taken for granted over time. It is also an opportunity to correct any errors or omissions.
Of course the translator becomes a means, a filter, through which the meanings have to percolate and it all rests on firstly the depth of understanding of the Arabic by the translator; secondly his or her grasp of the English language and thirdly a deep and practised understanding of the subject matter. Of course mistakes can be made and translators will disagree with one another but Arabic poetry is not easy and a choice of translations can only help.
Singing these poems is another aspect of this remarkable book. The very fact that this knowledge is approached by singing is an indication that it is something special and not just poetry. This Diwan is sung in Morocco in traditional ways that have come down over centuries in the Andalusian tradition but simplified for use by ordinary people. However in Algeria for example, they will use many local tunes as well, appropriate to the verse metre.
This new translation by Abdurrahman Fitzgerald of Marrakech, and Moroccans Fouad Arasmouk and Moulay Abdelkebir al-Belghiti, has been designed to be accessible by novices or experienced Arabists alike. Abdurrahman is director of the Centre for Language and Culture in Marrakech and although American, has lived in Morocco for thirty five years and has many published translations to his credit. Fouad Arasmouk has worked closely with Abdurrahman on all of his published translations particularly excerpts from the great Qur’anic exegesis, the Bahr al Madeed of Ibn Ajiba. Moulay AbdelKebir is the son of the present head of the Habibiyya tariqa in Morocco and an itinerant teacher of sufism in Morocco. The translators also wish to acknowledge the help from American poet, Abdal Hayy Moore and Hamza Weinman in some of the translation work.
Recognising the difficulty westerners have reading Arabic, each verse has been be translated into English and transliterated. The task of translation of this Diwan has continued on and off for over six years and this edition is quite long at 280 pp, being three times its size had it been in one language. A sample page is shown here to illustrate its use of Arabic, its translation and transliteration. It has been designed for practical use with qasidas all numbered and listed in a table of contents. Of particular interest will be a biography of Ibn al Habib by Moulay Abdelkebir al Belghiti, as such never seen before in English.

>>DIWAN Book FEB  7 - 2015.indb

It has been very rewarding working on this book, a feeling shared by the translators who have often spent days unraveling the meanings of its more obscure verses and what was intended by the author. This translation helps breathe new life into this unique book.
To purchase

From Mar 27 2015 it will be available world wide directly from CPI Books.
The following link will connect you directly to the book on the CPI web site.

Any bookshop enquiries will need to contact direct.

About Ian Whiteman

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16 Responses to The Diwan: a new translation

  1. With all blessings by Allah ta’ala on this treasure certain to extend and realize Shaykh ibn al-Habib’s statement (raheemahullah) that his Diwan will be sung all over the world. Each page of this marvelously designed edition by Ian Whiteman, with clear Arabic and fastidiously articulated phonetics, easy to follow, and a translation that truly opens the meanings and brings the breath of the Unseen and the Path closer to us in a fresh way — is a dream fulfilled. It is at the same time highly spiritual and highly practical, what a Sufi text should be, and the shaykh, whose living presence we glimpsed in person in the 70s still overwhelms us, would be pleased, as he was when he heard the women disciples from our American and European group in his chamber at the top of his Zawiyya in Meknes recite the Wird (included here), and wept — may each of his tears be new hearts refreshed insha’Allah from the news of it.

  2. Yusuf says:

    I am looking forward to this, in sha Allah.

    On a side note, is the translation by Davis a reference to selections from the Habibiyya LP or did he publish a translation of the Diwan in full?

  3. Abdelkhalek says:

    Al-hamdulillah wa shukru lillah. I Thank you all immensely.

  4. The Humphrey Davis translation was around sometime before the Habibiyya album was recorded.
    What little of it appeared on that album must have come from his translation but quite honestly I can’t remember.

  5. jazakum Allahu khairun for this work from one who is unable to read Arabic, but whose heart yearns to sing these beautiful poems

  6. ma sha Allah, I received my copy today. Can you confirm whether a hardback version is planned?

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  8. Pingback: The New Translation Of Diwan Of Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Al Habib | Abbas Firman

  9. Ian Whiteman says:

    ALERT: As of 12th July 2017 the stocks of this book are very low. We are about to do a reprint.

  10. Jahja says:

    I look for the book but it seems it is everywhere sold out. Do you know a place where it is still available? Greetings from the Netherlands.

    • Ian Whiteman says:

      A new and much revised edition is being prepared at the moment. We hope to have it printed within the next couple of months.
      The older version is now out of print.

  11. tasneem says:

    where can i obtain this book please?

    • Ian Whiteman says:

      Depends where you live. Only the revised version is now fit sale. With a red cover. Zaytuna or Mecca Books have it in the USA. In the UK any bookshop like Waterstones will get it for you. are the main distributors.

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