Letters on the Spiritual Path

We’re pleased to announce that a new translation of the Letters of Moulay Al-Arabi Darqawi has been scheduled for release this coming May. The following blurb by the translators, which will accompany its release, is self explanatory and hints at the importance of this new and complete edition as published by al-Madina Institute.

Letters on the Spiritual Path 

Mūlay al-ʿArabī al-Darqāwī (d. 1239/1823)
Translated and annotated by Mohamed Fouad Aresmouk and Michael Abdurrahman Fitzgerald 356 pp.

Around the year 1182/1769, shortly after Mūlay al-ʿArabī al-Darqāwī’ had received the litany and invocations of the way, his shaykh, Sidi ʿAlī al-Jamal, said to him, “Whenever a spiritual insight comes to you, be quick to write it down before it escapes, because it comes to you first as huge as a mountain, and if you are quick to write it down, you will seize it as came to you. But if you hesitate, it will return like a camel, and if you hesitate again, it will return like a swallow, and if you hesitate again, it will escape you altogether.” Later, when the young disciple became a master in his own right, his record of those initial insights were put into the form of letters that he would share with his own students throughout the mountainous Jbālī region of northeastern Morocco, adding to them and expanding upon them over the period of fifty years during which he called people to God. Eventually, the letters themselves would be assembled by students and representatives among the tens of thousands who had entered the ṭarīqa by the time Mūlay al-ʿArabī passed away, and hand-made copies of the collection were kept and regularly read in the scores of zawiyas of the Darqāwi order in both Morocco and abroad. 

These letters include teachings which cover nearly every conceivable aspect of spiritual practice, conduct, and doctrine. They are also the personal record of a man in search of a life in God, confronting the both the mountains and valleys of that path, as well as living with and participating in the lives of the people around him.  From an even broader perspective, they are also a picture of Islam in late 12th/18th century Morocco, a land that was in the process of becoming a nation, seeking to deal with factionalism and political unrest from within and an influx of foreign ideas from without, including the teachings of the Wahhabī movement in Arabia which had just begun to preach its point of view to other Arabic-speaking countries.   

Letters on the Spiritual Path is the first complete translation into any western language of all 272 of these letters. Besides a meticulously researched translation based on both manuscript and printed editions of the letters in Arabic it includes an introduction to the times and place they were first taught and a summary of their main theme, as well as abundant footnotes on the contents, a biographical index to nearly all the persons mentioned, and a general index of terms, places, and books. 


One point of interest is in the image on the cover (above) which is of part of letter 271, an important letter ignored in other earlier editions. The authors are 99% certain this is in the actual handwriting of the shaykh. The letter was discovered on a journey to the Sahara in 2008. Within the book the whole page will reproduced full frame.

Further announcements will be made on this blog nearer the publication date.

 

About Ian Whiteman

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7 Responses to Letters on the Spiritual Path

  1. Iljas Baker says:

    Titus Burkhardt’s translated only some selections of the letters and was therefore never thought of as anything but selections. Aisha Bewley’s translation cannot be accused of being seriously incomplete surely. It does contain letter 272 and according to the translator only excludes those few letters which repeat points stated in other letters that are included in her translation. I’ve never heard of any complaints about the quality of the translation. Having stated this I do look forward to the new translation as it is an enormous treasure.

  2. Iljas Baker says:

    I meant of course letter 271 which is in the Bewley translation.

    • Ian Whiteman says:

      Unless there is a newer edition with added letters, the Aisha Bewley 1979 Diwan Press edition contains only 227 Letters out of a total of 272. Also several reputable Arabists have mentioned that there are repeated errors in her translation. This doesn’t detract from the benefit of her work, but any improvement has to be welcomed.

  3. Iljas Baker says:

    The 1981 reprint of the Aisha Bewley translation seems to have all the letters 1-272 plus “The prison letter”. See https://archive.org/details/TheDarqawiWay

    I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translation.

  4. A-K-B says:

    Thank you for your blog Sidi Abdallateef; your work truly inspires me (so much that I’m collecting it and analyses all the micro and macro typography in it).

    I just wanted to remark that this upcoming translation is actually not “the first complete in any western language”. Recently—on November, 16th 2017 to be more precise—we, as French-speaking people, have been blessed by the publishing of a complete translation under the pen of the gifted translator Idris de Vos. It has been entitled “Enseignement d’un grand maître soufi: Les lettres de Mulay al-ʿArabī al-Darqâwî” (Editions Albouraq, ISBN 9791022502016).

    I’m sharing this information in the hope that it will reach the team working on the upcoming English translation and spare them this minor hiccup.

    May Allah bless you all.

    — Abdelkhalek.

  5. Ian Whiteman says:

    All these comments are welcome and will be passed to whom they concern.

  6. Abdurrahman says:

    I’d like to thank Iljas for his correction. Neither my co-translator, Fouad Aresmouk, nor I was aware of the subsequent edition of Sayyida Aisha Bewley’s translation, only the Diwan Press edition mentioned above. This error is totally ours and I’m afraid we passed that on in the blurb we sent to Sidi Abdallatif quoted above as well as in a couple of lines of the introduction in the actual translation. Hopefully we can amend that text before printing. That also goes for the fact of there now being a complete edition in French which we know about thanks to Sidi Abdelkhalek’s comment. I’m glad to know about it and I’m going to try to get a copy here in Morocco. It seems that these letters were on several people’s minds at once.
    I would add here that when we started this translation about three years ago, it was only partly because we had supposed that the previous translations were incomplete. The main reason was that, personally, I had always found these letters — even in Arabic —- to be rather inaccessible. Sayyida Aisha’s translation (and I have now read some of pdf with Iljas kindly linked to above) helped with this, but with great respect and appreciation for her efforts all those years ago, some things remained rather incomprehensible. This is not surprising to me given the fact that Shaykh al-Darqawi’s Arabic was often mixed with Moroccan dialect and used expressions that even Bassām Muḥammad Bārūd, the editor of the 1999 Arabic edition who has a vast background in Sufic works but who is not Moroccan, misinterpreted in his explanatory footnotes. Fouad Aresmouk, my co-translator, also has a vast background in the books and teachings of the Sufis, plus he is Moroccan, raised in a family of scholars, and so together we tried to make this new translation something that could benefit the widest possible readership. To that end, we worked to make the text as readable as possible, even to someone with little or no background in Sufism or Arabic, and footnoted words and passages which we thought a reader might benefit from knowing more about. In addition to this, we followed Shaykh Bārūd’s model in his Arabic edition of giving a few lines after the number of each letter, mentioning the subjects dealt with in the text. Thanks to Sidi Abdallateef’s work making our pages of computer text into a beautiful book, these sub-titles are now part of the table of contents and so it’s easier to find a letter on a particular topic. We also added several indices and an introduction which helps situate the letters and their author in time and place.
    Again, many thanks to Iljas and Abdelkhalek for their comments. We’ll do whatever we can to see that the introductory remarks reflect them.

    Salams from Marrakesh,

    Abdurrahman Fitzgerald

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