Middle Eastern Spirituality

and Peace

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Event: The 2008 Middle East Festival Lecture.

Title: Spiritual Approaches to Peace and Ecology in the Islamic World.

Speaker: Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

Chair: Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti (Dr Neil Douglas-Klotz).

Venue: The Queen’s Hall, 87-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh.

Time: 7.30pm-9.30pm: Talk, followed by Questions and Discussion. Doors open from 6.30pm.

Cost: £9/£7 (Concessions). £5 (Students).

Contact: Booking Hotline on 0131 668 2019, or in person at the Queen’s Hall.

Queen’s Hall Website: http://www.thequeenshall.net/index.php

Event Description: Edinburgh hosts world-renowned Islamic scholar Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr to address the opportunities and challenges of Middle East Peace from a spiritual, educational and cultural perspective as part of Edinburgh’s Fifth Annual International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace. One of the world's foremost thinkers looks at the global environmental crisis, religion, modernism, fundamentalism and the spiritual foundations of individual and social peace.



Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr

"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 privagtely for this tradition but there are only a few writers and, among these few, Seyyed Hossen Nasr is pre-eminent."

--Charles Le Gai Eton, author of Islam and the Destiny of Man

"Nasr is one of the major intellects of our day....I know of no one else who is as solidl grounded in both authentic Islam and the complexities of the Western mind."

--Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions


Short Biography: Prof Nasr was born in 1933 in Tehran, Iran in a family of educators and scholars, his father having been one of the founders of the Persian educational system. Consequently, he received the best classical Persian and Islamic education during his early years in Tehran. He later came to the West to finish his secondary education at the Peddie School in New Jersey and after graduating as the valedictorian of his class, he went to MIT where he studied physics and mathematics and graduated with honors in 1954. Meanwhile, his interest turned to an ever greater degree to philosophy and the history of science and he transferred to Harvard University to pursue graduate studies first in the field of geology and geophysics in order to acquaint himself with a descriptive as well as a mathematical science, and finally in the field of the history of science and philosophy in which he received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1958 with specialization in Islamic cosmology and science. From 1958 until 1979, he was Professor of the History of Science and Philosophy at Tehran University and for several years the Dean of the Faculty of Letters and for sometime the Vice Chancellor of the University. He also served for several years as President of Aryamehr University in Iran. In 1962 and 1965 he was Visiting Professor at Harvard University and in 1964-65 the first Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut. He was also the Founder and first President of the Iranian Academy of Philosophy.

In 1979 Prof Nasr migrated to the United States where he became first the Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Utah, then from 1979 to 1984 Professor of Islamic Studies at Temple University. Since 1984 he has been University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University.Prof Nasr has lectured widely throughout the United States, Western Europe, most of the Islamic world, India, Australia and Japan. He has also given several major lectures such as the Azad Memorial Lecture in India, the Iqbal Lecture in Pakistan, the Charles Strong Memorial Lecture in Australia, the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the Cadbury Lectures at Birmingham University in England. He has also been for ten years a member of the Directing Committee of FISP (Federation Internationale des Societes Philosophiques) and a member of the Institut International de Philosophie. Prof Nasr is the author of over thirty books and over 300 articles. His works concern not only various aspects of Islamic studies but also comparative philosophy and religion, philosophy of art and the philosophical and religious dimensions of the environmental crisis. See: www.nasrfoundation.org/


Summary for the Edinburgh Festival Lecture:

“Spiritual Approaches to Peace and Ecology in the Islamic World”

Before turning to the subject of this lecture itself, we must clarify the meaning of the term “spirituality” in the context of Islam, and why spirituality is related to peace and the environmental crisis. The goal of life in Islam is the establishment of equilibrium with God, within each human being, within society at large and with the world of nature.

While the immediate experience of life is combined with strife, the goal is to attain peace through the practice of spiritual striving, which Islam calls the greater jihad. Our primordial nature (fitrah) was at peace with itself and the natural world and no peace is possible for fallen man except through return to that nature and that inner peace which means also being at peace with God.

Islam, in fact, views nature not simply as a domain of strife but also that of harmony and equilibrium that dominates over all forms of apparent strife and violence. Virgin nature is for Muslims a reflection of paradise and traditional Islamic civilization has displayed remarkable harmony with nature as one can see in its architecture and urban design.

The present day Islamic world is not, however, still living in a world in harmony with the environment and even within itself. With the introduction of modernism and reaction to it in the form of “fundamentalism,” tensions have been created within Islamic society between these forces as well as with traditional Islam, not to speak of forces from the outside which threaten Islam on every level. Moreover, modern technology and industrialism, which are the main causes of the global environmental crisis, are followed and propagated widely and usually blindly within the Islamic world by both the modernists and the “fundamentalists,” whatever differences they have in other domains.

The task before the Islamic world today is to re-discover the traditional Islamic attitude towards nature and the relation between inner peace, social peace and harmony with nature. Moreover, this must be carried out under pressure of forces from the outside over which the Islamic world has no control. Until quite recently Islamic society, like other non-Western societies, was impervious to the environmental crisis and its relation to the spiritual foundation of individual and social peace. But now there is ever going awareness of this issue, providing some hope in an otherwise grim situation.