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Pathways to an Inner Islam: Massignon, Corbin, Guénon, and Schuon (review)

From: Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies
Volume 5, Issue 4, Autumn 2012
pp. 501-504 | 10.1353/isl.2012.0059

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Usually, and may the oversimplification be forgiven here, those who 'like' René Guénon also happen to 'like' Frithjof Schuon, Henry Corbin, and probably also Louis Massignon. While in the case of Corbin and Massignon this connection is rather obvious, the latter being one of the academic mentors of the former, the connection is not completely intuitive in the case of all of the named intellectuals altogether. The transitive property, in this case, applies 'phenomenologically' - that is, in a way that transcends the personalities themselves and takes into consideration the nature of the texts only, as if their works subsisted and interacted in the mundus imaginalis.

I open my review with this remark because Pathways to an Inner Islam effects this connection openly, analysing the works of the four authors through acknowledging the elective choice of the readers a posteriori: that this elective choice does in fact exist is no mystery whatsoever, whatever Corbin may have thought about the label 'traditionalist' that is often attached - with some good reasons - to Guénon and Schuon. To be sure, Laude is careful at the very outset to stress that one has to deal with 'two intellectual lineages': Massignon and Corbin on one hand, Guénon and Schuon on the other (2). But, quite pertinently, he attributes to both lineages the basic common feature of having experienced on a personal level the spiritual influence of mystical Islam, which is even more meaningful, according to the author, if one considers the fiercely rationalist stance of the 20th century French intellectual climate.

The book is, by explicit statement of its author (whose previous two monographs were devoted to Massignon and Schuon respectively), an introduction to the four personalities and their oeuvre, offered to the English speaking world. The aim is thus to fill a gap, as the extant translated works are not enough to make for a whole understanding of the depth and subtleties of their thought and their mutual intellectual connections. In this sense, Pathways to an Inner Islam is a contribution to the academic understanding of the often underestimated 'traditionalist' approach to mystical Islam, which, like it or not, has served as an inspiration and motivating force behind the activity of a congruous number of scholars of Islam - avowedly or not.

The four, Laude points out (11), are to be considered by now and to some extent 'primary sources' in the study of Islam in the modern world: the personalities and thoughts that have been influenced by them (15-20) testify to how far their influence has reached. The author tackles the possible lines of thought, Eastern and Western, that take to task the very notion of an 'inner Islam' (20-21), mentioning the range of options available to the scholar: it ('inner' or 'spiritual' Islam) does not exist, for Islam is law; it does exist, but its origin is not Islamic or Qur'anic; it does exist, but it is marginal and not at all representative of Islam; there could be something 'inner' in Islam, but its Western proponents exaggerate its import. Also, Laude advocates the legitimacy, even the necessity, of a traditionalist approach to Islam that privileges its inner dimension, making a case for this. By doing so, he provides a definition of Sufism that serves as a brief introduction to Islamic mysticism, preliminary to the study of the four intellectuals.

The book proceeds thematically. Rather than addressing the four authors one by one, as would have been expected - and probably would have been too simplistic - Laude fashions his chapters in the form of a 'path', consistent with the title he gave to the study. In Chapter 2, significantly entitled 'Sufism, ShÐÝism, and the Definition of Inner Islam', the approaches of the four and their definition of and take on 'inner Islam' are meticulously presented in their distinctive characters. The same paradigm is applied to Chapter 3, on the Qur'an; and to Chapter 4, on the Prophet. While the thematic arrangement may at times obscure the matter addressed - it is no easy task to condense the complexity and articulation of monumental thought systems like Massignon's and Corbins's in the space of a few pages - the elaboration shows...



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