Noel’s work, continued
After Noel died, we started up a lecture series to continue his life’s work in comparative religion and inter-faith dialogue. This year’s speaker was Professor Mark Massoud who, like Noel, was born in a developing country, educated at top universities, and fascinated by traditions not his own.
Mark talked about Shari’a law, a topic much shouted about, and little understood (not only in the West). Shari’s has been the object of xenophobic lawmakers, and blamed for the stoning of women and amputation of hands, but in fact, Shari’a has little to do with enforcement and punishment, and everything to do with context and guidance. The word itself means path—a term adopted by many of the world’s religions to describe themselves—and specifically a path through the dry places to water. As with all such “paths”, Shari’a is essentially a guide to ethical behavior and choices, a way to inform a person or group’s responsibilities to one’s self, one’s community, and to the world at large.
(In other words, to judge Islam by extremist interpretations of Shari’a is directly analogous to judging Christianity by the KKK or the Oklahoma City terrorists. Terrorism is terrorism, whether or not we call it “domestic”.)
The other reappearance of Noel King is in a book about Ibn Battuta, one of the great travelers of all time. Born in Morocco in the early years of the 14th century, he set off on pilgrimage to Mecca, got diverted by a local war, finally made it to the holy city…and then kept going. Fez and Grenada, Timbuctu and Constantinople, wandering and studying with other scholars for his whole life, getting as far as modern Beijing before finally returning to Tangier to live out his days.
Noel was a traveling man, too, a constant scholar on constant pilgrimage to the sites of the world’s religions—he envied Ibn Battuta his visit to Timbuctu, about the only place his own passports did not have a stamp from. Some years ago, he co-authored a book on his 14th century predecessor’s travels in deepest Africa—
—and when he dies, he was working on the professional pilgrim’s further travels with one of his favorite graduate students. Now, Albion Butters has finished the work the two of them began collaborating on all those years ago, with a new book just appearing. I haven’t received my copy yet, but the cover is gorgeous, don’t you think?
Here’s what the publisher says about it:
The Riḥla is of great value as a historical document and for its religious commentary, especially regarding the marvels and miracles that Ibn Baṭṭūṭa encountered. It is also an entertaining narrative with a wealth of anecdotes, often humorous or shocking, and in many cases touchingly human. The book records the journey of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, a Moroccan jurist who travels to the East, operating at high levels of government within the vibrant Muslim network of India and China in the 14th century. It offers fascinating details about the cultures and dynamics of that region, and a dazzling narrative that goes well beyond the standard travelogue.
The book is here. And in celebration of the Noel Q. King Lecture, if you mention that you’re a friend of Noel (or indeed, of his wife) the publisher will give you a 20% discount.