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Islamic Relics  

Richard McGregor

Relics can be found in every era of Islamic history, throughout the Islamic world. In line with other religious traditions of the Near East, the Qur’an mentions several objects endowed with special power (e.g., Joseph’s coat, the Ark of the Covenant). The earliest Islamic literature, preserving the life and mission of Muḥammad, presents details of several revered objects. These include objects handed down from pre-Islamic prophets as well as the discards of Muḥammad’s person, including clothing, weapons, and hair. Saintly figures, descendants of the Prophet, and his companions have also been sources for relics. Relics are displayed and venerated in devotional contexts such as shrines, tombs, mosques, madrasas, and museums. Relics have been paraded on special occasions such as the festival days of the Muslim calendar, in medieval protest marches, as part of the rituals for relief from drought, and as talismans in battle. Despite the occasional objection from austere doctors of law, devotion to relics has remained commonplace. While a full inventory is impossible, five categories may be proposed for the Islamic relic: (a) Bodily relics include the blood of martyrs, hair, and fingernail parings. Shrines have been built over severed heads—the most famous being that of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (d. 680). (b) Contact relics, having collected the baraka (blessing) of their one-time owners, pass those blessings on to any pilgrim who touches them. Several staffs, lances, bows, shields, turbans, cloaks, and sandals attributed to the Prophet have been preserved, some of which were presented as symbols of authority in the early caliphate. (c) Impressions in stone made by feet, hands, fingers, posteriors, and even hooves are preserved. Muḥammad’s footprints saw a brisk trade in the medieval period, and his sandal inspired a minor tradition of devotional iconography first in manuscript copies and later in modern mass production. (d) Inanimate objects, miraculously endowed with speech or locomotion, constitute a fourth category. These animated relics could be speaking stones or moving trees, particularly in the sacred topographies of Medina and Mecca. (e) Many revered places which were the site of important events have been marked off and preserved. More than commemorations, these “stage relics” anchored sacred history and holy bodies in the landscape. The location of Muḥammad’s birthplace in Mecca was until recently a revered stage relic.

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Seyyed Hossein Nasr  

Muhammad U. Faruque

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a contemporary Islamic philosopher with global influence. His oeuvre covers an extended field from the perennial philosophy, which dominates his philosophical worldview, to religion, science, environmental studies, education, and the arts with particular attention to Islamic and comparative studies, as well as criticism of modernism. Grounded in Islamic tradition, Nasr’s far-reaching ideas have been acknowledged by the global scholarly community. Nasr is the only Muslim thinker included in the Library of Living Philosophers (LLP). Since its inception in 1939, the LLP has featured some of the greatest of the 20th century’s Western philosophers and scientists, namely A. N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, J. P. Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Nasr was also the first Muslim and non-Westerner to deliverthe prestigious Gifford lectures whose contributors also include prominent intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, William James, Iris Murdoch, Charles Taylor, and Rowan Williams. Nasr’s written corpus contains some thirty thousand pages in print, which have generated a great deal of interest, contention, and controversy in the Islamic world and beyond. One should also consider his innumerable media appearances, public lectures, and interviews that often complement and expand upon his written corpus. Nasr is perhaps most famous for being one of the first people to predict, diagnose, and provide a response to the ecological crisis, having spoken out on the topic as early as 1966. He is considered the father of “Islamic environmentalism,” which is now gaining momentum in the Muslim world. Nasr also made important contributions to topics such as Islamic science and philosophy, religious pluralism, Islamic art and spirituality, and Sufi-Chinese dialogue.