Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din), Islamic scholar, born January 24 1909; died May 12 2005. Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din), who has died aged 96, was a public-school educated Englishman who converted to Islam, spent many years as keeper of oriental manuscripts and printed books at the British Museum, and is best known as the author of a life of Muhammad. Only 10 days before his death, he addressed an audience of 3,000 at the Wembley conference centre on the occasion of the prophet's birthday; earlier this year, he travelled to Egypt, Dubai, Pakistan and Malaysia. Lings was born in Burnage, Lancashire, but spent his early childhood in the United States, where his father's work had taken him. On his return to England, he went to Clifton College, Bristol, where he became head boy, and read English at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he became a close friend of CS Lewis. In 1935, he went to Lithuania to lecture on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.
He travelled to Egypt in 1940, originally to visit a friend who was lecturing at Cairo University. During the visit, his friend died in a riding accident and Lings was offered the post. It was at about this time that he converted to Islam, and was soon imbued with the Sufi dimension of the religion. He found the critique of modern civilisation by the French Muslim writer, Ren� Gu�non, particularly convincing and shared his "universalism", within the context of Islam.
In 1944, Lings married Lesley Smalley, and their home in a village at the foot of the pyramids provided a refuge for both Egyptian and foreign visitors. The highlight of the year was Lings's annual production of a Shakespeare play. His passion inspired the student cast, one of whom became an Egyptian film star. His understanding of Shakespeare's spiritual significance led, 40 years later, to his book, The Secret Of Shakespeare: His Greatest Plays Seen In The Light Of Sacred Art.
Lings might have been content to remain in Egypt for the rest of his life, but political events intervened. Abdul Nasser's nationalist revolution was preceded by savage anti-British riots, in which three of Lings's colleagues were killed, and the British university staff were dismissed without recompense.
Back in London in 1952, and without a job, Lings decided to study, while Lesley, a physiotherapist, went back to work. After taking a BA in Arabic studies, he received his doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) for a thesis on the great Algerian Sufi, Ahmad al-Alawi. This was the basis for one of his most influential books, A Sufi Saint Of The Twentieth Century, recognised as a unique view of Islamic spirituality seen from within.
In 1955, he joined the staff of the British Museum as assistant keeper of oriental printed books and manuscripts; he was keeper from 1970 to 1973, when he was seconded to the British Library. This work focused his interest in Qur'anic calligraphy and he published a classic work on the subject, The Qur'anic Art Of Calligraphy And Illumination, to coincide with the 1976 World of Islam Festival, with which he was closely involved.
From then on, he wrote constantly. For Muslims, his masterpiece was Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources (1983), for which he was decorated by Zia al-Haq, then president of Pakistan.
Among his 12 books was The Eleventh Hour (1987), a profound study of the spiritual crisis of the mod- ern world, for which he had prepared the ground with Ancient Beliefs And Modern Superstitions (1965), and What Is Sufism? (1975), a corrective to many mis- understandings about this aspect of Islam. Symbol And Archetype: A Study Of The Meaning Of Existence (1991) demonstrated his grasp of traditional symbolism.
His interest in the symbolism of colours found expression in his talent for gardening. From his home in Kent, he would search far and wide for a particular specimen, seeking, for example, a shade of blue that perfectly reflected the perfection of heaven.
Lings remained serene, tolerant and patient to the end. His wife survives him.