Oh, the understated English. No, this is not an average book about an average person.
Ian Whiteman, of Saffron Walden, Essex, was born in post-war Britain to a Quaker family. Quakers, or to use their formal name the Religious Society of Friends, are a denomination within Protestant Christianity. Quakers, or Friends, are known to be austere, conscientious objectors to war, and do not consume alcohol.
Ian Whiteman is now in his seventies and is a Muslim living in Spain. His journey from Saffron Walden to Grenada started when he lived a double life as a musician and as an architecture student in the 1960s (the members of Pink Floyd studied architecture too, who knew), converted to Islam, got initiated into Sufism, took countless trips to Morocco and North Africa. In the 60s he was involved with the likes of George Martin and was a member of the experimental band The Action, and later Mighty Baby.
A decade later, after his conversion to Islam, he found himself a member of the Sufi order led by Shaykh Abdul Qadir As-Sufi. His close association with the late Shaykh Abdul Qadir As-Sufi seems to be one of the more significant pivots in his life. While he credits the Shaykh for his conversion, and initiation into Sufism, the upheavals of life in the Norwich Sufi commune and later the establishment of the Murabitun World Movement, proved too disruptive for Whiteman and he began distancing himself from Shaykh Abdul Qadir As-Sufi.
In the subsequent decades, Whiteman got involved in projects with Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, the Islamic Texts Society and ran the Green Street Bookshop. His most significant project was probably the production of the 3-CD plus booklet boxset of the Burda of al-Busiri. Whiteman described all the challenges he faced recording and producing this work that was performed by the Fes Singers, led by Bennis Abdelfettah. Whiteman had debilitating back pain all though production that was only suddenly and miraculously lifted the moment work on the Burda was finalised. Though unplanned, the printing of the book that accompanied the Burda audio CDs were completed in Turkey exactly on the day of the Mawlid.
This memoir, just like Michael Sugich's Hearts Turn, tells a very human story. By this I mean that human beings, when they learn from experience, put in the work to purify their hearts and serve others, and open themselves up to moments of illumination and peace, become who they are.
"Sometimes you have to make mistakes, as we all did, and shed a few skins before finding who you really are and quite where you fit in… It's curious how for any sincere person, Islam appears to slowly peel away the facades and eventually reveal the true person underneath, even if it takes a lifetime."
Purchase Average Whiteman: A Memoir here.
Banner image courtesy of overgrownpath.com, CD image courtesy of Zaytuna