Shaykh Nuh Keller was born in 1954 and raised as a Roman Catholic in rural Washington. He is a third-generation American of German ancestry on his father’s side, and German, Scottish, and Irish on his mother’s. During the 1970’s and 1980’s between his academic studies and work as a commercial fisherman in the North Pacific, he underwent a journey of reflection that culminated in his becoming Muslim. He converted in 1977.
Shaykh Nuh Keller studied Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He says, “I studied philosophy at the university and it taught me to ask two things of whoever claimed to have the truth: What do you mean, and how do you know? When I asked these questions of my own religious tradition, I found no answers, and realized that Christianity had slipped from my hands. I then embarked on a search that is perhaps not unfamiliar to many young people in the West, a quest for meaning in a meaningless world.”
Resides: Amman, Jordan
Current Occupation: Teacher
Education: BA Philosophy, BA Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Preferred Subject: Contemporary matters, Tassawuf
Notable Teachers: Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi, Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman al-Qudah
He then went to discover a religion other than Christianity. He read a copy of the Quran, which he says “I read an early translation of the Koran which I grudgingly admired, between agnostic reservations, for the purity with which it presented these fundamental concepts. Even if false, I thought, there could not be a more essential expression of religion…I felt a desire to learn Arabic to read the original.”
After gaining an interest in Islam, he went to study Arabic in Egypt. Although he was still searching for the truth, a friend in Cairo one day asked him, ‘Why don’t you become a Muslim?’ He felt that Allah had created within him a desire to belong to this religion, which so enriches its followers, from the simplest hearts to the most magisterial intellects. It is not through an act of the mind or will that anyone becomes a Muslim, but rather through the mercy of Allah.
Shaykh Nuh Keller went on to complete his Arabic studies at the University of California and later that year he returned to the Middle East to pursue private studies with Islamic scholars in Syria and Jordan. In Damascus, he read Shafi’i jurisprudence (fiqh) and tenets of faith (‘aqida) with Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi, and Sufism and tenets of faith with Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri. In Amman, he read Shafi’i fiqh and Qur’an recital (tajwid) with Sheikh Yunus Hamdan, Hanafi fiqh with Sheikh Ahmad al-Khudari, Shafi’i fiqh and tenets of faith with Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman al-Qudah, prophetic aphorisms and practices (hadith) and Hanafi fiqh with Sheikh Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut, and Hanafi fiqh and tenets of faith with Sheikh Ahmad al-Jammal.
In 1982 Shaykh Nuh Keller took bayah in the Shadhili tariqa from Shaghouri in Damascus. Though often separated from him for extended periods of time due to political exigencies, Shaykh Nuh assiduously applied the teachings of the Shadhili tariqa and Islamic Sacred Law. Nearly 15 years after first taking Shaykh Nuh as his student, Shaykh Shaghouri in 1996 invested him as a full sheikh of the tariqa to guide disciples to purity of the heart.
His English translation of `Umdat al-Salik [The Reliance of the Traveller] is the first Islamic legal work in a European language to receive the certification of al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest institution of higher learning.
Other works include Port in a Storm, a comprehensive treatment of the Muslim direction of prayer, as well as a short account of the author’s conversion entitled Becoming Muslim. Keller has also produced a number of tariqa-related literature and recordings, including a translation of selected Shadhili litanies and a booklet explaining the practices and structure of the tariqa entitled The High Path.
Shaykh Nuh Keller joined efforts with other writers and speakers such as Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah, Imam Zaid Shakir, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, and Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, inspiring Muslims to seek traditional Islamic knowledge of the four Sunni schools and rejection of parochial modernism and Wahhabi ideology.
The Shaykh has a wide following of students. Most reside in English-speaking countries—the United States, Canada, England, and Australia—as well as Turkey, Pakistan, and the Middle East. To better serve his students, he holds suhbas—informal gatherings where a Sufi sheikh teaches about the path—in various cities throughout the world. He has also given public lectures at universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
The Shaykh currently resided in Amman, Jordan and teaches Islamic studies. He has also written numerous articles and is a regular contributor to masud.co.uk.
Books and Articles
- His English translation of Umdat al-Salik, Reliance of the Traveller, (Sunna Books, 1991) is a Shafi’i manual of Shariah.
- Sea Without Shore: A Manual of the Sufi Path
- Al-Maqasid: Imam Nawawi’s Manual of Islam, a translation of a concise manual of Shafi’i fiqh
- Evolutionary Theory in Islam
- A Port in the Storm: A Fiqh Solution to the Qibla of North America, a detailed study of the soundest position regarding which direction North American Muslims should face to pray
- The Sunni Path: A Handbook of Islamic Belief
In addition to the above, he has produced the following books in Arabic:
- Awrad al-Tariqa al-Shadhiliyya, which is primarily a collection of the most frequently recited litanies in the Shadhili Sufi order
He says “Once was a man on the side of the Nile near the Miqyas Gardens, where I used to walk. I came upon him praying on a piece of cardboard, facing across the water. I started to pass in front of him, but suddenly checked myself and walked around behind, not wanting to disturb him. As I watched a moment before going my way, I beheld a man absorbed in his relation to God, oblivious to my presence, much less my opinions about him or his religion. To my mind, there was something magnificently detached about this, altogether strange for someone coming from the West, where praying in public was virtually the only thing that remained obscene.”