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Muhammad Asad (1900-1992CE)

Asad was on the Berlin subway, when watching the


people on this train, well-fed and well-clothed, he
could notice that every passenger man or woman -
had marks of unhappiness on his face.
Every born Muslim must be reconverted to Islam sometime during his life; Islam cannot be
inherited. In view of this, it was alarming when a levelheaded and realistic man like
Muhammad Asad, towards the end of his long life, revealed to me serious doubts as to
whether as in 1926, he would again find his way to Islam, if he were again a young man in
todays Muslim world Dr. Murad W. Hofmann in his book, Journey to Makkah.
Asad was born to Jewish parents as Leopold Weiss in 1900 in Poland which was then part of the Austrian empire. Asads grandfather, Benjamin Weiss, despite his love of mathematics,
astronomy and chess, was yet an orthodox Rabbi of Czrenowitz. Although Asads father did not become a Rabbi, Benjamin Weiss second son, however, turned a full-time Rabbi at quite an
early age, but emerged as a promising scholar only as a convert to the Christian faith.
Akiva Weiss, on the other hand, made sure that Leopold Weiss received a thorough religious education that would enable him to keep the rabbinical tradition of the family alive and well.
Asad had his early education at a local school, and unlike his uncle and grandfather was least interested in astronomy and mathematics. He would record later:
I was a very different student. Mathematics and natural sciences were particularly boring to
me; I found infinitely greater pleasure in reading the stirring historical romances of
Seinkiswicz, the fantasies of Jules Verne, Red Indian stories by James Fennimore Cooper and
Karl May and later, the verses of Rilke and the sonorous cadences and also Thus Spake
Zaruthustra.
Proficient in Hebrew at an early age, thanks to the tutors appointed at home by his father, Asad was also not unfamiliar with Aramaic. Thus by thirteen, he could speak Hebrew fluently.
Having studied the Old Testament as also the text and commentaries of the Talmud, the Mishna and Gemara, Asad delved further into the finer aspects of the Targum, or Biblical exegesis.
All this promise of his early childhood years notwithstanding, after the family moved to Vienna in 1920, he ran away from home when just fourteen years old, and tried, unsuccessfully, to
join the Austrian army in the First World War under a false name. However, Akiva Weiss successfully traced his runaway son. Incidentally, and almost as soon as Asad was officially drafted,
the Austrian Empire collapsed, and with it went all his aspirations for military glory. With the war coming to a close, he turned to the pursuit of philosophy and art history at the University
of Vienna but which failed to satisfy him and he promptly left them in search of fulfillment elsewhere. Although Vienna was then among the intellectual and cultural centers of Europe, the
major conclusions of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Ludwig Wittgenstein and others in psychoanalysis, logical positivism, linguistic analysis and semantics, left Asad unsatisfied. His interests
lay more in the direction of things seen and felt: people, activities and relationships.
Asad left Vienna in 1920. Travelling through Central Europe, he did all manner of short-lived jobs, and tasted hunger and privation, before he finally arrived in Berlin drifting around
Germany working at odd jobs. Asads first piece of journalistic work, however, was published while working, in 1921, for United Telegraph, an American news agency in Berlin, as a
telephone operator. One day, he audaciously phoned up the visiting wife of the Russian author, Maxim Gorky, at her hotel room in Berlin to obtain an exclusive interview with her. As it
turned out, Gorkys wife was in Berlin on a covert mission to solicit Western aid for Russia. The story, thereafter, was taken up by his employers, who had by that time become aware of
the persistent quality and resourcefulness of their young employee.
By 1922, he had become a foreign correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung in the Near and Far East. It was one of the foremost newspapers of the Europe of that time, and so Asads
career with this paper soon landed him in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. It gave him an outlook on world affairs that was in many ways unique,
particularly where it related to the Jews and the Arabs.
In what was originally meant to be a brief stay with an uncle the psychoanalyst, Dorian Weiss, who was the younger brother of Asads mother in Jerusalem, Asad had left Europe for
the Middle East in 1922. But it was here that he came to know and admire the Arabs and how Islam gave their everyday lives real meaning, spiritual fulfillment and peace. Although his
knowledge of Islam was still nominal at the time, he saw in Muslims a coherent symbiosis between mind and body, a characteristic so lacking in the Europeans he had known. Indeed, it
were in the simple things like the Bedouin who broke bread with him on the train to Jerusalem, and the congregational prayer lead by the Hajji who was his uncles neighbor that Asad
was first attracted to Islam. Indeed, recounting his experience with the Bedouin in the train, Asad would later write:
When I now think of this little occurrence, it seems to me that all my later love for the Arab
character must have been influenced by it. For in the gesture of this bedouin, who, over all
barriers of strangeness, sensed a friend in an accidental traveling companion and broke bread
with him, I must already have felt the breath and the step of humanity free of burden.
If this train journey left a permanent mark on his mind, another train journey opened his eyes to another reality. He was on the
Berlin subway, when watching the people on this train, well-fed and well-clothed, he could notice that every passenger man or
woman - had marks of unhappiness on his face. From face to face, it was the same worried expression that stood out. He pointed
to his wife Elsa who had no difficulty in agreeing with him. He wrote: ...The impression was so strong that I mentioned it to Elsa;
and she too began to look around with the careful eyes of a painter accustomed to study human features. Then she turned to me,
astonished, and said: You are right.
They all look as though they were suffering torments of hell.... I wonder, do they know themselves what is going on in them? He could not help asking himself why it was so, despite the
material progress? The answer came as he returned to his flat. He cast a glance on the copy of the Qur'an he was reading, and his eyes fell upon chapter al-Takathur (no.102). It said,
You are obsessed by greed for more and more
Until you go down to your graves.
Nay, but you will come to know!
And once again: Nay, but you will come to know!
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Islam appears to me like a perfect work of
architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived
to complement and support each other; nothing is
superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a
structure of absolute balance and solid composure.
Muhammed Asad
Nay, if you but knew it with the knowledge of certainty,
You would indeed see the hell.
In time, indeed, you shall see it with the eye of certainty:
And on that Day you will be asked what you did with the boon of life.
He wrote:
For a moment I was speechless. I think that the book shook in my hands. Then I handed it to Elsa. Read this. Is it not an answer to what we saw in the subway?
It was an answer so decisive that all doubt was suddenly at an end. I knew now, beyond any doubt, that it was a God-inspired book I was holding in my hand: for although it had been
placed before man over thirteen centuries ago, it clearly anticipated something that could have become true only in this complicated, mechanized, phantom-ridden age of ours.
And,
This, I saw, was not the mere human wisdom of a man of a distant past in distant Arabia. However wise he may have been, such a man could not by himself have foreseen the torment
so peculiar to this twentieth century. Out of the Koran spoke a voice greater than the voice of Muhammad....
To continue with his story, it was also during his stay in Jerusalem during the 20s, that Asad came into contact with the Zionist Committee of Action. Repelled by its contempt towards the
Arabs, Asad would record thus in his semi-autobiographical The Road to Makkah:
Although of Jewish origin myself, I conceived from the outset a strong objection to Zionism...
I considered it immoral that immigrants, assisted by a great foreign power, should come from
abroad with the avowed intention of attaining a majority in Palestine and thus to dispossess
the people whose country it had been... This attitude of mine was beyond the comprehension
of practically all the Jews whom I came in contact with during those months. They could not
understand what I saw in the Arabs... They were not in the least interested in what the Arabs
thought; almost none of them took the pains to learn Arabic; and everyone accepted without
question the dictum that Palestine was the rightful heritage of the Jews.
His time in Palestine would bring him in close contact with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the undisputed leader of the Zionist movement, and with whom he had a heated discussion over Zionist
philosophy.
What about the Arabs? Asad asked Dr. Weizmann one day while the latter was articulating his vision of a Jewish National Home. What about the Arabs? echoed Dr. Weizmann.
Well, how can you ever hope to make Palestine your homeland in the face of the vehement opposition of the Arabs who, after all, are in the majority in this country?
The Zionist leader shrugged his shoulders and answered dryly: We expect they wont be in a majority after a few years.
Asad remained a fervent anti-Zionist to the end of his life. However, at the time the state of Israel was created, he was fully involved with the partition of India and offered no published
comment on his thoughts on the catastrophe in the Middle East. It was only after the 1967 war that Asad spoke out more often on the subject. In one statement Asad is reported to have
said:
We cannot ever reconcile ourselves to the view, so complacently accepted in the West, that
Jerusalem is to be the capital of the state of Israel. In a conceivably free Palestine a state in
which Jews, Christians and Muslims could live side by side in full political and cultural equality
the Muslim community should be especially entrusted with the custody of Jerusalem as a
city open to all three communities.
In tandem with his first jarring impressions of the nascent Zionist movement, as a full-time foreign correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung, Asads assignments also enabled his ever-
deepening relationship with Islam, which after great deliberation led to his embracing the faith by 1926. It was just prior to this that Asad, who was back in Berlin after being in the Middle
East for a few years, experienced a spiritual epiphany that eventually changed the course of his life and oriented it irreversibly towards Islam. He would write of Islam thus:
Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each
other; nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a structure of absolute balance and solid composure. In later
years, in a moving reply to the regular question as to why exactly he embraced Islam, Asad would say:
You ask me: what aspect of Islam attracted you the most? I cannot answer this
question, for Islam in its entirety has invaded and penetrated my heart What
attracted me to the Islamic religion was the love I had for it. You know, love is composed of
various things: desire, loneliness, ambition, elevation, zeal for progress and improvement, our
weaknesses mixed with our strength and power, the need for someone to help and protect
us, and the like. So I embraced Islam with all my heart and all my love, and it settled in my
heart so as to never leave there again.
It was thus in Berlin that Asad officially changed over to Islam at the hands of the Imam of the citys tiny Muslim community. Thereafter, he took for himself the names, Muhammad in
honor of the Prophet and Asad meaning lion as a reminder of his original Jewish name. He also broke up with his father over the issue of his conversion, got married to Elsa who,
at 40, was fifteen years his senior- but who also moved over to Islam- resigned his newspaper job of a sudden, and made off on a pilgrimage to Makkah. In 1927, a few days after he
arrived in Makkah, however, his wife of a brief but intense two years, passed away, and was buried in a pilgrims cemetery there. Despite this personal tragedy, Asad remained in Makkah
and a fortunate meeting with Prince Faysal in the library of the Grand Mosque, soon found Asad in audience with King Abd al-Aziz al Sa`ud, the architect of modern Saudi Arabia. That
initial introduction was followed by almost daily meetings with the king which enabled the monarch to appreciate Asads breadth of knowledge, spiritual depth and astute mind. Asad made
another pilgrimage in 1928, this time without Elsa, and yet another in 1930 with only his fondest memories of her in accompaniment. Another pilgrimage, before his last ever, was in 1931.
In all, Asad would spend some six years in Makkah and Madinah, studying Arabic, the Qur'an, the traditions of the Prophet and Islamic history. It was during this period that he married an
Arab girl at Madinah in 1932. This girl was of the Shammar tribe, and by 1933, would bear Asad his only offspring, his son Talal. Asads last Hajj was performed in 1932 in the company of
his Arab wife.
His years in Arabia convinced Asad that Islam, as a spiritual and social phenomenon, is still, in spite of all the drawbacks caused by the deficiencies of the Muslims, by far the greatest
driving force mankind has ever experienced. To the end of his life, Asads greatest aspiration was thenceforward the method of Islams regeneration or revival in the lives of people: a task
for which he was eminently qualified through his academic knowledge of classical Arabic made simpler due to his familiarity with other Semitic sister languages and through his wide
travels and contacts with Bedouins in Arabia.
Asads sojourns in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran which inspired many an insightful article on Shiism from his pen and also Afghanistan and the southern Soviet Republics, were looked
upon with great suspicion by the Colonial Powers. This was so much so that an English diplomat in Saudi Arabia referred to Asad as a Bolshevik. Asad of course did take more than a
casual interest in the many liberation movements that worked then for the Muslim independence from colonialist control. In fact, Ibn Sa`ud was able to discover the treacherous nature of
the British, by asking Asad to gather information about his opponents. In 1929, Asad traced the source of guns and funds that made their way to Faysal ad-Dawish, a rebel leader who was
against Ibn Sa`uds rule and policies, while, in the open, the British were aligned to Ibn Sa`ud. Asads secret information collection activity against ad-Dawish convinced him that Britain
was behind the rebellion: a piece of news which he promptly reported to the international newspapers. Towards the end of 1928, Asad had occasion to meet with Amir Shakib Arsalan, the
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Asad traced the source of guns and funds that made
their way to Faysal ad-Dawish, a rebel leader who was
against Ibn Sa`uds rule and policies to the British,
while, in the open, the British were aligned to Ibn
Sa`ud.
well-known leader of the independence movement in Syria, when the latter came to visit `Abdul Aziz b. Sa`ud. Asad was left with a very favorable impression of the Syrian leader.
In 1930, impressed by the epic Sanusi resistance of the Libyans against Italy under Mussolini, and, of course, the legend of `Umar
al-Mukhtar, who in his eightieth year, was still leading the resistance since two decades, Asad left on a daring journey into the
heart of northern Libya. Overcoming great hardships through deserts, rivers and rough weather, he trekked through the deserts
of Libya before finally meeting up under cover of darkness with the Lion of Cyranecia as al-Mukthar was known. That short
meeting with the wizened warrior was to leave a profound impact on Asad inasmuch as al-Mukthar articulated for him not just
with words of deep feeling, but even with the very lines that crisscrossed his battle-worn face, what it meant to live a life of Jihad against oppression and injustice. The meeting was to be
his first, and last, with `Umar al-Mukthar, for in the September of 1931 a year later he was captured in battle with the Italians and executed like a petty criminal in a local bazaar,
thanks to the fascist brand of Mussolinis Italian chivalry and sense of honor.
Asads restless travels would take him as far as India for which destination he left the Middle East in 1932 and where he began his stay with a lecture tour of the country. However, if
British intelligence sources of the time are to be believed, Asad had in fact linked up with a freedom activist in Amritsar a certain Ismail Ghaznavi and his tour of India was meant to
reach out to all those working for independence from British rule. Indeed, Asad had arrived by ship at Karachi in 1932, and had promptly left for Amritsar. It is also known that Asad was
for a time in Kashmir where he delivered lectures at the Islamia High School in Srinagar. In 1931, Kashmiri Muslims in Punjab flagged off an agitation in support of the Muslims in Kashmir.
Soon hundreds of Muslim volunteers from the Punjab crossed over to Kashmir, with thousands being arrested by the British in the process. Although the disturbances subsided by 1932, the
government in Kashmir remained cautious. While the exact nature of Asads involvement here remains unclear, the British, on being informed of Asads presence in Kashmir, promptly
wanted him externed. This was even though there existed legal difficulties in externing a European national. Irrespective of what Asads political function in Kashmir might have been, his
literary talents continued to flourish in the valley where he composed the first part of his commentary on the traditions of the Prophet, which was entitled Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years
of Islam.
In Lahore, Punjab, he was soon to meet and work with the poet-philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal , who had first proposed the idea of an autonomous Muslim state within India. It would
again be Iqbal who would convince Asad to forego his plans to travel to eastern Turkestan, China and Indonesia and, instead, to help clarify the intellectual premises of a future Islamic
state. Thereafter, Asad shifted his focus to Islamic legal and political systems in the 1930s when he and Iqbal commenced work on a state, where Muslims could lead their lives in
accordance with the ideals and teachings of Islam. Asad decided to spend a few years in Dar-ul-Islam village situated away from human habitation in the forestlands of Pathankot. Dar-ul-
Islam as an experimental model for Muslims to implement the Islamic code of life in its totality had been the brainchild of Iqbal. But soon Iqbal passed away and things did not advance
any further.
A key contributor to the shaping of the intellectual and ideological framework for the new Muslim state of Pakistan, Asad later republished some of his earlier writings on this subject in The
Principles of State and Government in Islam (1961) and This Law of Ours and Other Essays (1987). In The Principles of State and Government in Islam, he wrote perceptively:
An Islamic state is not a goal or an end in itself but only a means: the goal being the growth
of a community of people who stand up for equity and justice, for right and against wrong
or, to put it more precisely, a community of people who work for the creation and
maintenance of such social conditions as would enable the greatest possible number of
human beings to live, morally as well as physically, in accordance with the natural Law of
God, Islam.
While in India during the time of the Second World War, Asad was among some 3000 Europeans interned there by the British as enemy aliens. Asad had refused a German passport after
the German annexation of Austria in 1938, and had insisted then on continuing as an Austrian citizen. His imprisonment by the British in India who, perhaps, saw in him visions of a
second Jamaluddin Afghani on the very second day of the war, in September 1939, had happened despite this pronounced anti-German stand on his part. Nor was he released from
prison till 1945 during which time he remained in internment camps with Germans, Austrians and Italians who had been arrested from all over British-held Asia.
During these six years of incarceration, Asad remained in touch with his uncle, Aryeh Feigenbaum, in Jerusalem, who was generous enough to dispatch him food, clothes and even money.
It was at this difficult period that matters were further compounded when, in 1942, he lost his father and sister in the anti-Jewish pogroms of the Nazis in Vienna, Austria, where they died
in a concentration camp. His earlier efforts in 1938 presumably to help his immediate family escape from Austria had failed because of German invasion of Poland, and British declaration of
war against Germany.
In 1947 Asad was appointed Pakistans ambassador to the United Nations. In 1948, he was made the Director of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction: during which time he wrote the
essay, Islamic Constitution-Making, which was published both in Urdu and English by the Government of Punjab. He was subsequently appointed the head of the Middle East Division of the
Foreign Ministry in 1949. Active within the foreign ministry of that country during the period that stretched from 1949 to the early 1950s, Asads role in the drafting of the Objectives
Resolution soon recognized as the Preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan was, to say the least, instrumental.
Asad resigned from the Pakistan Foreign Service in late 1952, and commenced a period of vigorous writing. Unaccompanied by his Arab wife and son Talal, he came to New York alone and
settled down in a penthouse in Manhattan. He would soon meet with Pola Hamida, an American woman of Polish descent who had herself converted to Islam, and eventually marry her at
a civil function in New York in November 1952.
By August 1954, his remarkable The Road to Mecca came out to international acclaim. The Christian Science Monitor ran a review which noted:
(This) book is one which has burst with strange and compelling authority upon the small
fraternity of Westerners who know Arabia,...a book trenchant with adventure magnificently
described, and a commentary upon the inner meaning of Arab and Moslem life, helpful to all
who would achieve a more accurate understanding of the Arabs and their lands. The Times
Literary Supplement also reviewed the book and wrote, History tells us of many European
converts to Islam, some of whom have risen to high place and power.... But it is rare to find a
convert setting out, step by step, the process of his conversion; and doing this, moreover, in
a narrative of great power and beauty.
Following this, Asad left New York in 1955, and moved with Pola Hamida to Geneva where he first began contemplation on his ultimate life-work: a translation and commentary of the
Qur'an. Work on this translation commenced in 1960 but it was evident that a work of such ambition and magnitude could not survive without strong patronage. It was at this juncture that
Asads long-standing friendship with Saudi Arabias King Faysal (reigned 1964-75 CE) came to his rescue. Indeed, through his first trip to Saudi Arabia in eighteen years, Asad had, in 1951,
assiduously re-established the link with Faysal. By the time Faisal became king in 1964, Asad was championing his cause with no lesser enthusiasm than he did the cause of Faysals father,
the late King `Abdul `Aziz b. Sa`ud, in his time.
As would have been expected, Faysal renewed Saudi patronage for Asad earlier lost following his indictment of King `Abdul `Aziz b. Sa`ud in the older editions of The Road to Mecca
and soon had the Muslim World League, in Makkah, extending advance support for his dream project on the commentary of the Qur'an. The first preliminary part of his work (covering the
first nine chapters of the Qur'an) was published in 1964, but which was banned entry into Saudi Arabia for his implied denial of angels, `Isas bodily ascension to heaven, and allegorical
interpretation of some verses.
The financial backing gone, he moved to Tangier (Morocco), and continued to work on the same lines, financially supported by his friends, and possibly by Zaki Yamani of Saudi Arabia,
until the completion of the work in 1980, when it was published by Dar al-Andalus, Gibraltar. Towards the last years of his life, however, unable to reconcile himself with some of his fellow
Muslims in Muslim lands, he shifted his residence to Spain, and remained there with his wife, Pola Hamida, until he passed away, in February 1992. In 1978, the Pakistani President, a man
who knew who was who in the Islamic world, tried to persuade Asad to return to Pakistan, but failed. Asad was buried in the Muslim cemetery of Granada.
Asad had begun a sequel to his The Road to Mecca sometime before his death. Tentatively called Homecoming of the Heart, the title is said to have implied his proposed return to Saudi
Arabia at the invitation of Prince Salman, a son of Ibn Saud, who was also the governor of Riyadh. Whether the title really meant this or whether it alluded more to a spiritual homecoming,
we will never know, for Asad neither finished this work nor did he return to Saudi Arabia before he passed away.
A biography of Asads early life has been published in German, Leopold Weiss alias Muhammad Asad: Von Galizien nach Arabien 1900-1927 by Gunther Windhager (Bohlau Verlag 2002).
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Asads own inspiring account of the same period came out as The Road to Mecca, a travelogue of astonishing power and beauty in which he recollects his Middle Eastern travels and the
path to his conversion. His The Message of the Qur'an, a translation and brief commentary on the Qur'an was, of course, based on his own knowledge of Arabic and on some classical
commentaries. In the foreword to The Message of the Qur'an, Asad wrote:
...although it is impossible to reproduce the Qur'an as such in any other language, it is none
the less possible to render its message comprehensible to people who, like most Westerners,
do not know Arabic...well enough to find their way through it unaided And I am fully aware
that my rendering does not and could not really do justice to the Qur'an and the layers upon
layers of its meaning: for, if all the seas were ink for my Sustainers words, the sea would
indeed be exhausted ere my Sustainers words are exhausted. (Quran 18:109).
He was especially influenced by Zamakhshari, Razi, Muhammad `Abduh and Rasheed Rida Masri. The Message of the Qur'an is not without its critics for its Mu`tazilite tendencies. One may
not look into it for the true reflection of how Muslim scholars have understood the Qur'an through the centuries. A pithy remark about it goes that what should be in the translation is there
in the commentary below. The work has its first appeal on the educated Westerners. According to Gai Eaton, a leading British Muslim thinker, Asads work was the most helpful and
instructive version of the Qur'an that we have in English.
In addition to his translation and commentary on the Sahih Bukhari, Asad also wrote This Law of Ours and Other Essays where he sums up his views on Islamic law and rejects decisively
the notion of Taqlid, or strict judicial precedent. However, his rejection of Taqlid did not imply in any way, whatsoever, disrespect for past contributions. Indeed, on the contrary, while his
was a profound respect of the achievements of the great scholars of the past, he was critical of blind obedience to individual opinions.
In his view, all qualified Muslims were eligible indeed, required to exercise their reasoning and judgment on the range of specific issues which crop up in every age and that were left
undetermined by revelation or the traditions of Muhammad, on whom is peace. Much credit for Asads This Law of Ours and Other Essays must go to Pola Hamida, who compiled his
various writings and radio talks and persuaded him to publish them in book form. Thus, this book is a true record of Asads thought from the mid-1940s to 1987. As Pola Hamida so
correctly points out, the reader will be struck not only by the extraordinary timeliness and timelessness of these thoughts and predictions, but also by their great consistency. The book
also contains Asads ideas on the ideological foundation of Pakistan as well as on Islams encounter with the West. In a remarkable passage from This Law of Ours and Other Essays, Asad
wrote:
Simply talking about the need for a rebirth of faith is not much better than bragging about
our glorious past and extolling the greatness of our predecessors. Our faith cannot be born
unless we understand what it implies and to what practical goals it will lead us. It will not do
us the least good if we are glibly assured that the socio-economic programme of Islam is
better than that of socialism, communism, capitalism, fascism, and God knows what other
isms.... We ought rather to be showing in unmistakable terms, what alternative proposals
the Shari`ah regard to individual property and the communal good, labour and production,
capital and profit, employer and employee, the state and the individual; what its practical
measures are for the prevention of mans exploitation by man; for an abolition of ignorance
and poverty; for obtaining food, clothing and shelter for every man, woman and child....
Eloquently arguing for rationalism and plurality in Islamic law, Asad saw these qualities as the real legacy of the Salaf or the earliest generations of Muslims. In his little masterpiece, Islam
at the Crossroads, he makes the point that the Muslim world must make a choice between living by its own values and morality or accepting those of the West, in which case, they would
always lag behind the West, which had had more time to adjust to those values and mores, and would end up compromising their own religion and culture.
His rejection of secularism and materialism was, doubtless, a direct consequence of his own personal experience of the West. In having to reject the Western way, Asads was also a deeply
felt disappointment. However, his being dejected at the futility of the culture in which he was reared never influenced him away from what had to be done and accepted without
prejudice. His scrutiny of the Wests malaise was, therefore, a thoroughly searching one. Having thus come to his conclusions, Asad carried out his investigations to their logical end
inasmuch as he unabashedly expressed his findings and offered his devastating critique.
At no stage in his life was Asad affiliated to any organized movement: he remained an independent Muslim intellectual who left behind no disciple to carry on and further his thought.
However, it is certain that succeeding generations of Muslims will continue to benefit from the brilliance of his thought which is his undisputed legacy in many crucial fields of study like
Sunnah, Shari`ah, travel, autobiography, Islamic jurisprudence, Quranic exegesis, political theory and constitutional ideas.
In the late forties, Asad also brought out a journal titled Arafat from Lahore in pre-partition India. However, Asads first book since his coming of age as a Muslim was Islam at the
Crossroads, published first in New York in 1934 which has been most widely read and translated into several languages, including Arabic. In perhaps fitting summary of Asads
contributions, and their value in history, one observer pointedly commented:
as is the case with most writings, Asads, too, will eventually become dated. His
translations and interpretations of the Qur'an and Sahih al-Bukhari will, in time, be
supplanted, his views on secularism and westernization will be re-examined and modified, his
successful espousal of Ijtihad will become passe, and his proposals for political and
constitutional reform will be enacted. But one work of Asads promises to escape the earthly
oblivion that is the fate of almost all human endeavor: his unequaled, dazzling masterpiece,
The Road to Mecca.
On 14 April 2008, the Government of Vienna officially named a square after him - Muhammad Asad Platz. Moreover, the first Islamic school in Austria is being established in Vienna and it
also has been named after him. Carrying on in his fathers tradition, Muhammad Asads son, Talal Asad, is today an eminent anthropologist who specializes in studies on religion and post-
colonialism. (BAQ/SIZ)
See related articles
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Zionism
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