Remembering Muhammad Asad


He was born Leopold Weiss in Lwow, Galicia now in Poland the son of a Jewish barrister and grandson of an orthodox rabbi. He studied history of art and philosophy at Vienna University then went to Prague and later Berlin. Invited to Jerusalem by his uncle, Dorian Weiss, a prominent psychiatrist and early pupil of Freud,… he encountered the Zionist Committee of Action but from the outset conceived a strong objection to Zionism an objection which he personally conveyed to Dr Chaim Weizman, the leader of the Zionist movement…. He became a correspondent for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, making a name for himself with dispatches from Palestine.

He traveled extensively in the Mashreq and Maghreb… The turning point came in 1926 when he converted to Islam…. Asad enjoyed a close friendship with King Ibn Saud. His love affair with Arabia was more intense than those of his European predecessors…. After more travelling, Asad went to British India and befriended Muhammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of the idea of a separate Pakistan, whom he admired greatly. Iqbal persuaded Asad to abandon plans to travel to eastern Turkestan, China and Indonesia and to help elucidate the intellectual premises of the future Islamic state….

After an absence of 25 years from the West, Asad came to Paris and then to New York in early 1952, serving as Pakistan’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations. His spiritual autobiography, The Road to Mecca (1954), which the Times Literary Supplement called “a narrative of great power and beauty,” covered the first half of his life, including a journey in the summer of 1932 into the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Desert, which confirmed his conversion to his new belief, and a conscious, wholehearted allegiance from one cultural environment to another….

However, Asad’s chief ambition was to translate the Koran into English. First Switzerland and then Morocco provided the setting for the preparation of his magnum opus, The Message of the Qu’ran (1980), dedicated to “people who think.” In its intellectual engagement with the text and in the subtle and profound understanding of the pure classical Arabic of the Koran, Asad’s interpretation is of a power and intelligence without rival in English.

Asad was saddened by the intellectual insularity of the Muslim world, the intolerance of the extremists, and was a powerful advocate of the rights of Muslim women. It was Asad’s insistence that the constitution of Pakistan allow for the election of a woman leader that opened the way for Benazir Bhutto. “The great mistake (of the fundamentalists),” he once explained, “is that most of these leaders start with the hudud, criminal punishment. This is the end result of the sharia (Islamic Law), not the beginning. The beginning is the rights of the people. There is no punishment in Islam which has no corresponding right.

— Excerpted from The Guardian


Muhammad Asad in his own words:

In 1922 I left my native country, Austria, to travel through Africa and Asia as a Special Correspondent to some of the leading Continental newspapers, and spent from that year onward nearly the whole of my time in the Islamic East. My interest in the nations with which I came into contact was in the beginning that of an outsider only. I saw before me a social order and an outlook on life fundamentally different from the European; and from the very first there grew in me a sympathy for the more tranquil — I should rather say: more mechanized mode of living in Europe. This sympathy gradually led me to an investigation of the reasons for such a difference, and I became interested in the religious teachings of the Muslims. At the time in question, that interest was not strong enough to draw me into the fold of Islam, but it opened to me a new vista of a progressive human society, of real brotherly feeling. The reality, however, of present day Muslim life appeared to be very far from the ideal possibilities given in the religious teachings of Islam. Whatever, in Islam, had been progress and movement, had turned, among the Muslims, into indolence and stagnation; whatever there had been of generosity and readiness for self-sacrifice, had become, among the present-day Muslims, perverted into narrow-mindedness and love of an easy life.

Prompted by this discovery and puzzled by the obvious incongruency between Once and Now, I tried to approach the problem before me from a more intimate point of view: that is, I tried to imagine myself as being within the circle of Islam. It was a purely intellectual experiment; and it revealed to me, within a very short time, the right solution. I realized that the one and only reason for the social and cultural decay of the Muslims consisted in the fact that they had gradually ceased to follow the teachings of Islam in spirit. Islam was still there; but it was a body without soul. The very element which once had stood for the strength of the Muslim world was now responsible for its weakness: Islamic society had been built, from the very outset, on religious foundations alone, and the weakening of the foundations has necessarily weakened the cultural structure — and possibly might cause its ultimate disappearance.

The more I understood how concrete and how immensely practical the teachings of Islam are, the more eager became my questioning as to why the Muslims had abandoned their full application to real life. I discussed this problem with many thinking Muslims in almost all the countries between the Libyan Desert and the Pamirs, between the Bosphorus and the Arabian Sea. It almost became an obsession which ultimately overshadowed all my other intellectual interests in the world of Islam. The questioning steadily grew in emphasis — until I, a non-Muslim, talked to Muslims as if I were to defend Islam from their negligence and indolence. The progress was imperceptible to me, until one day — it was in autumn 1925, in the mountains of Afghanistan — a young provincial Governor said to me: “But you are a Muslim, only you don’t know it yourself.” I was struck by these words and remained silent. But when I came back to Europe once again, in 1926, I saw that the only logical consequence of my attitude was to embrace Islam.

So much about the circumstances of my becoming a Muslim. Since then I was asked, time and again: “Why did you embrace Islam ? What was it that attracted you particularly ?” — and I must confess: I don’t know of any satisfactory answer. It was not any particular teaching that attracted me, but the whole wonderful, inexplicably coherent structure of moral teaching and practical life program. I could not say, even now, which aspect of it appeals to me more than any other. 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, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. Probably this feeling that everything in the teachings and postulates of Islam is “in its proper place,” has created the strongest impression on me. There might have been, along with it, other impressions also which today it is difficult for me to analyze. After all, it was a matter of love; and love is composed of many things; of our desires and our loneliness, of our high aims and our shortcomings, of our strength and our weakness. So it was in my case. Islam came over me like a robber who enters a house by night; but, unlike a robber, it entered to remain for good.

Ever since then I endeavored to learn as much as I could about Islam. I studied the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him); I studied the language of Islam and its history, and a good deal of what has been written about it and against it. I spent over five years in the Hijaz and Najd, mostly in al-Madinah, so that I might experience something of the original surroundings in which this religion was preached by the Arabian Prophet. As the Hijaz is the meeting center of Muslims from many countries, I was able to compare most of the different religious and social views prevalent in the Islamic world in our days. Those studies and comparisons created in me the firm conviction 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; and all my interest became, since then, centered around the problem of its regeneration.

From “Islam, Our Choice"



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25 Comments

  1. True indeed to the core. A very objective and amazingly thoughtful analysis from the eyes of an astute observer who saw the light and followed it despite the objects who pretended to side with the light yet obstructed it terribly.

  2. I think Muhammed Asad should be considered an example of how one person can produce a major difference in how Islam-The Faith is perceived by those alien to it. I think as Muslims we should adopt the ways of Asad and try to implement them, thus we can create a better society for ourselves and indeed for others. Some extremists have damaged the image of islam, they who claim to lead a Jihad are purposely causing Muslims with no relevance to their actions or ideas to suffer in other parts of the world. The actions of some have affected the whole. We should all, as Muslims should improve how Islam is eyed and we can only accomplish that we have joint effort and this joint effort can only be achieved if each one of us exerts an individual effort. We should not see the worng things of other people, but instead should observe their good things or ideas and try to implement them in our lives. I think Muhammed Asad was the kind of person who did this.

  3. asalam alekam, i love this article, It is so real to me on reading how he had a great desire to learn all of islam and how it was in him and he didnt know to identify it, that was me, and i just was realy touched by this article, I firmly believe we as muslims need to get the word out frantically to those that dont know how much Allah offers the truely obedient person. The fields are ripe for this especially with this war talk , because it makes one question,what is a muslim?so we must be patient and always willing to tell it when asked and not be defencive,please join me in praying each day ,that Allah provide us with oppurtunity each day to witness for our religion,Thanks

  4. Muhammad Asad’s words are a remarkable blessing for us. But the presence of you, fellow Muslims, who cherish his words as I do and understand their truths, means that The One Almighty God, Allah, continues to bless mankind with His Guidance. I have emailed this article to many, including non-Muslim people who have also been deeply touched by its reality. There is hope for us if we are able to persevere, love all of Humanity and not stray from this straight path. Peace be with you. Allah be with us all. Amin

  5. God bless you Charles for words of gold to be etched on the lines of time to be seen by all. Charles I’m not going to hide my deepest intuition that this religion will prevail as Allah promised his beloved. But beware Muslims, and take heed of, how He worked with early Muslims before He allowed them to bash to pieces the existing empires who wished Muslims ill and bode them destruction at that time – the Romans, the Persians, and later even the ruthless Mongols.

    He expected those Muslims to straighten themselves and their charges first; it must be that way: first we purify our hearts before God, then become united in spirit and goal, which is simply to re-introduce Islam even to its heedless adherents who are immersed in the joys of this life, alas, forgetting all that the Creator has said about what awaits them with His pleasure. But this is the nature of humans in general: to partake of what’s available before it vanishes.

    But I say if we please God with our work He, in turn, will please us even in this life: “and ask forgiveness of your Lord and return to Him, He will then grant you a pleasing life.” Meaning: as he did with our predecessors, He can easily do it again for us. God’s grace is limitless, look how He has granted us the knowledge to connect globally, an invaluable bounty indeed, to further our bond. Let us waste no time and take advantage of this and disseminate knowledge. Only then can we make this planet, with God’s help, less hellish if not a peaceful haven for all.

  6. THE BEST I EVER READ ABOUT ISLAM’S HISTORY.

    ALL MOSLIMS MUST KNOW THE REAL ISLAM.

    THIS GREAT MAN MUHAMMAD ASAD INDICATE THAT ISLAM IS THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR GREAT PEOPLE.

    I HOPE ALL THE MOSLIMS GO BACK TO ISLAM IN THE QUORAAN ONLY WITH MIND.

    ANYONE CAN FIND IN QUORAAN THE TREASURE OF GOOD LIFE AND PEACE.

    THANKS TO YOU FOR THIS TEACHING GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

  7. Montana Skies: The prophets prediction was entirely correct, the West is descending like hungry people at a meal. Their economies require great resources and unless we get them to beat their swords into plowshares they will turn upon themselves as well. Few Christians realize how each of the dark horses of the Apocalypse create the conditions for the other two. It is a self fulfilling chain reaction that threatens to turn the world into a mushroom cloud. The Muslims must be given a goal to direct their energies into that which is better, so much more the West.

    We will win this battle by the heart not the sword and leading the Christians back into monotheism. This will not be an easy job for they think they are monotheist already even if The Creator does not think so.

    The world needs to create an organization of dua’s trained in the monotheistic paradigm of the bible and sufficient “symbolic interactionism” to be able to understand and explain The Creators religion and plan from the reference the Christians believe in, the Bible. But to do this the Dua’s must know Islam and control their minds sufficiently to be immune to the misleading influences they will meet. Once these people have been trained then the techniques of “transorginizational development” can be applied to bring people back into alignment with the will of The Creator. But be warned, cybernetic backlash will precipitate the very effect we will be fighting against. From the point of view of the Christians, it will indeed be the “final revelation” in more ways than they will understand. Once the battle against the ignorance of darkness is enjoined it can not be quit. Once you take up the sword of light you are forever a target of the darkness. And those that follow blindly in the dark know not what they do. Few learn something better than those that set out to teach it especially when your life depends on it. If Islam wants a revival or survive at all it must revive the world. God Willing. Amen.

  8. I envy this man. What a fantastic life!

    Notice how he speaks of the religious degradation of Muslims which he observed almost 80 years ago. Imagine how detached they are from Islam now! Truly we are doomed unless Allah turns our hearts back to him.

    We are the only people on the face of this earth who worship Allah alone, no partners and no family members, and who believe in all his prophets. But, obviously, this is not enough to salvage our dignity and honor; our 1.2 billion are just as our Prophet (pbuh) prophesied:

    Prophet: The nations are about to descend upon you as would a bunch of hungry people upon their meal.

    Companion: Are we few at that time, oh Messenger of Allah?

    Prophet: Oh, but you are so numerous on those days, but you are weak, the love of this dunya and hating death have weakened you.

    How true these words ring 1400 years later.

  9. It really is a great pity that we do not have people of the stature of Mohammad Asad amongst us. An even greater pity is the fact that the works by such great scholars lie in obscurity and very few have actually read them and managed to gain something from them.

    Here was a man who dedicated his whole life to the cause of Islam. I dont like to call him a convert, he was a revert, someone who reverted back to his true religion as all of us are as well.

    His tafseer, which took years to write is thought provoking and mind blowing in its beauty and really is for people “WHO THINK!” a trait sadly lacking in most of the muslims of today and the main reason why we are in the state we are in now.

    Mohammad Asad left behind not a very large body of works but their magnitude should not be judged by their number, but should be judged by its quality and impact.

    Some of his works include:

    Islam at the crossroads

    Principles of state and government in Islam

    This law of ours and other essays

    The road to Mecca

    Message of the quran

    Sahih Al-Bukhari ( the early years)

    Mohammad Asad was working on a translation of the Sahih Bukhari, but sadly he lost a lot of his papers during world war II. Such was dynamic personality that Allama Iqbal asked him in 1931 to stay behind in India and work for the cuase of Islam and a future homeland for muslims called Pakistan. Iqbal also asked him to translate the Quran and sahih Bukhair in english.

    The greatest tragedy is that we muslims in general and Pakistani’s specially dont even know how Mohammad Asad served in the birth of Pakistan and even remained an ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations till 1952.

    Asad thought about the reasons for the decline of the muslims and after years of thought he came to the simple conclusion, ‘Muslims have forgotten the true spirit of Islam’. How true he was and is. I hope our generation and the coming ones realize what we have to do as an Ummah and stand upto our responsibi

  10. It certainly fills in, in the most absolute hypothetical manner, what Islam is all about, and drives me to get all practical and real about it.

    A wonderful contribution to the cause of Islam by your website.

    Jazaak-Allah Khair,

    Tahseen

  11. I am so glad to see the works of Muhammad Asad posted on this website. His work is truly one of the greatest contributions to the body of Islamic books in this century. There is no other commentary which seems to explain with detail and clarity the message of the Qur’an as the commentary written by Muhammad Asad. My husband and I have bought a few copies which we loan out to our non-Muslim friends who are truly interested in learning more about the Qur’an and many of them are now seriously considering becoming Muslim after having read this particular translation. They have told us that no other Qur’an translation seemed to give them detailed explanations which made sense when translated to English. May Allah reward Muhammad Asad and grant him forgiveness in the hereafter.

  12. As-Salam-u-‘Alaikum

    I’m reading The Road to Mecca; it is one of the best books I have ever read. Muhammad Asad shows great insight that should be heeded today. His prose is beautiful and his life an inspiration.

  13. I commend Islamicity for posting an article on M. Asad. Personally speaking, his commentary is the most thorough and thought-provoking of our time. Still, it has not managed the same popularity as Yusuf Ali or Pickthall. God-willing efforts like this article will provide an avenue for Asad’s autobiography, commentary, and other works to reach the bookshelves of all Muslims. His broad-mindedness is much needed in today’s community. May God bless him.

  14. May Allah reward Brother Asad for all the good he did. I’ve read his translation of the Quran, and most of his other books. What he accomplished in his life is amazing and a beautiful example of how a deep love of Islam coupled with wisdom can transform a person and drive him to achieve great and beautiful things.

    I really wish I could have met him before his death. (In Sha Allah we will share company in Allah’s Jannah.)

  15. Muhammad Asad was in many ways ahead of his time. His tafsir/(commentary) of his translation on the Quran is, in my opinion, the best bar none. He uses logic and sound reasoning in his approach to “open” the Quran and Islam to the world. One thought that comes to mind is his rejection of the idea that certain verses of the Quran were abrogated or replaced by others. His mind was sharp, fresh and open to intellectual reasoning. He was able to make difficult ideas easy to understand. I always refer to his translation when I’m unable to understand difficult verses in the Quran even when reading the Arabic. He was a scholar par-excellence. May Allah (swt) be pleased with him.

  16. Muhammad Asad saw something beautiful/peaceful in Islam that we Muslims are not aware of. His books are great guidelines for Muslims of all ages. His love and dedication for Islam is amazing. I read his book “road to Mecca” and was amazed to see his observation of Muslim communities. I only pray that our creator grant us wisdom to see and understand beautiful gifts He has given us. May we find peace in our life and live peacefully with all of humanity.

  17. Asalamu aleikum warahmatullahi

    wabarakatuh

    Alhamdulillah to my Allah , who does

    Muhammad Asad a Muslim. Allah said in His

    Holly Quran: ” Wherewith Allah guideth all

    who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace

    and safety, and leadeth them out of darkness,

    by His will, unto the lightt,- guideth them to a

    path that is straigtht. (5: 16)

    It is first time I read a Jewish Muslim,

    Alhamdulillah Iam very happy to know that

    there was a so strong person, and to know

    that he also is Muslim. It proves that Islam is

    for every one. And that Islam gonna go all the

    way from Mashriq to Magrib. Jazakallah khair

    brother Muhammad Asad for eveything khair

    you did for your Ummah.

    Alhamdulillah aladi jaalana Muslimeen!!!!!

    Asalamu aleikum wr wb

  18. I love Muhammad Assad.

    I love his translation of the Holy Quran,

    along with Nooruddin/omar/omar’s english translation.

    May Allah Bless all of them, and grant them Paradise. AMIN

  19. it is Allah who changes the heart of a non muslim to embrace islam. Asad has discovered light from obscurity. he has obtained the truth. ASAD WILL BE JUDGED BEFORE ME WHO IS A BORN MUSLIM.

  20. I thank Allah for people like Muhammad Asad who had touch thousands and hundreds.

    It’s also my sincere wish that we will be having more of his dose.

    Thanks.

  21. I am a great admirer of Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss). Account of his journey to Islaam, as described by him in his own words in the book “The Road to Mecca”, is a source of increasing Eimaan (faith) for all discerning Muslims. His experience of relating what he saw in a train compartment to what has been said by Allah (SWT) in Al-Quraan-ul-Kareem in Surah 102 – At-Takaathur (The piling up – “The Emulous Desires”) was an index of his deep analytical study of this Last Message of Allah (SWT) to the mankind. It is pity that we, Muslims, are not taking adequate stepts to understand Al-Quraan-ul-Kareem in the language it was revealed by our Creator and the Sustainer for our guidance. Unfortunately I have not been able to get a copy of his Tafseer-ul-Quraan but I have read his book “Islam at the Crossroads”. This small booklet of under 100 pages, published initially in 1934 A.D., must be read by every educated Muslim as its recommendation are relevant even now for guidance and action by Muslim Ummah if we are to fight and survive the current onslaught of the forces that are inimical to religious orientation in general and Islaam in particular. May Allah (SWT) help us to realise our onerous responsibilities in these difficult times and bless us with courage, sagacity, and acumen to serve HIS deen to best of our capabilities! Aameen

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