The life Of Muhammad Asad , Leopold Weiss (1900-1992)

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The life Of Muhammad Asad , Leopold Weiss (1900-1992)

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in the achievement of material goals; it is faith, and faith alone, that canrelease us from such an absorption.""Faith …?" I asked. "You again bring in this word. There is one thing I can'tunderstand: you say it is impossible to attain through intellect aloneknowledge and to a righteous life; faith is needed, you say. I agree with youentirely. But how does one achieve faith if one has none? Is there a way toit – I mean, a way open to our will?""My dear friend – will alone is not enough. The way is only opened byGod's grace. But it is always opened to him who prays from the innermostof his heart for enlightenment.""To pray! But when one is able to do this, Father Felix, one already hasfaith. You choose to lead me around in a circle – for if a man prays, hemust already be convinced of the existence of Him to whom he prays.How did he come to this conviction? Through his intellect? Would notthis amount to admitting that faith can be found through the intellect? Andapart from that, can "grace" mean anything to somebody who has never hadan experience of this kind?"A few days later, he arrived at Jerusalem. There he saw history in themaking before his very eyes."They won't be in a majority after a few years""My own observation had by now convinced me that the mind ofthe average Westerner held an utterly distorted image of Islam.What I saw in the pages of the Koran was not a 'crudelymaterialistic' world-view but, on the contrary, an intense Godconsciousnessthat expressed itself in a rational acceptance of allGod-created nature: a harmonious side-by-side of intellect andsensual urge, spiritual need and social demand. It was obvious tome that the decline of the Muslims was not due to any


"What about the Arabs ...?""Well – how can you ever hope to make Palestine your homeland in theface of the vehement opposition of the Arabs who, after all, are in themajority of the country?"The Zionist leader shrugged his shoulders and answered drily: "We expectthey won't be in a majority after a few years.""Perhaps so. You have been dealing with this problem for years and mustknow the situation better than I do. But quite apart from the politicaldifficulties which Arab opposition may or may not put in your way – doesnot moral aspect of the question ever bother you? Don't you think that iswrong on your part to displace the people who have always lived in thiscountry?""But it is our country," replied Dr. Weizmann, raising his eyebrows. "Weare doing no more than taking back what we have wrongly been deprivedof.""But you have been away from Palestine for nearly two thousand years!Before that you had ruled this country, and hardly ever the whole of it, forless than five hundred years. Don't you think that the Arabs could, withequal justification, demand Spain for themselves – for, after all, they heldsway in Spain for nearly seven hundred years and lost it entirely only fivehundred years ago?"Dr. Weizmann had visibly become impatient: "Nonsense. The Arabs hadonly conquered Spain; it had never been their original homeland, and so itwas only right that in the end they were driven out by the Spaniards.""Forgive me," I retorted, "but it seems to me that there is some historicaloversight here. After all, the Hebrews also came as conquerors to Palestine.Long before them were many other Semitic and non-Semitic tribes settled


Zeitung ofZurich, the Telegraph of Amsterdam, and the KolnischeZeitung of Cologne.Not all Jews were Zionists, for he met some who were opposed toZionism. One of those was Dr. Jacob de Haan, who later became hisfriend. Dr. de Haan told him once -It was not without a purpose that God made us lose our land and dispersedus; but the Zionists do not want to admit this to themselves. They sufferfrom the same spiritual blindness that caused our downfall. The twothousand years of Jewish exile and unhappiness have taught them nothing.Instead of making an attempt to understand the innermost causes of ourunhappiness, they now try to circumvent it, as it were, by building a"national home" on foundations provided by Western power politics; andin the process of building a national home, they are committing the crimeof depriving another people of its home.It was not long before Dr. de Haan, in the darkness of the night, was shotto death.His second experience in Jerusalem was his coming in contact with the lifestyle of the Arabs, a way of life that was simple and full of inner peace.While coming to Jerusalem, he traveled by train from Egypt across theSinai desert. There was an Arab Bedouin sharing his compartment who saton the opposite row of seats. The train stopped at a certain station. Therewere boys running across the station platform offering food, eggs, breads,etc for sale. The Bedouin bought a piece of cake through the window. Ashe turned around to sit down, his eyes fell on Weiss who was sitting on theopposite row. Immediately, he broke the cake in half and offered one toWeiss. And as he extended his hand, he said tafaddal – "grant me thefavour".


Weiss did not know at that time what the word tafaddal meant, but thissmall incident was his first experience of Arab hospitality. But it was morethan that – it was a realization of a people whose approach to life was verydifferent than he was accustomed with as a European. He soon recognizedin them the"organic coherence of the mind and the senses" that was lostforever in Europe. "In the Arabs I began to find something I had alwaysunwittingly been looking for: an emotional lightness of approach to allquestions of life – a supreme common sense of feeling, if one might call itso."He was soon to leave Palestine and travel through many Muslim countriesin the Middle East and central Asia to know more about the life ofMuslims, but not necessarily of their religion.A Community Without Walls"Long before any thought that Islam might become my own faithentered my mind, I began to feel an unwonted humility whenever Isaw, as I often did, a man standing barefoot on his prayer rug, or ona straw mat, or on the bare earth, with his arms folded over hischest and his head lowered, entirely submerged within himself,oblivious of what was going on around him, whether it was in amosque or on the sidewalk of a busy street: a man at peace withhimself."At Damascus, he saw how Fridays – "the Muslim Sabbath" – bring new lifeand excitement, and yet solemnity, into the street. It was not a day of restor retreat, but a day of full activities like other days. He saw an innercontact between working-man and his work. So, rest was needed whenone was tired. He compared Fridays with the Sundays of Europe: "Becauseto most people in the West their everyday life is a heavy load from whichonly Sundays can release them, Sunday is no longer a day of rest but hasbecome an escape into the unreal, a deceptive forgetfulness behind which,doubly heavy and threatening, the 'weekday' lurks."


He once visited a mosque with a Muslim friend, and saw Muslims prayingbehind an old imam, in even rows, well-disciplined like soldiers. He sawhow quite it was, and how the entire congregation bowed and prostrated,like one man, before God as if He was present there. "It was at this momentthat I became aware how near their God and their faith were to thesepeople. Their prayer did not seem to be divorced from their working day;it was part of it – not meant to help them forget life, but to remember itbetter by remembering God." As he was leaving the mosque, he asked hisfriend –"How strange and wonderful that you people feel God to be so close toyou. I wish I could feel so myself.""How else could it be, O my brother? Is not God, as our Holy Booksays, 'nearer to thee than the vein in thy neck'"?It was only then that Weiss undertook a serious study of the religion ofthese people. He was soon to discover a world of ideas, like the "lifting ofcurtain". He saw that Islam was not really a religion, but"rather, a way oflife; not so much a system of theology as a program of personal and socialbehaviour based on the consciousness of God." What he discovered was farmore respectable than what he heard and read about Islam. Rather thaneternal enmity between the spirit and flesh, he saw that in Islam they arecomplementary in man's life. "[Islam's] approach to the problems of thespirit seemed to be deeper than that of the Old Testament and had,moreover, none of the later's predilection for one particular nation; and itsapproach to the problems of the flesh was, unlike the New Testament,strongly affirmative. Spirit and flesh stood, each in its own right, as the twinaspects of man's God-created life."Some years later, he was traveling in a ship, which was tightly packed withpilgrims who were going to Mecca. Below the deck were the lower classpassengers. One day, he went to visit a friend below deck, and found a man


on an iron bunk with fever. He was told that the ship's doctor would notcome down to help at that lower level. It appeared to him that the man wassuffering from Malaria, and so he gave him some quinine. While he wasattending the sick man, he saw, through the corner of his eye, that theman's fellow pilgrims, who were from Yemen, took a whispering councilamong themselves. At the end, one of them came forward and gave him afew crumpled notes and said,"We have collected this ourselves. Unfortunately it is not much; grant usthe favour and accept it."I stepped back, startled, and explained that it was not for money that I hadgiven medicine to their friend."No, no, we know it; but do nevertheless accept this money. It is not apayment but a gift – a gift from thy brethren. We are happy about thee,and therefore we give thee money … accept the money, brother, for thesake of the Prophet of God."But I, still bound by my European conventions, defended myself. "I couldnot possibly accept a gift in return for a service to a sick friend … Besides, Ihave money enough; you surely need it more than I. However, if you insiston giving it away, give it to the poor at Port Said.""No," repeated the Yemeni, "thou accept it from us – and if thou dost notwish to keep it, give it in thine own name to the poor."And as they pressed me, and, shaken by my refusal, became sad and silent,as if I had refused not their money but their hearts, I suddenlycomprehended: where I had come from people were accustomed to buildwalls between I and You: this, however, was a community without walls..."Give me the money, brothers. I accept it and I thank you."


An Intellectual "Boy""A world in upheaval and convulsion: that was our Western world.Bloodshed, destruction, violence on an unprecedented scale; thebreakdown of so many social conventions, a clash of ideologies, anembittered, all-round fight for new ways of life: these were thesigns of our time ... My instinctive, youthful conviction that 'mandoes not live by bread alone' crystallized into the intellectualconviction that the current adoration of 'progress' was no morethan a weak, shadowy substitute for an earlier faith in absolutevalues – a pseudo-faith devised by people who had lost all innerstrength to believe in absolute values and were now deludingthemselves with the belief that somehow, by mere evolutionaryimpulse, man would outgrow his present difficulties … I did notsee how any of the new economic systems that stemmed from thisillusory faith could possibly constitute more than a palliative forWestern society's misery: they could, at best, cure some of itssymptoms, but never the cause."Soon after his Syrian journey, Weiss returned to Berlin. There he went tothe office of Frankfurter Zeitung, the newspaper to which he had beenwriting for the past one year, in order to meet with its editor-in-chief,Dr.Heinrich Simon, a man of international reputation. When Dr. Simon sawhim, he was startled –When I came in, he looked at me for a moment in speechlessastonishment, almost forgetting to get up from his chair; but soon heregained his composure, rose and shook hands with me: "Sit down, sitdown. I have been expecting you."But he continued to stare at me in silence until I began to feeluncomfortable."Is there anything wrong, Dr. Simon?"


"No, no, nothing is wrong – or, rather, everything is wrong …" And thenhe laughed and went on: "I somehow had expected to meet a man ofmiddle age with gold-rimmed spectacles – and now I find a boy … oh, Ibeg your pardon; how old are you, anyway?"I suddenly recalled the jovial Dutch merchant in Cairo who had asked methe same question the year before; and I burst out laughing:"I am over twenty-three, sir – nearly twenty-four." And then I added: "Doyou find it too young for theFrankfurter Zeitung?""No …" replied Simon slowly, "not for the Frankfurter Zeitung, but foryour articles."Indeed Weiss' articles detailing his experiences in the Near East were somature and thoughtful that they received wide recognitions in theEuropean press. Soon after that, he published his firstbook,Unromantisches Mögenland, that caused a little flutter for its anti-Zionist attitude. No one – neither the intelligentsia, nor his old friends -showed any sympathy or understanding for him for his anti-Zionist tone orhis appreciation for Arab life, except one individual. Her name was Elsa.Fifteen years older than Weiss, she understood and appreciated the innerthoughts of that 24-year old intellectual "boy". Weiss married her soon, andshe became his source for peace, comfort and sympathy muchlike Khadija, also fifteen year older, was for Prophet Muhammad.After staying in Berlin for some months, Weiss left again for the Near East.By then his interest to learn about Islam grew, and so he went to Egypt andmet Shaykh Mustafa al-Maraghi, one of the prominent scholars of thattime who later became the rector of Al-Azher University.Why Institutional Religion?"At first I was somewhat startled by the Koran's concern not onlywith matters spiritual but also with many seemingly trivial


mundane aspects of life; but in time I began to understand that ifman were indeed an integral unity of body and soul – as Islaminsisted he was – no aspect of his life could be too 'trivial' to comewithin the purview of religion. With all this, the Koran never let itsfollowers forget that the life of this world was only one stage ofman's way to a higher existence, and that his ultimate goal was of aspiritual nature. Material prosperity, it said, is desirable but not anend in itself; and therefore man's appetites, though justified inthemselves, must be restrained and controlled by moralconsciousness. This consciousness ought to relate not merely toman's relation with God but also to his relations with men; notonly to the spiritual perfection of the individual but also to thecreation of such social conditions as might be conductive to thespiritual development of all, so that all might live in fullness."In Egypt, he started learning about Islam by discussing various issues withShaikh Mustafa al Maraghi, while at the same time learning Arabic with thehelp of a student of Al-Azher University. The more he studied Islam andappreciated its teachings and program of life, the more he realized howmuch Muslims had deviated from their religion. He, however, did notconsider accepting Islam. "I did not consider it desirable for an intelligentman to conform all his thinking and his entire view of life to a system notdevised by himself." He wondered whether it is necessary for one to belongto one particular faith –"Tell me, Shaykh Mustafa," I asked my erudite friend Al-Maraghi on oneoccasion, "why should it be necessary to confine oneself to one particularteaching and one particular set of injunctions? Mightn't it be better to leaveall ethical inspiration to one's inner voice?""What thou art really asking, my young brother, is why should there be anyinstitutional religion. The answer is simple. Only very few people – onlyprophets – are really able to understand the inner voice that speaks in them.


Most of us are trammelled by our personal interests and desires – and ifeveryone were to follow only what his own heart dictated, we would havecomplete moral chaos and could never agree on any mode of behaviour.Thou couldst ask, of course, whether there are no exceptions to the generalrule – enlightened people who feel they have no need to be "guided" inwhat they consider to be right or wrong; but then, I ask thee, would notmany, very many people claim that exceptional right for themselves? Andwhat would be the result?"After staying in Egypt for sometime he set out again for another longjourney – this time traversing Syria, Transjordan, Persia, Afghanistan, andCentral Asian states, visiting their streets and bazaars as he moved on. It isin this second journey through Muslims lands that he started thinking aboutIslam more and more."Every day new impressions broke over me; everyday new questions arose from within and new answers came from without.They awakened an echo of something that had been hidden somewhere inthe background of my mind; and as I progressed in my knowledge of Islam,I felt, time and time again, that a truth I had always known, without beingaware of it, was gradually being uncovered and, as it were, confirmed."In Islam, he saw the true meaning of life. It was not a religion but a way oflife, a program of life, the parts of which were so harmoniously built tocomplement each other. But a question still remained in his mind:"WasIslam truly a message from God or merely the wisdom of a great, butfallible, man ...?""You are a Muslim – only you do not know it""Islam did not seem to be so much a religion in the popular sense ofthe word as, rather, a way of life; not so much a system of theologyas a program of personal and social behaviour based on theconsciousness of God. Nowhere in the Koran could I find anyreference to a need for 'salvation'. No original, inherited sin stoodbetween the individual and his destiny – for, nothing shall be


attributed to man but what he himself has striven for [Qur'an53:39]. No asceticism was required to open a hidden gate to purity:for purity was man's birthright, and sin meant no more than a lapsefrom the innate, positive qualities with which God was said to haveendowed every human being. There was no trace of any dualism inthe consideration of man's nature: body and soul seemed to betaken as one integral whole."After traveling much of Central Asia, he was now in Afghanistan. He wasonce traveling from Kabul toHerat on horseback through the snowcoveredvalleys of Hindu-Kush when his horse lost an iron shoe. So hehad to stop the trip for a few days and go to a village to have the shoerepaired. A hakim (district governor) in Afghanistan came to know about a"foreigner" visiting his area. He invited Weiss to spend an evening and anight with him. Weiss, who spoke Persian fluently by that time, acceptedthe invitation. After the dinner, a villager entertained them with a song andhis three-stringed lute. The room was carpeted and warm and it wassnowing outside, which could be glimpsed through the window. The songwas about David's fight with Goliath ...When it ended, the hakim remarked: "David was small, but his faith wasgreat."I could not prevent myself from adding: "And you are many, but your faithis small."My host looked at me with astonishment, and, embarrassed by what I hadalmost involuntarily said, I rapidly began to exam myself. My explanationtook the shape of a torrent of questions:"How has it come about that you Muslims have lost your self-confidence— that self-confidence which once enabled you to spread your faith, in lessthan a hundred years, from Arabia westward as far as the Atlantic andeastward deep into China —and now surrender yourselves so easily, so


weakly, to the thoughts and customs of the West? Why can't you, whoseforefathers illumined the world with science and art at a time when Europelay in deep barbarism and ignorance, summon forth the courage to go backto your own progressive, radiant faith? How is it that Ataturk, that pettymasquerader who denies all value to Islam, has become to you Muslims asymbol of 'Muslim revival'?"The hakim remained speechless. It was now snowing again outside, andWeiss continued –"Tell me — how has it come about that the faith of your Prophet and all itsclearness and simplicity has been buried beneath a rubble of sterilespeculation and the hair-splitting of your scholastics? How has it happenedthat your princes and great land-owners revel in wealth and luxury whileso many of their Muslim brethren subsist in unspeakable poverty andsqualor — although your Prophet taught that 'No one may call himself aFaithful who eats his fill while his neighbor remains hungry?' ... How has itcome about that so many of you Muslims are ignorant and so few can evenread and write — although your Prophet declared that 'Striving afterknowledge is a most sacred duty for every Muslim man and woman andthat the superiority of the learned man over the mere pious is like thesuperiority of the moon when it is full over all other stars'"?The hakim was startled. But at the end, he said,"But – you are a Muslim ..."I laughed, and replied: "No, I am not a Muslim, but I have come to see somuch beauty in Islam that it makes me sometimes angry to watch youpeople waste it ... Forgive me if I have spoken harshly ..."But my host shook his head. "No, it is as I have said: you are a Muslim,only you don't know it yourself ..."


A few months later, Weiss returned to Berlin. But the words of his Afghanhost never completely left his mind."You are obsessed by greed for more and more until you go downto your graves""In the arrogance of their blindness, the people of the West areconvinced that it is their civilization that will bring light andhappiness to the world … In the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies they thought of spreading the gospel of Christianity allover the world; but now that their religious ardour has cooled somuch that they consider religion no more than soothingbackground music – allowed to accompany, but not to influence,'real' life – they have begun to spread instead the materialisticgospel of the 'Western way of life': the belief that all humanproblems can be solved in factories, laboratories and on the desksof statisticians."It was 1926, and Weiss was back to Berlin after his second long journey inthe Muslim lands. After years of inflation, there was now prosperityeverywhere in central Europe. At home after long travels, he startedstudying the Qur'an in translation because his Arabic at that time was stillnot good enough. He and Elsa would often read the Qur'an together anddiscuss its ideas, and Elsa also began to be impressed by the inner cohesionbetween the Qur'an's moral teachings and practical life program. Then anextra ordinary incident happened.One day he and his wife Elsa were traveling by underground train in Berlinwhen he saw a strange phenomenon –It was an upper-class compartment. My eye fell casually on a well-dressedman opposite me, apparently a well-to-do businessman, with a beautifulcase on his knees and a large diamond ring on his hand. I thought idly howwell the portly figure of this man fitted into picture of prosperity which


one encountered everywhere in central Europe in those days: a prosperitythe more prominent as it had come after years of inflation, when alleconomic life had been topsy-turvy and shabbiness of appearance the rule.Most of the people were now well dressed and well fed, and the manopposite me was therefore no exception. But when I looked at his face, Idid not seem to be looking at a happy face. He appeared to be worried: andnot merely worried but acutely unhappy, with eyes staring vacantly aheadand the corners of his mouth drawn in as if in pain — but not in bodilypain. Not wanting to be rude, I turned my eyes away and saw next to hima lady of some elegance. She also had a strangely unhappy expression onher face, as if contemplating or experiencing something that caused herpain; nevertheless, her mouth was fixed in the stiff semblance of a smilewhich, I was certain, must have been habitual. And then I began to lookaround at all the other faces in the compartment — faces belongingwithout exception to well-dressed, well-fed people: and in almost everyone of them I could discern an expression of hidden suffering, so hiddenthat the owner of the face seemed to be quite unaware of it.This was indeed strange. I had never before seen so many unhappy facesaround me: or was it perhaps that I had never before looked for what wasnow so loudly speaking in them? The impression was so strong that Imentioned it to Elsa; and she too began to look around her with the carefuleyes of a painter accustomed to study human features. Then she turned tome, astonished, and said: "You are right. They all look as though they weresuffering torments of hell... I wonder, do they know themselves what isgoing on in them?"I knew that they did not — for otherwise they could not go on wastingtheir lives as they did, without any faith in binding truths, without any goalbeyond the desire to raise their own "standard of living", without any hopesother than having more material amenities, more gadgets, and perhapsmore power.


When we returned home, I happened to glance at my desk on which layopen a copy of the Koran I had been reading earlier. Mechanically, Ipicked the book up to put it away, but just as I was about to close it, myeye fell on the open page before me, and I read:You are obsessed by greed for more and moreUntil you go down to your graves.Nay, but you will come to know!Nay, but you will come to know!Nay, if you but knew it with the knowledge of certainty,You would indeed see the hell you are in.In time, indeed, you shall see it with the eye of certainty:And on that Day you will be askedWhat you have done with the boon of life. [Qur'an: 102]For a moment I was speechless. I think the book shook in my hands. ThenI handed it to Elsa. "Read this. Is it not an answer to what we saw in thesubway?"It was an answer: an answer so decisive that all doubt was suddenly at anend. I knew now, beyond any doubt, that it was a God-inspired book Iwas holding in my hand: for although it had been placed before man overthirteen centuries ago, it clearly anticipated something that could havebecome true only in this complicated, mechanized, phantom-ridden age ofours.At all times people had known greed: but at no time before this had greedoutgrown a mere eagerness to acquire things and become an obsession thatblurred the sight of everything else: an irresistible craving to get, to do, tocontrive more and more - more today than yesterday, and more tomorrowthan today: a demon riding on the necks of men and whipping their heartsforward toward goals that tauntingly glitter in the distance but dissolve intocontemptible nothingness as soon as they are reached, always holding out


the promise of new goals ahead — goals still more brilliant, more temptingas long as they lie on the horizon, and bound to wither into furthernothingness as soon as they come within grasp: and that hunger, thatinsatiable hunger for ever new goals gnawing at man's soul: Nay, if you butknew it you would see the hell you are in ...This, I saw, was not the mere human wisdom of a man of a distant past indistant Arabia. However wise he may have been, such a man could not byhimself have foreseen the torment so peculiar to this twentieth century.Out of the Koran spoke a voice greater than the voice of Muhammad ...The next day he went to the head of a local Muslim community in Berlinwhom he had known superficially before, and declared, "I bear witness thatthere is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is theMessenger of Allah". It was September, 1926.Thus Leopold Weiss became a Muslim at the age of mere twenty-six.Once convinced of the Truth, he did not hesitate but accepted it the verynext day. This is a significant step, especially when one keeps in mind thefact that there are many who, although convinced that Islam is the religionof Truth, choose not to leave the faith of their forefathers or their currentways of life.Elsa, Weiss' first wife, became Muslim a few weeks later. Shortlyafterwards, Weiss, now known asMuhammad Asad, left Europe for thethird time. This time Elsa was with him and they went to perform the Hajj(pilgrimage) in Mecca. She fell ill before the Hajj, and after performing theHajj she died. Unlike her husband, she is virtually unknown to theMuslims and passed away before she could have been known in theintellectual world. A silent figure she may be, but light always exposesobjects even if they are in the dark. What, therefore, becomes apparent to astudent of history is that she was a seeker of Truth; that together with herhusband she spent days and nights studying the Qur'an; that she humbled


herself in front of God Almighty as soon as His message became apparent toher; that soon afterwards she rushed to the 'House of God' andcircumvented it saying "My Lord! I am present to your service!"; and finallyand most importantly, she met her Lord in the state of submission to Him.That is the ultimate success a human being can have.Dream"Islam postulated a self-contained political community which cutacross the conventional divisions of tribe and race. In this respect,Islam and Christianity might be said to have the same aim: bothadvocated an international community of people united by theiradherence to a common ideal; but whereas Christianity hadcontended itself with a mere moral advocacy of this principle and,by advising its followers to give Caesar his due, had restricted itsuniversal appeal to the spiritual sphere, Islam unfolded before theworld the vision of a political organization in which Godconsciousnesswould be the mainspring of man's practicalbehaviour and the sole basis of all social institutions … Themessage of Islam envisaged and brought to life a civilization inwhich there was no room for nationalism, no 'vested interest', noclass divisions, no Church, no priesthood, no hereditary nobility; infact, no hereditary functions at all. The aim was to establish atheocracy with regard to God and a democracy between man andman ... Here, social progress was not, as in all other communitiesand civilizations known to history, a result of pressure andcounterpressure of conflicting interests, but part and parcel of anoriginal 'constitution'."Asad had now left Europe for the third time. But now he was a Muslim,and this time was leaving not just a geographical Europe but also itsintellectual and cultural heritage in which he grew up as an European. Hewas never to return to reclaim his European identity.


Could he ever, when he grew up in his father's house in Vienna, anticipatethat one day he was to leave his Western heritage for good?The answer is obviously no. But sometimes glimmers of truth and futureevents are shown in dreams that materialize afterwards – sometimes yearslater. Long before he ever thought of becoming a journalist and visitingMuslims lands, Weiss saw a dream -I must have been nineteen years old or so at the time, and lived in myfather's house in Vienna. I was deeply interested in the science of man'sinner life, and was in the practice of keeping by my bedside paper andpencil in order to jot down my dreams at the moment of awakening. Bydoing so, I found, I was able to remember those dreams indefinitely, evenif I did not keep them constantly in mind. In that particular dream, I foundmyself in Berlin, traveling in that underground railway they have there —with the train going sometimes through a tunnel below ground andsometimes bridges high above the streets. The compartment was filled withgreat throng of people — so many that there was no room to sit down andall stood tightly packed without being able to move; and there was only adim light from a single electric bulb. After a while the train came out of thetunnel; it did not come on to one of those high bridges, but emergedinstead on to a wide, desolate plain of clay, and the wheels of the train gotstuck in the clay and the train stopped, unable to move forward orbackward.All the travelers, and I among them, left the carriages and started lookingabout. The plain around us was endless and empty and barren — there wasno bush on it, no house, not even a stone — and a great perplexity fell overthe people's hearts: Now that we have been stranded here, how shall wefind our way back to where other humans live? A grey twilight lay over theimmense plain, as at the time of early dawn.


But somehow I did not quite share the perplexity of the others. I made myway out of the throng and beheld, at a distance of perhaps ten paces, adromedary crouched on the ground. It was fully saddled — in exactly theway I later saw camels saddled … and in the saddle sat a man dressed in awhite-and-brown-striped abaya with short sleeves. His kufiyya was drawnover his face so that I could not discern his features. In my heart I knew atonce that the dromedary was waiting for me and that the motionless riderwas to be my guide; and so, without a word, I swung myself on to thecamel's back behind saddle in the way a radif, a pillion rider, rides in Arablands. In the next instant, the dromedary rose and started forward in along-drawn, easy gait, and I felt a nameless happiness rise within me. Inthat fast, smooth gait we traveled for what at first seemed to be hours, andthen days, and then months, until I lost count of time; and with every stepof the dromedary my happiness rose higher, until I felt as if I wereswimming through air. In the end, the horizon to our right began toredden under the rays of the sun that was about to rise. But on the horizonfar ahead of us I saw another light: it came from behind a huge, opengateway resting on two pillars — a blinding-white light, not like the lightof the rising sun to our right — a cool light that steadily grew in brightnessas we approached and made the happiness within me grow beyondanything that words could describe. And as we came nearer and nearer tothe gateway and its light, I heard a voice from somewhere announce, "Thisis the westernmost city!" — and I awoke.Seven years later Weiss converted to Islam and became Muhammad Asad.A few years after he became a Muslim he came across the note where hehad written down the above dream many years before. By then, he wasliving in Saudi Arabia and became a close friend of King Abdul Aziz IbnSaud. The King was in the habit of listening to Qur'anic commentary afterthe daily Isha prayer in the palace mosque. One night after the commentarysession finished, he took Asad into his inner chamber for casual talk as hedid many times before. This time the discussion turned into about true


dreams and their manifestations in reality. When Asad narrated to the Kingthe above dream, which he remembered just a few days ago as hediscovered his note but still did not know what its meaning was, the Kingexclaimed,"Glory be unto God! And did not this dream tell thee that thou wertdestined for Islam?"I shook my head: "No, O Long-of-Age, how could I have known it? I hadnever thought of Islam and had never even known a Muslim … It wasseven years later, long after I had forgotten that dream, that I embracedIslam. I recalled it only recently when I found it among my papers, exactlyas I had jotted it down that night upon awaking.""But it was truly thy fortune which God showed thee in that dream, O myson! Dost thou not recognize it clearly? The coming of the crowd ofpeople, and thou with them, into a pathless waste, and their perplexity: isnot that the condition of those whom the opening sura of the Korandescribes as "those who have gone astray"? And the dromedary which, withits rider, was waiting for thee: was not this the "right guidance" of whichKoran speaks so often? And the rider who did not speak to thee and whoseface thou couldst not see: who else could he have been but the HolyProphet, upon whom be God's blessing and peace? He loved to wear acloak with short sleeves ... and do not many of our books tell us wheneverhe appears in dreams to non-Muslims or to those who are not yet Muslims,his face is always covered? And that white, cool light on the horizon ahead:what else could it have been but a promise of the light of faith which lightswithout burning? Thou didst not reach it in dream because, as thou hasttold us, it was only years later that thou camest to know Islam for the truthitself ...""Thou mayest be right, O Long-of-Age ... But what about that"westernmost city" to which the gateway on the horizon was to lead me? —


for, after all, my acceptance of Islam did not lead me to the West: it led me,rather, away from the West."Ibn Saud was silent and thoughtful for a moment; then he raised his headand, with that sweet smile which I had come to love, said: "Could it nothave meant, O Muhammad, that thy reaching Islam would be the"westernmost" point in thy life— and that after that, the life of the Westwould cease to be thine ...?"True dreams are one-fortieth part of prophetic vision as we know from atradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). All dreams are not products ofour imaginations or suppressed feelings, as many psychoanalysts say. Peopleare often shown true dreams – directly or indirectly – about future events,as is clearly evident in the above story. Another example in support of thisis the dream of Dr. Jeffrey Lang. Ten years before he converted to Islam,he used to see himself in dream performing the Muslim prayer. He was anatheist then and did not know that the act he was doing in those dreams – itwas repeated several times - had any connection whatsoever with Muslimsor Islamic rituals.Asad's father, with whom he always remained in contact through letters,stopped communicating with him after he accepted Islam. Neither couldhis sister accept his becoming a Muslim. It was many years later that hisfather accepted him as a Muslim and their communication resumed.Unfortunately, Weiss never saw them again. The Nazis expelled his fatherand his sister from Germany and they both died in Naziconcentrationcamp in 1942.Umar Mukhtar - The Lion of the Desert"I have witnessed the steady European encroachment on Muslimcultural life and political independence; and wherever Muslimpeople try to defend themselves against this encroachment,European public opinion invariably labels their resistance, with an


air of hurt innocence, as 'xenophobia' … Forgetting that everydirect, and even benevolent, intervention from outside cannot butdisturb a nation's development, Western students of MiddleEastern affairs have always been ready to swallow such claims.They see only the new railroads built by colonial powers, and notthe destruction of a country's social fabric; they count the kilowattsof new electricity, but not the blows to a nation's pride. The samepeople who would never have accepted Imperial Austria's'civilizing mission' as a valid excuse for her interventions in theBalkans indulgently accept a similar plea in the case of the Britishin Egypt, the Russians in Central Asia, the French in Morocco orthe Italians in Libya. And it never even crosses their minds thatmany of the social and economic ills from which the Middle East issuffering are a direct outcome of that very Western 'interest'."During his six years of stay in Saudi Arabia, Asad enjoyed close friendshipof King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, and many years later of King Faisal. KingAbdul Aziz at that time was still building his territories, fighting rivals, andtrying to unite many Bedouin factions under his Kingdom. In Abdul Aziz,he saw signs of a promising leader who could stimulate an Islamicrenaissance and unite the Muslim world under the true teachings of Islam.Though he highly admired the King who was a very pious Muslim (theKing was so humble to his parents that he would not step in a room if hisfather was in the room below. "How can I allow myself to walk over myfather's head?", he said), his expectation did not materialize. He, however,assisted the King sometimes. Once, he secretly visited Kuwait, which wasthen under the British influence and was the main base of Ad-Dawish,the chief rival of Abdul Aziz. Taking a risk on his life and traveling only bynight through the desert, never lighting a fire, he reached Kuwait aftermany days and nights. There he collected first-hand evidence of what hewas suspecting long before anyone did: that the British was providing botharms and money to Ad-Dawish to sustain the rivalry between him and


Abdul Aziz in order to weaken both, and then exert pressure on a weakAbdul Aziz to cut the Arabian peninsula by building a railroad that was togo all the way to India and solidify the strength of the British empire. Asad'sarticle on this secret plan was published with sufficient evidencesimultaneously in both Arab and European newspapers and caused asensation. The British plan died before it could bud, for Abdul Azizimmediately took a harder stand on the British and forced them to stopaiding Ad-Dawish, who soon afterwards was totally defeated.Asad had deep sympathy for the struggle that was going on in North Africafor liberation from the colonial yoke. He became a close friend and admirerof Sayyid Ahmad, the great Sanusi leader. He was living in Saudi Arabiawhile his people, under the leadership of Umar Mukhtar – the Lion ofthe Desert – was desperately fighting against the Italian army which wasequipped with modern weapons and an air force. Italians often led theirconvoy of armored carriers and tanks through Muslim villages, tearing aparttents and huts, crushing men, women, and children as punishment for"helping" the guerrilla fighters of Umar Mukhtar. One eyewitness whosurvived the fall of his village said,They came upon us in three columns, from three sides, with manyarmored cars and heavy cannons. Their aeroplanes came down low andbombed houses and mosques and palm groves … Our rifles were uselessagainst their armoured cars … I hid myself in the palm orchards waiting fora chance to make my way through the Italian lines .. the next day .. theItalian general … ordered the palm trees of the oasis to be cut down andthe wells destroyed and all the books of Sayid Ahmad's library burned. Andon the next day he commanded that some of our elders and ulama be takenup in an aeroplane – and they were hurled out of the plane high above theground to be smashed to death … And all through the second night I heardfrom my hiding place the cries of our women and the laughter of thesoldiers ...


Although outnumbered and outgunned, Umar Mukhtar successfullyfought the Italian army for many years until dictator Mussolini sent one ofhis ruthless generals, General Graziani, to contain Mukhtar's guerrillaforces. General Graziani soon brought tanks and other superior weaponsfrom Italy and erected barbed-wire fences along the Egyptian border,cutting off all supplies to Mukhtar. Without supplies, Mukhtar's forcesfaced heavy casualty against the Italian army, and started dwindling untilonly a few hundred of his men remained and he lost control of all areasexcept his own base.It was at that time that Sayyid Ahmad asked Asad if he could visit Mukhtar,analyze the situation, and advise him on what could be done to improvethe situation. Asad readily agreed. "To me Islam was a way and not an end– and the desperate guerrillas of Umar al-Mukhtar were fighting with theirlifeblood for the freedom to tread that way, just as the companions of theProphet had done thirteen centuries ago. To be of help to them in theirhard and bitter struggle, however uncertain the outcome, was as personallynecessary to me as to pray ..."And once again, as before, Asad took a risk on his life and started his secretlong journey to meet Mukhtar in the Libyan desert. He nearly lost his lifewhen he and his companions were spotted by an Italian reconnaissanceplane. The plane circled and closed in - and below stood Asad and hiscompanions on the empty desert totaly devoid of any cover - and startedfiring at them. They all lied on the ground and played dead, but the pilotapparently knew it well. He fled only when one of Asad's companions – aguerrilla himself - took careful aim and started firing at the plane. Afterevading the Italians, he eventually reached his destination and metMukhtar. The Lion was then 70 years old.Seeing that continuing the struggle at that precarious situation will onlybring loss of life and a total defeat, Asad suggested to Umar Mukhtar thathe flee to Egypt so that he may gain some strength there and later come


ack. The old lion was not willing for that. "No, my son ... Should I andmy followers go now to Egypt, we would never be able to return. Andhow could we abandon our people and leave them leaderless, to bedevoured by the enemies of God?"Asad knew that Umar Mukhtar was well aware that death awaited himthere, but death held no terror for him. "We fight", Umar Mukhtar toldhim, "because we have to fight for our faith and our freedom until we drivethe invaders out or die ourselves. We have no other choice. To God webelong and unto Him do we return."And so Asad left after the meeting, and started on his way back. Oncemore, he nearly escaped death when he and his companions faced machinegun fire as they hurriedly cut barbed-wire fence to make an opening andflee to the other side. Asad and some of his companions escaped, while afew others lay dead behind.A few months later, Italians captured Umar Mukhtar as he was visiting thegrave of one of the companions of the Prophet in an Italian-controlledterritory. When he was brought in front of General Graziani, he askedUmar Mukhar whether he would give up fighting if released. The Lionreplied,I shall not cease to fight against thee and thy people until either you leavemy country or I leave my life. And I swear to thee by Him who knowswhat is in men's heart that if my hands were not bound this very moment, Iwould fight thee with my bare hands, old and broken as I am ...Soon afterwards, Umar Mukhtar was hanged in front of his own people,who were forcefully herded by General Graziani from the prison campwhere they were kept, in order to witness the hanging of their leader. Theday was September 16, 1931.Water Becomes Foul If It Stands Motionless


"A slam came over me like a robber who enters a house by night,stealthily, without noise or much ado: only that, unlike a robber, itentered to remain for good. But it took me years to discover that Iwas to be a Muslim ..."Asad once asked an old Bedouin about why he moved from one place toanother and not settle in one area, firm some land, and rest in peace. Tothis the Bedouin replied, "If water stands motionless in pools, it becomesstale, muddy and foul; only when it moves and flows does it remain clear..."Asad's own life became a reflection of those few words of the old Bedouin.At a young age, he left Vienna for Berlin. Leaving his degree incomplete,he left for Jerusalem. From then on, he started his long journey in NorthAfrica, Near East and Central Asia, never staying at one place for long. Ashe traveled through the Muslims lands, both before and after his becominga Muslim, he met and made friendship with many prominent leaders, suchas King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, and later King Faisal, hiswise son, King Abdullah of Jordan, Reza Khan, who later became RezaShah Pahlavi of Iran, Sayyid Ahmad, the great leader of the north AfricanSanusi movement, Umar Mukhtar who was fighting till his last breath toexpel the ruthless colonial rulers out of his country, Sayyid Maududi, thechief architect of Islamic renaissance of the 20th century, and AllamaIqbal, the great poet-philosopher and spiritual founder of Pakistan.After becoming a Muslim, he lived in Saudi Arabia for six years – but oftenmoving from one place to another making friendships with prominentfigures and enjoying their hospitalities. Then he left Saudi Arabia and cameto the Indian Subcontinent in 1939. There Allama Iqbal persuaded him tocancel his further travel plans in Far East and to work on constructing theintellectual premises of the future Islamic state. After Pakistan was createdin 1947, he was appointed to organize and direct a Department ofIslamic Reconstruction. In 1952, after twenty six years of absence from


the West, he came to New York and became Pakistan's MinisterPlenipotentiary to the United Nations.Asad later married Pola whom he met in New York. She was working inthe State Department and was part of the US Delegation to the UnitedNations in New York. Unsatisfied with her Catholic background, she hadher own independent journey to Islam. After years of studying, she becamea Muslim just a few months before she met Asad. And within days of hermarriage, she discovered the primary fault of her husband.It was November 1952 and she just moved to her husband's New Yorkapartment when Asad was invited by Dr. Schuler Walace, Directorof The School of Oriental Affairs, to give a lecture on Islam and thecurrent problems of the Muslim world. The audience was to be mostlycomprised of post-graduate students of international affairs. After thelecture, he was to answer questions from the audience. Asad accepted theinvitation.Although Pola Asad was anxious to see her husband speak in front of sucha group of intelligentsia, it appeared that her husband was not muchconcerned about it. A day before the meeting she asked him whether heprepared the manuscript for the speech. "It is almost ready", said Asad. Shewaited the whole day for some news about the speech being ready. Finally,when the day came, Asad sat down five minutes before leaving theapartment and jotted down a few notes on a small piece of paper and toldher that was it. At the podium, Dr. Wallace introduced Asad to thecrowed, and Asad started talking enthusiastically, so much so that he evenforgot to consult his "notes". He spoke for long time and received muchovation from the crowed after the speech ended, which was then followedby questions and answers. The whole session lasted several hours. This washow Pola Asad pointed out her husband's primary fault: a lack of vanity,nay a total lack of vanity. Asad gave many formal speeches and interviewsin both Muslims countries as well as in western cities in front of educated


gatherings, but he did not keep records of those and thus many of thosevaluable speeches were lost, said Pola Asad.Asad spoke highly of her and said that even though she would deny it dueto her modesty, but she had always inspired him and he could not possiblyhave produced a quarter of what he had done had he not have her moralsupport. Asad's works include, "The Message of the Qur'an" (a translationand commentary on the Qur'an), "The Road to Mecca", "Islam at theCrossroads", "Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam", "This Law ofOurs", and "The Principles of State and Government in Islam".From Pakistan, Asad later moved to Morocco and there he completed hismasterpiece, "The Message of the Qur'an", which took seventeen years tocomplete. He later settled in Lisbon. There this giant Muslim intellectualbreathed his last in 1992.And so he finally settled in peace, from which he was never to move again.Never again was he to mount on his dromedary and let it resume its strideon the desert sand. Never again was he to look at the distant sand dunes,and cherish a desire to visit the land that lay beyond the horizon and toknow the life style of its people ...Water becomes foul if it stays motionless. So it must move on, and journeyacross many lands, passing through valleys, and plains, and crevices, anddeltas; picking up gems from one place and dropping at another. But oneday it has to come to the end of its journey, and leave its legacy, and dropto the ocean.For that is where it came from, and that is where it must return ...

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