The Author Leopold Weiss (Muhammed Asad) was born in the Polish city of Lvov in 1900. He is the grand-son of an Orthodox Rabbi, and son of a lawyer. At the age of 13 he mastered Hebrew and Aramaic. His father desired him to become a rabbi, but he avoided this plan (without grieving his father). By his early twenties he could write and read the German, French, and Polish languages. He took to journalism and achieved quickly wide notice as an outstanding near Eastern correspondent to leading newspapers of the Continent, more especially as correspondent of Frankfurter Zeitung of Germany.
On visits to Arab and North African countries his interest grew to study the Muslim religion, Traditions and the Arabic language. He also travelled in Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries, and learned Persian. From there he proceeded to Berlin through Moscow and Poland, in 1926. Here he became a Muslim and named himself Muhammad Asad.
After his conversion he again travelled and worked throughout the Muslim world and stayed in Saudi Arabia for more than five years. During his sojourn he achieved prominence and enjoyed intimate friendship in the Arab countries, with great Arab leaders, such as the late king Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, the late King Raza Shah of Iran, the late King Abdullah of Jordan, and the Great Senusi of North Africa, and other prominent and distinguished personages.
In 1932, he came to India and settled in Lahore (Pakistan). He wrote the book Islam at the Cross-roads. In Lahore he got the opportunity to meet the great Muslim thinker Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who was greatly impressed by his study of lslamic literature and asked Muhammad Asad to translate Sahih al Bukhari into English.
In 1939 he was interned by the British during the Second World War. On the termination of the war he was released. He then started to publish monthly Arafat.
After the partition of India he played an important part as an authority on Islamic Law, in setting up the New State of Pakistan. He also wrote a pamphlet entitled Islamic Constitution Making.
In 1953, he was appointed as Pakistan's Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations. After a year he left the post and published his impressions about Islam in ROAD TO MAKKAH, which was reproduced in some European and Asian languages.
In 1954, after completion of this book he left America and toured some states of the Continent and then went to Lebanon. In 1957 he was commissioned by the Government of Pakistan to organise an Islamic Colloquium. Next year he went to Switzerland and commenced translation of the Holy Qur'an into English, one-third of which came out in 1964 by the name of MESSAGE OF THE QURAN Meanwhile he also wrote a book entitled THE PRINCIPLES OF STATE AND GOVERNMENT IN ISLAM.
In 1966 he was invited by the Saudi Government to Makkah to perform his seventh Hajj. He wrote his translation of the Qur'an.
Seldom was mankind intellectually as restless as it is in our time. Not only are we faced with a multitude of problems requiring new and unprecedented solutions, but also the angle of vision in which these problems appear before us is different from anything we were accustomed to so far. In all countries society passes through fundamental changes. The pace at which this happens is everywhere different; but everywhere we can observe the same pressing energy which allows of no halt or hesitation.
The world of Islam is no exception in this respect. Here also we see old customs and ideas gradually disappear and new forms emerge. Whereto does this development go ? How deep does it reach? How far does it fit into the cultural mission of Islam?
This book has no pretension to giving an exhaustive answer to all these questions. Owing to its limited space only one of the problems facing the Muslims today, namely, the attitude they should adopt towards Western civilization has been selected for discussion. The vast implications of the subject, however, made it necessary to extend our scrutiny over some basic aspects of Islam, more particularly with regard to the principle of Sunnah. It was impossible to give here more than the bare outline of a theme wide enough to fill many bulky volumes. But nonetheless-or, perhaps, there fore-I feel confident that this brief sketch will prove, for others, an incentive to further thought on this most important problem.
And now about myself-because the Muslims have a right, when a convert speaks to them, to know how and why he has embraced Islam.
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 human-conception of life, as compared with the hasty, mechanised 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, organised with a minimum of internal conflicts and a maximum 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 the 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 realised 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 Lybian 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 an 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.
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