Unusual Journey From Judaism To Islam !!!


Chief Minister (5k+ posts)
The Unusual Journey of Muhammad Asad
From Judaism to Islam
Posted By Amber Darr
On July 2, 1900, Kiwa Weiss, an Austrian-Jewish lawyer and a
descendant of a long line of rabbis, became the proud father of a son.
He named the boy Leopold, (an old Germanic name derived from the root
Leo or lion) and hoped that unlike him, Leopold would become a rabbi.
Unbeknownst to Kiva, however, destiny had other plans for Leopold: By
the time he died in Granada, Spain in 1992, he was no longer Jewish
but Muslim, no longer Austrian but Pakistani and no longer even
Leopold but Asad and had, in fact, earned a considerable reputation as
a writer, an Islamic scholar and, most significantly, a translator of
the Holy Quran.

Asads near absolute break with his past (it was only in the choice of
his Muslim name which means lion in Arabic that a faint echo of
his former identity could still be heard) and the factors behind this
diametric shift should perhaps have been a subject for intense study,
exploration and for Muslims at least, even celebration. In Pakistan,
however, even though it was Asads adopted country, he remains, for
some mysterious reason (or perhaps only due to apathy), largely
ignored, if not entirely forgotten: His books and his translation of
the Quran are not readily available and even though he was a close
associate of Muhammad Iqbal, a part of the Pakistan movement and had
been appointed in 1952 as Pakistans first minister plenipotentiary to
the UN, he is not referred to in any accounts of the countrys

My introduction to Asad was through The Road to Mecca, which I
discovered by accident while browsing in a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur
some years ago. Reading the book, I found myself transported to Asads
world, joining him in and being touched and transformed by his
physical and spiritual journey for an inner truth, which he found in
the teachings of Islam and to which he remained faithful till the very
end despite all personal and political disappointments. One of his
observations that haunted me for a long time was that Islam, more than
any other code of life, was closest to human nature. Although I had
heard that said before, I only began exploring it when it reached me
through Asad, and in so doing, understood some more about the religion
I was born into.

For the next few years, I tried to learn as much as I could about Asad
and particularly about Talal Asad, his only son who though raised in
Pakistan now lives and teaches in the United States to understand
from him his fathers unusual experience. Although there was little
information on the latter, I gained some insight into, and even more
respect for, Asad as I read more of his works and especially his
translation of the Quran. In the last few years, as the tension
between Islam and the rest of the world continued to mount, I
increasingly noted that Asads observations of the divide between the
East and the West and his attempt to build a bridge between the two
are as relevant today as they had been in the 50s, more so because he
approaches the issue proudly, without apology and with an eastern and
Muslim perspective rather than as an outsider.

In April 2008, the city government of Vienna renamed the square in
front of the UN headquarters as Mohammad Asad Platz, in recognition
of Asads contribution to interfaith relations and his Austrian
origin. A media release of the event reported that it was the first
traffic area to be named after a Muslim not only in Austria but also
in all of Western Europe. I had read the news with some regret and
some amusement: Regret, because Pakistan, with its inclination for
naming and renaming all things, does not, to the best of my knowledge,
even have a cul-de-sac named in his memory, and amusement because so
complete was Asads cultural-crossing that even in death and in the
country of his origin, he could only be resurrected under his Muslim

Postscript: Kiva Weiss, his wife and daughter were killed at the hands
of the Germans during the Second World War. It is not known whether
Asad made peace with his father before he died.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6, 2011.