Tuesday, April 9, 2013
ALLAMA MUHAMMAD ASAD MEN OF LETTERS SERIES (2013-3)
Men of Letters Series Allama Muhammad Asad Commemorative Postage Stamp March 23, 2013:- Allama Muhammad Asad, (Leopold Weiss), was born in Livow, Austria (later Poland) on 2nd July, 1990. At the age of 22 he made his visit to the Middle East. He later became an outstanding foreign correspondent for the Franfurtur Zeitung, and after his conversion to Islam in 1926, travelled and worked throughout the Muslim world, from North Africa to as far East as Afghanistan. After years of devoted study he became one of the leading Muslim scholars of our age.
Writer, tgraveler and explorer, Muhammad Asad had a truly chequered life spanning three continents and two cultures. He was 14 when he excaped school and joined the Austrian army under a false name, only to be recovered by his father and taken home. But about four years later when he was drafted in the army, he had ceased to have any longing for a military career. The Austrian Empire collapsed a few weeks after and he went on to study history of art and philosophy at the University of Vienna. His father wanted him to get a Ph. D. Leopold wanted to try his hand at journalism and one summer day in 1920 he boarded the train for Prague.
From Prague Leopold went to Berlin, but there was no journalistic job for this total novice. Happy and vaguely alienated, one day in the spring of 1922, the young journalist received a letter that was to change the course of the following 70 years of his life. Uncle Dorian, his mother’s youngest brother had invited him to Jerusalem, to live in his delightful old Arab stone house. Dorian headed a mental hospital in Jerusalem. He was a Zionist himself nor, for that matter attracted to the Arabs.
Like the average European, Asad had come to the Middle East with some romantic and erroneous notions about Arabs. But neither Dorian nor Jerusalem could stop Leopold from his wanderings. He became a correspondent for Frankfurter Zeitung. Sometimes in Cairo, sometimes in Amman, back to Jerusalem; and on road again to Syria (which then included Lebanon as well) and Turkey. It was a moment at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus that he became aware how near their God and their faith were to these people.
End of 1923 saw him back in Vienna, reconciling with his father and reporting to his editor-in-chief Dr Heinrich Simon. Leopold Weiss has established himself as a writer on Arab and Middle Eastern affair and Frankfurter Zeitung was now willing to remunerate him properly and keen that returned to the area as soon as he had finished the book he had contracted to write. He finished the book, Unromantisches Morgenland, and in Spring 1924, he was off again to the Middle East. Crossing the Mediterranean, Leopold”s first stop was at Cairo where he tried to learn Arabic and spend some time with Shaikh Mustafa Maraghi. He wanted to gain a fuller picture of Islam. Mustafa Maraghi subsequently became the Shaikh of Al-Azhar. Early summer 1924, the special correspondent was on the move again. To Amman, to Damascus, Tripoli and Aleppo, to Baghdad and to the Kurdish mountains, to that strangest of all lands, Iran, and toe the wild mountains and steppes of Afghanistan.
Early 1926, he was homeward bound: via Marv, Samarkand, Bokhara and Lashkent and thence across the Lurkoman steppes to Urals and Moscow. Crossing the Polish frontier he arrived straight in Frankfurt. His next engagement was to deliver a series of lectures at the Academy of Geopolitics in Berlin. He also married Elsa, 41 a widow, whom he had met in Berlin during his previous visit. She had a nine-year old son. His editor wanted him to write another book. He wanted to return to the Muslim world. Leopold felt that he was being driven to Islam.
3Sometimeafter September 1926, he sought out a Muslim friend of his, an Indian who was at that time head of the small Muslim community in Berlin, and told him that he wanted to embrace Islam. Leopold had become Muhammad Asad, something which was strongly disapproved by his father and his sister. The relationship resumed in 1935, after his father had at last come to understand and appreciate the reasons for his conversion to Islam.
The major part of the following years, 1927 – 1932, was spent in Arabia with missions in between to Egypt and Cyrenaica (Libya) in support of the Sanusi mujahidin who had been fighting a desperate guerrilla battle against the Italians. For Asad, however, the Arabian years were, home coming of the heart. Early in 1927, he was received by King abdul Aziz ibn Saud. He was impressed by the King and the King took a great liking for this new Muslim and he would send for him almost daily.
Asad rode and rode and explored the peninsula from the northern confines of Arabia towards the south until 1932 when the dust of India replaced the desert clear air of Arabia. He had planned to move on, to Easterm Turkestan, China and Indonesia, but the Islamic poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal persuaded him to remain in India to help elucidate the intellectual premises of the future Islamic state. Iqbal had presented the idea of Pakistan only two years earlier in 1930 and it was not before 1940 that Iqbal’s idea was adopted as a political goal by the All India Muslim League. But to Asad, Pakistan was a dream that demanded to be fulfilled. His first title on an Islamic theme, Islam at the Crossroads, published in 1934, proved to be extremely popular and was translated in several languages. The Crossroads was a plea of Muslims to avoid a blind imitation of Western social forms and values, and to try to preserve instead their Islamic heritage which once upon a time had been responsible for the glorious, many-sided historical phenomenon comprised in the term “Muslim civilization”. The outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 saw Asad interned as an enemy alien in the Punjab hill town of Dalhousie, and thus there is scant record of his work from 1935 till 1945 when he was freed from internment. He then started a periodical, Arafat, which ceased after publishing about ten issues. Pakistan was achieved in 1947 and the Government of Punjab put Asad in charge of newly established Department of Islamic Reconstruction in Lahore. He embarked on translating Bukhari, the famous Hadith collection and revived Arafat. Asad also contributed eloquently to the debate about Pakistan having an Islamic constitution. Two years later he was seconded to the Pakistan Foreign Service and made director of the Middle East Division in the foreign ministry.
After the establishment of Pakistan, he was the first naturalized citizen of Pakistan. He was appointed the Director of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction, West Punjab and later on became Pakistan’s Alternate Representative at the United Nations. Muhammad Asad’s two important books are: Islam at the Crossroads and Road to Mecca. He also produced a monthly journal Arafat. Asad loved Pakistan, his conception of Pakistan, even when it turned its back on him, and he never felt resentment at the treatment he had received from it. He remained a citizen- the first citizen of Pakistan- until the end, although he had been strongly tempted to accept the generous, spontaneous gestures of many heads of Islamic States to have their citizenship and passport, which would have made his life so much easier.
Early in 1952, Asad was sent to New York as Pakistan’s minister plenipotentiary to the UN. But problems had begun to develop between Asad and the foreign ministry bureaucracy. Some people perhaps jealous for their own petty reasons. Some were suspicious because of his religious and adventurous background. Matters, however, came to head when the ministry refused to give him permission to marry Pola Hamida, an American convert to Islam. Asad resigned toward theend of 1952 saying his private life was more important to him and started to write the story of his wanderings and discovery of Islam. The story, The Road of Mecca (1954), covers the period before he had left Arabia for India. There are gaps but the story is fascinating and the style inimitable. Asad had promised to narrate, perhaps at other time, the story of the years “spent working for and in Pakistan”. It did not appear in his life-time, but, it is reported, he had been working on the remaining part of his story.
Muhammad Asad had quit diplomacy but his intellectual exertions did not come to end. Encouraged by Pola Hamida, supported morally and materially by the secretary general of the Muslim World League, the late Shaikh Muhammad Sarur as-Sabban and the Shaya family of Kuwait, he embarked on rendering the Qur’an into English. The first volume of Asad’s English rendering, from Al-Baqarah to Al-Tawbah, The Message of the Qur’an appeared in 1964. By far the most elegant and lucid of the English translations, Asad’s rendering would have had normal reception from critical to laudatory, but what made it draw a little different attention was its sponsorship by the Muslim World League.
Asad was dismayed byt not discouraged. With the support of his other Arab benefactors, he went ahead with his work and in 1980 produced and published the complete edition of The Message of the Qur’an. Finding him in difficulty in distributing his work, the former Saudi oil minister, Shaikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani bought 20,000 copies of the book.
Asad’s last book, This Law of Ours and other Essays, was published in 1987 and he remained intellectually active until the last days of his life. Nor did he give up his taste for travel and migration, moving between East and West, North and South, yet spending a record 19 years in Tangier, Morocco, before moving finally to Mijas in the Andalusian province of Spain.
Allama Muhammad Asad died on 20 February 1992. He was buried in the Muslim cemetery in Granada, Andalusia.On Men of Letters Series – Allama Muhammad Asad Pakistan Post is issuing a commemorative postage stamp of Rs.15/- denomination on March 23, 2013.