The Man That Time Forgot – Muhammad Asad
By Mohsin Jilani
“Islam should be presented without any fanaticism. Without any stress on our having the only possible way and the others are lost. Moderation in all forms is a basic demand of Islam.” These were the strong words of Leopold Weiss but he was better known by his name Muhammad Asad, who is not remembered much but he was one of the founding fathers of Pakistan and the man who wished for Pakistan to be a modern, less radicalized secular Muslim state. His statement is something that should be taken for consideration as the contemporary times is reined with Islamic militarism, religious intolerance and ridiculed with religious decree that serve no meaning whatsoever.
In Pakistan Studies textbook narratives, people get to learn about the founding fathers of Pakistan such as Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was the leader of the nation, Allama Iqbal who presented and conceived the idea of independent Muslim country, Chaudhary Rehmat Ali who coined the term Pakistan and Liaqaut Ali Khan who was the first prime minister of Pakistan and author of Objectives Resolution. Muhammad Asad has never been mentioned nor has never been heard just as same as other founding fathers of Pakistan Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan and Aga Khan III.
Leopold Weiss was born to a Jewish family in Lemberg which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Now Austria). He converted to Islam when he was given an assignment in British Mandate Palestine as freelance journalist for Frankfurter Zeitung, Germany’s and Europe’s popular newspaper. After conversion to Islam, he took an Arabic name Muhammad Asad. In 1927, shortly after his conversion to Islam, Muhammad Asad moved to Saudi Arabia. There he visited different landscape of the Arabian Peninsula and became friends with King Abdulaziz for which he participated in Saudi King’s campaign against Ikhwan rebels.
After the campaign, Muhammad Asad desired to travel eastward. He came to British India and met the famous philosophical poet Muhammad Allama Iqbal who wanted Asad to stay in British India and Muslims of India establish their separate Muslim state. Muhammad Asad nevertheless was obliged to stay in British India and helped Muhammad Iqbal and Chaudhry Niaz Ali in establishment of an Islamic institute Dar-Ul-Islam Trust. Allama Iqbal encouraged Asad to translate Sahih Al-Bukhari in English for the first time in history to which Asad responded positively.
Afterwards, Asad support Pakistan Movement for Muslims of India to acquire separate homeland in British India. During this time, Asad was detained by the British government because of his Austrian citizenship declaring him as enemy alien although Asad was against the Nazi Germany annexation of Austria. Upon release after the end of World War II, Asad never gave up the support for Pakistan movement.
After the creation of Pakistan, Muhammad Asad was the first foreigner to be granted full citizenship by Pakistan and was appointed the Director of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction by the Government of Pakistan where he prepared endorsements on the conscripting of Pakistan’s first Constitution. However, the Objective Resolution made his working impossible. Moreover, he had strong opposition from hardliner religious groups in Pakistan such as Madudi’s Jamat-e-Islami, who were against Muhammad Asad’s independent thinking or Ijethad. Not only was the religious group in opposition to Muhammad Asad, but also the bureaucrats who believed that Muhammad Asad might seek power. In spite of all the opposition and resentment from the government and people, Asad stilled loved Pakistan. He later took career as a diplomat by joining Foreign Office in Middle East Division in 1949 to further strengthen Pakistan’s relation with the Middle East. There by chance Muhammad Asad met Pola who was destined to be his third wife. Muhammad Asad was quickly smitten by Pola. Pola was also infatuated by Muhammad Asad’s affection despite the age difference and embraced Islam. When Asad came to know her conversion to Islam he decided to marry her. However, the Foreign Office policy required Asad to get prior permission to marry a non-Pakistani national. Asad applied for the permission to marry Pola but Governor-General Sir Ghulam Muhammad rejected his application in order to make Asad quit his political career. Muhammad Asad grief-stricken and disillusioned by government and the people resigned from Foreign Office of Pakistan and moved out of the country and married Pola.
With his new profound life in Switzerland with his new wife Pola, Asad wrote his own autobiography of his travelogue in Saudi Arabia entitled “The Road to Mecca” which became one of the bestsellers. After the regime change in Pakistan, Asad was invited by President Ayub Khan who was admired by his work to come to Pakistan and help him formulate laws for the country but Muhammad Asad politely declined.
After seventeen years of scholarly research, he published his magnum opus: The Message of the Qur’an, an English translation and commentary of the Quran. After many years, he was again invited to Pakistan by President Zia-Ul-Haq. Muhammad Asad accepted Zia’s invitation and arrived in Islamabad, the city he never seen ever before, in 1983. During his short stay in Pakistan, Muhammad Asad asserted for democracy, tolerance and women rights. He made several speeches in television and radio. He was admired by many of the population in Pakistan, offering him land, homestead and everything but he declined because he envisioned a different Pakistan for which he strived for before the partition of India during his support for Pakistan movement.
Muhammad Asad died in February 20th, 1992 in Granada, Spain.