Muhammad Asad: a mediator between the Islamic and the Western world

An interreligious discourse

Seminar Paper, 2010

12 Pages


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The background of Muhammad Asad

III. Muhammad Asad’s comprehension of Islam

IV. Asad as a mediator between Islamic culture and the Western world

V. Conclusion


I. Introduction

"Mystory is simply the story of a European's discovery oflslam and of his integration within the Muslim community." [1]

This is one of the first sentences of the book, The Road to Mecca written by Muhammad Asad and published in 1955. It is surely true, he just wanted to live the Islam way and be a part of the Muslim community.

Asad was an Austrian Jew from Lemberg who converted to Islam and became one of the most meaningful Muslim thinkers of the 20 century. He was a visionary, a diplomat and he searched for adventures. As an author and Koran translator he had a big influence in the modern theologian thinking of Islam and became a great pioneer and cultural mediator between the Western world and Islam. He had a controversial life, but also had (and still has) a number of critics and on the other hand he has a lot of sympathizer.

The Road to Mecca is a great adventure story with a warm-hearted picture of the religion of Islam, (unlike the stories we hear about Islam in the media today). In the present paper two interesting points in relation to Muhammad Asad will be dealt with. Many reports draw a picture of a very controversial Asad relating to Islam. Some of his critics accuse him of not being strict in his beliefs; who would often changes his views. For example, at first he turned his back to Western civilization and then suddenly came back to live in New York. In relation to this point, the following questions are of interest:

1. What is Muhammad Asad's comprehension of Islam?

As has been noted before, Asad tried to build bridges between the abyss of the Muslim world and the West. It would be an exercise to list some important points of his life and his thinking to show how he contributed to the interreligious dialogue.

2. How did Asad mediate between the Western world and Islam?

Before dealing with these questions it is important to give some background information about Muhammad Asad'slife.

II. The background of Muhammad Asad

Muhammad Asad was born as Leopold Weiss on 12 July 1900 in the town of Lvov (today Ukraine) to a Jewish family. Weiss' father, Akfiva, studied the Talmud very well and it was designated, that Leopold Weiss would one day enter a rabbinate career.

In 1920, he entered at the University of Vienna for art history, but two years later Weiss decided to study journalism in Berlin. A significant point in his life was his uncle, Dorian Feigenbaum, who invited him to Jerusalem. There he saw for the first time Arabs and Jews living side by side. He also perceived Zionism and developed an almost anti-Zionist attitude. For two years Leopold Weiss travelled through Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran Afghanistan and Central Asia, and became acquainted with the different forms of Islam while writing some articles as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung. [2]

Back in Frankfurt, he took up Islamic studies and, in 1926, he converted to the religion of Islam and took the name Muhammad Asad. For Windhager it is clear, Asad gives no satisfactory answer why he converted. We just can say that it was a matter of love.[3]

A few weeks later he started his pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife, Elsa (also a convert to Islam). After his wife died, he went to Saudi Arabia for six years where he became a friend of King Ibn Saud (1880-1953). This time he had a lot of formative experiences. In Saudi Arabia, he could develop his belief and his knowledge of Islam. Asad worked also for Ibn Saud as a secret agent. In 1930, he established a household in Meddina and his new wife (Munira) bore him a son, Talal. Suddenly the relationship between the King of Saudi Arabia and Asad ended.[4]

After the dispute with the monarch a new era began. Asad went on a lecture tour to India. In Lahore, he met the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938). It was Iqbal who encouraged him to work for developing a future Islamic state. In 1934, Muhammad Asad published the book, Islam at the Crossroads whereby he became a Muslim intellectual.[5]


[1] Asad 2000, 1.

[2] Kramer, online.

[3] Windhager, Wien 2002. 188.

[4] Kramer, online.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Muhammad Asad: a mediator between the Islamic and the Western world
An interreligious discourse
University of Bern  (Theological Institute)
Modern Trends in Islam
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
462 KB
Muhamad Asad, Leopold Weiss, interreligious discours Islam, Road to Mecca, Interreligious Studies, Religious Studies, Interreligiöser Diskurs, Interreligiöse Studien, Islam and Judaism, Trends in Islam
Quote paper
Tobias Hoenger (Author), 2010, Muhammad Asad: a mediator between the Islamic and the Western world, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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