Muhammad Asad: Why I Converted From Judaism To Islam NOT Christianity!
Asad was a descendant of a long line of rabbis. However, his father was a barrister. He received a thorough religious education. He was proficient in Hebrew from an early age and was also familiar with Aramaic. He studied the Old Testament, as well as the text and commentaries of the Talmud, the Mishna and Gemara. Furthermore, he delved into the intricacies of Biblical exegesis, the Targum.
So, after abandoning university in Vienna, Asad (or Weiss, as he was then called) had drifted aimlessly around 1920s Germany, even working briefly for the expressionist film director Fritz Lang. By his own account after selling a jointly written film-script, he blew the windfall on a wild party at an expensive Berlin restaurant, in the spirit of the times. He got his first journalism published through sheer chutzpah while working as a telephone operator for an American news agency in Berlin. Using the simple expedient of ringing up her Berlin hotel room, he obtained an exclusive interview with the visiting wife of the Russian author Maxim Gorky, and the story was taken up by his employers.
Weiss later moved to the British Mandate of Palestine, staying in Jerusalem at the house of an uncle, the psychoanalyst Dorian Weiss. He picked up work as a stringer for the Frankfurter Zeitung, selling articles on a freelance basis. His pieces were noteworthy for their understanding of Arab fears and grievances against the Zionist project. Eventually contracted as a full-time foreign correspondent for the paper, his assignments led him to an ever deepening engagement with Islam, which after much thought led to his religious conversion in 1926. He spoke of Islam thus:
"Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other; nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a structure of absolute balance and solid composure."
His travels and sojourns through Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran (he wrote many insightful articles on Shiism), and also Afghanistan and the southern Soviet Republics, were viewed with great suspicion by the Colonial Powers. One English diplomat in Saudi Arabia described him in a report as a "Bolshevik", and it is true that he took a close interest in the many liberation movements that were active at this time with the aim of freeing Muslim lands from colonial rule. He ended up in India where he met and worked alongside Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher, who had proposed the idea of an independent Muslim state in India, which later became Pakistan.
During WWII he was interned there by the British as an enemy alien. His parents meanwhile, were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Because of his out-spoken support for the Pakistan Movement, after Independence and the Partition of 1947, Asad was appointed Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations[dubious - discuss], as well as working with the Pakistani Foreign Ministry from 1949 till the early 1950s.[dubious - discuss] He is credited with drafting the Objectives Resolution, which became the Preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan.[dubious - discuss] Towards the end of his life, disturbed by the growing fanaticism of his fellow Muslims, he moved to Spain and lived there with his second wife, the Muslim convert Paola Hameeda Asad, until his death in 1992. He was buried in the muslim cemetery of Granada.
Asad wrote several books, and a biography of his early life has been published in German, Leopold Weiss alias Muhammad Asad. Von Galizien nach Arabien 1900-1927 by Gunther Windhager (Bohlau Verlag 2002}. Weiss's own version of this period is Road to Mecca, an account of his Middle Eastern travels and his conversion, as well as his thoughts on the growing Zionist movement. He also wrote The Message of The Qur'an, a translation and brief commentary on the Muslim holy book based on his own knowledge of classical Arabic and on the authoritative classical commentaries.