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Leopold Weiss - Mohammad Assad
Leopold Weiss- a Jew- was not far in the understanding of Islam from what was in vogue since the beginning of the twentieth century in his native Austria and other European countries. As a result of intellectual writings and mobilization produced by the Crusades against Islam, Muslims have been falsely stereotyped.
Leopold Weiss studied philosophy and art at the University of Vienna. Later, he switched to the press, and worked as a reporter for the news agency United Telegraph.
His uncle, Dr. Dorian, invited him to visit him in Jerusalem in 1922. It was the first of his visits to the Islamic Orient. During his stay in Jerusalem, Leopold had numerous talks with his Jewish countrymen about the eligibility of the Judaic people to the land of Palestine. He has surprised them with his logical questions, and confirmed the Arabs precedence in building a civilization on this land. Hence, their entitlement to live freely and with dignity on their land is unquestionable. Leopold has, despite his Jewry, rejected the idea of stealing the land from its rightful owners based on abhorrent prejudice and injustice.
Important stages throughout the life of Leopold alerted him to the Islam’s riches in values and principles. These, are indispensable to the world, especially the West. After the First World War, both have lost many of the values and meanings. Folks started to indulge in mundane matters and the search for prosperity and personal gains. They forgot religious and spiritual values altogether.
In Jerusalem, Leopold saw Muslims praying, and wondered about the usefulness of these physical movements. How could they refine the soul? He asked his old friend (Alhaji): It would have sufficed to take an hour of spiritual purity instead.
The man simply replied: God created the body and the soul together. Will it befitting to worship Him with our souls while our bodies refrain from that? It was a convincing and satisfactory answer that pleased Leopold. He has just discovered the bilateral linkage between the soul and the body in the Qur’an. It does not separate them. The man, after all is made of a soul and body without contradiction or separation.
Leopold refused to surrender to the misconstrued Westerners’ idea linking Islam and what ails the Muslim countries in aspects of underdevelopment and technological backwardness. He felt that objectivity and fairness compel him to read the Qur’an. He started reading it and other Islamic books during his visit to Damascus. He has discovered the large gap between it and the people the book’s scriptures; the Quran differs entirely. There is no mention therein of the original sin committed by Adam the father of humanity. This sin has shackled the human race thereafter until the end of time. Therefore, man will be born in sin, subject to punishment thereof, without being present then, or had any saying in it.
In Islam, there are no clerics acting as a mediator between God and his creation up and down. No one will forgive sins of the guilty but God. The slave of is in and no need for a broker that will take his pleas and prayers to the Almighty Allah.
Leopold returned to his native Austria, carrying with him a lot of feelings of friendship, love and admiration for Muslims. There, something has caught his attention: the social values of justice among them. The salient traits of Muslims are hospitality, down to earth humility, serenity and simplicity. This conclusion comes contrary to the prevailing European idea that belittles Muslims based on the under-development of their countries. He saw this fact divested of the spirit of impartiality and fairness.
In 1924, Leopold and his wife Alyssa returned to the Levant again. Together they toured Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Palestine. On one of his trips by train, he shared the coach with a village Leader and a Greek businessman who accused Islam of violating the value of justice. His argument has been based on why Muslim men marry women of the People of the Book, and prevent their daughters from marrying non-Muslims. The Leader gave his interlocutor a discreet and brilliant answer: a Muslim while married with a woman with different religion than his will respect the prophets she believes in. He won’t hurt her delicate feelings, and not provoke her anger by insulting anyone of them. However, the opposite won’t be true. The woman won’t be strong enough to stand the insult of the man who does not believe in her prophet. Furthermore, she cannot defend him faced with a tough man who could harm her.
Before the Greek could wet his throat, the Leader continued: boys usually follow their parents. Hence we believe in the primacy of Islam, we see it inappropriate to marry our daughters to non-Muslims. Such step will protect their children from following a religion we consider incorrect.
Muhammad Assad comments on this scene, saying: “Once again, as happened to me with that old (Alhaji) in Jerusalem; I felt that the new portal to Islam was open to me.”
Perhaps one of the most important vistas that changed Leopold to Muhammad Assad was his encounter with a venerable scholar the Azharite Sheikh Mustafa Maraghi. Numerous discussions happened between the two men. He provided him the opportunity to listen to lecture and seminars at Al-Azhar. These have uncovered the facts that contradict everything he has learned in Western culture: “Muslims aren’t the ones who have made Islam great. Nay, it’s Islam that made Muslims famous. However, their faith became a habit, and ceased to be a way of life to be followed consciously. The creative driving force that fashioned their civilization, faded into oblivion, inactivity, unproductiveness and cultural decadence set in.”
Leopold began to think seriously about Islam. However, he wondered how he-a discerning and intelligent man could - give up all his culture and thought, and follows others emulating them in everything? He mentioned his mind’s thoughts on Sheikh Maraghi, who replied: Most humans are restricted in their thinking through whims, desires and interests. However, few are able to understand the voice that speaks within them. If each one of us is left to follow the desires of the heart, we will end up with moral anarchy. Furthermore, we wouldn’t be able to agree on behaviors; we all deem them upright. The situation will be further compounded if one claimed it to be a deviation from the norm, and that he is gifted with what other people don’t know. That is why Allah has sent prophets with the divine message to protect human from the aberrations of those people and the deviations of others.
Leopold traveled through the capitals of Islam, such as Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad, and reached the mountain heights of Afghanistan. He continued on a journey he called “the slow discovery of Islam from a word here and talks there.” He has been constantly accompanied by his wife Elisa, who was reading the Qur'and with him. He reached a significant conclusion; he summed it up by saying: “I have now a complete image of Islam. It appears to me in a final decisive manner that has at times astounded me... I have seen something similar to a building fully engineered, its elements complement each other in a harmonious way. There is nothing superfluous, and nothing is missing. This serenity and tranquility in Islam add a unique sense to the feelings that everything is in place.”
Leopold remarked the following aspect of Islam as well: Allah- according to the Quran- did not ask man for a blind obedience. In contrary, he addressed his mind. Allah isn’t far away from the human fate; He is (closer to him than his jugular vein). Furthermore, He didn’t draw a dividing line between faith and social behavior.”
The picture became complete when Leopold saw that the Islamic Sharia takes into account everybody’s interests. It hasn’t been established for the benefit of one in particular. This code of law gave the world a great model of civilization not expressed fairly through the reality of Muslims. However, this model foretells the unique ability to restore the Muslim Umma’s role in building the civilization.
Leopold returned to Germany in the second half of 1926; he was thinking of Islam constantly. It has taken away his concentration to the extent that it has prevented him from performing his work as a journalist.
Riding the train in Berlin, Leopold gazed at the faces of two rich people sharing the same coach. He saw gloom wrapping their faces. It even wraps the faces of all passengers despite their dapper appearances and signs of riches. He nodded to his wife Alyssa, and shared his observations with her. She looked at them carefully, and confirmed his thoughts about their misery and gloominess. When he arrived home, he wanted to close the open Qur’an on his desk. His gaze preceded his hand to the words of Allah: (“The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things), (1) Until ye visit the graves. (2)”) Sura At-Takathur, verses 1 and 2. He read the Sura to the end, then shouted: Alyssa “is this not the answer to what we have seen on the train today. I know now without any doubt that the book I have been holding in my hands has been irrefutably revealed by Allah. Although this book has been handed to man for more than three centuries, it has clearly predicted something that was impossible to occur only in our complex automated era. People have known abundance in all ages and times. However, amassing wealth has never ended before becoming just a longing to own material things. It has turned into a distraction that has veiled everything else. Now more than yesterday and tomorrow than today... I knew that this was not merely a human wisdom of a man who lived in the distant past in the remote Arabian Peninsula. Whatever degree of wisdom such a man has acquired, he wouldn’t be able, alone, to predict anguish, which characterized the twentieth century.”
On a memorable day during the year 1926, Leopold went to an Indian friend who is the head of the Muslim community in Berlin. He embraced Islam in his presence, and gave him the name (Muhammad Assad). Few weeks later, his wife also accepted Islam. They left with their son Ahmed to the Muslim Levant again. He performed Hajj in 1927 and met King Abdul Aziz, who listened to him before leaving to Libya to support his Muslim brothers in their jihad against the Italian occupiers. Then he departed to Pakistan, to serve as president of the Institute of Islamic Studies in Lahore. He was later nominated for the post of Pakistan’s representative Pakistan to the United Nations in New York.
Muhammad Assad retired from diplomatic work. Now, he gave his full attention and time to writing, lecture and introducing Islam. He took advantage of his familiarity with the Western society’s way of thinking in his endeavor. He has also used his knowledge of many languages, such as Polish, Hebrew, Arabic, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese and English to fulfill his goal. The German ambassador Murad Hofmann has ably described his friend; he says: “No one could surpass Muhammad Assad during the last century in his great contribution to explain Islam and propagate it in the West.”
Muhammad Assad has authored unique books in rich topics to the Islamic library. These include books such as “The Road to Mecca” and "Islam at the Crossroads," and "The Principals of State and Government in Islam," and "message of the Qur’an", he also translated the Holy Quran into English, and translated Bukhari in four volumes. Three have been lost during the separation of Pakistan from India.”
In 1992 Muhammad Assad returned to his Lord after a lifetime of giving to Islam. He has summed up his journey saying: “Islam came to me stealthily as the light to my darkened heart, but to stay there forever. What has attracted me to Islam is that great integrated harmonious edifice, which cannot be described? Islam is a complete structure of exquisite workmanship. Each part has been crafted to complete each other. Islam continues -in spite of all the hurdles created by the backwardness of the Muslims - the greatest rising power known to mankind. Hence, I am fully convinced of its revival again.”
I conclude with one of the most important of his recommendations “a Muslim should live with his head held high. He must realize that he is a distinct individual. He must be greatly proud of that too. Instead of being apologetic, A Muslim should proudly and bravely celebrate his distinction.”
Dr. Munqith Bin Mahmoud Al-Sakkar
Researcher at Muslim World League
Translated by Sadok Salehi
Translator at Muslim World League