Muhammad Asads "The Road to Mecca" is
unanimously considered to be one of the most important works on contemporary
Islam in the past century. It is an enlivening tale of a mans incredible journey
for knowledge and serenity. When he converted to Islam from Judaism and adopted
Muhammad Asad as his name in 1926, Leopold Weiss was already a respected
journalist in Europe. His popular travelogues about his journeys in Arabia
gained wide readership through the Franfurter Zeitung, one of the foremost
newspapers in Europe at the time.
The book starts with the writer narrating his voyage in a Saudi Arabian desert, proceeds to his childhood in Vienna, his struggling days in Frankfurt, to his eye opening experiences in Palestine, Iran, India, and finally coming full circle to Saudi Arabia. The Road to Mecca is commonly perceived as a tale that informs the reader about Asads conversion to Islam. This is of course the most noticeable theme, but the story is also an important chronicle of the political, social and economic scenarios in Europe, Arabia and Asia at every stage of the book, which is itself spread on a canvas of about five decades. Some of the most insightful accounts of the leading figures of that time, like King Ibn Saud, Kemal Ataturk, Maxim Gorky and Riza Khan are presented with remarkable perceptiveness. The same acumen can be seen in Asads understanding of the people he met and the lands he saw. Asad handles a wide variety of subjects with rare alacrity and clarity, with Islam, and his journey to it, being the underlying theme at all times.
The Road to Mecca is a travelogue, a lesson in history and politics, and a definitive presentation on Islam, all rolled into one. It is an extremely readable book, not only for readers who are interested in knowing more about Islam at this important juncture, but also for those who want to read one of the most clear-sighted illustrations of the first half of the 20th century.
The Road to Mecca > Customer Review #2:
Magnificent, Beautiful, Intense
A lifetime ago, a young, ambitious, and well-educated Polish Jew named Leopold Weiss clawed his way upward in the world of central European journalism, to obtain a posting to the Middle East. He had no idea that he was about to begin a journey of epic proportions, one which resulted in his conversion to Islam, the changing of his name to Muhammad Asad, and the complete evolution of his cultural and spiritual identity. Although he ultimately wrote many historical and theoretical works about Islam, this book is his magnus opus; a post-modern journey through the Middle East and through his own heart.
The Road to Mecca is often a strikingly sad book. Asad sees a civilization that was once at the pinnacle of human accomplishment, and by his lifetime has receded to the sidelines. As in two of his other books, he is searching for an Islamic renaissance that does not have to take its cues from the West. He uses the journey as metaphor; everywhere he finds poor and often ignorant people, yet a culture that is still rock-solid and based on the fundamental justice and equality of Islam.
For instance, he loves and admires Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, with whom he became close friends. But he criticizes the king for his willingness to indulge the ignorance of the desert Arabs in their various tribal customs and conflicts. In Cairo, Asad strolls in awe at the worlds oldest university and he listens reverentially to Muslim scholars, yet he sighs at the thought that much of Islamic learning has lost its scientific cutting edge, and is now steeped in the repeating of old ritual and formulae.
I have never read a more beautiful and heartfelt work about the meaning of Islam. Asad has a remarkable opportunity as a man whose life straddles a secular western world and a traditional Bedouin world. He sees the most fundamental goodness in people, yet is never afraid to offer critique. Many, many authors in the West have striven to offer polemical or theoretical critiques of modern Islam, which usually boil down to something like, "Whats wrong with those Muslims and why cant they be more like us?" Muhammad Asad asks, "Why cant we live closer to the Muslim ideal?"
The Road to Mecca > Customer Review #3:
The Road to Mecca
The Road to Mecca is a travel narrative by Muhammad Asad about his travels and experiences in the Middle East following his conversion to Islam.
I read this book for a college course, and it was the most enjoyable work of the semester. It is enjoyable to read. At points it is relaxing, at points it challenges one to examine ones own convictions.
As far as what Asads purpose is in writing the book, it can best be described by two passages:
"[Asad has] set out to exchange one world for another - to gain a new world for yourself in exchange for an old one which you never really possessed." (pg 48)
"The meaning of all my wanderings lay in a hidden desire to meet myself by meeting a world whose approach to the innermost questions of life, to reality itself, was different from all I had been accustomed to in my childhood and youth." (pg. 50).
All in all, a great read. Highly recommended.
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