FILM ANNOUNCEMENT:  A Road to Mecca [Muhammad Asad]

FILM ANNOUNCEMENT:  A Road to Mecca [Muhammad Asad]

In A Road to Mecca, filmmaker George Misch sets out to explore the frontline between the Muslim world and the West. His guide for this journey is a man from the past - somebody who, 80 years earlier, crossed all boundaries between countries, cultures and religions.

Leopold Weiss was born a Jew on the edge of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1900. But his story would unfold far away in the deserts of Arabia.

Feeling restless and unhappy in Europe, in 1922 Weiss accepted an uncle’s invitation to join him in Jerusalem. But what began as a family visit soon turned into a life-changing journey.

Weiss enjoyed the hospitality of the Arabs he met in the Middle East and was enchanted by their lifestyle. With the passion of an explorer, he began to travel across the region.

His travels and encounters nurtured in him a sense that Zionism was causing a great injustice to the Palestinian Arabs. In Jerusalem, he got into heated arguments with the leaders of the Zionist movement and began to feel a greater distance from the religion of his ancestors than ever before.

As he discovered the Muslims of the Middle East, Weiss also discovered Islam - studying the Quran and finding not only the answer to the spiritual emptiness he had felt but also an alternative to the materialism of Europe’s Roaring Twenties.

In Saudi Arabia, Weiss felt truly at home, writing: “I am no longer a stranger.”

In 1926, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Asad. Full of enthusiasm, he embarked upon his first pilgrimage to Mecca. Curious to get to know other Muslim communities, in 1932 Asad left Saudi Arabia - travelling to Turkistan, China and Indonesia.

In India, he met poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal dreamed of creating a separate Islamic state as a solution to the bloodshed between Indian Muslims and Hindus. Iqbal’s vision of Pakistan quickly became Asad’s own dream.

Asad campaigned for the creation of Pakistan by writing books, giving public lectures and hosting radio programmes. He also drafted the outline for an Islamic constitution in which equal rights for women were secured.

In 1951, Asad became Pakistan’s envoy to the United Nations. But to his dismay he was forced out of the position after just one year. Deeply disappointed, he turned his back on politics, deciding instead to write his autobiography in the hope that it would promote better understanding between Muslims and the West.

The Road to Mecca quickly became a bestseller.

By 1970, Asad had grown increasingly concerned that the Quran was being misinterpreted and misused for political goals. This motivated him to undertake his biggest challenge: a new translation of, and commentary on, the Quran. He settled in Morocco and estimated that it would take him four years to complete. Seventeen years later it was finished. He dedicated it to “people who think”.

“Every age requires a new approach to the Quran for the simple reason that the Quran is made for all ages. It is our duty to look for deeper meanings in the Quran in order to increase our knowledge and experience. The Quran wants your intellect to be always active and trying to approach the message of God. God himself dedicated this book to people who think.”  Muhammad Asad

Despite the fact that Asad today has a loyal following among those who share an interest in his writings and an intellectual affiliation with him, his translation was not embraced by all. Rumour has it that there were even book burnings of Asad’s Quran.

Emotionally and financially exhausted, he withdrew to Europe - settling in Spain in 1987. He planned to revise his translation once more but old age and prolonged illness prevented him from completing it. On February 20, 1992, he died, alone and secluded.

Source:  Al Jazeera World

You can see the film trailer for A Road to Mecca HERE.  The information on the trailer states:

A ROAD TO MECCA - The Journey Of Muhammad Asad follows the path taken by Leopold Weiss, alias Muhammad Asad, from the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and New York. The places he lived and visited are examined, and at the same time a complex portrait of Islam unfolds.

Along the way Asad’s thoughts are juxtaposed with current problems between East and West. The film crew visits his friends and family, experts and scientists, admirers of his work and numerous chance acquaintances who know little, a great deal, or who will learn about this now-forgotten reformer.
The fact that an Austrian is the key to a better understanding of these worlds is somewhat of a surprise. Muhammad Asad was a visionary whose thoughts and ideas nearly made him a Martin Luther for Islam. A forgotten writer, philosopher, dreamer, and also one of Pakistan’s founding fathers and ambassadors to the UN. His writings about the world view, law and philosophy of Islam, and his translation of the Quran, which scientists and academics even today consider his translation one of the very best, exercised enormous influence on modern theological thought in this religion. He saw himself as a kind of mediator, though his religious convictions and political sympathies were clearly divided, and their problematic nature is repeatedly depicted in the film. As a result of his work Asad became one of the most significant cultural intermediaries between the East and West, which makes it surprising that solely a small number of people are now familiar with the name Muhammad Asad.

In its structural principle of capturing statements and counterstatements, A ROAD TO MECCA The Journey Of Muhammad Asad studiously avoids facile answers, and it insistently points out contradictions. The areas where contact takes place and conflict has developed in the present day are depicted and examined from a different perspective. Biographical details, quotes from his writings, private photographs and film material are interwoven to reveal a variety of lives in a touching way: simple Saudi Bedouins, Palestinian refugees, Ariel Sharon’s advisors, Pakistani Asadians (as his followers are called) and the individuals Asad met on his journey.

With his ideas always present in the background, the film shoots down some deeply rooted prejudices, at the same time illustrating the great distance separating fundamentalist ideas that support terrorism and a profoundly humane Islam. A Palestinian protagonist sums it up: “Asad taught Islam’s true ideas, that it forbids terrorism. Islam is peace. Islam is brotherhood.” Though at the beginning A ROAD TO MECCA The Journey Of Muhammad Asad is set mostly in the Arab world, by the time scenes of a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York are shown it becomes clear that fanaticism represents a global problem.

In the end the story the film tells is also one of tragic failure. Archival footage of Leopold Weiss, alias Muhammad Asad, shows a frail, wise old man who still had a sharp mind. While he may have been naïve in his youth, this was more than compensated by his critical view of humanity in later years. “I fell in love with Islam,” he said matter-of-factly shortly before his death in 1992, “but I overestimated the Muslims.”

Georg Misch has successfully portrayed both the positive and negative sides of the two worlds with sensitivity and objectivity. Nothing is left out, not even the fact that, as Asad’s life came to an end, he was deeply disappointed by the state of the Islamic world, its intellectual isolation and the intolerance of extremists.

A ROAD TO MECCA The Journey Of Muhammad Asad reveals the timeless nature and continuing relevance of the life and work of this outstanding Austrian.


IN MEMORIAM:  Muhammad Asad - 1900-1992 – An Intellectual Giant **,  Yussuf Nazeer

IN MEMORIAM: Muhammad Asad 1900-1992, Hasan Zillur Rahim

Time of Change, Muhammad Asad (section from “This Law of Ours”)