Monday, 29 June 2009
The Road to Mecca
By Muhammad Asad formerly Leopold Weiss
No this is not a book review, it's just that I was so happy to find this book at the LCCT book-shop whilst waiting for my flight to Banda Aceh some 10 days ago. It was recommended to me by the learned Pak Cik of Al-Manar whom I hold in very high regard through his work with the not-so-privileged children where he lives. Anyway I was guilty of not actively seeking out this book beyond popping into the book-stores in my area just to confirm my belief that they did not stock it. But to find it in LCCT was totally unexpected.
I am a slow reader and I have not got past Chapter II - Beginning of the Road. It's almost a book for the scholarly, of which I am not, and so I tend to re-read passages that fascinate me a few times, sometimes not in the same sitting but hours or days after. Not only does Asad write with deep perception and sensitivity when narrating some of his harrowing experiences in the desert (Chapter I - Thirst), he so cleverly takes me by the hand into his mind, so to speak, explaining the rationale behind his varied thoughts while describing his feelings in intricate detail. (Need some help from editors/journos out there: is it ok to write that last sentence in the present tense?)
A very brief synopsis on the back cover tells us that "The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad is not a travelogue one picks up to read about the conditions of the people and landscape of a country in the distant past; it is an absorbing personal saga of a man's 'home-coming' to Islam, the religion of his fitrah (nature)".
A couple of passages that struck a chord with me were:
[Chapter II] "All these sunken years now come up to the surface, uncover their faces once again and call me with many voices: and suddenly, in the startled jerk of my heart, I perceive how long, how endless my way has been. 'You have always been only going and going,' I say to myself. 'You have never built your life into something that one could grasp with his hands, and never has there been an answer to the question "Whereto?"..."
[Chapter II] "For when I ask myself, 'What is the sum total of my life?' something in me seems to answer, 'You have 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.' And I know with startling clarity that such an undertaking might indeed take an entire lifetime."
Leopold Weiss was a German born into the Jewish faith whose grandfather was an orthodox rabbi from a long line of orthodox rabbis. In his early years he had become disillusioned with the religion of his ancestors despite or perhaps because of the extensive knowledge he had acquired of it, at the insistence of his father. His acceptance of Islam came, not through wordly reasons, but when he was "convinced that the Quran is really the word of God and not merely the brilliant creation of a great mind".
OK I admit I have this habit of reading the beginning of a book and then flip to the end to see how it ends. (I "read" The Kite-Runner this way: a third of the beginning and a third of the end, totally missing out the middle because I found it too depressing to read about cruelty and oppression. Give me a book on self-empowerment anytime.) And I found this startling torrent from Leopold Weiss, in Chapter X - Dajjal, uttered circa 1925/26, which is still so relevant today:
"How has it come about that you Muslims have lost your self-confidence - that self-confidence which once enabled you to spread your faith, in less than a hundred years, from Arabia westward as far as the Atlantic and eastward deep into China - and now surrender yourselves so easily, so weakly, to the thoughts and customs of the West? Why can't you whose fathers illumined the world with science and art at a time when Europe lay in deep barbarism and ignorance, summon forth the courage to go back to your own progressive, radiant faith?
Further he asked:
"Tell me how has it come about that the faith of your Prophet and all its clearness and simplicity has been buried beneath a rubble of sterile speculation and the hair-splitting of your scholastics? How has it happened that your princes and great land-owners revel in wealth and luxury while so many of their Muslim brethren subsist in unspeakable poverty and squalour - although your Prophet taught that No one may call himself a Faithful who eats his fill while his neighbour remains hungry?"
Weiss wasn't a Muslim yet at that point but evidently had more than a mere appreciation of Islam: "No, I am not a Muslim, but I have come to see so much beauty in Islam that it makes me sometimes angry to watch you people waste it... Forgive me if I have spoken harshly. I did not speak as an enemy."
My heart beats a little faster at this tirade, I get goose-bumps, I'm guilty, guilty, guilty!
It is going to take me many months to finish this book, surely I would be going forwards and backwards, pausing and re-reading, and dozing, in trying to absorb it all.
I might just as well give blogging a break :-)