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 :-)


masterwordsmith said...

Hi Kak Zendra,

Sounds like an interesting book you've got there, Kak Zendra. I am like you - I read the first few pages and then I skip to the end. Despite knowing that this is a bad habit, after so many decades, I have accepted that it is a part of me that is difficult to change :-).

By all means read slowly er ...but please don't give up blogging ya?;)

Take care and please keep in touch!

Salam to you and yours.

Saya... said...


Master (Mistress?)Paula looking very sexy there...fuiyo! With her hair like that and all...

Zendra...I read the book few years back, gave it to my Austrian friend...nice read.

I got books all over the place, bace satu page, then after 5 years, page time like dulu2 lah...bila I baring in bed to read when kids asleep and work done, I fall asleep and snore after reading like 5 to finish ah like that?

funny how we dont fall alseep when typing and Hehehe

mamasita said...

No!! You must keep on blogging interesting excerpts from the book.
When you read and highlight the important points to us, you're doing many of us a very big favour! Pahala tu..thanks so much Zen!

p.s. people like me doze off after the first few pages!haha

Capt's Longhouse said...


,,,i read about 4 to 6 books at about the same time, finishing at least 1book or so, every other day !!,,,as such i buy about 6 to 7books at a time when in town but fortunately i allow books exchange at Capt's Longhouse, so i don't run out of books to read yaaaa!!
,,,if you lay out blogging, i will also stop blogging myself...hahaha pls don't o.k.
,,,love reading your write ups as always.

Zendra said...

Hey hey Paula (oh dear, there i go again with another 'oldie-but-goldie' lyric)

Sure I'll cruise by your blog from time to time, and drop a comment or two, is that OK?


I'll try and sampaikan your salam to mine, but he'll say huh who ok ok?

Zendra said...

Books are your ubat tidor lah. Not for me - I'll stare n stare at the page, and it stares back at me and stick it's tongue out at me cos it knows I only see a jumble of characters through my wide-open eyes. Cannot sleep but cannot read.... (shrug).
Have to entertain myself through other means.

Zendra said...

Previous comment for you, Saya ;)

Zendra said...

mamasita, WAAH BANYAK LEMAK, i yg susah-payah baca, then i have to type out excerpts for you?

Pahala??? ye tak ye pulak. Nanti i pikir-pikirkan, nak tengok dulu timbang senget ke sebelah pahala atau dosa. Rasa2nya banyak berat ke dosa....hehe

Zendra said...

Capt what to say to you lah - cannot do oneupmanship with you at all. I read 1 book, u read 7; i speak 1 french word, u come back with 1000; i visit aceh, your mum puteri aceh; i want to take a break, u want to stop completely. Haiya susah, susah...

mekyam said...

takpe, baca pelan2 zee. asad's "road" is really worth reading. reminiscent of t.e.lawrence [yep, of arabia] "seven pillars". a more recent work [though a fiction] with the same air of metaphysical surrealism has to be coelho's "the alchemist".

btw, for wiw, muhammad asad's 'message of the qur'an' is to me the most coherent english translation of the qur'an to date. way better than yusuf ali, pickthal, mahmud yunus, the other three translations that i have used for reference over the years.

i'd recommend it if you haven't already acquired a copy, zee. the tome is a bit large & heavy, but it's quite beautiful. i use my biggest rehal for it instead of shelving it so as not to get slip-disc bila nak rujuk. :D

Zendra said...

mekyam, thanks for the list of "recommended reading". I should have read all those when I was younger, when the brain was still a sponge. But I went from fairy tales and Enid Blyton directly to Lawrence DH where I learnt the word "loins". Such books became my favourite genre and there I remained till i got married hahaahaha. Guess now is a good time as any to try the hard stuff hehe