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Two Great Scholars

Allama Iqbal and Allama Asad, two great scholars of 20th century predicted and
recognized the ‘era of deception/dajjal’, some 80 years ago by looking at the
immoral faithless civilization and irreligious education system of the West. The
excerpts posted below from Books ‘Javed Nama by Allama Iqbal’ and ‘Road to
Mecca by Muhammad Asad’ are eye-opener for Muslims. Urdu translation of
some pages from 'Book: Road to Mecca', Chapter ‘Dajjal’ are added to explain it
for Urdu readers.

(Muhammad Asad (1900-1992), an Austrian born Jew who converted to Islam,
was an accomplished scholar of Arabic and Persian. He spent several years in
Saudi Arabia, where he befriended the royal family, and then moved on to British
India and lived mainly in Lahore, Abbott-bad, Srinagar and Dalhousie. Upon a
suggestion of Allama Iqbal, he translated selections from Sahih Bukhari Sharif into
English, the first such translation ever made. He wrote and spoke extensively on
the subject of Islam and its conception of state and government and West’s
relations with Islam. He was particularly fascinated with the idea of Pakistan as a
symbol of rejuvenation of the Islamic world. During the Great War the British
interned him as enemy citizen. Upon independence he moved to Pakistan where
he was picked up for the Foreign Service and served at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and at the Pakistan Mission to UN in New York, a job he resigned in 1952.
He wrote several books most notable of which is ‘The Road to Makkah’ and the
English translation of the Holy Quran. Today Pakistan has forgotten this
‘intellectual co-founder of Pakistan.’

He was born as Leopold Weiss in the Polish speaking small town of Lwow (in
eastern Austro-Hungarian Empire, located today in Ukraine) to an orthodox
Jewish family. His grandfather was the Rabbi of the town, while his father refused
to follow the family calling and became a lawyer. Years later he converted to
Islam, and worked with Allama Iqbal and some other pioneers of the freedom
movement and earned the sobriquet of “intellectual co-founder of Pakistan.”

When he was a child his family moved to the Imperial capital city of Vienna where
he was raised and educated. Asad graduated from Vienna University specializing
in History of Art and Philosophy. Years later, together with his Saudi wife and
child, he migrated as a common refugee from Dalhousie in eastern Punjab and
camped with hundreds of thousands of other refugees at Walton in Lahore.

The restless soul that Asad was, he started his career as a correspondent for the
Frankfurter Zeitung daily. At age 23, he went on a reporting trip to the Levant
where he visited Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. His dispatches were published in book
form in 1924 as Unromantisches Morgenland, which was translated into English in
2004 as The Unromantic Orient. In 1924-26 he made a second trip to the Middle
East and this took him to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia as well. Years
later, he served as Director of Islamic Reconstruction Department set up by the
government of Punjab in Lahore to advise the newly independent country on the
requirements of a modern Islamic state.

The years between 1927-1932 he spent ‘discovering’ the Arabian peninsula,

where he socialized with the family of King Abdul Aziz. The king used to address
him as ‘my son’ and Princes Faisal, Khalid, Fahd and others were his close friends.
Years later, he was summoned by the first Prime Minister of Pakistan to Karachi
who told Asad that “You are among the very few people in Pakistan who have a
good insight into the Middle East situation; and you have, I am aware full
command over Arabic and Persian. We need men like you in the Foreign Service. I
would strongly suggest that you join it.” He signed up and soon earned the
distinction of earning the first passport issued by the government of Pakistan.

Asad accepted, and spent the next three years at the Foreign Ministry, housed
then at Mohatta Palace in Karachi, and as Deputy Permanent Representative of
Pakistan’s Mission to the UN in New York. The famous Ahmed Ali Shah (Patras)
Bukhari was his immediate boss who could not see eye-to-eye with this polyglot
scholar-diplomat and conspired to get Asad to resign his job in 1952.

Asad got down to writing his memoirs, which was published by Simon & Schuster
in 1954 as The Road to Makkah. This “spiritual autobiography” was an instant
success and came to be recognized among the best sellers of the twentieth
century. The book principally recounts the experiences of his Saudi Arabian days
where he divided his time between Najd and Hijaz with long camel rides across
the peninsula. Abdullah Philby, a British Muslim and an expert of the Arabic
language (father of the double agent Kim Philby) was one of his rivals at the court
of Saud bin Abdul Aziz. In his review of “The Road to Mecca,” Philby accused Asad
of “vagueness and naiveté” and considered him as a journalist looking always for
a story and a man without any flair for geographical work or political analysis.
(After meeting Asad in Lisbon in 1987, Khalid Ahmed wrote that “Asad did not
think that Philby was a believer, nor did he trust the loyalty he showed to Ibn

In Hijaz he met with several Indian Muslim pilgrims notably the Qasuri
brothers one of whom was Maulana Abdullah Qasuri, the grandfather of ex-
foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Qasuri. They persuaded Asad to visit India.
Different motives have been assigned to his reasons for quitting Saudi Arabia
including his rivalry with and Philby, and a change of assignment by his “spy
masters.” The Saudi Arabian kingdom was formally declared in September 1932;
the same month Asad sailed out to Karachi. According to Ikram Chughtai, “Asad
had come to India with a programme but one can hardly say what it was. As soon
as he entered India, the British government was alarmed, its intelligence agencies
became vigilant and kept him under constant observation everywhere. It means
that his intended programme was repugnant to the colonial interests of the
British government.” Chughtai has quoted Sir Mohammed Yamin Khan (1886-
966) mentioning in his autobiography Nama-e- A’maal (Lahore 1970) some British
Intelligence Reports that Asad was consorting with the Russian Consul in Jeddah
and later was in contact with Russians during his travels to Srinagar where he
“was secretly involved in accelerating the Kashmiri Muslims movement against
the atrocities of the Hindu Maharaja.” (Chughtai, ed. Muhammad Asad – Europe’s
Gift to Islam, Vol. I, page 324).

He spent just two days in Karachi and took a train to Lahore where he put up with
Maulana Abdullah Qasuri near Sheranwala Gate. Khaled Ahmed goes on to say
that Asad told him “that when he converted to Islam he simply translated his
name into Arabic; Leopold became Asad. In Lahore he was struck by the fact that
the locality was named after ‘lions’ that decorated the (Sheranwala) Gate. He
studied the Quran at Maulana Abdul Qadir Qasuri’s seminary and became popular
among the Muslim intelligentsia of Lahore as a converted gora Muslim. In 1934,
upon invitation of Anjuman-e-Hiumayat-e-Islam Asad gave two lectures themed
around his conversion to Islam at the Muslim High School. According to Asad
himself, these lectures made him popular in Lahore and he got requests from
Muslim organizations in Delhi, Bombay and Madras to deliver the same in their
cities. Feeling that he could not accept all these invitations, he decided to work
these lectures into a small book called Islam at the Crossroads.

“Being a European” writes Chughtai, “he had an edge over other critics of
Western materialism. He knew all the merits and demerits of these two
prominent civilizations and his comparative study is tinged with his positive way
of thinking. Undoubtedly, it may be ranked among the best contributions made to
the reconstruction of Muslim religious thought”. He quotes Allama Iqbal’s praise
for this book: “This work is extremely interesting. I have no doubt that coming as
it does from a highly cultured European convert to Islam it will prove an eye-
opener to our younger generation.” Praising the book, Marmaduke Pickthal is
quoted to have written, “it is a notable contribution to what we may call the
literature of Muslim regeneration and that fact that he is a European by birth and
education, a widely traveled and observant man, makes his achievement the
more remarkable. Basically the book was written to show;

i) The fundamental differences between Islam and the Western


ii) That an imitation of Western concepts and social ways by the

Muslims must inevitably destroy the continuity of Islam as a social programme
and a culture-producing factor.

iii) The role of Sunnah in the ideological structure of Islam,

iv) That there can be no future for Islam and Muslim society unless must
be different, from the ways of the rest of the world.”

In 1934 he was introduced to Allama Iqbal who dissuaded him from traveling on
to Eastern Turkestan, China and Indonesia and to remain in India to help elucidate
the intellectual premises of the future Islamic state. Asad recalled Iqbal telling him
that he had liked his book Islam at the Crossroads but that he did not agree with
his concept of ijtihad, which though desirable and useful, could, in this age of
decline, be dangerous, would deepen the ideological and group differences in
Islam and heighten intellectual confusion which would result in the destruction of
our social order. Asad disagreed arguing that regardless of the opposition of the
mullahs, Muslims should not fear their weaknesses but should worry about losing
the dynamism of the faith. Iqbal smiled and asked Asad to return the next day.
Their friendship lasted till Allama’s death in 1938. Iqbal suggested that Asad
translate a selection of ahadees from Sahih Bukhari Sharif which was hitherto not
available in English, and would benefit the hundreds of thousands of Muslims of
India who read English but did not know the Arabic language. Asad took up the
challenge and published his pioneering work after extensive travels with his Saudi
wife Munira and son Talal between Lahore, Srinagar, Abbott-bad and Dalhousie,
in 1935.

When the Second Great War broke out, Hitler occupied Austria, which greatly
worried Asad for the safety of his father, stepmother, brother and sister. With the
help of his friends in Lahore he tried to get them British visas so that they could
travel to safety in India. Things did not work out. Because of his Austrian passport,
Asad himself was interned as an enemy citizen. His father and stepmother died in
a Nazi concentration camp while his brother and sister were able to flee Vienna.
Asad was released at the end of the War in 1945. In those, the heady days of an
“unprecedented cyclonic revolution” as Mr. Jinnah called them; Asad threw in his
lot with the Pakistan Movement and launched his journal Arafat from Dalhousie.
He was the editor, publisher and the sole contributor. “Arafat was a ‘journalistic
monologue,” writes Chughtai, adding that “It was his private venture and he used
it as vehicle for his own conclusions, as he believed that it ‘be more fruitful to
present to the Muslim public a coherent, if tentative, picture of one man’s
impressions than to give them a multitude of views, possibly conflicting with
another, and certainly proposing widely different steps for our future.”

Let’s read this two paragraph from ‘Notes and Comments,’ a feature which was
introduced with the May 1947 issue of Arafat, penned by an accomplished
journalist in effortless prose: “The exciting times in which we are living require
that Arafat should deal not only with fundamental questions of Islam, but should
also, occasionally, comment on one or another of the many problems which,
though not calling for a full-length discussion, are nevertheless of importance to
the Muslim community. This want, it is hoped, will to some extent be met by our
‘Notes and Comments’. True to its policy, Arafat will not enter into polemics
about the ever-changing issues of day-to-day politics – which are better left to our
dailies and weeklies – but will endeavour, instead, to draw the readers’ attention
to matters of lasting import.
“That a strengthening of the natural connection between Muslims in India and
those in other countries is very much needed. Is amply demonstrated by the fact
that our historic struggle for Pakistan has not so far been appreciated by the
Muslims abroad as it should be, and that many of them are still inclined to regard
the Congress as the true vanguard of Asiatic freedom and the Muslim League as a
mere ‘spanner in the works.’ This colossal misunderstanding of the true facts of
the situation is, no doubt, largely due to the fact that Congress propaganda
abroad has throughout been much more efficient than League propaganda, with
the result that the Muslim point of view has never received its due share of
attention outside India. Only very few non-Indian Muslims seem to realize that
the struggle between the ideas of Pakistan and Akhund Hindustan is not just an
‘Indian problem,’ but involves the future of Islam itself; for we are standing on the
threshold of the decision as to whether Islam should be an autonomous, society-
building force in the lives of almost a hundred million Muslims – a quarter of the
whole Muslim world – or merely an empty word. A glaring illustration of this lack
of understanding was provided by the participation of several Muslim countries in
the Congress-sponsored Asian Relations Conference at Congress India the
position of moral leadership of Asia to which Japan and China have aspired, and
secondly, to isolate the Muslim League by direct contact between the Congress
and Muslim countries of Western Asia. The Muslim League, recognizing these
tactics, has denounced the Conference and decided to boycott it.’ But though this
boycott had been known for months past, the Arab League, Egypt, Afghanistan,
Iran and Indonesia had no qualms in sending delegates to Delhi, and did not pay a
second thought to the possibility of thus stabbing their Muslim brethren in India
in the back; a somewhat strange attitude in view of the Indian Muslims’
traditional, passionate sympathy with, and active support to every Muslim cause
–be it Palestine or Egypt, Turkey or Indonesia, Afghanistan or Arabia.” These
words of the intellectual co-founder of Pakistan ring true today.

In September 1947, at the request of the government of Pakistan, Asad gave

seven daily radio broadcasts in English, their Urdu translation was put out the
same evening. These were published as a booklet titled Calling All Muslims. In its
introduction Asad expressed the hope “that this small contribution of mine may
offer a further documentation of a period so incisive for the birth of Pakistan and,
through it, for the Muslim world as a whole.” The booklet has been reproduced in
Europe’s Gift to Islam. To get a flavour of these radio addresses, let’s hear an
extract from his first broadcast: “Many thousands of you who are now listening to
me have probably never heard of my existence, not to speak of my work, and are
perhaps asking themselves in wonderment, ‘What right has this man to address
us, with the intention, it seems, of giving us advice?’ To such of my friends I
should like to say this: I am not addressing you by virtue of any special ‘right’ in
this connection. I am speaking to you as one of the many millions who believe
that the word la ilaha ill ‘Allah is the greatest truth ever revealed to mankind, and
that everybody who believes in this word is duty-bound to contribute his or her
best towards the welfare of all mankind. In other words, my voice is no more than
the voice of a humble servant of Islam who feels that in this crisis of our existence
no one has the right to keep from social service. It is in response to this call of
Islamic duty that I have taken it upon myself to speak to you on some of the
tremendous moral and civic problems which will decide the future of the Millat
and of Pakistan.” Indeed Asad’s heart was beating to the tune of Pakistan.

His articles on Towards an Islamic Constitution and Islamic Constitution Making

drew a lot of interest among the proponents of Pakistan and were later expanded
into a book called The Principles of State and Government in Islam first published
in 1961 by University of California Press. In the Author’s Note of the book, Asad
states “the past thousand years or so of Muslim history can offer us no guidance
in our desire to achieve a polity which would really deserve the epithet ‘Islamic.’
Nor is the confusion lessened by the influences of which the Muslim world has
been subjected in recent times…And so, the Muslims’ longing for a truly Islamic
polity stands today, despite – or perhaps because of it – its intensity, under the
sign of utter confusion… There is, I am convinced, only one way for us Muslims to
come out of this confusion: we must look for guidance to no other sources than
the Quran and the Sunnah, and to rely on no other authority other than the
explicit Word of God and the explicit teachings of His Last Prophet.”

In the last chapter of the book, entitled ‘Conclusion’, Asad avers that “I have not
attempted to set forth in this book anything like a blueprint for the constitution of
a state. I have merely tried to bring out some of the self-evident injunctions of
Islam relevant to the problem of state and government, to discuss the modalities
of their application to present- day needs, and to draw attention to the legal
provisions which must under all circumstances be included in a constitution that
claims to be Islamic.” Later he notes that “The ideology of Islam is as practicable
or as impracticable as we Muslims choose to make it. It will remain impracticable
if we continue confine our concept of Islamic Law to the fiqhi concepts of our
past.” Asad calls upon Muslims to have “the courage and imagination to approach
(Islamic Law) with fresh and unprejudiced minds and exclude from its orbit all
conventional fiqhi ‘deductions’.” Elsewhere Asad used an interesting metaphor of
an old clothes shop to elaborate this view: “Much of our current fiqh resembles
now nothing so much as a vast old clothes shop where ancient thought-garments,
almost unrecognizable as to their original purport are mechanically bought and
consists in praising the old tailor’s skills”. (Preface to Muhammad Asad; Europe’s
Gift to Islam).

In today’s heated political debate on the question of hijab those opposed to the
feminine veiling in Turkey, France and Germany cite Asad as authority. This is
another example of his disagreement with the fiqhi conclusions prevalent in many
Islamic societies. Asad advocated modernity and championed the rights of
women and wrote. “Many people think that if you put a veil over a woman’s face
and cover her, that is the way to Islam. It is not. In the time of the Prophet
Muhammad PBUH, no hijab existed except for the Prophet’s wives and it is wrong
inference to say that this holds good for all Muslim women.”

Asad spent the summer of 1947 together with Munira and Talal in a rented
bungalow in the cool of Dalhousie, a hill resort located in Gurdaspur District
whose Muslim population had expected to be included in Pakistan. But in the
evening of 14 August, a few hours before partition, Asad wrote, “we were
shocked to see the Hindu Superintendent of Police hoist the Indian flag over the
Municipal headquarter building of Dalhousie. Still we thought that the SP was
perhaps misinformed or that it was a manifestation of a Hindu’s desire. Till then
we did not know that the famous jurist Sir Cyril Radcliff had committed a great
crime.” Having come under fire, Muslims panicked and prepared to migrate to
Pakistan. Asad and family were lucky to get on to a convoy of buses, which
escorted by two jeeploads of Gurkha troops, set out for Lahore. Here the Asad
family camped with thousands of other refugees at Walton near Lahore.

Asad wrote a detailed account of this experience and the details of his India-
Pakistan years in the sequel to The Road to Makkah which he called Homecoming
of the Heart. Convinced that he could not write another book with the same
emotional energy and of the same stylistic intensity as The Road to Makkah, he
kept postponing the writing of this sequel, and when he finally came down to it,
could only cover the period from his arrival in Karachi in 1932 till 1952, when he
resigned from the Pakistan Foreign Service because of his marriage with a non-
Pakistani Polish-American Muslim convert Pola. It was Pola who wrote the last
chapters of the book. Though it was never published in the original, Mr. Ikram
Chughtai has recently published the Urdu translation of The Homecoming of the
Heart covering the years 1932-1992, under the title of Banda-e-Sahrai.

Soon after his arrival in Lahore, Asad was called by Nawab of Mamdot, the first
Chief Minister of Western Punjab who sought advice on the possible ideological
contours of the new country. Asad suggested setting up of an organization to
examine this issue. Mamdot agreed and thus he came to design, set up and head
the Department of Islamic Reconstruction. Explaining the aims and objectives of
the Department in an interview broadcast over Radio Pakistan in October 1947,
Asad observed that it was the only government department of its time anywhere
in the Muslim world to carry the word ‘Islamic’ in its title. He added, “All that we
are expected to do – all that we can legitimately do – is to help the community to
co-ordinate its spiritual and intellectual resources and to revive the moral
strength of which the Millat must be capable by virtue of its being the Millat of
Islam; in other words to help the Millat to re-create the Islamic atmosphere so
necessary for a revival of Islamic life in its practical aspects.”

A few weeks later the Chief Minister asked him to draw up a Memorandum on
the lines of his article Towards Islamic Constitution which would be published by
the government of Punjab and may come to the notice of the Central
government. The Memorandum was soon written and published. It generated
sufficient interest in the capital city that led to Asad being called to Karachi to
meet with Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan who advised him to write in more
detail on the subject of Islamic Constitution. Asad quotes the Premier telling him
that, “We cannot embark on constitution making at this difficult juncture when
the country is faced with so many challenges to its existence. Kashmir had been
occupied by India and our Pashtun brethren had failed to liberate Srinagar.
Militarily India was much stronger while we are yet to erect the basic structure of
our government for which a lot of effort and time is required. We cannot cope
with it all in one go. While I agree that constitution making is important and will
have far reaching consequences but for the moment we will have to postpone it.”
Asad agreed.

In September and December 1948, Asad took time off from his duties at the
Department of Islamic Reconstruction and visited the military front lines of the
Indo-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir at quite some risk to his life. He was present
with the area commander Maj. Gen Hameed who had prepared to assault Poonch
in occupied Kashmir when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s orders were received
for the troops to stop further action. This came as a shock to everyone at the
frontline. Ascribing this decision to Foreign Minister Zafarullah Khan, Asad notes
that this emboldened Nehru and led him to immediately refuse to hold a
plebiscite in Kashmir.

I suspect that only a handful of our diplomats, serving or retired, would know of
Asad’s sojourn in the Foreign Service of Pakistan, and only the oldest surviving
officers would be aware of its details. In the Homecoming of the Heart Asad,
devotes three chapters to this phase of his life, which remains largely hidden from
public view as the book was never published, and has only recently been made
available in Urdu translation. Mr. Chughtai was kind enough to lend me a copy of
the English original, which I will use to present some glimpses of Asad as a
Pakistani diplomat. “In January 1948,” writes Asad, “Liaquat Ali Khan called me
again to Karachi – this time not to remonstrate with me about my proposals but
to place before me a proposal of his own. ‘You are one of the few people in
Pakistan with an intimate first-hand knowledge of the Middle East; and you have,
I am aware, full command of Arabic and Persian. We need a man like you in the
Foreign Service. I would strongly suggest that you join it and, for the time being,
put aside your work on Islamic Reconstruction. Would you consider this

“Coming as it did from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, this request could not
easily be rejected. However deeply my emotions were bound with the
Department of Islamic Reconstruction, I realized that Liaquat Ali Khan had made a
strong point. Pakistan’s Middle East policies were, as yet, erratic. No clear-cut aim
was discernable in them. We were, of course, committed to supporting the
independence movement within the Muslim countries that were as yet subjected
to foreign rule; but beyond that we seemed to be floundering without any
definite direction. The prospect of being able to contribute something tangible to
a formulation of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the Middle East was extremely
appealing, the more so as the past years of my life had given me an intimate –
and perhaps – unique – insight into what was going on in that part of the world
and what its people felt and wanted. And there was an additional temptation at
the thought of coming once again face to face with a world so much wider than
the one in which I had been immersed for so many years.” Asad decided to accept
the offer and met with Sir Terence Creagh-Cohen ICS, an Irishman who upon
partition opted for Pakistan and was put in charge of organizing the Foreign
Service who informed him that he would have to pass – ‘as pure formality’ – an
examination by the Civil Service Commission.

Here is Asad’s account of the examination. “On the appointed day of the
examination I presented myself before the Commission. Its chairman was Hassan
Suharwardy, a brother of the then Chief Minister of East Pakistan. Here was a
professor of history at one of Pakistan’s universities – not merely learned in the
academic sense but possessed of a deep culture and a wide range of intellectual
interests. About eight or ten other candidates for the Foreign Service were
already in the room when I entered, all of them very young men. Hasan
Suharwardy took them one by one in the order in which they had presented
themselves and put to them questions relating to geography and modern history.
I had to laugh when he asked one of them, ‘What is the name of the capital of
Ethiopia?’ And was answered by the candidate’s perplexed silence. Suharwardy
glanced at me briefly and proceeded with the next candidate: ‘Can you tell me the
name of the last Emperor of France?’ Again silence. And so it went on and on,
with the young men answering the simple questions correctly or incorrectly or not
at all; and every time Suharwardy noted his remarks against the candidate’s

“Finally my turn came. Professor Suharwardy smiled and said, ‘I know you by
reputation, Asad Sahib, and so I will not bother you with schoolbook questions.
However, since I have to examine you for form’s sake, could you tell me
something about European politics, say between the end of the Seven Year’s War
and the post-Napoleonic period?” Asad says that he was familiar with the subject
ever since his school days and so his reply soon developed into a lecture. He was
told that not only had he passed but was placed at number one position in that
year’s batch. A few days later, he met Sir Creagh-Cohen in the corridor who told
him that he had assigned Asad the third position in the seniority list of Foreign
Service officers immediately after the Permanent Secretary and the Joint
Secretary, but he was not sure that his suggestion will be accepted by the higher-
ups: ‘I am afraid that the colour of your skin will be a disadvantage to you.’ And so
it happened. Several more Civil Service men – all of them with somewhat darker
complexion than mine and with proper antecedents in the Indian Civil Service,
were placed ahead of me.” The Prime Minister ordered that he be posted as
Deputy Secretary in charge of Middle East Division (then comprising of the whole
Arab world, including North Africa, as well as Iran).
He drafted along a memorandum for the Foreign Minister outlining his policy
proposals. The gist of the memorandum, in Asad’s words, was: “Since Pakistan
had been established on a purely ideological basis– non-nationalist, non-racial
groupment of peoples bound together solely by their adherence to a common
religious and cultural ideal – it had to pursue a dynamic policy with a view to the
Muslim world as a whole. If it did not conform to this essential demand arising
from its very nature, Pakistan was bound to lose its ideological coherence and
thus, in time, its raison d’etre; and it was, I pointed out, precisely our total failure
in this respect that had placed us at so great a disadvantage vis-à-vis our main
adversary, India, and had brought about, among other things, the loss of Kashmir.
In order to counteract that failure Pakistan must embark on a two-pronged
foreign policy: on the one hand, we should immediately set about to work, in
cooperation with the Arab states, for the creation of something like a League of
Muslim Nations; and on the other hand, we should aim with all our strength at
expanding our influence over all of the Persian Gulf, which was politically as well
as economically our pre- destined life-line. In view of the fact that the British had
withdrawn from the Gulf at the end of the Second World War, we should supplant
them there instead of allowing ourselves, as we had hitherto been doing, to be
overawed by the British shadow in that area. After all, I pointed out, Great Britain
was now so exhausted that it could act only in submission to the power of the
United States – and why could we not turn to the power of the latter? The United
States could not well aim at Persian Gulf policy of its own without overstretching
its political and military lines of communication, and so Washington would
certainly approve of our Endeavour’s in the interests of the ‘Free World’. In short
we should cease to be slaves of the slaves, and should go straight to the source of

He was called by the Foreign Secretary Ikramullah who said, “I have read your
memorandum, and I am shocked! Asad, you simply cannot criticize the Foreign
Minister and, yes, the Prime Minister in this way!” To which Asad replied, “Well, I
am doing it. At the most I shall be placed against the wall and shot for my
impertinence – or, rather what you Civil Service people regard as impertinence.
Do, please, send it on to the Foreign Minister.” Ikramullah signed, saying, “On
your head be it, then.” After a couple of days, Asad came to know that the
Foreign Minister was not in the least offended and sent the memorandum on to
the Prime Minister who called Asad to discuss his policy proposals. “You have
been harsh on us, Asad,” he was told. “You know, of course, that we are
nowadays negotiating a broad alliance in our part of the world; is that not activity
enough for you?” Asad notes that the Prime Minister was referring to the talks
that were going on at that time between ourselves and the United States, Britain,
turkey, Iraq and Iran, aiming at the establishment of some sort of cordon sanitaire
around the south-western flank of Soviet Russia. “I had always felt that this plan–
known among the participants as ‘the Baghdad Pact’ – was not only useless but
also highly dangerous for Pakistan because it was bound to force Soviet Russia
into open hostility towards us and, consequently, into an even tighter, more
active alliance with our main enemy, India. Until that morning I had not regarded
myself as placed high enough to object openly to a plan of such magnitude, and
so I had remained silent. Now, however, I felt free to enlarge upon it; and I did so
with all the insistence at my disposal. When I finished, Liaquat Ali Khan said
neither ‘Yes’ nor ‘No’ but turned straightaway to the proposals set out in the

“You suggest that we should engage ourselves actively in the affairs of the Persian
Gulf and should make our influence felt there both politically and economically.
But don’t you realize how difficult our economic situation is at present?” To this
Asad replied, “Sir, I am convinced that in this respect we could – and should – turn
to the United States for economic assistance. If we place the prospect of
Pakistan’s gaining real influence in the Persian Gulf before the Americans, and if
we persuade them that such an expansion of our political influence is the only
realistic alternative to the chimera of a ‘Baghdad Pact’ – don’t you think, Sir, that
they would be bound to assist us in our Endeavour’s? After all, they are as deeply
concerned as we are about preventing a Russian breakthrough to the warm
waters of the Gulf – and if this can be achieved by political instead of military
means, the better for the United States and for Pakistan,” “You have a point
there. We shall think about it,” the Prime Minister replied, and moved on to the
proposal of a League of Muslim Nations and asked Asad to elaborate. “As this had
always been a pet subject of mine, I had no difficulty in expounding it in detail.” A
few days later Asad was asked to travel to the Middle East and sound out the
reactions of the individual governments on the idea of a League of Muslim
Nations. “ I could not remember when I had been as happy as I was now,” Asad

To prepare for the visit, Asad demanded a passport. The officer in charge asked
him, “What shall I enter as your nationality?” An astonished Asad replied,
“Pakistani naturally.” He was told, “But, sir, as yet there is no such thing as a
Pakistani nationality. A citizenship bill is now pending before the National
Assembly, but it will take some months before it is passed. In the meantime we
have an informal agreement with Britain which authorizes us to mark every new
passport as ‘British subject’.” “Nonsense,” Asad snorted. Saying “I have never
been a British subject and do not intend to become one now. Write citizen of
Pakistan.” “I can’t do that, it would be illegal,” said the Passport Officer. “Shall I
mark it as Austrian citizen,” he enquired. “Worse and worse” was Asad’s
response. “Do you seriously suggest that I should go on an official tour as a
representative of the Government of Pakistan, with a passport saying that I am
the citizen of a foreign country?” he enquired. The poor Passport Officer must
have been at the end of his wits and knowledge. Asad sought an appointment
with the Prime Minister to raise this issue.

During their meeting the Prime Minister called over the Passport Officer and
ordered him to make out a passport for Asad as ‘citizen of Pakistan.’ “And so I
obtained the very first passport marked ‘citizen of Pakistan’,” recalled Asad

Asad visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Cairo was the only
capital, which gave a cold shoulder to the idea of a League of Muslim nation. He
was in Ankara when the news came that Liaquat Ali Khan had been assassinated.
“I saw immediately that this was the end of my Middle East tour and a full stop to
our plans for a League of Muslim Nations,” Asad noted. He flew back to Karachi
but was late for the funeral. “On my return I learned that before he had set out
on his last tragic journey, Liaquat had made some notes for a public speech which
he intended to deliver the next morning. Those notes were found on his desk.
They consisted of only a few words, all of them heavily underlined in red: ‘League
of Muslim Nations’ and ‘Constitution’ – apparently relating to the speech that was
never delivered. Since then I have often asked myself: Was there a connection
between Liaquat Ali’s death and the purport of those notes? Was I, thus,
indirectly responsible for his death? I do not know,” writes a mournful Asad. His
tour report was submitted to the Foreign Minister, who Asad notes, “read it
through carefully and then put it aside. My search after Muslim unity became a
file in the archives of the Foreign Ministry.”

Soon orders were issued posting Asad to Buenos Aires where he was to establish
a Pakistan Embassy. Asad protested to the Foreign Secretary, “But Ikramullah
Sahib, I am a Middle East man – my field is the Arab world, or at least the Muslim
world! What have I got to do with South America?” He was directed to see the
Foreign Minister, who insisted on compliance with the posting order. “In that
case, sir, I am now going straight back to my office to write out my resignation
from the Foreign Service,” was Asad’s response, at which Zafarullah Khan said,
“Don’t be too hasty, Asad. I will think it over.” The posting order was cancelled.

In his book Bandai-e-Sahrai, Ikram Chughtai mentions a secret visit of Asad to

Saudi Arabia, which is not mentioned in Homecoming of the Heart. Soon after
partition, Jawaharlal Nehru had visited Saudi Arabia where he was received with
slogans of Rasool us Salaam (Messenger of Peace). Apparently he was able to
prevail upon the Saudis not to accept a Pakistan Embassy in the kingdom.
Personally I feel that the Qadiani connection of Foreign Minister Zafarullah Khan
may also have contributed to this Saudi decision. So for the first four years after
independence Pakistan only had a small Hajj mission in Jeddah while the
Ambassador from Cairo was concurrently accredited to Saudi Arabia. In May
1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan decided to send a delegation to plead with
the Saudis. National Assembly Speaker Maulvi Tamizuddin was chosen to lead it
and Muhammad Asad was made its secretary (obviously not only because of his
capacity as head of the Middle East division in the Foreign Ministry but also
because of his strong links with the Saudi royal family). Ambassador Abdul Sattar
Ishaq Seth joined from Cairo and AJK President’s secretary Hafiz Muhammad
Yaqub Hashmi and a few others were included in the delegation. The delegation
was successful in getting the required permission for a resident Pakistani mission
in Jeddah. Writing in Nawa-e-Waqt daily of 27 August 1982, Hafiz Yaqub Hashmi
attributes this success to Asad without whose presence they may not have been
able to get an audience with King Saud bin Abdul Aziz. In a letter to Sadiq Qureshi
dated 23 September 1982, Asad did not deny this trip but regretted that since he
did not have document of that visit and because of official secrets restriction
(which he thought should no more apply) he could not say much about this
delegation’s mission. “All I can say,” Asad added, “ is that the then Foreign
Minister Faisal, a dear old personal friend of mine, participated in the
negotiations because of which it was not difficult to remove all

In December 1951, Asad received orders posting him as Deputy Permanent

Representative to the Pakistan Mission to UN in New York. Around the same time,
Prof. Ahmad Shah Bukhari, Principal, Government College, Lahore was nominated
the Ambassador/Permanent Representative (which led to Asad, who was
expecting to be nominate as Head of the Permanent Mission, to write that “once
again it seemed, the light colour of my skin had stood in my way”). The UN was
holding a special session in Paris where Asad acted as acting head of Mission as
Ambassador Bukhari was busy setting up the newly acquired Pakistan House in
New York. The delegation was put up at Hotel Plaza Athenee, “then the most
luxurious hotel in Paris….a truly extravagant show in view of Pakistan’s economic
condition.” The show went on in London where Asad stopped on the way to New
York for a few days to meet Talal who was studying architecture, and he was put
up by the High commission at Dorchester which he termed “an extravagance
which seemed dictated by an exaggerated notion of ‘prestige’ on the part of
Pakistan’s diplomatic representatives” (a show that goes on unchecked till now).

In New York, he met and fell in love with the unhappily married Pola, an American
Muslim of Polish origin, who then worked at Voice of America. She accepted his
marriage proposal. Asad wrote a letter to inform and ask Munira and Talal to
persuade his mother to accept his father’s decision to re-marry. In accordance
with the regulations of the Foreign Service of Pakistan, Asad applied for Karachi’s
permission to marry, and with the request also appended a letter of resignation.
It would then be up to the government of Pakistan to accept either of the two
letters. Asad writes, “Since recently a very junior member of our Foreign Service
had been granted permission to marry a German girl, I was sure that I would be
accorded the same treatment. To make doubly sure, I requested Zafarullah Khan
– who had known Pola for well over a year before I made my appearance on the
scene and had often lunched with her during his many visits to New York – to put
in a word with the Governor-General, which he promised to do.” Asad and Pola
planned to fly to Mexico where Pola could get a quick divorce.

Asad’s letter sent Munira into a rage and she complained to Pakistan’s High
Commissioner in London that her husband was going to abandon her. Asad
writes, “She raised such a scandal that the High commissioner not only saw fit to
address me a highly offensive letter of ‘admonition’, but also – quite
unwarrantably – wrote to the Governor-General Khwaja Nazimuddin asking him
to intervene directly in the matter. It goes without saying that all this proved
highly damaging to my position in the Foreign Service, to the delight not only of
Ahmad Shah Bukhari but many other envious or ambitious people. And then there
appeared the ‘fine Italian hand’ of Zafarullah Khan, who had his own particular
interests in mind.” His marriage was denied and resignation accepted. That was
the end of the year 1952. This is where Asad left his memoir, which after his
death in Spain in 1992, was filled in by Pola.
In the meanwhile, Asad was being advised by friends to write down the account
of his wanderings in Saudi Arabia and his conversion to Islam. In the first chapter
of The Road to Makkah, this was titled

‘The Story of a Story’, he gives an account of his conversation with an unnamed

American friend who was “an man of considerable intellectual attainments and a
scholarly bent of mind” where he had pointed out the following two
characteristics of the Western view of Islam: “i) Could it perhaps be that the old
Greco-Roman mode of thought which divided the world into Greeks and Romans
on one side and ‘barbarians’ on the other was still so thoroughly ingrained in the
Western mind that it was unable to concede, even theoretically, positive value to
anything that lay outside its own cultural orbit? ii) To find a truly convincing
explanation of this prejudice one has to look far backward into history and try to
comprehend the psychological background of the earliest relations between
Western and Muslim worlds. What Occidentals think and feel about Islam today is
rooted in impressions that were born during the Crusades” (he described the
Crusades period of the turn of the first millennium of the Christian era as the early
childhood of Western civilization, which is human being’s most formative age –
and asks, are not nations and civilizations but collective individuals?). And so
began Asad’s journey on The Road to Makkah. In 1973 he contributed a postscript
to a new edition of the book at the end of which he wrote: “As I lay down my pen,
I gaze at the two photographs on the wall before me: two kings, two men, two
epochs: the vanished Arabia of millennial solitude, strong in its faith and simple in
its ways – and the Arabia of the oil wells, projecting its existence and its
uncertainties into a wholly incalculable future. Two kings, two epochs….and
above all that question for which as yet no answer has been found: How will Arab
life – Muslim life – fare and develop in this century dominated by technology, the
technology of other people’s making..?” A question that should also haunt us

The English ‘translation’ of the Quran called The Message of the Quran is a
monumental achievement of Asad. For the non-native speakers of English it is
always problematic to translate literature into English. This holds true of all
languages. The problem aggravates when translation is attempted between
languages as diverse as Arabic and English, and especially so, when the text
attempted is of divine origin. In a review article, the British Muslim Hassan Gai
Eaton noted, “There is always the danger that those who aim to honour the
original by adopting poetic language in their ‘translation’ will fall short of
conveying the message in so far as it can be conveyed without extensive notes.
This is where Muhammad Asad triumphs. The title of his rendition is ‘The
Message of the Quran’ and that is precisely what it offers. Moreover, the
explanatory notes are, to a large extent, based on the great commentaries
written by some of the wisest Islamic scholars over the centuries. These
commentaries are inaccessible to those who do not have Arabic, and even Arabic
speakers have difficulty with them, but they are essential for a full understanding
of the text. A ‘translation’ without explanatory notes is inevitably open to
misunderstanding or misuse. It is said that a group of young converts to Islam in
America who had decided to rob a bank set themselves to find, in an English text,
a Quranic verse that would justify their action. No doubt they found none. The
story may be apocryphal, but it makes a point.”

Asad briefly returned to Pakistan in 1957, at the invitation of the Punjab

University to organize an International Islamic Colloquium in Lahore. Because of
some misunderstanding with the Vice-Chancellor Mian Afzal Hussain, especially
concerning organizational issues of the Colloquium, Asad became unhappy and
decided to leave Lahore on a bitter note. His favourite country had disappointed
him. Presidents Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq invited him to Pakistan, but Asad
regretted citing his occupation with the colossal task in hand of Quran
‘translation.’ Except for a few newspaper articles nothing much has been
appearing in Pakistani media on this giant of a man. I have been looking in vain for
an article on him in the Pakistan Day and Independence Day special editions of
our newspapers. The Municipality of Vienna named a major road right in front of
the UN buildings in Vienna after Asad. Do we have any place or thing in Pakistan
named after him? I fear that most of his books on sale in Pakistan are pirated
editions and nothing is going to his heir Talal, who lives a retired life in New York.
The Austrian government sponsored a documentary film on Asad, which has been
recently seen in the German-speaking world. Hopefully, one day, it will be shown
here so that more people can appreciate the role of this ‘intellectual co- founder
of Pakistan.’


1. Muhammad Asad’s books:

i. The Unromantic Orient; translated from German by Elma Ruth Harder

ii. Islam at the Crossroads

iii. Sahih Al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam

iv. The Road to Makkah

v. Calling all Muslims

vi. The Principles of State and Government in Islam

vii. This Law of Ours

viii. Meditations

ix. The Message of the Quran

2. Muhammad Asad: Europe’s Gift to Islam, 2 volumes, ed. M. Ikram Chughtai,

the Truth Society and Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 2006

3. Muhammad Asad: Banda-e-Sahrai, Urdu tr. Homecoming of the Heart, by

M.Ikram Chughtai, The Truth Society, Lahore, 2009

4. Muhammad Asad: A European Bedouin, Urdu, ed. M. Ikram Chughtai, Pakistan

Writers Cooperative Society, Lahore, 2009

Allama Muhammad Asad Quotes

 Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are
harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other; nothing is
superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a structure of absolute
balance and solid composure.
 It was not Muslims that had made Islam great; it was Islam that had made
the Muslims great.
 If water stands motionless in a pool it grows stale and muddy, but when it
moves and flows it becomes clear: so, too, man in his wanderings.
 It is not enough to say, 'We are Muslims and have an ideology or our own':
we must also be in a position to show that our ideology is vital enough to
withstand the pressure of the changing times, and to decided in what way
the fact of our being Muslims will affect the course of our lives: in other
words, we must find out whether Islam can offer us precise directives for
the formation of our society, and whether its inspiration is strong enough in
us to translate these directives into practice.
 We (Muslims) have no right, in our present misery, to boast of past glories.
But we must realize that it was the negligence of the Muslims - and not any
deficiency in the teachings of Islam - that caused our present decay.
 Every age requires a new approach to the Qur’an 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.
 It's very impossible to live by yesterday's standards and expect
extraordinary results today. Live life with passion!
 For, according to the teachings of Islam, moral knowledge automatically
forces moral responsibility upon man. A mere Platonic discernment
between Right and Wrong, without the urge to promote Right and to
destroy Wrong, is a gross immorality in itself, for morality lives and dies
with the human endeavour to establish its victory upon earth.
 The religious urge in man is not a mere passing phase in the history of his
spiritual development, but the ultimate source of all his ethical thought and
all his concepts of morality; not the outcome of primitive credulity which a
more "enlightened" age could outgrow, but the only answer to a real, basic
need of man at all times and in all environments. In another word, it is an
 Of all religious systems, Islam alone declares that individual perfection is
possible in our earthly existence.
 I do not feel that the West has really become less condescending toward
foreign cultures than the Greeks and Romans were: it has only become
more tolerant. Mind you, not toward Islam—only toward certain other
Eastern cultures, which offer some sort of spiritual attraction to the spirit-
hungry West and are, at the same time, too distant from the Western
world-view to constitute any real challenge to its values.
 All cultural imitation, opposed as it is to creativeness, is bound to make a
people small.
 I conceived from the outset a strong objection to Zionism. I considered it
immoral that immigrants should come from abroad with the avowed
intention of attaining to majority in the country and thus to dispossess the
people whose country it had been since time immemorial.
 We allow ourselves to be blown by the winds because we do know what we
want: our hearts know it, even if our thoughts are sometimes slow to
follow- but in the end they do catch up with our hearts and then we think
we have made a decision.
 But who, except God, can say whether a man is right or foolish if he follows
the call of his conscience?
 If the Muslims keep their heads cool and accept progress as a means and
not an end in itself, they may pass on to Western man the lost secret of
life's sweetness.
 So long as Muslims continue looking towards Western civilization as the
only force that could regenerate their own stagnant society, they destroy
their self-confidence and, indirectly, support the Western assertion that
Islam is a "spent force".
 By imitating the manners and the mode of life of the West, the Muslims are
being gradually forced to adopt the Western moral outlook: for the
imitation of outward appearance leads, by degrees, to a corresponding
assimilation of the world-view responsible for that appearance.
 ...I suddenly felt in myself all the weight of Europe: the weight of deliberate
purpose in all our actions. I thought to myself, 'How difficult it is for us to
attain to reality... We always try to grab it: but it does not like to be
grabbed. Only where it overwhelms man does it surrender itself to him.
 ...the Muslims of recent times had fallen very short indeed of the ideals of
their faith, ...nothing could be more erroneous than to measure the
potentialities of Muhammad's message by the yardstick of present-day
Muslim life and thought - just as he [Shaykh Mustafa al-Maraghi] said, 'it
would be erroneous to see in the Christians' unloving behavior toward one
another a refutation of Christ's message of love...'
 ...we must learn -once again- to regard Islam as the norm by which the
world is to be judged.
 All the answers are but waiting for us while we, poor fools, ask questions
and wait for the secrets of God to open themselves up to us: when they, all
the while, are waiting for us to open ourselves up to them.
Prepared by: Muhammad Zaheer Iqbal/Karachi/Pakistan