road to mekkah

In The Road to Makkah, the reader is initially confronted with a protagonist
who is on a journey through the deserts of Saudi Arabia. However, as one
continues to read the book, the reader is aware that there are actually two
parallel journeys going on: the journey through the deserts of Saudi Arabia, and
also the journey through the life of Muhammad Asad on his way to Islam. At first
I found the book rather hard to follow because of the constant cutting from
desert scenes to the description of the life he left behind in Europe, but once
I got past this initial hurdle, the two plots no longer posed a problem to my
understanding of Muhammad Asad’s life.

Following the author’s journey from Europe to the Middle East, and his
longer life journey to Islam, I was struck by the conviction with which the
author believed in the message of Islam and the way that he immersed himself in
the culture. This I feel is truly admirable seeing as prior to converting to
Islam, Muhammad Asad did not have a very high opinion of religion. As he writes
early on in the book, his family was not particularly religious, and like most
of the youth of Europe at that time, he was fairly nonchalant about religion.
Although his grandfather was a rabbi, Muhammad Asad did not really practice
Judaism. That is why I am particularly amazed by just how quickly he adopts
Islam, especially in light of his upbringing and negative societal views about
Islam. I am also impressed by the manner in which the author immersed himself in
the culture of the people.

I have often wondered how non-Muslims view the way that Muslims practice
their religion, and was interested in Muhammad Asad’s interpretation. At first
glance, it must seem rather odd the way that Muslims pray to God. After all, how
could repeated prostrations bring an individual closer to God, but as the hajji
in the novel says, God created the soul and body together, so it would only make
sense that both would be incorporated in prayer. After the hajji’s
explanation, the reason for the manner in which Muslims pray became quite clear
to Muhammad Asad, and opened the first door to Islam for Muhammad Asad. I found
that throughout the book there were many explanations of the laws of Islam,
which provided the reader with a great deal of insight into the inner workings
of the religion, just not the superficial practices.

After having read Road to Makkah, I feel that I better understand the notion
of fatalism, and the role that it plays in Islam. Often Western scholars say
that the reason the Arab world does not develop is because the members of
society are fatalistic, meaning that they believe that whatever happens to them
in their life is because of God’s will. However, as Muhammad Asad asserts in
his book, the Qur’an does not in fact promote fatalism. If anything, it
encourages man to take hold of his destiny to some extent, such as by trying to
find cures for diseases. What interested me more was how he related fatalism
back to the Europeans, the very people who claimed that it was the Muslim world
that was fatalistic. After all, it was Christian Europe at that time that
regarded the plague as a scourge from God.

I think that the author’s impression of Islam is a little romanticized, as
is his impression of Arab life. It is true that the Arabs are known for their
hospitality, but it seemed rather incredulous that the King of Saudi Arabia
would in effect adopt a new convert to Islam in the manner that Abd al-Aziz
adopted Muhammad Asad.

Often the image of Muslims portrayed in the media of the West is one of
ridiculing them. Reporters often just see Muslims as fundamentalists who blindly
follow the Qur’an, but in fact the group referred to as the “fundamentalists”
is just a minority of Muslims. I was struck by how much of an open mind Muhammad
Asad kept about Islam. In fact, I was surprised that he took the side of the
Arab Muslims rather than the Zionists when it came to establishing a state for
the Jews. I feel that the conflict that arises between the West and Islam is
tidily summed up by the argument that Muhammad Asad makes when he writes:

“If Muslims keep their heads cool and accept progress as a means and not as
an end in itself, they may not only retain their own inner freedom but also,
perhaps,