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Meet Muhammad Asad: The Intellectual Father of Pakistan

By Mahnoor Saleem

While exploring the history of Pakistan and discovering the lives of its founding fathers, one often encounters a plethora of individuals, intellectuals, thinkers and extraordinary men and women who contributed whole-heartedly in the formation of the state, which they believed in. Pakistan is as much a reflection of these unsung heroes as it is of the mainstream cadre, for they laid the foundations for others to build upon. Muhammad Asad or Leopold Weiss is one of such heroes.

Leopold Weiss was born to a Jewish family, at the eastern edge of former Austria Hungarian empire in the city of Lwow (Now, Lviv, Ukraine) in the first year of the 20th century. His visit to Palestine in 1922, on the call of his maternal uncle in Jerusalem served as a moment of spiritual elevation in his life. So much so, that he converted to Islam, after exploring the ways of Arab Bedouins, in 1926. An Indian Imam Abdul Jabbar Kheiri - who was the head of Muslim community in Berlin, then, carried out his conversion. It was Kheiri who asked him to change his name, and since then he became “Muhammad Asad”.

Asad’s contribution to the world of intellect and research is as much undisputed and unparalleled as his assistance or service to the state of Pakistan. He first met the ideological father of Pakistan, Dr. Allama Iqbal in 1934, who convinced him to stay in India and abandon his plans of further travels. He was deeply influenced by Iqbal’s idea of a separate nation state for the Muslims of united India, and presented his skills and experience for spearheading the cause. He wrote a number of articles in distinguished European periodicals and journals, explaining the ideology of Pakistan to those on the other side of the world. He hosted conferences at Lahore, delivered lectures at Delhi and wrote locally and internationally to assist the founding fathers of Pakistan.

Asad’s tales of Arabian adventures and his proficiency in Arabic language, in addition to his adroitness in philosophy and religion of Islam; also made Allama Iqbal an adherent advocate of Muhammad Asad. His timely essay, just a few months before partition, by the title of “Toward the Islamic Constitution” until this day; is regarded as the first attempt to explain the constitution of Pakistan. In doing so, he also paved constitutional way for the first Muslim woman, head of the state, Benazir Bhutto.

After partition, the Nawab of Mambot (who was serving as chief minister of West Pakistan) called upon Asad with the approval of government to supervise a newly established Department of Islamic Reconstruction. However, his stay at the department was short lived, as under the instructions of then Prime Minister - Liaqat Ali Khan- he was asked to join foreign services. The newly established state of Pakistan had no formal diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; in fact, Pakistan’s mission in Cairo was largely managing the Middle Eastern affairs, until then. Considering his fondness for Bedouins and his friendship with the then King of KSA, King Abdul Aziz al Saud - he was valued as the potential candidate who could pioneer the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and so he rightly did. After becoming the ambassador to KSA, he was given the first ever passport of Pakistan. That is how he became the first official citizen of Pakistan.

He also served as minister plenipotentiary to Pakistan’s representative to the United Nations Organization in 1951. Albeit he resigned from foreign office the following year, but his literary journey was just beginning around that time. Asad went on to write a number of exceptional books about his journey to Islam, and his comprehension of Islam as a religion. The Road to mecca, the principles of State and Government in Islam and his opus magnum - The message of Quran (his interpretation of Quran) are regarded as one of the most refined and incredible work of research. Pakistan’s former President, General Ayyub Khan even exchanged a few letters with Asad, for praising one of his books “The state and government in Islam” which Ayyub found marvelous. General Ayyub wanted Muhammad Asad to serve him as his advisor on religious affairs, but as Asad was busy in his literary journey around that time, hence he declined the request humbly.

Despite a number of offers from multiple Muslim states across the world, Asad preferred to keep his Pakistani nationality until he breathed his last in Spain. In the Mughal style ancient Haveli Barood Khana, dating as back as 17th century rule of Ranjeet Singh dynasty; amidst the chaos of the city Lahore - a small community by the name of ‘Asadians’ still functions and get together in order to discuss the intellectual legacy of Muhammad Asad. Asad’s assistance to the founding fathers and his love for the land of pure was indeed remarkable and truly transcendental.

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