Mr. Leopold Weiss [Muhammad Asad] and Muslim Revival
The Young Islam, 15th July 1934 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 3–4)
A European convert to Islam, Mr Leopold Weiss, otherwise known as Muhammad Asad, has written a very thought-provoking book under the title Islam at the Crossroads. Many an assertion has been made therein which seems to be only a reflection of the general misunderstanding of the attitude and message of Islam as prevailing in the existing Muslim community, even in its highest circles, and needs a correction in the interest of Islam in its real perspective. But we do not propose to discuss them just now. His survey of the Islamic situation, however, has led him to certain instructive conclusions which it will be worthwhile for us to take note of at the very outset. These are contained in the chapter ‘”Conclusion,” and read as follows:
“What is the matter with Islam? Is it really, as our adversaries and the defeatists within our own ranks will make us believe, a ‘spent force’? Has it outlived its own usefulness and given to the world all it had to give?
History tells us that all human cultures and civilizations are organic bodies and resemble living beings. They run through all the phases organic life is bound to pass: they are born, they have youth, ripe age, and at the end comes the inevitable decay. Like plants that wither and fall to dust, the cultures die at the end of their time and give room to other, freshly born ones.
Once more we ask ourselves: Is this the case with Islam? It would appear so at the first superficial look. No doubt the Islamic culture has had its splendid rise and its blossoming age, it had power to inspire men to deeds and sacrifices, it transformed nations and created new states, and then it stood still and became stagnant, and then it became an empty word, and at present we witness its utter debasement and decay. But is this all?
If we believe that Islam is not a mere civilization among many others, not a mere outcome of human thoughts and labours and endeavours but a law decreed by God, the Almighty, to be followed by humanity at all times and everywhere, then the aspect changes thoroughly. If Islamic culture is, or was the result of our following a revealed law, then we can never admit that like other cultures it is chained to the lapse of time and limited by the rules of organic life. … No sign is visible that mankind, in its present stature, has outgrown Islam. It has not been able to produce a better system of ethics than that expressed in Islam; it has not been able to put the idea of human brotherhood on a practical footing as Islam did in its super-national conception of Ummah; it has not been able to create a social structure in which the conflicts and frictions between the members are as efficiently reduced to a minimum as in the social plan of Islam; it has not been able to enhance the dignity of man, his feeling of security, his spiritual hope, and last but surely not the least, his happiness.
In all these things, the present achievements of the human race fall considerable short of the Islamic programme. Where, then, is the justification for saying that Islam is ‘out of date’? Is it only because its foundations are purely religious, and religious orientation is out of fashion today? But if we see that a system based on religion has been able to evolve a practical programme of life more complete, more concrete, and more congenial to the psychological constitution of man than any other thing the human mind has been able to produce in the way of reforms and proposals—is this not just a very weighty argument in favour of the religious outlook?
Islam, we have every reason to believe, has been fully vindicated by the positive achievements of man because it has envisaged them and pointed them out as desirable long before they have been attained, as well as by the negative things, the errors and pitfalls of human development, because it has loudly and clearly warned of them long before mankind recognised them as errors. Quite apart from religious belief there is also every inducement, from a purely intellectual viewpoint, to follow confidently the practical guidance of Islam.
If we consider the Islamic culture and civilization from this point of view we necessarily come to the conclusion that its revival is possible. We do not need to ‘reform’ Islam, as some Muslims think, because it is already perfect in itself. What we need to reform is our attitude towards religion, our laziness, our self-conceit, our short-sightedness; in one word, our defects, and not some supposed defects in Islam.”
So run the forceful observations of this new brother-in-faith, fit to be written in golden letters in the heart of every true son of Islam. But in the concluding words he suggests a question, which he has not thought fit to reply. The same question has also been indicated elsewhere in the same chapter, and in a clearer wording:
“What appears to be the death of Islam is nothing but the death and emptiness of our hearts, which are too idle and too lazy to hear the eternal voice.”
The question evidently is how to reform our attitude towards religion and how to remove the laziness from our hearts so as to enable it to hear the eternal voice. Who is to bring that lost faith back to us? It is not, surely, the work of a philosopher or a mere moralist. Faith alone can inspire faith. There ought to be a man among us who shall have an original faith of his own, an inspiration unborrowed, and it is he and none else but he who can remove this laziness from Muslim minds. It is this necessity and its provision that have been outlined in that reliable hadith [Hadith-e-Mujaddid] which is known to every Muslim, viz.,
اِنَّ اللّٰہَ یَبْعَثُ لِھٰذِہِ الْاُمَّۃِ عَلیٰ رَأْسِ کُلِّ مِائَۃِ سَنَۃٍ مَنْ یُّجَدِّدُ لَہَا دِیْنَہَا
“Verily Allah will raise for this Ummah at the beginning of every century a man who will revive its faith for it.”
Indeed, if a revivalist movement was necessary at the end of every Islamic century, it was all the more necessary in the present century. Owing to the impact of the deceiving civilization of the West, the most important feature of our present-day condition is, in the words of our new brother-in-faith,
“the disappearance of belief and the disruption of our social organism.”
To quote him again,
“The state of cultural and social chaos through which we are passing at present distinctly shows that the balancing powers which were once responsible for the greatness of the Islamic world are nearly exhausted today. We are drifting, and no one knows to what cultural end. No intellectual courage remains, no spirit to resist or to avert the torrent of foreign influences destructive to our religion and society.”
Our brother ought to know that what chaos he or we observe today in the Muslim community was all seen in his prophetical vision by our Master, the Holy Prophet Muhammad. He foretold all this and heartened his followers by, saying:
“If the faith flies away even to the Pleiades, the descendants of this man (pointing to his Persian follower, Salman) will bring it back to the earth.”
It ought also to be known to our brother that a son of Persia has actually brought the escaping faith back to the Muslims. If he had cared to live among the followers of this man—Mirza Ghulam Ahmad—he would have found that the Islamic faith of the blessed days of the Prophet is indeed a reality in this twentieth-century. So, the nucleus of Muslim revival has already been formed and a new hope for the future of Islam once more taken root, although the vast majority of the Muslim world is still unable to notice and appreciate it.