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June 23, 2011

A book review: Islam at the Crossroads by Muhammad Asad

Hassan Ibrahim

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Muhammad Asad dedicates his book Islam at the Crossroads to "the Muslim youth of today in hopes that it may be of benefit." He did this in not only the first edition, which was published in 1934, but also in the author's note to the revised edition, which was published in 1982.

This represents a precursor to the ideas Asad puts forth in Crossroads because through his writing he hopes to “plea to the Muslim of (his) generation to avoid blind imitation of western social forms and values, and to try to preserve instead their Islamic heritage.”

Asad realized that the change he called for could most probably happen through the young Muslims that were soon to be the leaders of the Islamic/Arab world.

Born Leopold Weiss, in the polish city of Lvov in 1900, Asad became a journalist and subsequently traveled the world.  It was through his travels that he discovered and studied Islam; eventually converting to Islam in 1926.

478He describes his conversion as being due to Islam’s “whole wonderful inexplicable coherent structure of moral teaching and practical life-programme”

Crossroads became, and still is, an extension of Asad’s truth seeking as his conversion was born from the curiosity about “why the Muslims had abandoned their full application to real life.”

It is evident from Asad’s own words in the author’s notes that he wrote this book for a specific audience.  He says that he wrote Crossroads “for those (Muslims) in whose hearts still lives a spark of flame which burned in the Companions of the Prophet”. 

I believe this ends up being one of the reasons that all people interested in Islam and its state in the world must read this book. 

It is a document that prophetically originates a topic that is ever present today.  Asad describes Crossroads as “the statement of a case, as I see it: the case of Islam versus Western civilization.”  What Asad hopes to provide is a basis for judging whether the Islamic world has anything to gain from the Western world.

In the light of the current revolutions going on in the Middle East, Crossroads should at the very least be considered a document of resistance against “the pressure of Western ideas and customs.”

Asad describes Islam as being “a traveler who has come to a crossroads” and must decide between standing still and dying, moving forward “Towards Western Civilization” or taking the path “Towards the Reality of Islam”.  The “reality of Islam” that he speaks of is following the only two real “sources” of Islam that are still present today; The Qur’an, and the Prophet Mohammed’s Sunnah.

What separates Asad’s books from many that have followed to explain the ever-present struggle between the Islamic and Western Worlds is that Asad never once gives in to the urge to be politically correct.  Perhaps it is just a result of being written in a time that such a term didn’t exist; or perhaps it is because as a person who had once sought the truth, and found it, Asad had no interest in making excuses for it.

My hope is that this blunt, honest call for Muslims to go back to the very essence of what Islam is doesn’t end up in the hands of an ignorant mind, because as a book of slightly more than 100 pages it requires more reflection than reading. 

It is easy to get caught up in the apparent “Us versus Them” ideas that seem to be on the surface of Crossroads, but when digging deeper we find that Asad’s purpose for this book is to revitalize what he sees as a once great culture struggling for identity.

Was he successful?  Only you and the horizon of the future can be the judge of that, but I would be curious to know what Asad would have thought about the struggles of today’s Muslim youth and Islamic nations.

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