Screening and Discussion: A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad. Discussion with Talal Asad and Joseph Massad
Wed, January 27, 2010 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts
Georg Misch Austria, 2009, 92 minutes, Color, Digital
Free and Open to the Public
In the early 1920s Leopold Weiss, a Viennese Jew, alienated by the materialism and spiritual emptiness of the West, travelled to the Middle East, visiting Jerusalem, Egypt, the Transjordan and Saudi Arabia. After studying the Koran, he left his Jewish roots behind, converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Asad.
Asad (1900-1992) became one of the most important Muslims of the 20th century, spreading its message of peace and brotherhood as a journalist and author of books such as Islam at the Crossroads, The Principles of State and Government in Islam and his autobiography, The Road to Mecca. He served as an advisor to the royal court of Saudi Arabia and was a co-founder of Pakistan and its Ambassador to the UN.
A ROAD TO MECCA traces his spiritual journey, from the Arabian desert to Ground Zero, visiting the places where Asad lived and travelled. Archival footage and photos and excerpts from Asad's writings are blended with contemporary interviews with writers, historians, scholars, and his friends and associates, revealing Asad's legacy as a modern theological thinker.
In portraying the lifelong evolution of the philosophy of Muhammad Asad, who sought to be a mediator between East and West, A ROAD TO MECCA provides a portrait of contemporary Islam, challenging deeply rooted Western prejudices by revealing the distance between fundamentalist beliefs that support terrorism and the core beliefs of a profoundly humane religion.
“Fascinating... the film presents different viewpoints from a moderate middle ground to fundamentalist takes on the larger conflict in the Middle East... The history of Asad and his mental and physical journey are used to give the viewer a new insight into the current attitude and understanding of religion.” —Cecilie Bolvinkel, Dox Magazine
Talal Asad, son of Mohammed Asad, is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His publications include On Suicide Bombing (Columbia University Press, 2007), Formations of the Secular (Stanford University Press, 2003), Genealogies of Religion (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), and a number of influential articles, including “On Re-reading a Modern Classic: W.C. Smith's The Meaning and End of Religion,” History of Religions (2001). Asad is a member of the SSRC working group on religion, secularism, and international affairs.
Joseph A. Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He is the author of Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians and Desiring Arabs.
"Fascinating... informative... a well-judged combo of travelogue and biopic... a fine piece of anthropology, worthy of the dedication it copies from Asad's translation of the Koran: 'For people who think.'"—Alissa Simon, Variety
"Lively, entertaining and very topical. A most astounding perspective on multicultural identities."—Der Falter "A tactful and astute portrait."—Kleine Zeitung
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