The Road to Makkah is a journey both spiritual and physical. The book written by Muhammad Asad is a travelogue as well as a memoir. Asad was born Leopold Weiss, a central European Jew, who embraced Islam in 1926. The book reflects his quest for discovering his self and attraction towards Islam. He travelled for four years in Middle East countries and encountered different incidents which quenched his thirst for discovering reality of his life. Dissatisfied with his European life, he has effectively portrayed Europe’s moral ambiguity and emotional insecurity. His close observation of both Muslim and European worlds enabled him to write about differences in their ideals, beliefs and way of living. There is repetitive comparison between Muslim’s life and European’s life. This book covers his travels in Middle East countries and conversion to Islam in the form of flashbacks during his 23 days journey to Mecca in the summer of 1932. His spiritual journey towards Islam underlies this travelogue.
The book starts with Asad’s ride on a dromedary with another companion named Zayd in the Arab desert. During this journey his series of flashbacks reveal his trip from Vienna to Berlin in 1920 where he started his profession as a journalist. Then in 1922 his uncle invited him to Jerusalem. During his journey he met Christian Father Felix with whom he discussed the matter of destiny and integration of soul and body. Asad spent four years from 1922 to 1926 in Middle East countries. He visited Egypt, Damascus, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and Iran. During his visits he met different Muslims who opened the doors of Islam to him. He gave account of his marriages, his friendships with Muslims, his progress in field of journalism because of his influential writings on Muslim world.
Asad’s intention to write this book was not to give chronicle of his adventures but to highlight perceptions of Europe and Muslim world about integration of soul and body, material and spiritual progress, emotional and moral security. He has given account of European spiritual emptiness. European worship material progress due to which moral death and ethical frustration is prevalent. Their craving after power and pleasure led to the break up
of Western society in hostile groups armed to teeth to destroy each other whenever their respective interests clash. Then he talked about Christian salvation that aims at making spirit free from domination of flesh. They have separated faith from mundane routine, on Sundays they escape into the unreal, deceptive forgetfulness with silent cities and closed shops. Christianity has left fields of social and economic activities untouched which resulted in development of Christian politics and business in directions opposite to that propagated by Christ.
On the other hand, Asad described Islamic way of life. The prayers of Muslims do not seem separated from their working days, there is unification of faith and personal desires. Islam is not a religion but a way of life, a code of conduct for personal and social behaviour. Unlike Christianity, there is no concept of salvation in Islam, body and soul is one integral whole. In Islam there is no need of intermediary between man and God. The task of Islam is to show man not only how to feel but how to live rightly. There is account of Ramadan and purposes of fasting, that to abstain from food and drink is in order to feel how poor and destitute feel. Other purpose is self-discipline, which is an aspect of individual morality. The reasons behind fall of Muslim scholars in field of knowledge are also mentioned. Scholars have stopped thinking about new things, they gobble up all the written pages but they do not digest them. Their thoughts instead of being developed have become sterile.
In the book writer has given detailed descriptions of characters, places and objects. These vivid and unforgettable descriptions of black, starry nights in the desert, oases, bazaars, Mecca and Medina and the customs of the Beduins help the reader to feel the reality of these places. There is emotional energy and stylistic sublimity in the book. Different Islamic allusions have been quoted in the in the book and pressing issues have been discussed like the marriage of non-Muslim girl with Muslim boy but not the marriage of Muslim girl with a non-Muslim boy.
The Road to Mecca must be among world’s best travel and adventure writing. The book is about story of a European’s discovery of Islam. It shows restlessness of modern man and after reading this book inquisitiveness arouses about different realities of life like destiny, downfall of Muslims and moral and ethical chaos in modern world. This book shows slow realization of truth of religion but heartily acceptance of its true spirit. It is like a window that can give you views of both European and Muslim world. Youth must take guidance from this book.