The Polish Jew Who Became One of the 20th Century’s Major Muslim Thinkers

Feb. 28 2022

Born into a Jewish family of Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine) in what was then Austrian Poland, Leopold Weiss received a robust talmudic education alongside secular schooling, although, by his own telling, neither of his parents was especially devout. After some time spent in Mandate Palestine visiting relatives, Weiss grew enamored with Arab culture, eventually converting to Islam, taking the name Muhammad Asad, and becoming a confidant of Ibn Saud—king of the eponymous section of Arabia—and, years later, an advisor to the government of Pakistan. He also wrote a popular memoir and rendered the Quran into English. Martin Kramer, in an essay first published in 1999, tells his remarkable story:

[W]hile Asad obviously distanced himself from Judaism, he adhered to a set of ideals that suffused the Jewish milieu from which he emerged. His failure to impart these ideals to contemporary Islam, and a repetitious pattern of rejection by his Muslim coreligionists, made of him a wandering Muslim, whose road from Mecca traversed an uncomprehending Islam before winding back to the refuge of the West.

Weiss always presented his anti-Zionism as a simple moral imperative, . . . bolstered by a flash of insight [he] experienced near the Jaffa Gate while observing a Bedouin Arab, “silhouetted against the silver-grey sky like a figure from an old legend.” Perhaps, he fantasized, this was “one of that handful of young warriors who had accompanied young David on his flight from the dark jealousy of Saul, his king?” Then, he says, “I knew, with that clarity which sometimes bursts within us like lightening and lights up the world for the length of a heartbeat, that David and David’s time, like Abraham and Abraham’s time, were closer to their Arabian roots—and so to the Bedouin of today—than to the Jew of today, who claims to be their descendant.”

[Later on], he found a new source of inspiration, during a stay in Cairo: Shaykh Mustafa al-Maraghi (1881-1945), a brilliant reformist theologian who later became rector of al-Azhar University. This was Weiss’s first contact with Islamic reformism, and it left a profound impression upon him. Weiss concluded that the abysmal state of the Muslims could not be attributed to Islam, as its Western critics claimed, but to a misreading of Islam. When properly interpreted, in a modern light, Islam could lead Muslims forward, while offering spiritual sustenance that Judaism and Christianity had ceased to provide.

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Read more at Martin Kramer

More about: Conversion, Islam, Jewish history, Saudi Arabia

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform