The Road to Mecca

I just began reading The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad, and so far I’m finding it amazing!  Muhammad Asad was born in 1900 in Austria to a Jewish family, and after visiting Arabia he converted to Islam.  His translation of the Qur’an (The Message of the Qur’an) is widely-acclaimed.

Asad begins this book by discussing how influenced Europeans still are by the Crusades, and how until today it affects the way they see Islam and Muslims.  He writes,

The Crusades were the strongest collective impression on a civilization that had just begun to be conscious of itself.  Historically speaking, they represented Europe’s earliest – and entirely successful – attempt to view itself under the aspect of cultural unity.

The traumatic experience of the Crusades gave Europe its cultural awareness and unity; but this same experience was destined henceforth also to provide the false colour in which Islam was to appear to Western eyes.  The damage caused by the Crusedes was first and foremost intellectual damage: the positoning of the Western mind against the Muslim world through a direct misrepresentation of the teachings and ideals of Islam.

It was at the time of the Crusades that the ludicrous notion that Islam was a religion of crude sensualism and brutal violence, of an observance of ritual instead of a purification of the heart, entered the Western mind and remained there.

What do you guys think of this? To me it makes absolute sense.  Asad is not the first to suggest that the West is still influenced by the Crusades.  It was this decade that Bush called the War against Terror a “crusade”.  It is also interesting that ideas of Muslims from the Crusades still exist until today, even amongst the most educated Westerners.  These same people then approach the Qur’an, hadith, etc with these preconceived ideas of Islamic backwardness, violence, inferiority etc and claim to objectively interpret and understand Islam, and then, miraculously, come to conclusions that match their preconceived notions (this doesn’t apply to all Westerners who research or look into Islam, but certainly to many I’ve seen).

I’m getting really tired of hearing self-proclaimed “rational”, “scientific” Westerners degrade Islam.  If they based it on actual research and honest work, then fine – everyone has their own opinion.  But when they refer to “the news”, “the media”, “that movie”, or “that one Muslim I met one time”, then it starts to get annoying. And then when you answer, it’s always “oh well you’re Muslim so you’re obviously biased”.  They somehow never stop to wonder if they’re biased as well.

I also feel like this Islamophobia from the West is one of the main reasons many Muslims are becoming increasingly conservative, hostile, or extremist.  Here in Holland I’ve spoken to many Dutch Muslims who say that they emphasize their Muslim identity simply because they feel rejected by Dutch society.  While that in itself might not be a problem, these people often turn to Salafi or Wahhabi sheikhs or websites, since they provide easy solutions to everyday problems.

What do you guys think of Asad’s crusades argument?

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13 thoughts on “The Road to Mecca

  1. Whilst I agree that the crusades and the subsequent thinking has branded Islam as evil in the eyes of the West, it is not only the crusades. There is the Bible, other religious doctrines and so on as well and there are also a few difficult-to-swallow facts. If I see underage marriage as wrong, is that my “westernised mind” being hijacked by culture, or is it actually a bit weird? Is the Quranic injunction to “kill them wherever you find them” a purification that I cannot see, or its it actually violent? And “beat women” is that my mind has been hijacked by the west that I flinch when I read that sentence or is it that this is part of the purification that I cannot see?

    I agree that yes, there is some branding process and smear campaign going on, where even the best parts of Islam have become offensive to the Western mind – but are you placing the blame at the foot of the crusades and not at the foot of the Islamic world which can, and could and should actually be purified and focus more on the internal that the external regulations which only turn to poison without the heart and mind.

  2. I completely agree that the Islamic world is partly to blame for the negative image it has. Asad wrote this book in the 1920s, when Muslims were perhaps more vigilant about inward duties rather than only focusing on external ones.

    I too see child marriages etc as wrong, and that is not a Western idea – many Islamic scholars across time have found these things troublesome enough to debate and discuss and come up with different interpretations. Many Westerners bring up these things time and time again, but when you respond with “context”, “reinterpretation”, or “modern understandings of”, many stop listening, at least in my experience.

  3. This Muhammad Asad guy sounds interesting. Reminds me of Malcolm X’s story of how he realised racism can be cured by practicing the beliefs of Islam.

    I think some non-Muslims in the West will always have something against lslam. They will find any explanation or reason to feel the way they do about Islam and Muslims. This may sound “irrational” but I believe God has willed it to be that way for a reason.

    I think this is a test not only for them but for us as well. Do we deviate from the teachings of Islam or do we continue to be steadfast in our belief? Living in the West as Muslim has not made me more conservative, hostile or extreme. Rather it has opened my eyes to so many things I did not see about my faith when I was living in an Islamic country.

    Furthermore, due to dealing with non-Muslims everyday it only makes me believe even more in the the importance of co-existence by being moderate and respectful of others’ feelings and belief systems (as long as no one gets hurt in the process e.g. Zionism).

    Just my 2 cents anyway =)

    • “Living in the West as Muslim has not made me more conservative, hostile or extreme. Rather it has opened my eyes to so many things I did not see about my faith when I was living in an Islamic country.”

      I’ve had the same experience so far. And I’ve also realized the importance of co-existence.

  4. Interesting post! I disagree that the Crusades has influenced Americans. Bush’s comment was unfortunate, but we use the word “crusade” (like a campaign, goal, event) quite a lot and don’t refer back to THE Crusades. You should know most Americans don’t have wonderful grasps of history! 😉 Americans are influenced much by media, however, so I can see your point concerning the news and TV shows, movies that portray Muslims a certain way.

    Sadly it seems within the last ten years most newsworthy terror events have been done by Muslims (or those claiming to be! — HUGE difference I know!). Whereas we may see some Christian terrorist and say “ah, that’s not really Christian” because we know what Jesus taught and the example of his life, we don’t make the distinction between Muslims (or so-called ones) and Islam quite as easily. Perhaps this is a misinterpretation of religious texts such as “slay the unbelievers where ever you find them” and such things from the Quran. But when people have a notion that Islam was spread by the sword, it’s hard for them to separate “true Islam” vs. “what some Muslims do in the name of Islam” as they see the two working hand in hand.

    In fact I was disgusted just this morning when I read this on another blog. “Flame” was trying to prove how women are inferior to men in Islam! He was replying to Muslim women, in fact. See here:

    Sarah, islam is under heavy critic of its morality and ethics.
    for 1200 years, no moslem even felt ashamed by even most bizarre hadith or sirah story.

    now is islam, thanx to 9/11, in the spotlights.

    now moslems are doing for the first time during the existence of islam apologetics – defending the islam by word, not by sword (what is always easier).

    “Why would women follow a religon that tells them they are second class? If women are so stupid why are they entrusted with the upbrining of the next generation?”

    1. “Why would women follow a religon that tells them they are second class?
    there are several reasons –
    – most important is, you cannot leave islam, as well as you cannot say to mafia gang -well boys, it was fine, Im just leaving and I want to live differently.

    – they do not know any better
    – islam provides them only sense of superiority above better developped world. or simply the feeling that they belong to something bigger than kitchen and diaper changing.

    – If women are so stupid why are they entrusted with the upbrining of the next generation?-

    in islam, their role is to provide sexual satisfaction and to bore children. in islam it is mainly father, who is responsible for the upbringing of children.

    So, see, unfortunately, you even have silly men who are furthering making Islam out to be anti-woman and advancing by sword. Thankfully I don’t see this much, but I thought I’d use it as an example since you were curious where some of us get our thoughts of Islam. Sometimes from Muslims themselves!

      • I totally agree, I can imagine that many negative ideas about Islam come from Muslims themselves, which is very unfortunate. But in Holland, many Dutch people who have never met a Muslim have very strong, negative feelings towards Islam. I think the media plays a much bigger role.

        About terrorism, 0.06% of terrorist acts in Europe in the past 10 years have been done by Muslims…and in the US the percentage is also really low. Yes it’s unfortunate that 9/11 was such a big deal, but in general this association between Islam/Muslims and terrorism has no basis.

        I see why you needed chocolate after reading that post 😛

  5. As a Western American Muslim myself, I can acknowledge that I also fall into traps of anger sometimes regarding Islam.. I am always going back and forth on the issue: Am I being prejudice and unfair towards Islam/Muslims, or are my feelings valid and rational?

    For example, I know for a fact I am influenced by the media, even when I have taken college courses on how the media weaves and sways and bows to “ratings” aka sensationalism, I still find myself angry at Muslims for the way they are portrayed… For example, the issue with Comedy Central receiving death threats, or Pakistan completely banning facebook because of an anti-Islam group that was on there…… I get angry at Muslims because it makes us look like we aren’t focused, or rational…

    Growing up with anti-censorship ground into our brains, and freedom of speech taught to us, even freedom of hate speech, I see some reactions by some Muslim communities as irrational, or too emotional, or childish…

    I am still grappling with my feelings on this, trying to figure out what is my own culture making me feel these things, and the consequences being a bit of prejudice…. ?

    Still working on that one….

    As for the crusades, I do believe “mindset” that resulted from that time period is still thick in our religious culture, even when we have no idea why we think a certain way… Prime example being Bushes speech after 9/11

    • I do the same thing. I didn’t grow up in a Muslim country, and until I moved to one I also had a really negative image of Islam that came purely from the media and my social circle. So I’m 100% certain that people get influenced by the media and those around them more than they think. Which sucks for Muslims since the media isn’t really Muslim-friendly…

  6. I t hink it was Santanaya who said, those who cant remember the past are condemned to repeat it..so if as you say (which is true) that americans dont know much about history, it kinda prooves why they are conducting several crusades against muslims now.
    We are all coloured by our history, our religions history and our peoples history.
    Without the Prophets message, we would not conduct in a certain way. I meet wahabis and islamofphobic people on my blog on a daily basis and they have the same thinking, its a thinking of hate, arrogance and of stupidity. They think they know it all..the islamophobes say that they have read the Quran and the hadiths..when i tell them that the hadiths are in the 100 000s, they suddenly switch..
    Today we read on such blogs and homepages that muslims never were superiour to the west, never had great achievements never spread knowledge. We read and hear that muslims are inferiour, violent and hostile, this all is part of old ways of diminishing the enemy. when we muslims are less then human, then we are easily killed or removed. This has been done to other nations and people and religions for ages and its the same thing that is happening now.
    If you see zionist or jewish input about Gaza they tell everyone that the Gazans are terrorists, that they are subhuman.

    One issue that is often forgotten is that when something big happens, usually a lot of people get interessed, like after the danish cartoons more danes started to read the Quran (it was sold out) same goes with 9/11..one problem we have is that when these westerenrs get interessed they get to meet our dear beloved wahabis, who run a lot of mosques and a lot of homepages..and voila, we got a bunch of new converts who start to think of blowing them up instead of spreading the message of holy Prophet..

    • Great comment! I’ve always wondered why so many converts become so Wahhabi-like, and it makes sense that it is because they meet Wahhabis/Salafis right after converting and then get influenced. I wonder how we can change that?

      And I agree 100% that Islamophobes and Wahhabis have a lot in common, despite hating each other.

      I wish your blog was in English!

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