Muhammad Asad


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Author 's Note 7
Foreword 9
The Open Road of Islam 13
The Spirit of the West 29
The Shadow of the Crusades 49
About Education 63
About Imitation 75
Hadith and Sunnah 82
Conclusion 98


This book was written nearly half a century ago -to be precise, in the autumn of 1933 -and was first published in Delhi in 1934, and subsequently in Lahore: a plea to the Muslims of my generation to avoid a blind imitation of Western social forms and values, and to try to preserve instead their Islamic heritage which once upon a time had been responsible for the glorious, many-sided historical phenomenon comprised in the term "Muslim civilization".

This first literary effort of mine on a purely Islamic subject found an immediate response among English-speaking Muslims of what was then an undivided India, and was reprinted in many editions. An Arabic translation followed a few years later, and its impact on the educated public in the Middle East was, if anything, even greater than that of the original, Englishlanguage version. The positive reception accorded to it soon gave rise to other books, by other Muslim writers, who took up the main theme of Islam at the Crossroads and elaborated it in various forms and on various levels, each according to his own bent of mind, sometimes coinciding with this or that of myviews, but more often than not arriving at conclusions and postulates which appeared to me then -and appear to me now contrary to what I had envisaged. What I had in mind when I wrote this book was a re-awakening of the Muslims' consciousness of their being socially and culturally different from the all-powerful Western society, and thus a deepening of their pride in, and their desire to preserve, such of their own traditional forms and institutions as would help them to keep that essential "difference" alive and make them once again culturally creative after the centuries of our community's utter


stagnation and intellectual sterility. Throughout, the main accent was on " re-awakening " and " preserving": that is to say , preserving those forms and values of our pa st which were still rel evant to the reality of Isl am as a culture-producing force , and re-awakening the spirit of Islamic ideology as e xpressed in the Holy Our 'an and the Prophet 's Sunnah .

But , as it happened , much of what I had aimed at when writing Islam at th e Cros sroads was sub sequently mi sunderstood by some of the Mu slim reader s and leaders who f ailed to grasp the full implications of my call to cultural c reativeness , and began to think that what mattered wa s a mere r eturn to the social forms e vident in th e past centuries of Muslim decadence . Thi s , a s I h ave alr eady said , w as quit e contrary to wh at I had aimed at. To be sure, a re-awakening has taken and is t aking place in the Muslim world: but , alas , it is not a re-awakening to the true value s of the Our 'an a nd the Sunnah but , rather, a confu s ion . re sulting from the readines s of s o many Muslims to accept blindl y t h e s ocia l f or ms and thought-p rocesses -evol ved in the medieval Muslim world instead of bold ly r eturn ing 0 to the ideology app arent in the only true sources o f I sl am: the Our 'an a nd th e Sunnah .

It i s in the endeavour to clarif y s omething of the tragic confu sion nowadays prev ailing in th e Mu slim world that I am now presenting a new , revi sed edition of thi s book in the hope that it may be of benefit t o the Muslim y outh of toda y , ju st a s the original1934editionwasdedicatedto th e Mu slim youthofthose da ys -to th e fath ers or ev en the grandfather s of the present gener ation. If s ome of th eir forebears misunderstood my effort , perhap s th e pres ent-day y oung Mu slims are better able to a ppreciate it s meaning in the light of what ha s pa ssed s ince it first a ppeared half a centur y ago. May it aid them on the d ifficult road that s till l ies ahead of them.

Tan gier , 19 82 . MUHAMMAD ASAD


Seldom has mankind been intellectually as restless as it is in our time. Not only are we faced with a multitude of problems requiring new and unprecedented solutions, but also the angle of vision in which these problems appear before us is different from anything to which we have been accustomed so far. In all countries society passes through fundamental changes. The pace at which this happens is everywhere different; but everywhere we can observe the same pressing energy which allows of no halt or hesitation.

The world of Islam is no exception in this respect. Here also we see old customs and ideas gradually disappear and new forms emerge. Where does this development lead? How deep does it reach? How far does it fit into the cultural mission of Islam?

This book does not pretend to give an exhaustive answer to all these questions. Owing to its limited scope only one of the problems facing the Muslims today, namely, the attitudewhich they should adopt towards Western civilization, has been selected for discussion. The vast implications of the subject, however, have made it necessary to extend our scrutiny over some basic aspects of Islam, more particularly with regard to the concept of the Sunnah. It is impossible to give here more than the bare outline of a theme wide enough to fill many bulky volumes. But none the less -or, perhaps, therefore - I feel confident that this brief sketch will prove, for others, an incentive to further thought on this most important problem.

And now about myself -because the Muslims have a right, when a convert speaks to them, to know how and why he has embraced Islam.

In 1922 I left my native country, Austria, to travel through Africa and Asia as a special correspondent to some of the leading Continental newspapers, and spent from that year onward nearly the whole of my time in the Islamic East. My


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