Friday, May 4, 2007

On the road

On the road in Atlanta (but rather unlike Jack Kerouac), I brought Muhammad Asad's memoir, The Road to Mecca, along with me, hoping to finish it before it's due back at the library (where it can't be renewed because someone else wants it).

In the section I read last night [on p. 184], Asad (a European Jew) is asked by his friend Mansur:
"Tell me, O did it happen that thou hast come to live among the Arabs? And how didst thou come to embrace Islam?"

"I will tell thee how it happened," interposes Zayd. "First he fell in love with the Arabs, and then with their faith. Isn't it true, O my uncle?" [Though Zayd is a few years older than Asad, he calls him uncle out of respect.]

"What Zayd says is true, O Mansur. Many years ago [it was actually well fewer than ten], when I first came to Arab lands, I was attracted by the way you people lived. And when I began to ask myself what you thought and what you believed in, I came to know about Islam."

"And didst though, O Muhammad, find all at once that Islam was the True Word of God?"

"Well, no, this did not come about so quickly. For one thing, I did not then believe that God had ever spoken directly to man, or that the books which men claimed to be His word were anything but the works of wise men..."

Mansur stares at me with utter incredulity: "How could that be, O Muhammad? Didst thou not even believe in the Scriptures which Moses brought, or the Gospel of Jesus? But I have always thought that the people of the West believe at least in them?"

"Some do, O Mansur, and others do not. I was one of those others..."

And I explain to him that many people in the West have long ceased to regard the Scriptures—their own as well as those of others—as true Revelations of God, but see in them rather the history of man's religious aspirations as they have evolved over the ages.

"But this view of mine was shaken as soon as I came to know something of Islam," I add. "I came to know about it when I found that the Muslims lived in a way quite different from what the Europeans thought should be man's way; and every time I learned something more about the teachings of Islam, I seemed to discover something that I had always known without knowing it..."
As I continue my reading of Thomas Cleary's English translation of the Qur'an, I am trying to remain sufficiently open-minded to recognize, if possible, whether I too discover anything that "I have always known without knowing it."

And clear enough minded to understand what the significance might be of "always having known."


  1. Salamaat,
    I have been mulling over this a lot. How does one come to believe...the leap between connecting the sacred to the mundane.

    After my talks with you, I have been trying to step back from the Quran and read it as an outsider would...and try to figure out, if I had a different background/circumstances would I see the "truth" that seems so clear to me now?

    I am not sure how that connect is made....I know some have "leapt" like Asad, but what initiates that spark? That meltdown of reserves? I have no idea....

  2. Dear Maliha, you seem to have "come to believe" in a spontaneous, unmediated way. I am trying to find out whether or not I can come to do so. My deliberate attempts involve a thoughtful process of critiquing much of "what has gone before." This may or may not be an effective way to approach God. I even doubt that it is. If I'm lucky, I may in the process find a connection with the "mystery of our origins" (as the painter Gauguin appears to have thought of it). Whatever happens, I at least have a sense of being ennobled by the undertaking—whether this be true or but a delusion.