“Muhammad Asad is the Tight Bond Between our Nations,” Says Pakistani Ambassador to Ukraine



On 20 November, Hall of Academic Council of the Institute of Journalism of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv hosted the presentation of Ukrainian translations of two books by Muhammad Asad (a Lviv-born XX century thinker who in his early years was known as Leopold Weiss; born in 1900): “The Road to Mecca” and “Home-Coming Of The Heart”.

The event was organised by Muhammad Asad Lviv Islamic Cultural Centre along with the Ukrainian Centre of Islamic Studies. The presentation kindles interest from the University’s students and teachers and diplomatic workers alike, which Mr.Vitalii Kornieiev from the University’s administration couldn’t fail to mention in his greeting speech. He said it wasn’t often when the Institute of Journalism managed to gather more representatives of diplomatic bodies than the Institute of International relations they share the 36/1 Yurii Illienko Str. building with.

Mufti of RAMU “Umma” Said Ismagilov recalled that the following year would mark Muhammad Asad’s 120th anniversary, and that RAMU “Umma” will in all ways promote commemorating that prominent thinker of global importance. Sheikh Said mentioned that, facilitated by RAMU “Umma”, Muhammad Asad’s collected edition “Ahead of His Time” was printed in 2013, Muhammad Asad Lviv Islamic Cultural Centre was founded and opened in 2015, first Ukrainian translation of “The Road to Mecca” (with the author’s remarks)  was published 2016, and Ukrainian translation of “Home-Coming Of The Heart” was published in 2019. Besides, he said, Islam in Ukraine website made regular publication on Muhammad Asad and his legacy.

Ambassador of Pakistan in Ukraine, H.E. Zahid Mubashir Sheikh noted, that it was a great honour for him to be speaking of one of the the greatest Muslims of XX century, a traveller, a journalist, a translator and a political figure, Muhammad Asad, for Pakistan’s very Independence was greatly promoted by that man:

— I’ve always known Muhammad Asad, but I wasn’t aware that he was born in Ukraine. Yet this historical figure makes a great tight bond between our nations, Pakistan and Ukraine!

Indeed, having moved to then-Indian in 1932, Mr.Asad joined the struggle for independence from Great Britain’s rule, as well as for Pakistan’s separation and Independence. He became a companion to the leaders of Indian Muslims, such as Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He promoted publishing the first newspapers in Urdu (a language that he mastered profoundly), and laid his hand in drafting the country’s Constitution. His input was recognized and appreciated so highly that he was the first among all people to get Pakistani citizenship and passport. He was later invited as Head of the Directorate of Islamic Reconstruction, Joint Secretary of the Middle East Division in Foreign Office, and even Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations.

H.E. Zahid Mubashir Sheikh was excited to mention the high level of religious freedom and mutual respect in Ukraine, the homeland of the famous thinker:

— I’m happy to see such a great tolerance and mutual respect for people of different religious views here. In particular, I was impressed when we were fasting during Ramadan, and leaders of Jewish and Christian communities greeted us, which isn’t common for Pakistan. [...] I hope that other works of Muhammad Asad will also be translated to Ukrainian in the nearest future, so that his fellow countrymen would get to know that profound legacy of such prominent philosophical, political and religious thought of the XX century.

Another colleague of Mr.Asad (not a diplomat, but a translator of meanings of the Holy Qur’an), famous Ukrainian orientalist Mr.Mykhailo Yakubovych was given word at the event. He said that he wouldn’t make any spoilers so that the readers would keep the joy of discovering the books, but instead had everyone concentrate on the author’s personality:

— He caught the East in the state unavailable to us now. [...] The Orient as it was before all the modernisation, and his records can help us understand both past and current processes in the region. He sees himself as a pilgrim and as a European who made his civilizational choice. Unlike most of the new converts, he makes no attempt to idealize the Orient and turn a blind eye on the negative things. He saw the situation in those countries in the early stages of post-colonialism, and saw the problems that built up in those societies, and he wrote about them.  [...] Asad was an insider, who wrote plainly, and that straightforwardness cost him dear. [As Pakistani Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations, he stood against Israel and Zionist, for which he was labeled as “Jewish renegate”]; yet after escalation of Arab-Israeli conflict he had to deflect accusation of his Jewish origin; he had to defend himself and remind his critics how much he had done for the Muslim world.

Mr.Yakubovych also highlighted that 2020 would be the year of Muhammad Asad’s 120th anniversary, and expressed hopes that it would find its expression in series of themed events, for it would be unvise to disown such intellectual heritage and such a prominent personality.

After the presentation was over, people could buy the books presented, as well as other literature on Islamic Studies.