Leopold Weiss, the grandson of a rabbi, was born in the Polish city of Lwów in 1900. In 1922 he went to Palestine to visit an uncle who was a psychiatrist at a hospital in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, Weiss began traveling through North Africa and Arabia, where he became deeply attracted to Arabs and to life in the desert. Weiss converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Asad, married an Arab woman, and made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Asad was among the few Westerners who had ever visited Mecca and Medina, and also among the early-twentieth-century explorers of the Arabian and Libyan Deserts. He was befriended by King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, of Saudi Arabia, and became one of the King's envoys and troubleshooters. Asad also helped to set up the modern world's first Islamic state, Pakistan, which he represented as its minister plenipotentiary to the United Nations. For a decade after Asad converted to Islam, his father refused contact with him. But in 1935 the two began exchanging letters. The correspondence continued until 1942, when the Nazis deported Asad's father and sister to a concentration camp, where they both perished.
In his autobiography, The Road to Mecca(1954), Muhammad Asad looked to Abraham, the forefather of the Jews, for understanding.
That early ancestor of mine whom God had driven toward unknown spaces and so to a discovery of his own self, would have well understood why I am here [in Arabia]—for he also had to wander through many lands before he could build his life into something that you might grasp with your hands, and had to be guest at many strange hearths before he was allowed to strike root. To his awe-commanding experience my puny perplexity would have been no riddle.
Asad, who looked back on his Jewish childhood as "happy" and "satisfying," was the ultimate free man, reinventing and negating himself, and thus full of contradictions. I was attracted by his autobiography because of the contradictions in my own life.