Leopold Weiss, the Jew Who Helped Invent the Modern Islamic State


Shalom Goldman in Tablet:

In 1961 the eminent Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad, then living in Europe, published The Principles of State and Government in Islam. The central question posed in that book is whether Islam is opposed to the mixing of religion and politics—as is the modern West. Though Asad’s answers to this question are subtle and non-categorical, his overall conclusion is that in majority-Muslim states a mixture of politics and religion is necessary. Society must bind itself to the will of God, Asad stated, and “the organization of an Islamic state or states is an indispensable condition of Islamic life in the true sense of the word.”

This was not the first time that Asad, who had been publishing books and articles since the mid-1930s, called for the infusion of religion into politics. In his highly influential 1934 essay “Islam at the Crossroads,” Asad articulated a set of principles about the relationship between the Muslim world and the West that served as the basis of his later conversations with Muhammad Iqbal and other Islamist activists. He envisioned, in Pakistan and elsewhere, the emergence of Muslim states thoroughly modern but inspired and informed by religious principles.

Asad’s vision of an Islamic state bears little resemblance to the militant, anti-Western version propagated by ISIS today; he conceived of an Islamic state based on modern interpretations of the Quran and the Islamic legal traditions, a state grounded in democratic principles, where women would be treated as equals and the civil rights of non-Muslims respected.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, given Asad’s roots. He was born at the turn of the 20th century in Austria-Hungary—in what is now Ukraine—as Leopold (Aryeh) Weiss.

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