MUHAMMAD ASAD (born Leopold Weiss) was a journalist, writer, a diplomat involved in the establishment of the statehood of a number of Arab states, one of the most outstanding Muslim thinkers of the twentieth century, the author of about 40 philosophical works, and the “honorary father” of a Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Leopold Weiss in his youth. 


Leopold Weiss was the son of a lawyer from Lviv whose family moved to Vienna after the First World War. He demonstrated from a young age that he was truly a self-made man.

Chernivtsi rabbi Benjamin Weiss, Leopold’s (Mohammad’s) grandfather.

At the age of 20 he left university and moved from Vienna to Berlin, where he got a job as a telephone operator at one of the most famous German newspapers, the Frankfurter Zeitung. Thanks to his journalistic luck, he was quickly promoted to the position of reporter after he miraculously interviewed Yekaterina Peshkova, the wife of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, when she arrived in Berlin.

However, at the age of 22, he changed his life again, becoming a Middle Eastern correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung. He started living with his uncle in Jerusalem.


When he was still called Leopold Weiss, in Palestine, early 1920s.

Leopold had time to live and work on four continents, thoroughly studying different cultures (Jewish, European, Islamic) and learning eight languages. Leopold was familiar and even friends with many rulers, including the king of Jordan: Abdullah, and the ideologists of Pakistan’s independence: Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was also an advisor to the first King of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud. 

This Lviv native was so taken by the ideas in the Koran that upon his return to Berlin in 1926, he adopted Islam and took on a new name: he became Muhammad Asad (the word “asad” in Arabic means “lion”, thus it is the equivalent of Leopold from Lviv – a city that has a lion as its symbol). He actively supported the struggle for the sovereignty of Muslim countries.


Mohammed Assad in traditional Arabic clothing. 

When the colonial system collapsed and a number of newly independent Muslim countries emerged, the native of Ukraine had a hand in establishing or helping most of them, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Palestine, Kuwait, and others. Leopold was called “the Generous Gift of Europe to the Muslim World”.


Having accepted Muhammad Iqbal’s proposal to “explain the intellectual prerequisites of the functioning” of a sovereign Pakistan, Asad started developing the principles of building an Islamic state and, a “road map” for its creation, and a plan for how to establish it in the international arena. This hard work lasted for eight years (1947-1955). 

Asad at the Pakistani mission to the UN. 

In 1947, this native from Lviv was appointed a leader of the Islamic Revival Division, whose task was to elaborate the ideology of the nascent Islamic state and prepare to maintain public order. Two years later, he became Chief of the Middle East Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Subsequently, he was an official representative of Pakistan at the United Nations, where he vigorously defended the rights of this Muslim state, and was given the epithet of “Jewish apostate”. 


"Many believe that if you close the face of a woman with a burka, it is the true path to Islam, although it is absolutely not like that." - Muhammad Asad.

He also spoke to the media in Urdu and took an active part in drafting the constitution of Pakistan. He was the one who demanded a clause in Pakistan’s basic law that, years later, enabled Benazir Bhutto to become the first female leader of this Muslim country, Pakistan’s prime minister. She personally emphasized the merit of Asad in this event, so he was reverently called the “honorary father” of Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and their son Bilawal during a visit to the United States.


- Leopold’s grandfather was the elder of one of the most revered rabbinic dynasties that lasted several generations.  

- Asad remembered well the city of his birth: “My childhood passed in Lviv, a city that was ruled by Austria at that time, in a house and on the streets that were both quiet and majestic.” 


- During World War II, his father and sister died in a German death camp.  

- He made five pilgrimages to Mecca and spent almost six years in Medina, the city of the Prophet Muhammad.  

Mohammed Assad during a speech.

- He believed that Muslim women should not wear a burka, because the scripture stated that only the Prophet’s wives covered their faces with it.  

- “The Road to Mecca”, a book on the history of Asad’s conversion from Judaism to Islam, has been translated into many languages.

- Dr. Gunther Windhager from the University of Vienna (Austria) has published the book “Leopold Weiss alias Muhammad Asad: From Galicia to Arabia. 1900-1927”.  

- Asad was married three times, he convinced his first and third non-Muslim wives to convert to Islam. His second wife was only 15 years old at the time of marriage.  

Muhammad Asad (seated right) and his wife Paula Hamida Asad (seated left) at the residence of Chaudhry Niaz Ali Khan in Jauharabad, Pakistan, 1957.

- He was fluent in eight languages: English, French, German, Polish, Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, and Persian. 

- There have been rumors of Asad’s “secret operations” for foreign intelligence agencies. However, only the fact of espionage against the United Kingdom in favor of Saudi Arabia has been established.  


- At an advanced age, he confessed that if he had met a Muslim now, he would not have liked them. The reason was his disappointment not in the Prophet’s precepts, but in their realization by the faithful. 

“Everyone is given the opportunity to live once, and everyone deserves the chance to succeed if they are willing to work diligently, first and foremost.” - Benazir Bhutto.


  • Asad was born on June 12 (in some sources, July 2) 1900, in Lviv. 
  • He studied at the Universities of Vienna and Cairo. 
  • In his youth, he worked as an assistant to the German film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, and as a correspondent for a number of newspapers. 

    A memorial plaque to Mohammed Assad in Berlin.

  • He translated the Quran into English, addressing it to “those who think” (a quote from this scripture). He was a professor at Al-Azhar University (Cairo). 
  • He died on February 20, 1992. He is buried in the cemetery of the Spanish city of Marbella. 

    Muhammad Assad Square in Donauestadt, Vienna.

  • In 2008, the name of Muhammad Asad was given to the square in front of the main entrance to the UN headquarters in Vienna. It is the first square in Western Europe named in honor of a Muslim. 
  • In 2015 an Islamic Cultural Center was opened in Lviv that is named after Muhammad Asad.

This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher's permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020.

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