After resigning from his diplomatic position as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in the early 1950s, Muhammad Asad devoted himself to writing his autobiography. Published to much acclaim in 1954, The Road to Mecca told the story of a Galician Jew named Leopold Weiss who had rejected his European Jewish heritage by converting to Islam and immersing himself in the Orient. Despite the author’s emphatic disavowal of his Jewish roots, this article argues that the author framed his conversion to Islam as a resolution to the dilemmas of emancipation and assimilation faced by Central European Jews of his generation. Thus, whereas Asad’s conversion to Islam and his shifting allegiance to the Muslim world seem to place him outside the boundaries of modern Jewish identity politics, I argue that the orientalist ideal he constructs in the autobiography draws on the same postliberal, antiassimilatory rhetoric used by Zionists in the early twentieth century. Asad’s acerbic critique of Zionism and his renunciation of European Jewry notwithstanding, his autobiography is steeped in the symbolic language of Jewish orientalist self-affirmation that characterized his generation’s search for new modes of Jewish self-definition.


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