In the early 1920s Leopold Weiss, a Viennese Jew, alienated by the materialism and spiritual emptiness of the West, travelled to the Middle East, visiting Jerusalem, Egypt, the Transjordan and Saudi Arabia. After studying the Koran, he left his Jewish roots behind, converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Asad.
Asad (1900-1992) became one of the most important Muslims of the 20th century, spreading its message of peace and brotherhood as a journalist and author of books such as Islam at the Crossroads, The Principles of State and Government in Islam and his autobiography, The Road to Mecca. He served as an advisor to the royal court of Saudi Arabia and was a co-founder of Pakistan and its Ambassador to the UN.
A ROAD TO MECCA traces his spiritual journey, from the Arabian desert to Ground Zero, visiting the places where Asad lived and travelled. Archival footage and photos and excerpts from Asad's writings are blended with contemporary interviews with writers, historians, scholars, and his friends and associates, revealing Asad's legacy as a modern theological thinker.
In portraying the lifelong evolution of the philosophy of Muhammad Asad, who sought to be a mediator between East and West, A ROAD TO MECCA provides a portrait of contemporary Islam, challenging deeply rooted Western prejudices by revealing the distance between fundamentalist beliefs that support terrorism and the core beliefs of a profoundly humane religion.
"An inquisitive journey... The spectator is taken on a beautifully uncertain journey (physically and psychologically) with a suitable formal closure (Asad's grave in Andalusia) and even more thought-provoking discursive openness." —Catalin Brylla, University of Newport, Leonardo Reviews
2009 Jerusalem Film Festival
2009 Dubai Film Festival
Jury Award, 2008 FIDADOC Film Festival (Morocco)
Best Cinematography Award, 2008 Diagonale Festival of Austrian Films
2008 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
2008 Vancouver International Film Festival
“Fascinating... the film presents different viewpoints from a moderate middle ground to fundamentalist takes on the larger conflict in the Middle East... The history of Asad and his mental and physical journey are used to give the viewer a new insight into the current attitude and understanding of religion.” —Cecilie Bolvinkel, Dox Magazine
"Informative... a well-judged combo of travelogue and biopic... a fine piece of anthropology, worthy of the dedication it copies from Asad's translation of the Koran: 'For people who think.'"—Alissa Simon, Variety
"Lively, entertaining and very topical. A most astounding perspective on multicultural identities."—Der Falter
"A tactful and astute portrait."—Kleine Zeitung