Muhammad Asad, born Leopold Weiss; 2 July 1900 – 20 February 1992) was a Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian journalist, traveler, writer, linguist, thinker, political theorist, diplomat and Islamic scholar. Asad was one of the most influential European Muslims of the 20th century.
By the age of thirteen, young Weiss had acquired a passing fluency in Hebrew and Aramaic, other than his native languages German and Polish. By his mid-twenties, he could read and write in English, French, Persian and Arabic. In Palestine, Weiss engaged in arguments with Zionist leaders like Chaim Weizmann, voicing his criticism of the Zionist Movement.After traveling across the Arab World as a jourrnalist, he converted to Islam and chose for himself the Muslim name “Muhammad Asad”—Asad being the Arabic rendition of his root name Leo (Lion).
During his stay in Saudi Arabia, he spent time with Bedouins and enjoyed close company of Ibn Saud—the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. He also carried out a secret mission for Ibn Saud to trace the sources of funding for the Ikhwan Revolt. Due to these activities, he was dubbed in a Haaretz article as “Leopold of Arabia”—hinting similarity of his activities to those of Lawrence of Arabia.
In 2008, the entrance square to the UN Office in Vienna was named Muhammad Asad Platz in commemoration of his work as a “religious bridge-builder”. Asad has been described by his biographers as “Europe’s gift to Islam” and “A Mediator between Islam and the West”.