Two Souls in Search of an Oasis

This paper studies the quest for self and identity in the works of Muhammad Asad and Kamala Das (known as Kamala Surayya after she embraced Islam) from a broadly comparative perspective. The first section discusses this theme in the context of Muhammad Asad’s epochal The Road to Mecca, and the second section focuses on the poems of Kamala Das. I explore how these two authors, belonging to two disparate geographical and cultural milieus, found refuge in Islamic monotheism from the existential crisis that haunts modern humanity. Questions concerning self and existence have baffled humanity ever since people became conscious that each one of them has a self. Does life make any sense in or beyond itself? Does it have any definable aim or goal? What differentiates human beings from other animals, apart from their status as a “talking biped”? These questions, which arise from issues lying at the core of this concern, are treated with the utmost negativity and skepticism in the works of existentialist authors, who attribute no inherent value or significance to human destiny.

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