Knud Holmboe was born in 1902 as the son of an obscure Danish Businessman. He chose a career in journalism as a means of escape from a smug middle-class materialism which, with his strongly adventurous and unconventional nature, he abhorred. At the age of only eighteen, his first foray into print appeared with the Copenhagen newspaper Dagens Nyheder:
A sketch of the nomadic reindeer-herders of the Lappland, an area which in those days remained almost untouched by modernity. Other commissions soon followed, but his love of remote places could not long be suppressed.
It was to break surface again in 1924, when he set foot for the first time on Muslim soil. A successful series of articles on the French war against the Riff mountaineers of Morocco quickly formed the nucleus of a book, in which the young and idealistic reporter vividly portrays a small but brutal colonial war.
The revelation of European cruelty against the threadbare Muslim tribesmen of the Riff bore heavily on Holmboe’s conscience. Overtaken by a painful crisis of identity and faith, he gave up writing and sought refuge in a French moastery, with the intention of reading and reflecting on the large questions of history and religion which troubled him.
We do not know what he read; and indeed in those days of imperial and missionary confidences little enough was available which could present non-European cultures in a sympathetic light.
But something must have struck a chord, for a year on, we find him emerging from his retreat with his early interest in Islam confirmed. New peregrinations now took him East: to Persia, Iraq, and Turkey. He then spent time in the Balkans, where he no doubt sought out the Muslim communities which had survived the Balkan wars.
Although he gives no indication in his writings as to where his conversion took place, it may have been among the gentle and hospitable villagers of Muslim Europe that he made his decision to enter the fold of Islam.
Along with his enthusiastic love for his adopted faith, he shares key attitudes with other European Muslim writers of the time: individualism, objectivity, and a conspicuous lack of fanaticism.
In 1931 his life was ended abruptly with his brutal murder whilst travelling in Arabia.