Journey into Europe reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Ahmed (The Thistle and the Drone), Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, turns his eyes to Europe in this sweeping ethnographic exploration of Islam and its multiple narratives across the continent. The central thread woven throughout is the question of “primordial identity” (an imagined ethnic essence and tribal memory) in the modern world. Through interviews, surveys of history, and reflections on his own experience, Ahmed argues that communities in Europe—whether they primarily identify as Muslim or European—need to turn away from these primordial identities and instead seek mutual flourishing through a “pluralist identity.” As a model, he examines Andalusian, Balkan, and Sicilian communities and identities that are defined by the coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Ahmed is perhaps a bit utopian, and the language of the book can be simplistic when it frames Islam and Europe as opposing and separate entities. Nonetheless, this highly instructive work deserves careful and critical attention as people across the world wrestle with how to balance community with difference in an age of reinvigorated tribalism. (Feb.)
The review can be found here.
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Journey into Europe reviewed in Kirkus Reviews

A dense but rewarding anthropological account of European reactions to Islam and Muslim immigrant communities, and vice versa.

In Germany, reports the newsmagazine Bild, 110,000 jobs rely on the döner kebab—a Turkish version of the gyro, that is—alone. That the food has been so widely accepted does not automatically translate into easy acceptance of other Islamic artifacts, though, to say nothing of people. As Ahmed (Chair, Islamic Studies/American Univ.; The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, 2013, etc.) argues, this speaks to the enduring strength of tribal separatism. The term “tribalism” has long been reserved for so-called primitive societies, but “the classical attributes of tribes are present in modern European societies, however heavily they are buried or disguised, in cultural norms, language, rhetoric, symbolism, and assumptions of who ‘we’ are.” When such tribes meet with Islamic ones with their own assumptions of ethnic identity, then trouble is bound to ensue, as it certainly has, with many manifestations. One, for instance, is the refusal of Turkish players on Hungarian soccer teams to sing the national anthem—and no wonder, given that “the anthem depicts the ‘wild Turks’ as an excrescence, a ‘barbarian nation.’ ” It’s easy to see how a Hungarian nationalist might react to such a response. Ahmed ventures that given the experiences of Eastern European societies with predatory neighbors—i.e., Germany and Russia—such expressions of “primordial tribal identity” are not unexpected. The author examines differing ideas of nationhood among the European powers, such as the marked distinction between French and British ideas of imperial management and citizenship. More pointedly, he considers how Muslim immigrants with “a tribal background,” confronting prejudice and discrimination, might develop primordial responses of their own to the insult on their honor—responses that include being ripe for recruitment into terrorist organizations, especially by way of “kinship and neighborhood links, as in areas like Molenbeek in Brussels.”

Academic but of considerable interest to any student of current affairs and geopolitics.

The review can be found here.

Reconnecting with Dr. Haris Silajdzic

Ambassador Ahmed had the pleasure of reconnecting today at American University with former Bosnian Prime Minister and former Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr. Haris Siladjzic, alongside his wife, Selma, and Dr. Emir Kremic, Director of the Federal Bureau of Statistics in Bosnia. Dr. Silajdzic’s rich, insightful interview can be found in the film as well as the forthcoming book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity.

My Heart Moves to See Befitting Farewell to Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, Dr. Ruth Pfau

By Dr. Cllr. James Shera (Sitara-e-Pakistan, MBE)

The coffin, wrapped in Pakistani flag, carried by Pakistani soldiers. Nineteen cannon shots fired to pay salute. Live coverage on all the TV channels of Pakistan. This was the scene of a recent funeral ceremony attended by nobody less than President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman and Vice Admiral Zafar Mahmood, along with thousands of mourners from all walks of life, including Muslim religious leaders, gathered at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi.

These may appear to be glimpses of a funeral of a head of state but they are not. This was the befitting farewell given by the people of Islamic Republic of Pakistan to their heroine Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German Christian missionary who passed away on 10th August after serving people for nearly 57 years. The state funeral of Dr. Ruth Pfau on Saturday proved that the people of Pakistan value those who care for them. As I watched on television, as the state-run and private television networks of Pakistan broadcast live footage of her funeral, this sight of an exceptional measure for a foreign Christian in this Muslim country overwhelmed my heart and soul.

Seeing thousands of mourners along with the President of Pakistan gathered at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi to honor her memory and top brass of all three armed forces of Pakistan saluting the casket of Dr. Pfau as it proceeded through the Christian grave yard, I thanked God for making the Pakistani people thankful to those who cared about them, irrespective of their religion and nationality

Every Pakistani has paid tributes to this person who was not born on this soil and practiced a religion different from the majority of population. Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also paid rich tributes to Dr. Pfau stating “Although she was born in Germany, her heart has always been in Pakistan”. The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nafees Zakaria emphasized, “The entire Pakistani nation is paying tribute to the extraordinary work of Dr. Pfau, and we will always remember her with fondness. We lost a national heroin.”

The respect and love of people of Pakistan for Sister Pfau was very well deserved. She had devoted her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan for nearly six decades. She arrived in Karachi in 1960 and complications with her visa to India forced her to stay in Pakistan. After visiting lepers, she decided to stay and for almost 50 years she took care, as a doctor, of the sickest and poorest of the city.

In collaboration with the government of Pakistan, Ruth Pfau had helped open leprosy centers in nearly 150 cities in Pakistan, trained physicians, assisted thousands of victims, and helped develop a national program in order to control the epidemic, which had earned her high distinctions in Pakistan.

I feel happy that it is not after her death she earned the recognition; she was decorated with highest honors and awards of Pakistan in her lifetime. The awards and medals earned by sister Pfau include Sitara-e-Quaid-i-Azam, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Pakistan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Jinnah Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Science (DSc) by Aga Khan University, Karachi, Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service, and the renaming of Civil Hospital, Karachi to Dr. Ruth K.M. Pfau Hospital. For her dedicated work on leprosy Dr. Pfau was awarded Hilal-i-Pakistan on 23 March 1989. The award was presented by the then-President of Pakistan Ghulam Ishaq Khan at the President’s House.

On 30th January 2000, while speaking at a function in Islamabad to mark the 47th World Leprosy Day, the then-President of Pakistan Rafiq Tarar praised Dr. Pfau for building up the National Leprosy Control Program in Pakistan. Dr. Pfau helped not only those afflicted with leprosy, but also patients of tuberculosis. In 2006, radio station The City FM89 honored Dr. Pfau as the “Woman of the Year.”

On 14th August 2010, on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, the then-President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari conferred Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam on Dr. Pfau in recognition of her public service. After her work towards helping people displaced by the 2010 floods, she was hailed as Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa” Dr. Pfau also received the highest award of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Staufer Medal, in 2015.

As an acknowledgment of “selfless services” of Dr. Pfau, on 19 August 2017, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has announced that the Civil Hospital Karachi would be renamed to Dr. Ruth Pfau Hospital.

Her wish was that the different “religions work together and the biggest religion was humanity.” asserted Dr. Claudia Vilani, an expatriate and colleague of Ruth Pfau. No doubt the way her funeral has been conducted manifests that the bonding of humanity is above religion, nationality, culture, cast and creed and the people of Pakistan do understand this.

(The writer is a British Pakistani politician, educationist and councillor for the last ten years and first Asian to become Mayor of Rugby in 1981)

Going inside the two worlds of European Muslims – Harrison Akins, The Tennessean

Much of the news coverage of the British terrorist attacks in Manchester and London over the last few months has focused on whether the attackers had links with or were influenced by the Islamic State.

The question that has unfortunately received less attention is why European citizens would be attracted to the hateful and violent message of ISIS and be willing to commit terrorist attacks against their fellow Europeans.

To investigate this question and to gain better insights into the various challenges facing the Muslim communities in Europe, I was privileged to serve as an associate producer and researcher for the documentary film and book project, “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity” (forthcoming Brookings Press 2018), by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service and former Pakistani Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

To continue reading, click here.

Journey into Europe to Screen in Chautauqua, NY on Tuesday, July 18 at 3:30

Where: Hall of Christ, Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, NY

When: 3:30pm on Tuesday, July 18

Additional info: “Gate pass required. Purchase at our Main Gate Welcome Center, (716) 357-6250”

For more information, please visit the Chautauqua Institution website.

This Former MTV Icon Found Inner Peace Through Islam – Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Huffington Post

BERLIN/LONDON ― In her early 20s, Kristiane Baker was having the time of her life. She was living her dream as a presenter for MTV Europe, brushing shoulders with celebrities like Mick Jagger and Bono on a regular basis ― and getting paid to do it. From the outside, it was everything she had ever hoped for. But on the inside, she sometimes felt a crushing sense of depression and anxiety that she couldn’t shake.

And then she met Imran Khan, the famous Pakistani cricketer who through music would lead her to Islam and a new sense of inner peace.

“He was my introduction to Islam,” she said of Khan. “I like to say I wasn’t looking, I was found.”

To continue reading, click here.

Bill Maher, You Should Have Been at the Pakistan Embassy This Week

 

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Ambassador Akbar Ahmed sits to the right of host Ambassador Chaudhry at the high table of the interfaith Iftar. To the Ambassador’s left sat Ambassador Ahmed’s friend, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Rabbi Batya Steinlauf. Photo credit: Zeenat Ahmed

Political commentator Bill Maher, his voice dripping with the vitriol which he reserves for Islam, made the claim last week when interviewing Breitbart Editor Alex Marlow on his HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher, that interfaith dialogue and tolerance of other religions is not possible in the Muslim world. He particularly singled out Pakistan, going so far as to say, “I don’t think the idea that ‘Oh, you know what, there are many ways to God, they’re all valid, let’s agree to disagree’ —  I don’t think that’s a thing you find in Pakistan a lot.”

I found it ironic then that on June 20, a mere four days after Maher’s program aired, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and one of the nation’s senior most diplomats, hosted an interfaith Iftar at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC, welcoming some of Washington’s most prominent interfaith leaders. As an embassy abroad is considered to be the terrain of the nation it represents, we were on Pakistani territory.

The 250 prominent Muslim and non-Muslims in attendance—ambassadors, senior State Department officials, journalists, and community and religious leaders—filled the hall to capacity. Distinguished speakers representing the major faiths addressed the gathering and emphasized the need to build bridges between religions.

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Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry welcomes Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to the Embassy of Pakistan’s interfaith Iftar. Photo Credit: Embassy of Pakistan

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Catholic Archbishop of Washington and an active player in global peace and humanitarian initiatives, traveling often on behalf of Catholic Relief Services around the globe, gave a remarkable speech emphasizing the closeness of Islam and Christianity. In particular, he noted how both faiths love and revere the Virgin Mary. Cardinal McCarrick also said he was thrilled to announce that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is preparing to visit Pakistan soon, saying how His Holiness is particularly excited about his visit. Cardinal McCarrick believes His Holiness will fall in love with Pakistan.

Representing Hinduism was Nanik Lahori, a member of the Boards of Directors of both the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, DC and the United Hindu and Jain Temples Association. He discussed how Allah and Brahma, the names of God in Islam and Hinduism, represent the same reality, and how as such, it is of the utmost importance that we as Muslims and Hindus treat each other as part of a common humanity.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, the Founder and Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and the former president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, as well as a prolific interfaith leader on the national stage on behalf of the Sikh community, spoke about how close Islam is to Sikhism and how the sacred scripture of the Sikhs is replete with sayings and verses of Baba Farid, the great Sufi saint. Dr. Singh, drawing parallels between Islam and Sikhism and noting how peace, love, and humility lie at the heart of both traditions, also quoted several verses of Baba Farid, a Sufi saint, and Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion who is known for such quotes as, “Even Kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.”

Also speaking were Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, a Conservative rabbi who serves both as the Director of Social Justice and Intergroup Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and as Vice President of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, who gave the Jewish perspective, and Jo Reed, a Director at Soka Gakkai International-USA, representing the Buddhist faith. Both cited their respective sacred scriptures.

I was honored to once again be requested to speak on behalf of Islam as part of the Iftar. I opened my remarks by discussing how the Bismillah cites the two greatest names of God, Rahman and Rahim, or the Compassionate and Merciful, out of the 99 beautiful names in the holy Quran. It is repeated all day throughout the world by millions of Muslims.

I also shared with the audience several insightful verses from the Quran which I believe are not cited often enough, particularly in these times of great turmoil around the globe. I first read aloud, “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know” (30:22). Next, I read to the audience, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other))” (49:13). I concluded this portion of my remarks with the verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things” (2:256).

I additionally discussed the importance of ilm, or knowledge, which is the second most-used word in the Quran and went on to conclude with my favorite saying of the Prophet (PBUH): “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

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From Top: Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, Nanik Lahori, and Ambassador Akbar Ahmed deliver remarks on behalf of their respective faith traditions at the Embassy of Pakistan’s annual interfaith Iftar. Photo credit: Embassy of Pakistan

 

Following the remarks of myself and the other speakers, Ambassador Chaudhry spoke about the importance of religious tolerance in our diverse and conflicted world today and about countering the ongoing threat and inherent closed-mindedness of terrorism. He also emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace – a sentiment often forgotten in the West. To underline his points, the Ambassador quoted the famous speech of Mr M.A.Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, delivered before the Constituent  Assembly in 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” (For more on Mr. Jinnah, please see my documentary, Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan, linked below.)

The Ambassador also quoted the Farewell Sermon of the holy Prophet (PBUH): “O people! Indeed, your Lord is one and your father is one. Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white, except by taqwa (piety).”

When I mentioned to Ambassador Chaudhry the irony of Bill Maher’s remarks in the context of the interfaith conviviality around us as we broke our fast, the Ambassador smiled broadly. Perhaps he was thinking that Bill Maher should have joined us for this year’s interfaith iftar and seen for himself how Pakistan and other Muslim countries, in spite of the serious challenges they face, such as terrorism, can be great centers of bridge building and dialogue between faiths.

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed appears on WNYC’s The Takeaway today to discuss the London terrorist attack against Muslim community

To listen to the entire interview, click here.

“This Muslim Convert Is Changing The Conversation About Women In Islam With Music And Humor” – Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Huffington Post

COPENHAGEN, Denmark ― Annette Bellaoui remembers the moment well. She was meeting a leading politician in the Danish People’s Party, known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric. He stared at her, “seriously contemplating” Bellaoui in a way that seemed as though he was asking himself, “‘does this woman have hand grenades in her pockets?’”

“There was fear and anger and everything in his face,” she recalled. “And, do you know what I did? I smiled at him, my sweetest smile.” And then she blew a kiss.

Bellaoui, a 58-year-old Dane who converted to Islam nearly two decades ago, giggles when she tells this story. She’s wholeheartedly aware that the reaction to a likely incident of Islamophobia is an unorthodox one, especially for a woman in a hijab who also goes by the name Fatima Zahra. But that’s precisely why she did it.

To continue reading, click here.