Muslim refugees escaping from civil wars, poverty and religious fanaticism in the Middle East and Africa have made Europe their home. “Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity” is a fascinating and well-researched book by scholar and writer of Islam Ahmed Akabar. The author captures the historical significance of Islam in Europe and describes contemporary Islamic identities. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics and relationship between the Europeans and Muslim communities.
Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, by Akbar Ahmed (Brookings Institution Press) Ahmed’s study of European reactions to Islamic immigrants is more anthropological than political, but it offers fascinating insights into how white Europeans struggle to reconcile outsiders, and how Muslim communities end up reinforcing negative stereotypes. The bigger takeaway, though, is evidence of the harmonious relations that existed between Islamic and European civilizations throughout the past—a potent argument against rising nationalism and tribalism.
In the eyes of most Europeans, Muslims have come to represent fanaticism, fundamentalism, and female suppression, subjugation and repression. Antidote to such an alarming trend is the most recent book of Akbar Ahmed, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity.
It is an original and unique contribution to the expanding literature on Islam in Europe for several reasons. First, as an anthropologist, Ahmed breaks away from the usual solitary work of the researcher consigning his observations into a notebook. Instead he works in team with young scholars of different ethnic and religious backgrounds who offer fresh and diverse perspectives on the situation at hand.
Second, this team work is a great asset for presenting the diversity of Muslim voices in Europe, while most of the essays or scholarship on the topic tend to shed light on one particular group at a time.
Join Ambassador Akbar Ahmed as he discusses his new book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity. The fourth in a quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the Muslim world, Journey into Europe explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization on the basis of fieldwork spanning the length and breadth of the continent. Ambassador Ahmed will be joined by Lord Bhiku Parekh and the event will be chaired by SOAS Pro-Director Professor Stephen Hopgood.
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He belonged to the senior Civil Service of Pakistan and was the Pakistan High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland. He has also taught at Harvard and Princeton Universities and holds a PhD in Anthropology from SOAS.
Lord Bhikhu Parekh is Emeritus professor at the Universities of Hull and Westminster. He is the author of several widely acclaimed books including A New Politics of Identity (2008) Rethinking Multiculturalism (2000) and recently Debating India: Essays on Indian Political Discourse, published by Oxford University Press, India. He is the recipient of the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Philosophy, BBC’s Special Lifetime Achievement Award, and Padma Bhushan from the President of India. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, past President of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Member of the House of Lords.
Akbar Ahmed was born a subject of the British Raj. He devoted his career to building a modern Pakistani state, accepting some of his government’s most dangerous jobs, including political commissioner in the tribal agency of Waziristan. He rose to represent Pakistan as its high commissioner in the United Kingdom. Since retiring from government, he has taught at American University in Washington, D.C., where he has written books and produced documentaries about Islam’s place in the modern world. His newest book, Journey into Europe, is the culmination of years of study of the Muslim migration northward, which has accelerated dramatically since the Syrian Civil War. Ahmed and I have debated the impact of this migration for years. We continued the conversation recently over a long written exchange.
David Frum: You are promoting a new book, about Islam in Europe. As so often in your intellectual career, you perceive potential harmony where others see mostly conflict. Terrorism in the name of Islam has claimed many lives in Europe over the past two decades—and the reaction to mass migration from the Islamic world is shaking the politics of the continent. Meanwhile much of the Muslim world seems to be turning away from the liberal values that have defined Europe since 1945. You see this especially in Turkey, once a candidate for entry into the European Union, now an increasingly authoritarian and religiously chauvinist state. Why are you so hopeful?
Akbar Ahmed: There have been too many deaths due to Muslim acts of terrorism—though more like hundreds rather than thousands—and undoubtedly Islam is now a highly debated “hot” issue in Europe today. As a social scientist who rests his analysis on field research and facts, I am concerned about the potential for violence and conflict in the future. But as a humanist with faith in the pluralist legacy that exists in Europe, I have hope that with wisdom, compassion, and courage, the leaders of Europe will be able to guide the continent through this difficult time.
I am writing to say thank you so much for the invitation to be with you and our other friends at the University last month. It was a wonderful program, and I was pleased to have the chance to be one of the participants. I am also truly delighted with the copy of your extraordinary book. I have already begun reading it, and I find that it is hard to stop — it is fascinating and a most important document for all those who want to find peace in the mercy and compassion of God. Thank you for doing it. You and your team will be blessed by many, many people as more and more have a chance to learn of the extraordinary studies that you have made at a time of great internal crisis for the world and of great courage for those who are giving leadership for peace and happiness.
I look forward to seeing you again soon, and I thank you for the extraordinary gift from an extraordinary team. I know you will be more things like this, because it is clear to me that the world needs studies of this kind and leadership like your own.
With every good wish and my best regards to your team and your family, I am
Former ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University Washington, D.C. He is former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. Professor Ahmed is named “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC. He is the author of several books on Islam and Muslim identity and has written extensively on Muslim identity in the West.
In his recent book, Journey into Europe, Akbar explores Islam’s journey into Europe while elaborating the roots of two different identities; Islam and Europe. He tries to find out if these two distinct identities, Muslims and European, are compatible?
In the words of Noam Chomsky, who praises Akbar’s latest book, “His latest study, based on direct research with a group of young scholars, explores the complex interfaith reality of Europe, both in history and today, from an Eastern perspective, reversing the familiar paradigm. It is sure to be yet another influential contribution, one greatly needed in a world riven by conflict and misunderstanding.”
JOURNEY INTO EUROPE:Islam, Immigration, and Identity,by Akbar Ahmed. (Brookings, $34.99.) Ahmed, a renowned Pakistani scholar and diplomat, gathered a team of researchers to interview Muslims across Europe about their situation. “This, I felt, was Europe’s ticking time bomb,” he says. In her review, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian writes: “The fundamental message of ‘Journey Into Europe’ is that throughout history, Islamic and European civilizations have often been not just compatible, but complementary. It’s crucial to acknowledge their shared past to reject today’s resurgent tribalism.”
JOURNEY INTO EUROPE Islam, Immigration, and Identity
By Akbar Ahmed
Illustrated. 573 pp. Brookings Institution Press. $34.99.
In 2013, Akbar Ahmed, a celebrated scholar of Islam and Pakistan’s former high commissioner to Britain and Ireland, was invited to speak at a mosque in Athens. What he saw there took him aback. The facility was less a house of God than an underground parking lot “of a particularly sinister aspect,” with its low ceilings, foul odor and atmosphere of bleak desolation. In all of Athens, he learned, there wasn’t a single purpose-built mosque serving the Muslim community. If these were the conditions under which hundreds of thousands of people worshiped, how then did they live and work?
“These men had nothing to lose, and I could imagine the most desperate among them prepared to lash out in an unpredictable and even murderous manner,” Ahmed writes in “Journey Into Europe,” the latest installment of his series on Muslims around the world. “This, I felt, was Europe’s ticking time bomb.” European politics only exacerbated the tension. Five years ago, voters were already drifting toward far-right politicians who openly displayed their distaste for Muslims. Today, their views are practically mainstream. “Journey Into Europe” attempts to elucidate why relations between secular European countries and their Muslim populations have grown so fraught, and what can be done to improve them.
The bulk of Ahmed’s research comes from a listening tour he embarked on with a team of researchers between 2013 and 2017. They interviewed imams, community leaders, activists and ordinary people across the continent about the challenges European Muslims face today. Their findings are predictably grim. Across the board, interviewees reported feeling marginalized, stereotyped and prevented from professional advancement because of their background. Despite their multitude of experiences, they ended up lumped into the crude categories that conflate terrorists, Muslims and refugees; Arabs, Persians and Africans; recent immigrants with no facility in the local language and second-generation doctoral students fluent at the highest level. “We are in a cosmic depression,” a British psychologist laments.
Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity
Europe today confronts complicated and controversial issues surrounding its Muslim population including Sharia law, terrorism, the building of mosques, female dress, and the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism.
Akbar Ahmed, the world renowned Muslim anthropologist, is now embarking on a new study of Islam in Europe which will take him and his international team across the continent.
Journey into Europe is the fourth part of an unprecedented quartet of award-winning books exploring relations between the West and the world of Islam after 9/11.